Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 300, the homoerotic history film based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, came out in March 2007.

The film is about the Battle of Thermopylae, which occurred in Greece in August or September in the year 480 B.C.E. The Persians (from Iran) under King Xerxes I had crossed from Turkey into Greece with a force about 90,000-120,000 soldiers. His army needed to stay near the shore, because a massive fleet was supplying his troops with food and arms from sea. Xerxes' army had gone inland only twice: Skirting the peninsula between Ampipholis and Salonika, and piercing the mountains of central Greece before reaching the shore again to aim at Thebes, Athens, and the heart of Greece.

But once along the shore, Xerxes confronted a problem: Thermopylae. The cliffs and high mountains to his left forced his army to hug the shoreline. At Thermopylae, the shore was so narrow that only two chariots could ride abreast. (Today, the Gulf of Malis has filled in, so that Thermopylae is far inland.) It was a well-known military choke-point. Indeed, the Phocians had erected boulders and rocks into a series of "gates" which would force an invading army to come in on foot, almost two-by-two. The "Phocian wall" made Thermopylae even more dangerous.

Xerxes had been on the march for more than a year. Most of the Greeks did not believe that the decisive battle would be fought at Thermopylae, but at Thebes. Xerxes' army was so massive, it needed very wide passes and valleys to move through. It moved so slowly that most Greek city-states were content to send their men to the Olympic Festival rather than form an army. Sparta, for its part, also dawdled while celebrating the Carneian Festival.

This idea that somehow Sparta saw the danger long before anyone else is a myth.

There is a lot more about Thermopylae, those homosexual Spartans, and more behind the link.....

As Xerxes approached, the Athenians and others argued that he should be allowed to pass. Xerxes would have to defeat Athens before attacking the rest of the Peloponnesian peninsula city-states. The Athenian fleet could attack the Person navy, and Athens itself was highly defensible. But the Phocians and Locrians, whose territory Xerxes was marching through, argued for a stand at Thermopylae.

Leonidas, king of Sparta, agreed with the Locrians and Phocians: Stop Xerxes at Thermopylae. Leonidas assumed, however, that the battle at Thermopylae would be a suicide mission. He believed that the goal should be merely to delay the Persians there long enough for the rest of the Spartan army to arrive. The Spartan army would hold Xerxes long enough for the rest of the Greeks to arrive -- possibly trapping Xerxes on the shore and defeating him.

Leonidas picked a force of older men for his troops. Believing it was a suicide mission, he wanted men who had already fathered lots of children. Leonidas eventually led a force of 300 troops from Sparta and 700 troops from Thespiae (near Thebes) to Thermopylae. Another 1,000 Phocians were his reserve.

The idea that there were only Spartans present, or that they numbered only 300, is a myth.

The Greek fighting force was the phalanx. Each soldier wore extremely heavy bronze armor, weighing 60 to 75 pounds. (The Spartan armor was identical from one soldier to the next, but the rest of the Greeks -- including the Thespians -- had highly individualized armor.) Every man carried a tall shield and a very long spear. Soldiers formed a rectangle as wide as needed, but only about four men deep. The soldiers in front locked their shields together to protect them against arrows, swords, and thrusting spears. The men in the second and third rows thrust their long spears through the gaps in the shields. The whole unit was front-to-back, the men tightly packed and moving as one. When the phalanx engaged the enemy, they would push forward as hard as they could to break the enemy line. The heavy armor made running impossible, but aided in the pushing-contest. The key was discipline: So long as the men in the phalanx did not panic and stuck together, they could defeat most enemies. Defeating the phalanx was possible if an enemy outflanked them or had long thrusting spears. Quick-moving cavalry or chariots were also deadly to the phalanx, which could not turn or run quickly enough to defend itself.

The idea that the Greeks wore loincloths, capes, and helmets is a myth.

The Persian fighting force was the infantry. They wore lighter bronze and leather armor. They had short swords and short spears, and their attacking technique was to assault in waves. From the rear, Persian archers weakened the enemy line with wave after wave of dense arrow barrages. They stopped firing once the Persian infantry moved forward. The infantry closed to within a few feet, thrust with their spears, and then hacked with their swords. It was a mobile, light fighting force which believed in hand-to-hand combat and overwhelming numbers to win the day.

Xerxes asked Leonidas to surrender. Leonidas said no. Xerxes asked Leonidas to join him. Leonidas said no. A Persian scouting party observed the Spartans doing calisthenics and combing their hair. Xerxes was incredulous, but Greek traitors in his camp told him that the Spartans routinely dressed their hair before going into battle. Xerxes waited four days, attempting to frighten the Spartans, Thespians, and Phocians into fleeing. They did not.

Finally, Xerxes attacked. He sat on chair on a dais, watching the battle. He sent in the Medes, a newly-conquered people. The Greeks formed up in front of the Phocian wall to meet the Medes. The Greeks closed, and then their phalanx appeared to panic and run. The Medes gave chase. But it was a trap: The Greeks turned, reformed the phalanx, and the Medes ran right into the buzzsaw. Xerxes was so shocked that he stood up. The Medes were slaughtered. Xerxes realized the Greeks were more formidable than he'd assumed.

Xerxes now sent in the Immortals, his best Persian shock-troops. The Immortals carried a wicker or leather shield for defense, which made them more mobile. It weakened their defensive capability, but meant they could attack more ferociously. Over their tunics they wore a shirt of metal plates. They carried a short spear, like the rest of the Persian army. But the spear had an iron (not bronze) tip, which remained sharp even if it hit a bronze shield. The spear was weighted on one end for better throwing and thrusting. They also carried a short sword and bow and arrows. They attacked much like the Persian army: Flights of arrows weakened the enemy, after which the Immortals attacked. The key to the fighting strength of the Immortals was that they had a constant supply of fighting men in reserve. As a man went down, wounded or killed, another Immortal replaced him. Reserves were almost unknown in the ancient world, and difficult to place in the line of battle even when used. But the Immortals not only used reserves, they were well-practiced in replacing men who'd fallen at the front. This made the Immortals extremely difficult to defeat.

Leonidas, too, used reserves. He had a string of runners who would leave the front lines and bring up reserves as needed. But the attack of the Immortals was so powerful that the Greeks rarely were able to bring up the reserves.

Nevertheless, the battle ended in a draw on the first day. The narrowness of the pass at Thermopylae markedly reduced the fighting effectiveness of the Immortals, and Xerxes was forced to withdraw them. The Greeks suffered many casualties, but still held the Phocian Wall.

On the second day, Xerxes decided on a mass-attack. He sent in thousands of troops to attack the Greek line. But with their backs stiffened by the Phocian Wall and reserves coming in, the Greek phalanx held. The number of bodies piled up so high in front of the Greek line that the Persian lines often broke up even before they reached the Greeks (greatly reducing the effect of the mass attack). The sight of so many dead comrades didn't do much for Persian morale either.

Xerxes retreated to his camp late on the afternoon of the second day. He knew a frontal assault was not going to work, but he had few options. Then fate brought him Ephialtes. Ephialtes was a Malian, one of the people on whose land Xerxes was camping. Ephialtes told Xerxes of a narrow path through the cliffs on the Persian right. The path ran around Mt. Anopaea, then exited far in the Greek rear near the village of Alpenas (the first town in the country of Locris).

Leonidas knew about the path. He had stationed Phocian soldiers in the foothills of Mt. Anopaea, almost at the start of the path, to stop the Persians from using it.

During the night, Xerxes sent his Immortals over the path. He caught the Phocians sleeping -- literally. The Phocians had set no guards, sent out no patrols, and stationed no pickets. The Immortals decided against a head-on attack. Instead, they rained arrows down on the Phocians, decimating them. The Phocians retreated to Mt. Anopaea, but the Immortals caught up to the and wiped the remaining soldiers out. The Immortals then swept around the mountain and landed on the beach behind the Greeks.

But even so, Leonidas was not surprised. He had spies and runners observing the movements of the Persians, and had seen the Immortals take the path around Mt. Anopaea. At dawn, he learned that the Phocians had not held.

Leonidas held a council of war. Some Greek soldiers from other city-states had arrived in Alpenas during the last few days. The generals, however, knew that staying at Thermopylae was silly. The pass had been lost: Confronted by Immortals in their rear and Persians in their front, the Spartans and Thespians could not hold. To stay was suicide. Worse, the forming Greek army was no match for the Persians in more open country.

Tactically, the Spartans should have provided a rear-guard action to defend the tiny Greek army as it pulled back towards Thebes and more defensible positions. But Leonidas, stupidly, refused. Leonidas took some Thebans hostage in an attempt to make the Greek army stand and fight, but the rest of the Greek generals wisely retreated. Only the 700 Thespians stayed. History claims that their general, Demophilus, refused to retreat. But the fact that Leonidas had kidnapped a large number of his Thespian countrymen probably counted for much of his "courage."

The idea that the Spartans delayed the Persians for a long time to let the Greeks form an army is a myth. The idea that the Spartans "had to hold the pass" and had no line of retreat is a myth. Leonidas committed foolhardy suicide.

At dawn, Xerxes advanced. The Spartans foolishly moved out away from the Phocian Wall into the wider part of the pass to meet them. This thinned their line and enabled more Persian troops to attack them. The Greek phalanx held for a while, but eventually most of the Greek spears were broken. With the long thrusting spears gone, the phalanx could no longer maintain an effective offense. The Persians and Greeks were now almost evenly matched. Leonidas, along with his two brothers, died in combat. The Greeks dragged his body behind their lines, then retreated to a hill behind the Phocian Wall. As the Immortals advanced from the rear, the Greek phalanx and reserves broke, trying to protect themselves from both sides. The remaining Thespians surrendered. The Spartans were repeatedly attacked, until they had almost no shields or weapons left. During the morning and early afternoon, Xerxes had used the path to place archers on top of Mt. Anopaea; they now rained down arrows on the Spartans, killing them.

Xerxes lost nearly 10 percent of his fighting force at Thermopylae. He ordered Leonidas' body decapitated and crucified. But once he calmed down, he ordered the body buried atop Mt. Anopaea, with a stone lion atop the grave. Forty years later, Leonidas' body was returned to Sparta and buried with full state honors.

Meanwhile, out at sea, the Athenian Navy fought the Persian Navy. But the battle was a draw.

It was then that the Spartans betrayed their Greek allies.  Rather than falling back on well-defended Athens as agree, they refused to defend the Peloponnese.  They fled to the Corinthian Isthmus (and their homeland) instead, deciding it was "every man for himself".

The Persians captured Thebes and then Athens. But the Athenian people retreated to the island stronghold of Salamis a mile offshore. There, they threatened to cut Xerxes off from his naval supply ships.

In late September, Themistocles, the Athenian commander, persuaded the Spartans to do battle again. The Spartans wanted to build a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth to stop the Persian army. But Themistocles correctly argued that a wall was useless so long as the Persian navy could take the army around any defenses. Themistocles also tricked the Spartans into staying: He sent a slave (the teacher of his children) into the Persian camp. The slave "betrayed" the Greeks by telling Xerxes that they would retreat the next day to the isthmus. That night, Xerxes placed an army in the path of the "retreating" Greeks. At dawn, the Spartans found they could not retreat...and were forced to stay and fight.

Themistocles forced the Persian fleet to fight in the Straits of Salamis. The large and more numerous Persian ships couldn't maneuver effectively in the narrow straits. Worse, the Greeks had armed their ships with long bronze prows to ram the Persians; the Persians were forced to get far too close to the Greek ships to ram them with their armored bows. Both sides used marines to attack one another once ramming had been accomplished. But the Persian marines relied more on archers than swordsmen. The Greeks waited until mid-morning for the battle to begin, knowing that the morning winds would make it difficult for the Persian archers to find their mark. Meanwhile, the better armored and sword-wielding Greeks swarmed over the Persian ships with few losses. When the Persians tried to flee, the winds blocked their escape. The mass of Persian ships in the straits enabled the Greek fleet to gnaw at the fleeing Persian vessels, destroying hundreds of ships. Watching from a throne on the shore, Xerxes was horrified.

After the Battle of Salamis, Xerxes took the majority of his army back to Turkey. He left a garrisoning force behind under General Mardonius. A year later, at the Battle of Plataea, Mardonius as defeated and Athens (and the rest of Greece) liberated.

The Battle of Salamis -- not the battle of Thermopylae -- is considered the single most important battle of world history. Had Athens been dominated by the Persians, the nascent traditions of individual rights and democracy, as well as the flower of Greek culture and art, would have been snuffed out. The world would be fundamentally different had the Athenian general Themistocles not forced the Spartans to fight at Salamis.

Now, about the movie...

The film The 300 stars Gerard Butler and David Wenham. Frank Miller, the artist and writer behind 300 -- the graphic (in more ways than one!) novel on which the film is based -- did extensive research for his book. He was inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, making this a film based on a novel based on a film. (How kitschy is that?)

Miller's problem was that if you took history at face-value, it's not that cool. Not very fan-boy. All you'd see where locked tall rectangular shields with long spears thrusting out repeatedly. Poorly armored troops would march up to it and die. There was noo movement, no action, no slashing swords or swinging arms or angry faces twisted into a mask of war-like ecstasy.

So Miller made his Spartans nude. They wear "Spartan" helmets and capes, and nothing else. Good luck going into war with that, boys! (Graphic novel, indeed.)

Miller also altered the way Thermopylae was fought, reversing the order of battle so that the Naked Good Guys got to draw swords and show off their military skill while the Too-Heavily Armored Bad Guys stupidly stood there and got their heads lopped off.

The producers of the film tried to stay true to Miller's vision of muscle-bound nearly-naked manly-men doing battle. The actors were put in a three-month boot-camp where they were muscled up day and night, blasting their pecs and quads and turning themselves into muscle-bots. Yes, costumes were used (fully male nudity being far too much for the tender sensibilities of most audiences). The Spartans wear only skimpy leather Speedos.

I wish that the film showed the Spartans as they really were.

We know very little about Sparta, actually. None of its laws or constitutions have come down to us in history. It was founded around 1,000 B.C.E., and ruled by two hereditary kings. Prominent families formed a ruling council (making Sparta an oligarchy). Ephors were the bureaucrats and judges of Sparta, elected for one-year terms. But in Sparta, only those who had been through the "agoge" (military training) and who financially supported work of the agoge could vote.

Sparta began its rise to power shortly after the reforms of Lycurgus. Lycurgus reformed the Spartan constitution, establishing the agoge and ephors. He banned literature and written laws, forcing the Spartans into an oral culture. He forced unmarried men to live and eat communally, ordered the city's walls torn down to society to be more militaristic, and made it illegal for Spartans to farm, trade, bank, create art, or bequeath land. He also established a system of state-owned slavery (and slaves did the commerce, art, and farming). The creation of wealth was frowned on (although those families which already had riches could keep them, reinforcing the oligarchic nature of Sparta).

Until the age of seven Spartan boys and girls were educated at home. For girls, that's where things ended. But afterward, the boys were taken to the agoge -- a communal military academy. They were purposefully under-fed, to encourage them to steal food for a living and learn self-reliance. Enormous emphasis was placed on building muscle and military skill, but also on dancing and sports. All exercising was done in the nude. Older teenagers and unmarried young men "adopted" one of the young boys, and engaged in a pederastic sexual relationship (which included anal and oral sex) with him. Boys between the ages of 10 and 13 engaged in mutual public flogging to see who could stand more punishment.

At the age of 13, males were formed into four-man squads and sent into the countryside in the rite known as the "Crypteia" -- the Secret. They carried no clothing, and had nothing but a dagger with them. They were expected to steal food or kill wild animals to survive. They were also expected to kill any slave which showed resistance to the Spartan order by sneaking into town at night and murdering them in their beds or by ambushing them in the fields as they worked during the day. Thousands of slaves were killed each year this way. The boys in the squads were also expected to pleasure one another sexually. When the teenagers returned to the agoge at the age of 14, they stayed there until the age of 20.

Unmarried men who were 20 years of age or older then moved into a "syssitia," a military-style barracks. About 15 to 20 men formed a syssitia. They ate together, slept together, fucked together and spent leisure time together. Men left their syssitia only if they married.

A Spartan became a full citizen with all rights only at the age of 30. They maintained their citizenship only by paying taxes to support the agoge. Failure to pay the full amount the agoge required meant demotion to "lesser man" category and loss of a number of civil rights.

Spartans were essentially bisexual. Women were encouraged to take a female lover, and could even bring this lover into the home. Women also were encouraged to sleep with as many men as possible, so that they could bear as many children as possible. Spartan men, too, had many male lovers, ranging in age from 10 to men in their 40s and 50s.

Only male Spartan citizens were soldiers for the state. Around 500 B.C.E., the number of Spartan men numbered about 8,000. But war, failure to pay agoge fees, and other factors led to a severe drop in the number of Spartan males born each year. By 350 B.C.E., the number of Spartan males had fallen to less than 1,000, and to only 700 by 250 B.C.E. As the number of Spartan males fell, the amount of terror imposed on the slave population increased.  (The 300 Spartans who showed up at Thermopylae constituted about a third of all Spartan males.  The losse of nearly all these man was a huge blow to Sparta.)

Sparta never built great cities or amphitheaters. Sparta's towns were really villages. Stone and marble were used only for public buildings (like theaters). Most homes were made of wood or sod, and had thatched roofs. The population was widely dispersed.

Around 750 B.C.E., Sparta conquered the nearby Helots. Sparta itself was a small town which was on the Eurotas River. The Eurotas flowed southeast between two mountain chains -- the Parnon to the northeast and the Taygete to the southwest. The city was surrounded on three sides by sharp, tall foothills of the Taygete. Helos was located near the mouth of the Eurotas, and the Helots formed the basis of the publicly-owned slave system established by Lycurgus. When a Spartan became a citizen, he was give a plot of land. The state assigned Helots to farm that land. Around 620 B.C.E., Sparta defeated the Messinians, who lived on the peninsula west of the Taygete Mountains. When Athens attempted to extend its rule over all of Greece in 431 B.C.E., Sparta defeated her. It took 30 years to bring down Athens, but the defeat ended the Golden Age of Greek culture.

Spartan dominance did not last. Only 30 years later, in 371 B.C.E., the Spartans lost to Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra. By the time Alexander the Great overran Greece in 336 B.C.E., Sparta had lost most of its territory and military might and clung to only a small part of the Eurotas River valley.

Sparta maintained some political independence by allying with the new Italian political power, Rome. But in 222 B.C.E., Sparta was finally defeated and made a vassal state of the Achaean League (the emerging Greek state). After its defeat, Sparta became a tourist destination for Romans. They came to see the "peculiar" Spartan social customs and ogle at the barbarism the few remaining Spartans exhibited.

Sparta was repeatedly overrun by various invading Goths and Visigoths in the Middle ages. The Turks took control of what was left of depopulated Sparta in the late 1200s C.E., then built the nearby city of Mistra -- to which most of the population decamped. The Venetians gained control of Sparta in 1687, and the Turks seized it in 1715. When Greece won its freedom in 1834, Greek officials decided to build a "model city" on the site of ancient Sparta. Today, Sparta is a city of about 21,000 and is the administrative capital of the political prefecture of Lacedaemon. (Mistra now lies deserted.)

What do you bet that Frank Miller's "300" doesn't show pederasty?

Oh well. I guess artistic license is the excuse.

The film does, however, show us near-naked muscular hotties. Most of whom have gold rings piercing their nipples, ears, and noses.

To make the film look even more comic-book-ish, the filmmakers decided to Photoshop all the frames in the film to make them look like bad video games.

It was a silly movie.  I watched it just to see the nipple rings, pecs, and leather loincloths.

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