Let Me Tell You About 300

I’m a TA for a first year Greek history class this semester, and a little while ago we had our students write some short essays comparing the movie 300 to a historical account of the battle of Thermopylae – namely, book 7 of Herodotus’ Histories.  Now, I personally think that calling 300 a good movie is something of a stretch, but it’s definitely an interesting movie, in terms of its relationship with the historical sources it draws upon.  When the subject of comparing the two comes up, what you normally get – and what the vast majority of our students gave us – is a list of places where the movie does something that isn’t attested in the sources, followed by a vague judgement about whether it comes “close enough” to be considered “historically accurate.”  And I think this is sort of missing the point, because I seriously doubt historical accuracy was 300’s top priority, and I seriously doubt that people went to see 300 because they thought it would be historically accurate.  There’s enough in that film for you to see that its creators (including the author of the original graphic novel) have obviously read ancient sources for Thermopylae and the Spartans (well, English translations of them, anyway) – quite closely, in fact; loads of the movie’s best lines are actually quotations from Herodotus and Plutarch.  If they had wanted to correct any of the “inaccuracies” my students identified, they almost certainly could have.  So let’s talk about why they didn’t.

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