115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Greek “Self” and Persian “Other” in Zack Snyder’s 300

Eric Brook, California Baptist University

In his book The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others, Cambridge historian Paul Cartledge has persuasively argued that ancient Greek ethnic identity was informed by its contrast with what Greeks conceived of as "others," specifically "barbarian" others such as the Persians. My paper will explore how such a paradigm of self and other is represented in Zack Snyder's film 300.

Proposal: 

Debate concerning Greek ethnic identity goes back to the ancient world itself. The ancient Greeks did not have any cohesive political structure that defined them as a people. Instead, Greeks were scattered across a myriad of often competing, and sometimes cooperating, city-states. When a Greek would reflect on anything like ethnic identity, she or he would typically have immediate recourse to the local city-state. In such a context, the Greek historian Herodotus set forth particular criteria by which he found a common identity for Greeks. Calling this bundle of criteria the “Hellenic bond,” Herodotus attempted to establish that there was a general way of referring to Greeks as such. But implicit in Herodotus’s historical treatment of the Persian Wars is a further criterion: the juxtaposition of Greeks over against barbarians. A Greek is someone who is not a barbarian. Picking up on this defining aspect of Herodotus (and others), Cambridge historian Paul Cartledge, in his book The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others, has persuasively argued that ancient Greek ethnic identity was informed by its contrast with what Greeks conceived of as "others," specifically "barbarian" others such as the Persians.

My paper will explore how such a paradigm of self and others is represented in Zack Snyder's film 300. The film 300 is within the trajectory of several layers of historical representation that begins at least with Herodotus. Based upon a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley that is putatively based upon Herodotus’s account of the Battle of Thermopylae, the film 300 reflects the Herodotean emphasis upon Greek identity over against Persian “barbarians.” The otherness of the Persians comes across explicitly in depictions of exclusion and the grotesque. The heroic ethos of the Spartan is presented in stark contrast to Persian opulence and indolence. Whether such an approach to Greek ethnicity in the movie 300 is historically valid can depend upon one’s own assessment of how Herodotus deals with the Greek “self” and the Persian “other.” But an exploration of historical representation in terms of the mediums of ancient text and contemporary film brings to light the complexity of interpreting ancient history and may both help and hinder current discussions regarding ancient Greek ethnicity and identity.     

    

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