"300," the tremendously violent film that smashed box-office records this spring, was shown Thursday night in a packed Salomon 001 to an audience that included both students and other members of the Brown community. The film, based upon a graphic novel by Frank Miller, fictionalizes the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian War. The screening was followed by a series of discussions by Brown professors, which included selected readings of poetry on the events at Thermopylae.
Following the movie and an introduction from Professor of Classics Susan Alcock, scholars from a range of fields - classics, archaeology, religious studies, anthropology and international studies - weighed in on its historical validity, cultural assumptions and violent nature.
Deborah Boedeker, professor of classics, compared the film to the authoritative text on the Persian War, "Histories of Herodotus." The "Histories" are "many times removed from what is portrayed here," she said.
Boedeker argued that many of the film's inaccuracies stem from the need to tell a story based on modern notions of what comprises a narrative - with a beginning, middle and end. Additionally, the film, according to Boedeker, unfairly "draws a line between Spartan rationalism and Persian mysticism."
"('300') exhibited blatant tropes in Orientalism," said Ian Straughn, postdoctoral fellow in Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World. Like Boedeker, Straughn discussed the divisions the film draws between the Greek and Persian cultures and added that the creation of the Persians as a distinct other is rooted in Western conceptions of Eastern culture's "immense decadence."
Many of the scholars drew comparison between Spartan rhetoric against the Persians and that of leaders in the post-9/11 world. Lina Fruzzetti, professor of anthropology, noted the symbolism of glorifying Western society as good and noble, while pitting them against a vilified, evil East.
Keith Brown, associate professor of international studies, also likened the Spartan army to a facet of contemporary military culture: the U.S. Marine Corps. Both forces distinguish themselves from regular armies based on a set of values and beliefs emphasizing their exclusivity and discipline, Brown argued.
The event was co-sponsored by the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, the Archaeology Department Undergraduate Group, the Department of Classics and the Department of Modern Culture and Media.