[extropy-chat] 300 and the Gates of Fire

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Sat Mar 10 14:04:06 UTC 2007

A movie called "300" opens this weekend in the US according to this
New York Times Review:

The movie doesn't sound worthwhile, but that doesn't mean that the story
is not. This particular story belongs with the greatest epics. I've
thought long and hard about why my physical wiring is so moved by this
incredible story of sacrifice, and I honestly don't have an answer. Plus
if Herodotus had not recorded this battle, would history have
'remembered' this event any differently?

I suggest to skip the movie, and buy the following paperback book
of the story, instead:

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

I have it in a mass-market paperback published by Bantam; it was a gift
many years ago from a Greek friend. Once I started the story, I couldn't
put it down. Pressfield is a historian who collected facts, filling in
the holes with best guesses for the reality of the situation, and I
probably learned more about ancient Greek civilization from that book
than anything else that I have read, with the exception of Homer. He
embellished the story by adding a character who apparently survived the
slaughter, was taken prisoner by Xerxes, and while the prisoner was
dying, he told his life story and the story of his Greek companions so
that their lives would be remembered. A moving touch. I note that my
Greek friend who gave me the book is not the only Greek recommending
this particular book; it seems to be adored by them.

The basic story from is the following.

In 480 B.C. the forces of the Persian Empire under King Xerxes numbering
according to Herodotus two million men, bridged the Hellespont and
marched to invade and take control of Greece.

In a desperate delaying action, a picked force by Leonidas of three
hundred Spartans was dispatched to the pass of Thermopylae, where the
confines between mountains and sea were so narrow that the Persian army
and their cavalry would be at least partially neutralized. Here it was
hoped, an elite force willing to sacrifice their lives could keep back
at least for a few days, the invading millions.

Three hundred Spartans and their allies held off the invaders for seven
days, until, their weapons smashed and broken from the slaughter, they
fought "with bare hands and teeth" (as recorded by Herodotus), being at
last overwhelmed.

The Spartans and their Thespian allies died to the last man, but the
standard of courage they set by their sacrifice inspired the Greeks to
rally and, in that Fall and Spring, defeat the Persians at Salamis and
Plataea and preserve the beginnings of the Western civilization ideas
that many in the world still cherish.

A long factual account of the event is here, at Wikipedia:

However, the emotions in the Wikipedia description are missing.  Steven
Pressfield in the book above, and Herodotus, _The Histories_ can fill in
some of that with memorable pieces:

"Although extraordinary valor was displayed by the entire corps of
Spartans and Thespians, yet bravest of all was declared the Spartan
Dienekes. It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native
of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, when they
fired their volleys, the mass of arrows blocked out the sun. Dienekes,
however, quite undaunted by the prospect, remarked with a laugh, "Good.
Then we'll have our battle in the shade."



Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
INAF Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario (IFSI), Roma, ITALIA
Associate Research Scientist, Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Tucson

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list