VikingBoyBilly asks:

Something’s been on my mind for a long time since I stopped lurking, but I need to say how I feel.

In our long argument about Odysseus, you ended it with “i know what I’m talking about; so there.”

No, you didn’t, because if you did, you wouldn’t have been a misanthrope. Reading mythology is what made me fall in love with humans, and it’s unsettling that you never acknowledged the irony of being a misanthropic archaeologist. The lessons the Oddessey taught me is that life is a journey full challenges and misery, but by keeping your wits and the strength to continue, you can reach your goals. Oddysseus’s goal was to reunite with the wife an son that he loved, and it’s so cynical to think he enjoyed having sex with women that kept him stranded on those islands, and it doesn’t mesh thematically when these are supposed to be a series of hardships. The optimist in me believes this was something to be overcome, either as a temptation like the lotus fruits and sirens, or a situation to get out of like the cyclops. His devotion and loyalty to his crew, his homeland, and family are values I live by, and I don’t like that being tarnished by accusations that he’s a scummy womanizer. I could just be satisfied with my own opinions and not be bothered by what anyone else thinks, but you know what the internet does to us.

I also was put off by your use of the vague buzz-word “western civilization.” It’s nonsensical to anyone with an understanding of geography, and condescending, as if any other civilization doesn’t count (and because I think an archaeologist/anthropologist would only use such a simplification of jargon when talking to a layman). Funny how people angry with the state of the world will defend “western civilization” as the best thing that ever happened.

I hope your outlook of your own species has changed since then, and if you want to reply non-publicly, my email is [REDACTED]

[This is what Billy is referring to – linking to the Tumblr version of the original question-and-answer post rather than the WordPress version because that’s where the relevant comment thread is, but I might actually move it over here for posterity’s sake]

Continue reading “VikingBoyBilly asks:”

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.

Continue reading “Let Me Tell You About 300”