The Real Battle of Thermopylae

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If you're a teenage or twenty-something American male, it may be the catchphrase of the year, drawn from ancient history and a new Hollywood blockbuster.

"Spartans, tonight we dine in hell!" is the campy call drawn from the box office hit "300." It's the buffed-up version of the Battle of Thermopylae. 480 BC. Spartans versus Persians. The few against the many.

Critics hate it. So does Iran, heir of Persia. But it's a smash.

This hour On Point: we'll roll the real history behind the film - the real story of ancient Greece, classic heroism, death, glory and propaganda in "300."

Quotes from the Show:

"This film has really become a huge sensation, more than anyone could have imagined. The main thing to remember it was made very cheaply, for 65 million dollars, and it's made 162 millions here and it looks like it will probably do about 500 million dollars worldwide." Ian Mohr

"I think that this film represents Hollywood doing a better job of marketing films through the Internet. This is the sort of film that appeals to the video-game playing generation and the graphic novel reading generation. Those are people hard to get into movie theaters and people that Hollywood was worried were going away from theaters and traditional films and this is the sort of movie that's gotten them out to the multiplexes." Ian Mohr

"I thought [the movie] was entertaining, certainly not very good history, but it's entertaining." Barry Strauss

"Thermopylae is a classic last stand, a very heroic one, described in moving terms by the historian Herodotus, not just the father of history but a great storyteller. It was a battle between, on one hand, a Greek coalition and, on the other, a Persian-led coalition." Barry Strauss

"Probably there were about 150 thousand soldiers, give or take, in the Persian army and there were about 7, 000 Greeks at Thermopylae. Thermopylae was in many ways an accidental battle. The Greek coalition had put together a strategy, joint land sea strategy of fighting the Persians. The question was where were they going to make the stand and when." Barry Strauss

"It was reasonable to think that 7,000 Greeks could hold the pass for a short period until reinforcements came from the South. ... It's clear [the battle] inspired the Greek spirit of resistance. That Spartans, including a Spartan king, should be willing to die for this cause I think made a huge impression on people. It bought a little time for the Greeks to gather their forces together to the South but it was not in and of itself decisive in this war." Barry Strauss

"A lot of [Iranian] people here [in L.A.] are thinking that this is something that they're trying to poison the minds of Americans against the Iranians with, and of course this is far too much on one side." Hossein Hedjazi

"[This movie] is a cheap shot based on a graphic novel." Hossein Hedjazi

"The movie does not depict what really happened. The whole world, including this movie, is going against Iran." Listener from Boston, Mass.


Ian Mohr, Reporter for Variety Magazine

Barry Strauss, Professor of History and Classics at Cornell University and author of "The Trojan War" (2006) and "The Battle of Salamis" (2004)

John Psaropoulos, Editor and columnist of the Greek daily newspaper Athens News

Hossein Hedjazi, Program Director and host on Radio Iran-KIRN in Los Angeles.

This program aired on March 27, 2007.


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