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Miscellaneous meanderings and philosophical ramblings. The title from a spiral notebook I used to jot down my thoughts on religion and other matters some years ago. I like to write, think and express my views on various issues. Robust discussion is welcome.

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"Lan astaslem."
I will not submit. I will not surrender.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

300 the movie and Sparta

An unknown Hollywood writer has penned an interesting review of 300. I'll provide a short excerpt, be sure to read it all.

300 Shocker

... a movie about a handful of brave warriors who stand up against the limitless central-Asian hordes, iron men vs. effeminate oriental voluptuaries, and patriots against robotic slaves. How was this picture allowed to be made?

I’m talking, of course, about 300, a gory retelling of the Spartans’ defense at Thermopylae, which has got the whole town buzzing, and not just about its first-weekend grosses. Is it an ode to Riefensthalian fascist militarism? A thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration‘s insane war-mongering? Or is it something else?

Help me out here, because I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around a few things: When, early in the film, a sneering Persian emissary insults King Leonidas’s hot wife, threatens the kingdom, and rages about “blasphemy,” the king kicks him down a bottomless well. And yet nobody in Sparta asks, “Why do they hate us?” and seeks to find common ground with the Persians on their doorstep. Why not?

The Spartans mock the god-king Xerxes (whose traveling throne resembles a particularly louche Brazilian gay-pride carnival float), mow down his armored “immortal” holy warriors clad is nothing but red cloaks, loincloths, and sandals, and generally give their last full measure to defend Greek civilization against superstition and tyranny. Where are the liberal Spartan voices raised in protest against this blatant homophobia, xenophobia, and racism?


Some have ridiculed the movie for the line mocking Athenian boy lovers when Spartans actually practiced homosexuality themselves. This view of Sparta may not be as certain as commonly held by many.

Sparta Reconsidered is a frequent misconception that Spartan society was also blatantly homosexual. Curiously, no contemporary source and no archaeological evidence supports this widespread assumption. The best ancient source on Sparta, Xenophon, explicitly denies the already common rumors about widespread pederasty. Aristotle noted that the power of women in Sparta was typical of all militaristic and warlike societies without a strong emphasis on male homosexuality—arguing that in Sparta this "positive" moderating factor on the role of women in society was absent. There is no Spartan/Laconian pottery with explicitly homosexual motifs—as there is from Athens and Corinth and other cities. The first recorded heterosexual love poem was written by a Spartan poet for Spartan maidens. The very fact that Spartan men tended to marry young by ancient Greek standards (in their early to mid-twenties) suggests they had less time for the homosexual love affairs that characterized early manhood in the rest of Greece. Certainly the state considered bachelorhood a disgrace, and a citizen who did not marry and produce future citizens enjoyed less status than a man who had fathered children. In no other ancient Greek city were women so well integrated into society. All this speaks against a society in which homosexuality was exceptionally common.

That site has quite a bit more about Sparta that goes against some of the prevailing views. While Sparta was certainly harsh, it's eugenics and highly regulated, to totalitarian extremes, social order not disputed as far as I can tell, there is something good to be said for women having rights much greater than other women in Greek society of that day and age.

A line from history, carried over into the film conveys the role of women in Sparta quite well.

In a frequently quoted incident, the wife of King Leonidas was allegedly asked why Spartan women were the only women in Greece who "ruled" their husbands. Gorgo replied, "because we are the only women who give birth to men." In other words, only men with the self-confidence to accept women as equals were men at all.

I prefer a woman I can admire, who has strength and intelligence and can state her views with confidence. And no, this does not mean I'm going to start leaping about in a loincloth and tunic. Then again, if I end up with a woman with some of that Spartan strength and confidence, no telling what I may do in private ;-)


Filed under: Culture -- Movies

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