Fact versus Fiction

I tutor a few students and one had a research task for history and he chose to write about the legend of the 300 Spartans. Great, I thought, a topic I can provide insight and information. Before I continue any further, let me say this is a thirteen year old boy.

The first thing he asks is whether the movie 300 is true, did it happen? My answer was, it did happen but not exactly as the film depicted the events. What followed was a series of further questions and to my dismay, how he thought the movie was factual. I pointed out the movie was based on a graphic novel, a fiction story with elements of truths. It took some convincing that no hippopotamus or a hunchback was ever involved in the battle of Thermopylai.

Fictionalising historical events have been around since the dawn of storytelling. Myths and legends tell of heroic deeds, transgressions of individuals and in some instances weave tales of disasters that wipe out entire races. As in Homer’s tale of the Iliad, was there a war, was Helen really a Queen of Sparta, did any of the heroes in the story exist? This famous story has initiated many debates amongst scholars and archaeologists. For a long time, the general consensus was it was just a fantastic story, now evidence has shown otherwise. The site of Priam’s palace and the city of Troy has been discovered, including proof there was a war with discoveries of arrow heads, human bones and scorch marks which can be dated back to the time of this ‘story’.

Tiryns Cyclopean Walls

Tiryns
Cyclopean Walls

The site of Agamemnon’s palace has been found as was Tiryns and Pylos, major Mycenaean cities mentioned in Homer’s tale. The walls of Tiryns were described by the bard as ‘mighty’ or ‘well-walled’ depending on the translation. The remains of the walls are impressive even to this day and when you see them, you can understand why he called them ‘mighty’. Weapons, helmets, armour described by Homer have also been found.

‘Meriones gave Odysseus… a cleverly made leather helmet… On the inside there was a strong lining of interwoven straps, onto which a felt cap had been sewn in. The outside was cleverly adorned all round with rows of white tusks from a shiny-toothed boar, the tusks running in alternated directions in each row.’
Homer, The Iliad, Book 10, Lines 260-265

Mycenaean Greek boar tusk helmet 14th Century BCE National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Greek boar tusk helmet 14th Century BCE
National Archaeological Museum, Athens

It also has come to light, hence sceptics discrediting his story as actual historic events, that Homer had described weapons from his own time as well as those from 13th century BCE, when the Greeks waged war against the Trojans. Like storytellers before him and since, what’s wrong with a little embellishment, it’s what makes a good story, otherwise how is it we’re still talking and reading Homer’s works?

Legends such as The Iliad are not borne from nothing, a war of some epic proportion must have happened, just look at our own recent timeline. Who’s to say in 100 years or in 1000 years people will look back and wonder whether these wars did happen and in what context? Facts are the greatest resource for all writers, without them wonderful stories would not be told.

My student, quite excited by the way, informed me they have made a sequel: 300 – rise of an empire. I will not be going to see it, not into ‘romp and kill the bad guy’ type of flicks.

Thank you for reading.

As always, I look forward to your comments.

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32 thoughts on “Fact versus Fiction

  1. “Legends such as The Iliad are not borne from nothing, a war of some epic proportion must have happened, just look at our own recent timeline. Who’s to say in 100 years or in 1000 years people will look back and wonder whether these wars did happen and in what context? Facts are the greatest resource for all writers, without them wonderful stories would not be told.”

    This is a fantastically interesting paragraph, Luciana.

    Makes me wonder that, even today we have those ridiculous sceptics regarding The Holocaust. What will people say in a hundred years time?

    My old dad used to always tell me that in a hundred years Hitler will be seen by many as a hero, or at least just another figure of history… Frightening thought but just how true is it?

    Will old footage, monuments and education help us?

    Oh, and of course Homer based his story on facts… Some people, honestly.

    Thanks for the read x

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    • It does make you wonder why people question the facts when it’s so obvious. Really, no such thing as a Holocaust, these people need to check what history books they’ve been checking.

      Scary thought about Hitler being regarded as a hero. Though some already believe it don’t they? It goes to show how facts can be distorted despite the reality of what has happened. I hope people are much more clever than that!

      Thank you so much for the wonderful comment Chris 😀 x

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      • Yes. History according to… always, isn’t it. Lest we forget Hitler used ‘fiction’, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, more or less as a factual account in his propaganda campaign… according to his adaptation, that is.

        Have a great week x

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  2. I’ve heard people say written history is merely a form of journalism and that it can’t be trusted fully. Adding the fact that even the court of law doesn’t rely on witnesses so much anymore (given the brain’s inclination of “editing” facts into something else), I guess as long as there is no tape on it, you can’t fully trust it. I must say, as a former teacher myself, it’s sad the child took the film as factual!
    Luciana – tonight I’m reading the story, Boxed in a Curse 🙂 I’ll get back tomorrow or on Sunday with news. Had to work as good as non-stop until now and I’ve gotten to Pandora’s wedding and the first night, it’s very well described (what she and her husband both feel), very authentic!

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    • History as a form of journalism, very true. Our brains do edit a lot of information agreed, as do the editors of print and non-print formats, giving us only what they want us to read or see.

      It took many sessions to convince him it wasn’t all accurate! Goes to show the influence movies, media and social media has on young impressionable minds!

      I hope you enjoy the story Ana.
      Thank you 😀

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  3. Great post Luciana! Beautiful Mycenaean Greek boar tusk helmet. If only it could speak, the stories it would tell would be amazing!

    The lines between fact and fiction are definitely becoming more blurred, and I believe the Internet and Hollywood movies play a big role in this, as was apparent with your thirteen-year-old student. One such movie/book that caused an enormous uproar was Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.” Although it was fiction, thousands of people took it to be the truth and could not be convinced otherwise!

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    • Thank you Rosary 😀 If only artefacts can tell us the true stories, it would be fascinating!

      Yes, Dan Brown, I enjoyed the story and amazed at the influence it had over people. Great for tourism in Paris and for the Louvre ;D of which I adore. The media has a lot to answer for when it comes to editing only what they want their audience to see. They should show the whole story rather than presenting sensational aspects. As to Hollywood, I guess its all part of making money 😀
      Thanks Rosary.

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  4. “It took some convincing that no hippopotamus or a hunchback was ever involved in the battle of Thermopylai.” – Oh goodness, very rarely are funny and sad so perfectly weaved together! Well, as painful an experience as that sounds like it was, at least you got a funny memory from it. 🙂

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    • I definitely got good mileage out it! Still makes me cringe and smile at the same time. I am hoping when he watches the sequel, he will be more canny about the story! 😀
      Thanks Julie

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  5. I fully enjoyed Boxed in a Curse. Loved the description of how the spirits emerged from the urn and whirled around Pandora and the way you describe how she felt. I imagined this story in a novel and everything you could craft with the characters. You sure have the skill! Now that I finished the story, I need another Cavallaro 🙂 What do you recommend me to start with?

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    • Thank you so much Ana, for the wonderful comment, especially coming from a gifted storyteller 😀
      Aphrodite’s Curse was the first short story I published if you wish to start with that one. 😀

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  6. Relativism, while originally a reasonable enough idea, has become a scourge among young people. We’ve trained them to be skeptical, but not rigorous, with the result that they think any story about reality is as good as the next. Post-modernism come to roost.

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  7. What will people in the future make of our time? When anything can be made to look “real” by digital manipulation? When anyone can publish a “factual” book with no real data behind it? I think I’m glad I won’t learn the answer to that….

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  8. When we delve into history we also may think that our time may also become history after sometime. How very wonderful? And how people at that time and space will judge this time is not exactly known.

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    • It would be interesting to know what future generations think of our time and what we did. We have done the same and wonder if we could do better. And we really haven’t.
      Thank you 😀

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      • Thanks a reply for your response.

        Past history is replete with historical events which has left an indelible impression on our generation too. But presently, we have not done anything impressionable except advancement in technology.
        Previous scientific inventions and thinking it may be in philosophy or any discipline and thinking out of box has affect this generation and would be doing so in future too.

        With regards

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  9. Great thoughtful post, funny how the historical accuracy matters for ancient events but not so much when it comes to say modern films and books “based” (loosely) on an actual event.

    My 5th grade teacher (ca 1971) didn’t have anything like modern day resources like movies and computers with which to make ancient history exciting. He used nothing more than books and a wonderful imagination and to show us a sense of what it was back in the days of Ancient Egypt Greece and Rome and make it real for us

    Some, perhaps a lot of what we were taught and told may today be thought of quite differently, with possibly new interpretations. But that love for those powerful stories has remained with me ever since.

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    • Thank you very much 😀
      Easy to say it is ‘loosely’ based on the truth rather than get sued for falsely depicting people or events.

      Your 5th grade teacher must have been one of those rare educators who was born to teach. Some can and many others cannot! I tip my hat to him for providing wonderful lessons that have made a lasting impression.

      I think even today with the ease of information at our hands and the creative way of presenting it can be lost if the teacher isn’t enthusiastic or engages the students. You have been very fortunate.
      Thank you 😀

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