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Hype for the movie "300"

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In fact, the Founding Fathers actually based many principles of American government not upon Athens...but upon Sparta (and of course, Rome ;) ).

I would be interested to hear about which of the Founding Fathers in particular, and which specific principles, you refer to.

Sure :D.

Concerning Sparta, from Federalist Paper 63:

It adds no small weight to all these considerations, to recollect that history informs us of no long-lived republic which had not a senate. Sparta, Rome, and Carthage are, in fact, the only states to whom that character can be applied. In each of the two first there was a senate for life. The constitution of the senate in the last is less known. Circumstantial evidence makes it probable that it was not different in this particular from the two others. It is at least certain, that it had some quality or other which rendered it an anchor against popular fluctuations; and that a smaller council, drawn out of the senate, was appointed not only for life, but filled up vacancies itself. These examples, though as unfit for the imitation, as they are repugnant to the genius, of America, are, notwithstanding, when compared with the fugitive and turbulent existence of other ancient republics, very instructive proofs of the necessity of some institution that will blend stability with liberty.

I see nothing here that singles out Sparta as to validate the claim that "the Founding Fathers actually based many principles of American government" upon it. In fact, to me, it seems that the most that can be claimed from this quote is that Madison (or Hamilton) noted that Sparta, like Rome and, most likely Athens too, had some life-long structure in their government and somehow this might be connected to some American "blend [of] stability with liberty."

I see nothing in the rest of the quotes that seems applicable.

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Sorry Stephen,

I did not make it clear. As to principles, namely I am speaking of a representative assembly as a means of representation for the people, while also serving as a check against democratic mob-rule.

But, even if this were the case, you provided nothing that singles out Sparta.

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Wonderful quote ;). I think that it is important to note, however, that Sparta was not a dictatorship, it was not a totalitarian state, nor was it repressive. The Spartans were fearful of the excessive nature of Athenian Democracy, similar to mob rule. In fact, the Founding Fathers actually based many principles of American government not upon Athens...but upon Sparta (and of course, Rome :D ).

I think it's going a bit far to say Sparta wasn't repressive. I'm sure the helots would have disagreed. The movie 300 seems to be a good defense of freedom against oriental despotism. That's enough reason to like the movie. But Sparta as a state is hardly a model of freedom. They were virtually communist, in my understanding. Taking children away from their parents to grow up communally. Sending virtual death squads out to control any helots that might be plotting revolt.

The Spartan government had checks and balances that might have been admirable, in a context of individual rights. But their context was quite different from that.

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But, even if this were the case, you provided nothing that singles out Sparta.

I just so happen to be reading Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, and here's one example (of many I've run into before). In this instance, Hamilton, a member of Washington's staff, is encamped with the army at Valley Forge, 1778, and uses this time to study history.

Hamilotn was already interested in the checks and balances that enabled a government to tread a middle path between despotism and anarchy. From the [Plutarch] life of Lycurgus, [Hamilton] noted:

Among the many alterations which Lycurgus made, the first and most important was the establishment of the senate, which having a power equal to the kings in matters of consequence did... foster and qualify the imperious and fiery genius of monarchy by constantly restraining it within the bounds of equity and moderation. For the state before had no firm basis to stand upon, leaning sometimes towards an absolute monarchy and sometimes towards a pure democracy. But this establishment of the senate was to commonwealth what the ballast is to a ship and preserved the whole in a just equilibrium.

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But, even if this were the case, you provided nothing that singles out Sparta.

I just so happen to be reading Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, and here's one example (of many I've run into before). In this instance, Hamilton, a member of Washington's staff, is encamped with the army at Valley Forge, 1778, and uses this time to study history.

Hamilotn was already interested in the checks and balances that enabled a government to tread a middle path between despotism and anarchy. From the [Plutarch] life of Lycurgus, [Hamilton] noted:

Among the many alterations which Lycurgus made, the first and most important was the establishment of the senate, which having a power equal to the kings in matters of consequence did... foster and qualify the imperious and fiery genius of monarchy by constantly restraining it within the bounds of equity and moderation. For the state before had no firm basis to stand upon, leaning sometimes towards an absolute monarchy and sometimes towards a pure democracy. But this establishment of the senate was to commonwealth what the ballast is to a ship and preserved the whole in a just equilibrium.

Thanks for the reference, HaloNoble6. This indeed does show that Hamilton's reading and analysis of this aspect of Sparta (in particular) had some intellectual influence on him. Do you have any references for Founding Fathers other than those who wrote essays in the Federalist Papers? (That would exclude, at least, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.)

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Thanks for the reference, HaloNoble6. This indeed does show that Hamilton's reading and analysis of this aspect of Sparta (in particular) had some intellectual influence on him. Do you have any references for Founding Fathers other than those who wrote essays in the Federalist Papers? (That would exclude, at least, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.)

You're welcome! You ask and I am too happy to comply! Quickly here is a reference on John Adams. John Adams, in my view, was the intellectual Giant of the Founders. He wasn't an unequivocal fan of Sparta; he praised Sparta considerably for her model of mixed government, but he detested the way in which the Spartan model attempted to impose stern virtue on its citizenry. From C. Bradley Thompson's John Adams & the Spirit of Liberty:

(pg. 143) -- Adams thought the Spartan constitution worthy of special consideration because of its long duration and because of its historic reputation as the virtuous republic par excellence...

Lycurgus was unique among the lawgivers of the ancient world for having consciously identified the central problem of constitution making: "that every form of government that is simple, by soon degenerating into that vice that is allied to it, and naturally attends it, must be unstable." Lyrcurgus's constitutional innovation was to unite "in one all the advantages of the best governments, to the end that no branch of it, by swelling beyond its bounds, might degenerate into the vice that is congenial to it." He constructed a government that mixed the three natural sociopolitical orders--that is, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy--in such a way that "while each was mutually acted upon by opposite powers, no one part might outweigh the rest." The results was a constitutional ballast that "equally poised and balanced" the "contrary powers."

(pg. 196) -- In the end, however, he condemned the Spartan constitution as "not only the least respectable, but the most detestable in all Greece." To overcome its constitutional imperfections, Lyrcurgus had to infuse his Lacedaemonian citizenry with a rigid and stern system of virtue. It was this defining "spirit" of the Spartan regime that Adams found repugnant and objected to most violently...

Sparta was an armed camp that lived "as if fighting and intriguing, and not life and happiness, were the end of man and society." The belligerent militarism that defined the Spartan regime was the principle source of its need to homogenize and control the day-to-day activities of its citizenry. This classical definition of liberty as the duty to participate in public affairs was for Adams "little better than that of a man chained in a dungeon--a liberty to rest as he is."

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And let me add, realizing the thread I'm posting in, that I'm totally looking forward to 300! I can barely contain my excitement! For those of you that have a Facebook profile, I started a 300 group!; go and join!

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Quickly here is a reference on John Adams. John Adams, in my view, was the intellectual Giant of the Founders. He wasn't an unequivocal fan of Sparta; he praised Sparta considerably for her model of mixed government, but he detested the way in which the Spartan model attempted to impose stern virtue on its citizenry. From C. Bradley Thompson's John Adams & the Spirit of Liberty: ...

Those quotes seem to indicate that, if anything, Sparta had a negative influence on Adams, rather than him basing many American principles of government upon it. Am I misinterpreting the quotes?

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I think it would be interesting to have a thread dedicated to discussing the legacy of Sparta.

I guess we are preempting this thread with the political discussion. By all means feel free to start a more general thread on the subject of the legacy of Sparta.

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Those quotes seem to indicate that, if anything, Sparta had a negative influence on Adams, rather than him basing many American principles of government upon it. Am I misinterpreting the quotes?

Well I'd say he was both positively and negatively influenced by Sparta: he praised Spartan balance of powers, but condemned the Spartan treatment of citizens.

The "American principle" derived by the Spartan model, at least by Adams, is the structuring of government in such a way so as to reflect the three natural orders of men in society (the one, the few, and the many; hence an executive, a senate, and a house). Sparta was the first to do this, and historically it isn't trivial. Against that positive influence, for Adams, stands the Spartan approach to citizens. He objected (viewing Sparta from a modern (at that point in time) natural-rights-perspective) to the manner in which citizens were compelled to do the State's bidding.

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I am making another thread which will be called "The Influence of Ancient Constitutions on the Founding of the American Republic" under the history/humanities section of the forum. I hope to discuss the influence of Sparta, Athens, Rome, etc.. on the founding fathers when they devised the American constitution.

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Those quotes seem to indicate that, if anything, Sparta had a negative influence on Adams, rather than him basing many American principles of government upon it. Am I misinterpreting the quotes?

Well I'd say he was both positively and negatively influenced by Sparta: he praised Spartan balance of powers, but condemned the Spartan treatment of citizens.

The "American principle" derived by the Spartan model, at least by Adams, is the structuring of government in such a way so as to reflect the three natural orders of men in society (the one, the few, and the many; hence an executive, a senate, and a house). Sparta was the first to do this, and historically it isn't trivial. Against that positive influence, for Adams, stands the Spartan approach to citizens. He objected (viewing Sparta from a modern (at that point in time) natural-rights-perspective) to the manner in which citizens were compelled to do the State's bidding.

That's an interesting perspective. To agree or disagree I would have to read more of Adams' own writings than I have done. I look forward to the thread on Sparta's legacy that you suggested and that "Nathanial Hale 1775" said he will start. I am not as well-read on all this as I would like, so no doubt there is much to learn.

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I see nothing here that singles out Sparta as to validate the claim that "the Founding Fathers actually based many principles of American government" upon it.

While it wouldn't be exact to say that Founding Fathers directly based things on Sparta (in contrast to Rome), it is nevertheless historical fact that they drew inspiration from Spartan history, and found a lot to ponder about in its institutions. We don't hear much about directly using Spartan institutions because Romans had even better ones, but of all the Greeks, Sparta was the only one that was not extremely criticized.

One historian of the Revolutionary period writes, "Boys' education stressed Roman authors [...] far more than they did Greek authors [...]. Among the ancient Greek city-states, it was Sparta that was invoked for its disciplined, incorruptible soldier farmers. Athens, by contrast, often appeared in eighteenth-century Anglo-American political discourse as a giddy mobocracy, a counterexample to be avoided". [1]

Carl Richard, author of Founders and the Classics, writes (I'm paraphrasing from memory) that the Greeks were heavily criticized by the Founders, but of all the Greek states Sparta incurred the least criticism, and quite a bit of admiration. I don't have a citation because the book is unavailable to me right now, but I believe this is in the first or the second chapters.

The Spectator, an English daily paper published at the beginning of the 18th century in Britain, amidst numerous Roman quotations, includes a Spartan moral example which it invites its readers to follow. [2] Why should it matter to us what the publishers of this paper thought? Because they were Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, and they had a profound influence on the Founding Fathers, with Addison's play being performed at Valley Forge.

Finally, a brief online search provided the following quote from yet another historian of the Revolutionary period:

"leak vision of England's future strengthened the resolve of the revolutionaries to avoid a similar fate for America where they hoped to establish what Sam Adams called a "Christian Sparta" ". [3]

I don't mean here to overstate my point about Sparta; it certainly had some downsides that did not always impress the leading men. But the point nevertheless remains, that its history provided for the Founders very real inspiration, and inductive examples of constitutional principles (first in all of history). Carl Richard's Founders and the Classics offers one of the best primary-source examples of this point.

This relates to the 300 movie very directly: almost the first thing the trailer shows is the harsh way in which the children were treated, or even left to die. This is only the trailer, not even the movie itself, and yet the authors immediately decide to show it. Amidst fantastical characters and fanciful settings, the makers of the movie immediately acknowledge the harsh, true facts of Spartan life; this, nevertheless, does not prevent them from proceeding to admire Sparta in what follows.

[1]

Victorian Antigone, Caroline Winterer, American Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 1 (2001) pp. 70-93

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/american_quar....1winterer.html

[2]

'It happened at Athens during a public representation of some play, that an old gentleman came too late for a place suitable to his place and quality. Many of the young gentlemen who observed the difficulty and confusion he was in made signs to him that they would accomodate him if he came where they sat. The good man bustled through the crowd accordingly, but when he came to the seats to which he was invited the jest was to sit close and expose him, as he stood out of countenance, to the whole audience. The frolic went round all the Athenian benches. But on those occasions there were also particular places assigned for foreigners. When the good man skulked towards the boxes appointed for the Spartans, that honest people, more virtuous than polite, rose up all to a man and with the greatest respect received him among them. The Athenians, being suddenly touched with a sense of the Spartan virtue and their own degeneracy, gave a thunder of applause, and the old man cried out, "The Athenians understand what is good, but the Spartans practice it." '

The Spectator, No. 6, 1711, p. 36

http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC0259...on#PRA1-PA36,M1

[3]

The Classics and the American Republic, Stanley M. Burstein, The History Teacher, Vol. 30, No. 1. (Nov., 1996), p. 36

JSTOR link: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0018-2745...%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L

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It occurred to me that there's a thread more pertaining to our topic, so I reposted my post there. Let's continue the discussion of the Spartans' influence there. I left this post here because it relates to the movie, and may answer some questions.

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It occurred to me that there's a thread more pertaining to our topic, so I reposted my post there. Let's continue the discussion of the Spartans' influence there. I left this post here because it relates to the movie, and may answer some questions.

Right, and I admit my guilt here in contributing to hijacking this thread. So, from now on, no more America - Sparta political discussion here. Instead, follow-up in this thread that "Nathanial Hale 1775" started.

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Posters of the movie were released in England, of which my favorite two are (click to expand):

300uk01dn8.th.jpg 300uk02ky5.th.jpg

I especially like the second one, because by now we are used to Leonidas' raw form, while the queen has received less attention. Here she looks wonderfully stylized, supremely delicate yet undeterred. Her excerpts from the trailers, especially when Leonidas looks to her for approval, tell the same story. Could someone predict a movie such as this coming out in times such as ours? I am doing my best to defend it from naysayers on other forums.

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Wow, those posters look awesome.

Could someone predict a movie such as this coming out in times such as ours?
Indeed, its arrival is an expected gift.

P.S. First poster is a dead URL for me.

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With the movie coming out this Friday, there's been a flurry of released content regarding it. There's Leonidas with his solid muscle plates, and a scene of farewell to his wife that belongs more to an art gallery than to what we regularly see on-screen:

30020070207113309379nr5.th.jpg 52262065ci5.th.png

With time, Frank Miller is also becoming less and less reluctant to reveal the details of his own childhood inspiration (he was the one who drew the comic this movie is based on). From the 300 website Production Notes, some notable excerpts:

Frank Miller first encountered the Spartans when he saw the film “The 300 Spartans” as a kid. He remembers, “I was quite shaken and inspired by it because it taught me that heroes aren’t the people who necessarily get a medal at the end of the story, that heroes are people who do what is right because it is right, even making the ultimate sacrifice to do it. All my life I wanted to tell this story because it’s the best story I’ve ever encountered. And, eventually, I gained the skills as a cartoonist, such that I thought I could finally handle it.”
“Frank took an actual event and turned it into mythology, as opposed to taking a mythological event and turning it into reality,” says Snyder, who blended Miller’s bold vision with his own to make the feature film. “That’s the refreshing thing about it. He wanted to get at the essence, as opposed to the reality, of what a Spartan is. If you go to Thermopylae, the statue of Leonidas is a nude; he’s got a shield and spear and a helmet and that’s it. Frank went to Thermopylae and I’m sure he saw that and went, ‘Okay, this is how we have to do it.’”
Walking through the underbrush of Thermopylae had a profound effect on Miller. “It’s a place where great and glorious things happened,” he describes. “We are talking about the crucible, the epicenter of the battle for everything that we have, for everything that is Western civilization. There’s a reason why we are as free as we are, and a lot of it begins with the story of 300 young men holding a very narrow pass long enough to inspire the rest of Greece.”

300 became a best seller and won Miller numerous industry awards. “The story sold itself,” he comments. “I just did my best to do justice to a great moment in history. It was very important to streamline the appearance of characters to make them more dynamic and to lose the sense of this being an old story. It’s not an old story; it’s an eternal story.”

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“Frank took an actual event and turned it into mythology, as opposed to taking a mythological event and turning it into reality,” says Snyder, who blended Miller’s bold vision with his own to make the feature film. “That’s the refreshing thing about it. He wanted to get at the essence, as opposed to the reality, of what a Spartan is....

If I understand the significance of these comments, I think FC might be in a somewhat unusual situation for himself. FC often (rightfully) corrects historical inaccuracies, especially those related to the Classical era. But, though here in this thread FC clearly displays a mental set ready to embrace this movie, the film may well indeed make liberal changes for artistic merit at the expense of historical accuracy. A quandary for FC?

Note that I too am very much looking forward to seeing 300, though that will have to wait till Sunday. :angry:

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If I understand the significance of these comments, I think FC might be in a somewhat unusual situation for himself. FC often (rightfully) corrects historical inaccuracies, especially those related to the Classical era. But, though here in this thread FC clearly displays a mental set ready to embrace this movie, the film may well indeed make liberal changes for artistic merit at the expense of historical accuracy. A quandary for FC?

Note that I too am very much looking forward to seeing 300, though that will have to wait till Sunday. :angry:

Not a quandry at all! This is one of my favorite subjects to talk about :) I am very much in favor of stylization in story-telling; the one thing I cannot stand are stories that try to double as documentaries, and get everything right except one thing, the most important one. It's not a false alternative and a realistic movie can be done, but if stylization is accomplished by tasteful amplification, then more power to them. Besides, Spartans in the film are treated with more realism than their surroundings, and they don't have any special powers or psychic skills with which they level mountains of opponents; no, the leveling of opponents has to be done the old-fashioned way, and they don't cringe away from it. The Persians, by contrast, are treated in a fantastical way; probably no one will walk away believing that Persians had 12-feet-tall orcs with swords for hands in their employ; but on the other hand, everyone will see the Spartan viewpoint of Persians as these odd, fantastical people, whipped by the frenzy of their slave-master to deprive yet others of liberty.

In short, in the midst of all this stylization of the action what we see is realism of the theme, one that makes such stylization not only acceptable, but almost imperative. And I'll be watching this film not as a technical skeptic, but viscerally as a free man, seeing how it was won.

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If I understand the significance of these comments, I think FC might be in a somewhat unusual situation for himself. FC often (rightfully) corrects historical inaccuracies, especially those related to the Classical era. But, though here in this thread FC clearly displays a mental set ready to embrace this movie, the film may well indeed make liberal changes for artistic merit at the expense of historical accuracy. A quandary for FC?

Note that I too am very much looking forward to seeing 300, though that will have to wait till Sunday. :angry:

Not a quandry at all! This is one of my favorite subjects to talk about :) I am very much in favor of stylization in story-telling; the one thing I cannot stand are stories that try to double as documentaries, and get everything right except one thing, the most important one. It's not a false alternative and a realistic movie can be done, but if stylization is accomplished by tasteful amplification, then more power to them. Besides, Spartans in the film are treated with more realism than their surroundings, and they don't have any special powers or psychic skills with which they level mountains of opponents; no, the leveling of opponents has to be done the old-fashioned way, and they don't cringe away from it. The Persians, by contrast, are treated in a fantastical way; probably no one will walk away believing that Persians had 12-feet-tall orcs with swords for hands in their employ; but on the other hand, everyone will see the Spartan viewpoint of Persians as these odd, fantastical people, whipped by the frenzy of their slave-master to deprive yet others of liberty.

In short, in the midst of all this stylization of the action what we see is realism of the theme, one that makes such stylization not only acceptable, but almost imperative. And I'll be watching this film not as a technical skeptic, but viscerally as a free man, seeing how it was won.

FC, I really enjoy the attitude you express here. A very nice post. :)

p.s. Now that you have reviewed the movie, it should be more fun watching it. :D

All kidding aside, I have been so badly burned in recent years by trailers that create an image of a movie that never appears on the screen. I continue to be optimistic based on what I see in trailers, but I now file away the possibility of disappointment. Let's hope this film turns out to be as good as it now appears to be.

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I'll be seeing this movie at the IMAX this Friday. I've been looking forward to 300 for months and have never seen any movie at the IMAX before, so it should be a double dose of fun.

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Wow, based on the trailers I saw on TV, I really didn't think this was going to be a good movie. It looked like one huge fight scene with no plot and some elements of fantasy thrown in just for kicks. But after just reading this thread (somehow I missed it before), I'm really excited to see it! Thanks for all the links everybody.

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