I’m the president of Luther College’s Classical Society. My co-officers and I assume responsibility to organize activities or outings for students who find interest in ancient Greece and Rome (and their contemporaries). Naturally, we include the Hollywood versions of various legendary events in those activities and outings. For an especially Classics-themed day, we advertised to our cohort of interested students to see 300: Rise of an Empire on the Ides of March (this past Saturday). Though we had a rather dismal showing of students, the movie wasn’t as bad as I’d expected and gave me an opportunity to think.
Much is made of the Scottish accent of the supposedly Spartan protagonist Leonidas in the original movie, 300. I noted the equally rough accents of many of the main characters in the sequel, and I looked up where the actors originated. Although Themistokles is played by an Aussie, his right-hand man is a Scot; and the father-son pair is a New Zealander and an Englishman. In the movie, I’d begun to wonder whether the setting of a small, disjointed, quasidemocratic Greek “nation” against the mighty, hierarchical Persian empire really functioned to present to the audience the story of Scotland’s struggle for independence against the United Kingdom. Knowing the actors’ birth countries, perhaps the narrative is about more than Scotland and instead includes Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and the US. I include the US because the film is intended for an American audience. All of these regions/countries have, or continue to do so, fought against domination by the UK.
I know the movies are based on a comic book series based on legendary tales, and thus have been creatively reinterpreted to fit the scriptwriter’s desires. There are massive temporal, geographical, and cultural differences between the battles of the Persian War and now. Have the stories been reinterpreted with some of the intention to help connect a modern American audience to the struggles and experiences of humans in 480 BC half a world away? Or have the stories been used simply as a format through which to discuss experiences closer to now, to the US? Can the people who make up the audiences for 300: Rise of an Empire actually connect to the Persian War without studying the Greek culture/language/histories? (I’ve spent 3.5 semesters learning the Athenian dialect of that time period – can even a student of the ancient Greek/Roman language/culture connect to the tales?) Or are we simply rehashing tales from our grandparent’s grandparent’s time in another guise?