The Battle of Thermopylae according to classical Greek legend took place in the year 480 BCE. Three hundred Spartan warriors, under the lead of legendary king Leonidas I, fought an epic battle to withhold the Persian god-king Xerxes from subjecting the Greeks. Frank Miller produced an epic comic about the battle and his interpretation of the character of the Spartans and king Leonidas I in his cult series entitled 300 in 1998. Later this year, Warner Bros. will release a spectacular movie re-enacting Miller’s comic book. Although I am not a big fan of multi-million Hollywood productions not of comic books, I am set to go and see it.
There seems to occur a revival of the classic theme in Hollywood and in the consumer’s taste. With Achilles costing $250 million dollar, Frank Miller’s movie adaption by Warner Bros. costs the lesser sum of $60 million dollar, but including the mega million blockbuster The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson, Hollywood is putting the classics back on track of mass audiences. Now, you can argue about the artistic value of a movie like Achilles and few would dare to defend it, but the artistic contribution of the cult strip by Frank Miller would be hard to deny. The movie to be released later this year was directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed Dawn of the Dead, and will be true to Miller’s interpretation rather than to the historic document by Herodotus. Frank Miller was influenced on his turn by the 1962 movie of the epic entitled The 300 Spartans by Rudolph Maté.
If anything, it is the classic Spartan value of individual hardened sacrifice for the higher good that is the central theme in Miller’s 300. It is only the willful embrace of death as our humble fate, and the path of hardship and discipline as a warrior of life by which we will achieve the highest dignity. But like in any good Greek tale, there is no good story without a bad ending, and the tragedy of 300 follows Greek legend here. The rigidity of the Spartan life required that misformed babies were to be killed, being unable to serve Sparta as a true warrior.
All your life, you should prepare, day in, day out, you should push yourself to learn and become better, because in everyone’s life, there will be a moment where we will need all those years of training and preparation to live up to the highest achievement in our life. The lesson here is that complacency comes before our fall, and never should we allow ourselves to be a victim to that hybris, where we think the gods are on our side, that luck decides our fate, because this is the prelude to our downfall. And the moment of our greatest glory will be won in a close battle with death, where only heroes stand to fight. Those who tremble, tremble of fear for death in the light of life, will meet their end in the dark, but those who tremble, eager to stand up to live their moment of decisive struggle, are true warriors. Thus, when Leonidas stands eye in eye with the wolf, this wild animal ready for his meal, he knows that he either perishes or will live up to his fate and deserve fame.
But like any man, Leonidas too, makes a mistake, because only this makes us human. When the misformed Ephialtes begs Leonidas for the honor to fight along the Spartans, Leonidas does not see the use for his support. But he makes a crucial mistake, because although a man is no use to a friend, he may serve an enemy against him, and so Ephialtes betrays the Spartans to the Persians avenging his rejection. This is what makes a tragedy truely great, for the villain we feel no despise without sympathy, for the hero we feel no admiration without despise. This Dostoewskian guilt in all good, does not escape the heroes of Sparta.
Miller’s 300 is divided into five chapters: honor, duty, glory, combat and victory. This sounds awkwardly close to Westpoint’s credo duty, honor, country, and certainly it is no coincidence that 300 is released in a time when America is at war. America like Sparta is a country where no value is in higher esteem than the notion of honor in freedom until death. Europeans will bargain their honor to avoid death at the cost of freedom, but Europeans are not likely to sacrifice, and Americans are. The loss of religious values in Europe is a great good, but something essential was lost along with it, and maybe, just maybe, Europeans need to take a closer look at classical Greece to restore some of their notion of death and freedom.
Rudolph Mate, The 300 Spartans (1962)
article on boilingpoint.nl.
300 (2007) – @imdb
Battle of Thermopylae – @wikipedia
300 the movie – @warnerbros.com
300 the comic – @wikipedia
Frank Miller – @wikipedia
Herodotus’ twenty-second logos: Thermopylae
The complete works of Frank Miller