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March 12th, 2007


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08:15 am - Thermopylae, the Delphic Oracle, and Other Tidbits
Because of the popularity of the movie 300 and the fact that I've now seen it twice and been amused by how Frank Miller represented the history (and, admittedly, appreciated the revalorizing of the myth of Thermopylae), I figured that I would provide the three Delphic oracles that particularly focus on the situation at the Hot Gates. (I just happen to have the collected Oracles on my desk):
"People of Sparta, either your city is destroyed by the Persians or it is not, and Lakedaimon will mourn a dead king of the Haraklid line. For the might of bulls and lions will not stay the enemy in battle; he has Zeus' might. And I say that he will not stop until he has destroyed one of these two." -Q152, Oracle of Delphi to the Spartans, regarding the Persian invasion (481/480 BC) [Herodotus, 7.220.3-4]

"Do not stay; fly to the ends of the earth, leaving your houses and city. For the whole body is unsound; nothing is left. Fire and war destroy it. Many fortresses will be destroyed, not yours alone. Many temples will burn, and blood drips upon their roofs, presaging inevitable evil. Leave the adyton and be ready for woes." -Q146, Oracle of Delphi to the Athenians, regarding the Persian invasion of the Hellas (481/480 BC)

"Pallas cannot appease Zeus with her many prayers. But I shall tell you this immovable decree: all Attica will be taken, but Zeus grants Athena a wooden wall that shall alone be untaken and will help you and your children. Do not await the onset of cavalry and infantry from the continent at your ease, but turn about and leave. You will face them sometime again. O divine Salamis, you will lose many children of men either at sowing time or at harvest." -Q147, Oracle of Delphi to the Athenians, regarding Oracle Q146 (481/480 BC)¹
Other items of possible interest, regarding the battle itself:

Demaratus, a king of Sparta in exile (the Spartans had two kings at a time, not just one), defected to the Persians. He told Xerxes early on:
When the Spartans fight singly they are as brave as any man, but when they fight together they are supreme above all. For though they are free men, they are not free in all respects; law is the master whom they fear, a great deal more than their subjects fear you. They do what the law commands and its command is always the same, not to flee in battle whatever the number of the enemy, but to stand and win, or die."
A countryman of Xerxes apparently once asked:
"Why, O God, have you taken upon you the form of a Persian man, changing your name to Xerxes, in order to lead the whole world to conquer and devastate Greece? You could have destroyed Greece without all that trouble."
When Xerxes crossed the Hellespont, his first floating bridge was destroyed. Xerxes ordered that the sea be lashed 300 times, that fetters be thrown into the sea, and that the sea be branded as a criminal. The men wielding the whips were ordered to say the following:
"You salt and bitter current, your master inflicts this punishment upon you for doing harm to him, who never harmed you. Nevertheless, Xerxes the King will cross you with or without your permission. No man makes sacrifice to you, and for this neglect you deserve your neglect because of your salty and dirty water."
Oh, and he had the bridge designers executed.

The Phocians held the goat path, and they did, indeed, flee the advance of the Immortals without putting up a fight. But I would point out that the Thebans and the Thespians, as well as the Spartan Helots, all remained on the last day. The estimate of how many men occupied the pass on the final day is approximately 2,000: 300 Spartans and the rest Helots, Thespians, and Thebans. Leonidas started the battle with approximately 7,000 men (from Sparta, Thespiae, Thebes, Arcadia, Opus, Phocis, and Malis).

Also, I found this test on the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis and felt that it was good that teachers were actually teaching this stuff.

And FYI, the final battle in the movie 300 is the Battle of Plataea. I admit to being somewhat surprised that the Battle of Artemisium wasn't mentioned, because, you know, that's why the Persian fleet couldn't just sail around Leonidas and take care of business.

Source for everything in the LJ cut (i.e. everything but the Oracle quotes)? Bradford, Ernle. Thermopylae: The Battle for the West. De Capo Press. 1993.

¹ - Source: Fonternrose, Joseph. The Delphic Oracle: Its responses and Operations With a Catalogue of Responses. University of California Press. 1981
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: "Nautical Wheelers", -JB

(13 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:smithing_chick
Date:March 12th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
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I was amused at the bit in the credits where it made a point to say "This movie is not attempting to be historically accurate & neither was the book it was based on"

Movies are meant to entertain. And 300 certainly does that-- Wow! It struck me as being more about the mythology of Thermopylae than about the actual history- look at the creatures the Persians had. The whole thing's so much larger than life, which is part of why it's such a good movie.

Still, I love learning about the actual history of these things. Thanks for posting this!
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
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I think that knowing the history deepened the experience for me, primarily because I could look at it and say, "Wow, it's really cool what they put in, and what they left out!"

Thermopylae is one of the many battles I know well enough to diagram the entire action by hand without looking anything up. That made things truly interesting.

Now, when I go to Greece, I'm looking forward to actually standing near the wall, and meditating for a bit on the hill where the last stand took place. I have realized that there are two pieces of writing that need to come out of this trip: my experience of hiking up Olympus, and my experience of being at Thermopylae and Marathon. I suddenly have the urge to go to Plataea and Salamis, now, too. But perhaps another trip: there's much to do on this one already :)
[User Picture]
From:spottedtoad
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
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Great! Now I have to go buy more books!

Yipee for me.

[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
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If you're really interested in Greek warfare, I highly, highly suggest the book "The Western Way of War" by Victor Davis Hanson. I occasionally just sit down and read random excerpts from that book. It's not all that long, but it's very good, information-wise.

I imagine it'd be a good book to put somewhere on the ADF Warriors' Guild SP.
[User Picture]
From:tlachtga
Date:March 13th, 2007 12:11 am (UTC)
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I highly, highly suggest the book "The Western Way of War" by Victor Davis Hanson

Sure--let's balance out that tree-hugging hippy shit. :)

/joke
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 13th, 2007 12:38 pm (UTC)
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*grins* Yes, totally too much of that!

I never quite "got" the warrior thing. Seems rather. . . well, rather BC to me. But then, it would to a guy like me :)
[User Picture]
From:tlachtga
Date:March 13th, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
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Honestly? I understand being a soldier and defending your country when under attack. I'm not a pacifist by any means. What I DON'T get is the idealization of warrior culture--sorry, but raping and pillaging doesn't seem very honorable to me.

There's a thread on the ADF lists where someone asked how we reconcile the "dark" aspects of Celtic culture with this "hippy" religion. Well, aside from not seeing Druidism as "hippy", I reconcile it the same way I reconcile being an American--ALL societies do things i don't like. So what? OK, some Celts liked headhunting, slavery, and conquest. Well, that sounds a lot like the settlement of the U.S. What's the difference? I'm not about to stop saying I'm American just because parts of our history are embarressing or even enraging. I'm not about to question being a Druid either just because parts of Celtic history are embarressing.

Having said that, I don't get the idea of celebrating it. I can see digging the Iceni rebellion, or Vercingetorix. But they were fighting for their homelands. I don't know that the whole "warrior" thing always makes the distinction. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope so.
From:snakesinspace
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
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I want to go see that movie, but no babysitter mixed with the possibility that it may be in Thai prevents me. Curses!

When I see you in Greece we should do our own reenactments!
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
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I'd look good in a black leather speedo, don't you think? Well, so long as my abs were digitally painted on.
From:snakesinspace
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC)
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Re speedo: It depends. I have heard rumours.

I thought all abs were digitally painted on.
[User Picture]
From:raydon_12
Date:March 12th, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
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They had a pretty good, though short, discussion on Talk of the Nation on NPR about the history and variances represented by the movie, I can't wait to see it!!

Maybe this will inspire me to catch up on my classical history.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 13th, 2007 12:39 pm (UTC)
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Hehe. If only movies would have that effect commonly.
[User Picture]
From:raydon_12
Date:March 13th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC)
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That would be nice, but I'm definitely not going to hold my breath waiting. Even though the movie industry has turned out some good ones in recent years, in general, I still hold the whole industry and its associated culture in contempt.

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