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The Battle of Thermopylae Recountered Through Herodot's Eyes, Diodorus Telling and "300" Cinematical Exoerience

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The Battle of Thermopylae in Three Perspectives

The Battle of Thermopylae was a famous battle fought between the invading Persians, and the defending Greek city-state alliance. This battle was recorded many historians, including Herodotus and Diodorus, and is even being continued to be written about in modern times through the movie “300”. Because each perspective was written at different times, the content of what was written differed from person to person. In The Histories, Herodotus describes the key players of the battle, and the events in detail, while Diodorus’ account has mostly the same information, but more summarized, and Beigel’s article about the film “300” focuses more on women in Sparta.

There is a slight juxtaposition between the characteristics of Xerxes and Leonidas, and the Persian army and the Spartan military. Xerxes is described as a very powerful ruler, with the backing of a mighty army with a “sum of the fighting men 2,641,610” Histories.VII.185 that caused the “unfailing rivers ran dry” DoS.11.5. Leonidas, on the other hand, commanded a force of thousand and three hundred that did not retreat in the face of the approaching Persian army. Leonidas was also smarter than Xerxes. He told the ephors that the thousand men he leads “are many … for the task to which they are now bound” DoS.11.4, knowing that they would be at an advantage defending the gates as opposed to retreating back to their city-state. During the battle, Xerxes has his army to “hurl themselves upon the Greeks as one mighty mass … with great violence” DoS.11.8, while the Greeks fought more skillfully, “making as though they were all flying away … would wheel around and face their pursuers” Histories.VII.211. The coordination and the strategy used by the small Greek army is what allow them to do major damage to the Persian army while taking relatively little casualties, which is also the Spartan military mystique. The Persian army would have continued to suffer great loses if not for Ephialtes, who betrays the Greeks and shows Xerxes a path to flank the Greeks.

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The concept of glory through fighting for freedom is discussed throughout the texts. After the Persians found a path to flank the Greeks, Leonidas orders the retreat of the Greeks, but he himself stayed with the Spartans because “if he stayed, glory awaited him, and that Sparta in that case would not lose her prosperity” Histories.VII.220. It would have been shameful and dishonorable to return home, only to have the Persians defeat them later. This way, they can fight with the intent to die, cause as much destruction as possible, and earn “immorality” from valor. Even if they could return home, they would lose their pride and respect, as in the case of Aristodemus and Eurytus. They had both suffered the same eye injuries, but Eurytus rejoined the battle and died, while Aristodemus returned to Laceaemon, and there he faced disgrace and reproach from other Spartans.

Spartan women are held in a higher light than women of other city-states at that time. A man and a woman are more or less equals, or partners in the case of husband and wife. In the movie “300”, when Gorgo addresses the messenger on a personal level, he feels shocked and insulted that a “woman can speak among men”. This demonstrates that in Spartan society, women can speak with men as equals, while in other areas, like Persia, they may not. In addition, Spartan women also help out in making decisions with a man. In the scene where Leonidas kicks the messenger into the hole, Leonidas looks at his wife for approval before taking action.

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