14 March 2007

Art lie

I'd previously read about some of the historical indiscretions in 300 the graphic novel and 300 the movie, but this article contains a more complete explanation. The most notable elisions:

  • Sparta, like other Greek states, was a slave state--those few free Spartans lived off of the hard work of the many slaves
  • The elite did not go through the difficult training that the slaves did--greatness did not result from social Darwinism
  • The political leaders where part of a check-and-balance to the kings--they were not decadents leeching from the brave soldiers
  • Spartan men paired with boys--Athens was not unique in this, and in fact Sparta was much more characterized by it
  • Many other Greeks fought at Thermopylae--unlike in the movie, they were equal to the Spartans

Most of this you remember from history class, but the article points out the philosophical deceit in the changes made in 300.

No mention is made in 300 of the fact that at the same time a vastly outnumbered fleet led by Athenians was holding off the Persians in the straits adjacent to Thermopylae, or that Athenians would soon save all of Greece by destroying the Persian fleet at Salamis. This would wreck 300's vision, in which Greek ideals are selectively embodied in their only worthy champions, the Spartans.

This movie, like Apocalypto or Passion of the Christ, seems in a special vein of rewriting of history that is not new. An artistic interpretation is a delicate balance between volumes of historical research and an iconic shorthand needed to summarize it. At what point can we criticize that shorthand for its representation of history? Do artists get a free pass to be praised for selective accuracies in their research and praised for expressive interpretation in their art, even when their interpretation defies fact?

[ posted by sstrader on 14 March 2007 at 11:55:39 AM in Cinema ]