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Shock report: The new "300" movie is historically inaccurate

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 12, 2014 12:07 PM

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It’s kind of unfair to fact-check “300: Rise of an Empire,” the new swords-and-sandals blockbuster that raked in $45 million in its opening weekend and makes no pretensions towards accuracy of any kind. But it’s also undeniably fun, too, so here goes.

This new “300” movie is a sequel to the massively successful “300” from 2006. It’s nominally about a fight for control of ancient Greece, between Persia, led by god-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), and an unidentified Grecian opponent (perhaps the soon-to-be ascendant Athenian Empire?) led by the hero Themistokles (whose name in the historical record is more frequently spelled with a “c,” not a “k”).

On the Oxford University Press blog, University of Cambridge historian Paul Cartledge, who's in on the gratuitousness of the exercise, points out five major errors in a movie he terms, “at best un-historical, at worst anti-historical.” They range from exaggerations to elisions to complete fabrications—all of which, of course, serve to amplify the drama and spectacle of the movie (which, so far, is polling predictable badly with critics).

One exaggeration concerns the role another regional power played in deciding the outcome of the climactic battle, and I won’t specify it here because it would give away the ending of the movie. A more central, and less-spoilery, exaggeration, has to do with Artemisia’s historical significance. The movie casts her and her brawny sidekicks as leaders of the entire 600-ship Persian fleet. Cartledge, playing the party-pooper, says in fact she had just a handful of ships to her name.

In the realm of fabrications, the movie opens with Xerxes’s father, Great King Darius I, getting killed on the battlefield by a long-distance javelin, thrown by Themistokles. More likely, Darius was speared to death in less cinematic fashion, in the scrum of phalanx-enabled combat.

The movie also features an apparently lurid encounter between Themistokles and Artemisia, battlefield enemies who, in director Noam Murro’s telling, found time to copulate between conflicts.

Cartledge thinks not, which, if word gets out, could undermine “300” at the box office: We all know audiences demand historical veracity in their sex scenes.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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