Monday, July 31, 2017

Why is King Leonidas and The 300 so Freaking Hot?

Travel, Greece, Tenacity
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

It's the Gerard Butler factor isn't it?

Remember him from the movie we all know? I've watched it several times. I don't mind the painted-on abs at all. The Spartans with their harsh realities of war are fascinating to watch while I'm reclined on my cush sofa with a bowl of buttery popcorn. Wow. You mean people led hard lives to TRAIN them for difficult times, and I can't resist putting butter on my popcorn? Also, I think it's time for a new sofa with an electronic recline button because yanking this handle is so hard. 

But the reality of the 300 isn't Gerard Butler Hollywood. It's this...

It's the Battle of Thermopylae. And even that's not really reality. The monument is a centuries later tribute. There's historical reality and then there's real reality which, unless we were there, we don't ever really know in full. 

On a recent bus tour in Greece, we made a brief stop to see this monument to those who saved Athens so long ago. Our tour guide explained why the area right alongside the highway was once called a "pass". Because we all know that the 300 blocked a passage so the Persian invaders couldn't reach Athens (before the Athenians had a chance to escape). 

Now the area looks like a wide open plain more than a passage. Then, though, we were told, the sea was much further inland. It's easy to believe this. Meteora is nearby with its famous formations. Those odd otherworldly formations were formed when Kalambaka was once under sea. 

This small group of men knowingly gave their lives to preserve their way of life and protect others. According to the guide there were more than 300. (Estimates put it at 7,000.) There's even a monument to the scholars or poets who showed up, also willing to sacrifice themselves to the greater good. (History calls them Thespians and Thebans after where they came from.) They weren't even trained fighting men, but they came just the same.

It's a beautiful story in so many ways. A story that stands the test of time. People who will sacrifice themselves for others. Men who likely couldn't fathom a world that holds living rooms with cushy couches and people centuries later still crushing on their story, their sacrifices, and—okay, fine—their CGI abs. 

As a writer sometimes I like to consider stories where you take characters from different times/books and stick them all together. I run through the dialogue in my head. It helps cement characters into the writer mind, and it's a fascinating study of humanity, philosophy, and perspective.

Imagine King Leonidas suddenly appearing in your living room when you're watching the 300. He's not going to look anything like Gerard Butler. For damn straight he won't smell like him. There's very little chance he's going to be impressed with you, your living room, or the movie. In fact, this is the kind of situation that only works out well if it's fiction and written by a someone with a whole lot of grace for the modern world.

Have you ever seen one of those movies where someone from now goes back in time and they're soon running the castle and giving the king modern advice? In reality I doubt we'd make it fifteen minutes. For starters I feel a bit like a martyr if I have to sleep on a hard mattress versus a pillow-top. Making a salad completely from scratch strikes me as a whole lot of work. Likely Leonidas had slaves to do that for him. I wouldn't be comfortable with the whole slave deal. I'd be quietly interviewing them and writing their stories, hoping to instigate a revolution. I'd also be making my own damn salad and resenting the fact that there is no Panera in the past.

Also, that whole Spartan mentality where everyone has to suffer to make them strong would make me want to call Child Protective Services, and that wasn't even a thing. Since my only real life skills are observing humanity and writing stories from the fodder I find there, I can't think of a single thing I could offer the past. Plus I'd whine. Probably a lot. Most likely the slaves themselves would off me. 

Wait. What was the question?

Oh, yes. Why is King Leonidas and the 300 so freaking hot?

That's easy. They represent the best of humanity. Not the whole embrace pain alpha male deal. (Although that has excellent abs.) They remind us it's not about us. It's about the survival of everyone. We have a tendency to forget about that. At least that's this writer's observation of humanity. 

What's yours?

Do you ever wonder why certain stories stand the test of time so well? Why they speak to us? Why do you think that is?

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