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Abrock

My Literary Theory Capstone Paper on "300"

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So! I just found out today that I got an "A" on this paper (w00t!) and I've been asked to post it, since it takes a particularly *awful* review of "300" and smashes it against Spartan shields!! :kisswink: It's essentially my capstone paper for my Literary and Performance Theory classes, as I get my bachelors in August! *finally*

The comparative pictures alluded to will be posted in the next post...

Enjoy...

Critical Analysis (final draft)

Copyright: Melissa A. Smith, April 2007

Dramatic Literature part 2

Historical Aesthetics

Greece, 480 B.C.E. marks the famous Battle of Thermopylae, where three hundred Spartans held off hundreds of thousands of soldiers of the Persian Empire for the space of three days. The Spartans were then outflanked and all three hundred slaughtered, yet their sacrifice inspired the rest of Greece to stand together and win the war for their freedom from Persian slavery. “The Journal of Field Archeology” describes the conflict as, “The heroic defense of Greece by Athenians and Spartans against multiple Persian invasions in the early 5th Century B.C.E…One major event in the conflict was the stand against the Persians by the Spartans and allies under Leonidas at the narrow costal pass between the mountains and the sea at Thermopylae (Kraft et. all, 181).”

Here we have the basic outline of what happened over two thousand years ago in Ancient Greece, as is told in history books throughout the ages. Taking the perspective of a New Historicist, such an outline is a paltry, bare-boned example of what happened, or rather what may have happened in the ancient battle.

“Historical Accuracy” is a peculiar term. One that New Historicism essentially scoffs at, seeing as how the history books are written by fallible, shortsighted human beings, despite their best intentions to make it as “accurate” as possible. Jurgen Pieters addresses this dilemma of historical texts in terms of transparency; “Texts are transparent in the sense that they are unmarked by the intentions and critical performances of the subject that created them (Pieters, 25).” How then, does one tell a story such as the Battle of Thermopylae, particularly in an educational setting? Do we give an outline such as the one rendered above, transparent texts and all, and leave it at that? Does that sort of thing stick in a student’s mind?

Applying New Historicism to the world of aesthetics could very well be the most effective way of educating the common student in historical subjects. Using myself as an example, I knew nothing of the Battle of Thermopylae until I picked up a graphic novel entitled 300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. A graphic novel is, as some have defined, a fancy term for a comic book. A story is told through drawings and text bubbles, and yet is often aimed at a more mature audience rather than children and preteens. This work was picked up by director Zack Snyder and Warner Brothers Distribution in collaboration to create a film version. Much of the dialogue and even cinematography of the film emulates passages and stills from the graphic novel, as I’ve shown in the stills attached: the film stills named film001, film002, and so forth, corresponding with their graphic novel companion stills named gn001, gn002, etc.

The film 300, in its interpretation of the Battle of Thermopylae, follows King Leonidas of Sparta in his journey to protect his country from Xerxes and his invading Persian army. Because of old traditions of the land, which are sanctified by priests called the Ephors, Leonidas is forced to leave Spartan’s army behind, and takes only three hundred of his best soldiers to march north to the coast of Greece, to a narrow corridor between two cliffs called the Hot Gates. There they are joined by a few hundred Arcadians who protect their flank, guarding an old goat path, which is the only way the Spartans could be surrounded by the Persians. The first two days of battle go to the Spartans, their superior skills in the narrow corridor no match for Persian numbers. But on the third day, a Spartan traitor leads Xerxes and his soldiers to the goat path, where the Arcadians scatter and flee the Hot Gates. Since Spartans never retreat or surrender, Leonidas and his three hundred soldiers remain and are slaughtered.

Of course, where are there artists where there are not critics? Michael Foucault uses the term “commentary” in describing the discourse of critics. In his article entitled “The Order of Discourse,” he states the following concerning commentary of texts: “This radical effacement of the gradation can only ever be play, utopia, or anguish.” But whatever of these techniques are used, commentary has but one role…and that is to say what was “silently articulated” in the text itself, to go “beyond” the text. A critic’s role is not to create art, because without the primary art, they would have no reason for their secondary discourse, forever commenting on historical texts.

Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post writes a film review for the finished film of 300. But is he truly a film critic, or does he fancy himself an historical critic stuck writing film reviews? Hunter complains that the film lacks historical accuracy; “(300) doesn't even bother to mention the strategic context of the Battle of Thermopylae or to follow the story through to its end at Salamis, where the Athenians sent the Persian minions to meet Mr. Jones at the bottom of the Aegean, and drove the Persian Big Boy Xerxes back to his harem where he ultimately perished on an intriguer's knife. Meanwhile, the Greeks went on to invent the rest of history.”

Life must be frustrating for critics of aesthetics who would rather be digging in the sand. Even though his history lesson to the masses may have academic merit, this is certainly not the issue when approaching a highly stylized film, which was based off of a graphic novel of the same aesthetic technique. In this review we see a political criticism on a piece of art being treated as historical evidence. Then perhaps, his libel of the film stems from his desire to witness something more solid in the academic sense, something perhaps taken straight from transparent history texts, the details as infallible and accurate as humankind can make it. I asked before if he perhaps fancied himself a critic of historical studies, and in truth, he is one commissioned to historical commentary through the lens of New Historicism, but it seems as though Hunter does not subscribe to that notion.

In continuing, Hunter argues that the story of the 300 Spartans has been told and will continue to be told throughout the years, “Because most people get it. Even kids get it. But 300 -- the new cartoonified version of the hard day's work at the Hot Gates on the coast of Greece, where 300 stood against a million-man march of Persians--is clueless.” Why clueless? Because of the alleged historical and political inaccuracies, because of the stylized violence, because each actor portraying a Spartan has a six-pack abdomen…the list of artistic choices goes on. According to Hunter, anyone who worked on 300 should be ashamed of themselves for not finding a way to travel back in time, and make a documentary on the true happenings of the Battle of Thermopylae. Hunter, however, contradicts his notion of storytelling.

The story of the 300 Spartans is portrayed here as mythology, a telling of a legend through the film’s character Delios, the Spartan warrior who, according to the graphic novel, “spins his stories.” It's in the details, in the aesthetics, the way he words events that spills out onto the pages...and in the film’s case, spills out onto the screen, an epic tale that's weaved through his vivid imagination and passions.

A popular passage from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, states, “History became legend; legend became myth.” Though the Ring still existed, the stories spun became mythical in nature. As is the nature of the film 300, a legend told from the point of view of a masterful storyteller where humankind builds heroes out of mere mortals. We’ve been told fantastical stories since we were children. Stories are a fundamental way of passing history and culture on to future generations, and the nature of these stories is to engage; to capture the attention of our audience. In other words, stories are meant to entertain, to make the aesthetic pleasing and memorable.

Frank Ankersmit, as discussed by Pieters, calls contemporary, post-modern historicism, in which category 300 may very well sit, by the term of “narrativism.” Pieters describes Ankersmit’s argument as follows: “(Narrativism) need in no way be a contradiction in terms, with the proviso, however, that we distinguish between a phenomenon’s ‘identity’ and its ‘individuality.’ In Ankersmit’s terminology, the phenomenon’s ‘identity’ is the determinate interpretation given to it at a certain moment in time, while its ‘individuality’ is the actual phenomenon as it occurred in history.” In this vein, 300 is part of the historic battle’s identity, not its individuality. Ankersmit also points out that some make the mistake of coupling the identity of the event with the actual past. This concept of “identity,” this new key to historicism, is not meant to be “located in the past itself.” Rather it is in the way the story is told, the “historian’s discourse, in the interpretation of a historical reality.” Instead of the discourse and interpretation of a historian reflecting the coherence of an historical event, their language, as narrativists believe, would actually give the event coherence (Pieters, 25-26).

In 300, audiences recognize modern sensibilities that draw them in, that engage them due to being able to relate, to understand. One of my favorite examples is the portrayal of the Persian god-king Xerxes, both in the graphic novel and the film (refer to pictures film007 and gn007) as a neurotic rock star. His entrance is grand and large, riding on a large, golden throne complete with steps, carried by many of his slaves. As King Leonidas of the Spartans approaches to greet the Persian king for a discussion, he cocks his head and rubs his chin, stating in a sarcastic manner, “Let me guess…you must be…Xerxes!” Audience members laugh, not only because of Xerxes’ obvious identity, but because we’ve seen these people in our own lives, in our modern day. One would hardly accept that sarcastic humor didn’t exist in B.C.E. Greece, making this interpretation coherent with humankind throughout the ages, and relating it back to our own day.

As Xerxes descends from his decorative throne, slaves automatically create stairs with their backs so that their king might reach the ground without having to leap. In contrast, at the end of the film, Leonidas kneels to the ground so that one of his soldiers may use his sturdy back to leap towards the oncoming Persians, giving the soldier an advantage in his battle strike. Whether this happened or not at the actual battle, it makes little difference, because with this aesthetic choice made by both Frank Miller and Zack Snyder, the viewers understand the difference between leaders who work their subjects, and leaders who work with their subjects. We understand this, because again, we’ve seen it in our own lives and in modern-day circumstances. We have a greater understanding of these people who lived so many years ago.

In conclusion, the purpose of a film such as 300, in its stylized aesthetic and artistic liberties, opens up curiosity and respect for the past in a way that a few pages in a textbook could never do. Interpretation and storytelling in regards to history have been present ever since the world was, and now the term of New Historicism gives a name and scholarly recognition to this technique. In the particular scene from 300 that I’ve alluded to, between Leonidas and Xerxes, there is an exchange of dialogue that I often think about in regards to New Historicism.

After Leonidas turns Xerxes’ offer down to become the warlord of Greece under Xerxes’ power, Xerxes tells Leonidas that every Spartan historian will have their tongues cut out and their eyes put out, and every piece of parchment containing Spartan history will be burned. “The world will never know you existed at all!” Xerxes huffs.

With a cool head and a low voice, Leonidas replies, “The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant. That few stood against many. And before this battle’s over, that even a god-king can bleed.” Though this dialogue was created for the purposes of the film, I can’t help but think about those words, and, despite Stephen Hunter’s claims, had this film not been made, I would not have known about the legendary Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae. And even if I had, without the film, I would not have had the respect for it that I do now, and that so many other film goers have because of this artistic and New Historic approach to the event that took place over two-thousand years ago.

Works Cited

Journal Articles

Kraft, John C. et al. “The Pass at Thermopylae, Greece.” Journal of Field Archeology

Vol. 14, No. 2 (summer, 1987): pp 181-198.

Pieters, Jurgen. “New Historicism: Postmodern Historiography between Narrativsim and

Heterology.” History and Theory Vol. 39, No. 1 (Feb. 2000): pp 21-38

Foucault, Michael. “The Order of Discourse.” Untying the Text (1971) pp 52-64.

Books

Miller, Frank and Lynn Varley. 300. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2003

Films

300. Dir. Zack Snyder. Perf. Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David

Wenham. Warner Brothers, 2007

The Fellowship of the Ring. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo

Mortensen. New Line Cinema, 2001

Newspaper Articles

Hunter, Stephen. “‘300’: A Losing Battle in More Ways than 1.” Washington Post. 9

March 2007: C01

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Wow Abrock!! I am impressed! That was incredibly well written and certainly deserves that "A" which it was given.

:goodjob2:

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Mel this is magnificent and you put a whole lot of work into it. You really deserve more then any a or above it they had it hugs Betts

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Thanks gals! :hearts: Doing the research for this paper just rocked... :kisswink:

~Mel

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Great Job Mel! I can see why you got your "A" on this paper. Wow!

Cassie

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Of course, where are there artists where there are not critics? Michael Foucault uses the term “commentary” in describing the discourse of critics. In his article entitled “The Order of Discourse,” he states the following concerning commentary of texts: “This radical effacement of the gradation can only ever be play, utopia, or anguish.” But whatever of these techniques are used, commentary has but one role…and that is to say what was “silently articulated” in the text itself, to go “beyond” the text. A critic’s role is not to create art, because without the primary art, they would have no reason for their secondary discourse, forever commenting on historical texts.

I love Foucault!

I teach Ancient Greek/Latin language and history and his 'The Care of the Self' is still one of the more interesting reads on the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity.

He's not always easy to read, so kudos to you.

A carefully argued paper - you certainly earned your A.

frenchy.

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OMG Mel,

Very well written paper...and as frenchy said.."well argued". I do believe you should receive an A plus. It was very impressive.

Mel....that truly was an awesome paper. Let us know what grade you got. We may have to hurt your professor if he or she gave you anything less than an A. LOL

Hugs, Linda

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Wow, Mel.... very impressive writing. You really made your point, and I agree with you; had it not been for 300, I NEVER would have known this fascinating and factually based story.

I wish your offering had been published, rather than some of the poorly written and downright nasty reviews we were all subjected to.

You should be very proud of this work!

Swannie

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Thanks much, ladies!

I got a 95 on the paper, which, in my experience with this TA, is difficult to accomplish. (I think the fact that she's a Gerry fan and loved 300 helped a wee bit...but I also know she wouldn't let personal opinion heavily sway the grading, though).

So, I want to send it to Stephen Hunter (see topic: http://www.gerardbutlergals.com/forums/ind...mp;#entry994866 ) but I want to send it in the best form where he's more likely to actually read it. Email? Snail mail? Any ideas?

~Mel

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Of course, where are there artists where there are not critics? Michael Foucault uses the term “commentary” in describing the discourse of critics. In his article entitled “The Order of Discourse,” he states the following concerning commentary of texts: “This radical effacement of the gradation can only ever be play, utopia, or anguish.” But whatever of these techniques are used, commentary has but one role…and that is to say what was “silently articulated” in the text itself, to go “beyond” the text. A critic’s role is not to create art, because without the primary art, they would have no reason for their secondary discourse, forever commenting on historical texts.

I love Foucault!

I teach Ancient Greek/Latin language and history and his 'The Care of the Self' is still one of the more interesting reads on the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity.

He's not always easy to read, so kudos to you.

A carefully argued paper - you certainly earned your A.

frenchy.

Now THAT'S an impressive subject to teach!! :claphands:

Ah yes, Foucault was definitely a wee struggle to get into...but once I did, I was very pleased with his insight! Especially the role of a critic...lol. :D

~Mel

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Congratulations on an excellent Paper. Your marking and grading are so very well deserved and a tribute to the dedicated hard work you put into the project.

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:bow: :goodjob2: :clap: Great job!

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WOW....that was an awsome paper you wrote!!!!!! Two thumbs up!!!!!! :claphands: I can't believe how much Gerry really looks like his character King Leonidas. That is a trip!!!!

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I can't believe how much Gerry really looks like his character King Leonidas. That is a trip!!!!

Iiiii know! Seriously uncanny!

Thanks all, again!

~Mel

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