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’.
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
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.