300 is still a good example of a classical European imperium that we need to get back to. Unlike The Hobbit which tried to Balkanize Middle Earth with West African immigrants, 300 remains fundamentally true to its pro-European message and imagery.
Whereas the first 300 tells the tale of the superiority of Greco-European culture and reason, over hideous Persian mysticism and slavery, this side-sequel takes the viewer into a deeper level of this contrast between the enlightened power of Democracy as it forges a pan-Greek nation in the fiery onslaught against Persian despotism and tyranny.
At first glance it is another cheap American attempt to hijack otherwise noble history and turn it into a cause for equality, human rights, minorities, and the United Nations as the narration of Queen Gorgo exalts the virtue and superiority of democracy, yet that just scrapes the surface of the narrative.
The exaltation of democracy in this version of 300, proceeds from the natural Athenian perspective of the Persian Wars. Naturally the story is a major exalts the reason of man along with espousing notions about equality, democracy and universalism.
Athens vs. Sparta
Though the obvious paradigm of the movie is Democracy/Athens are the good guys and tyranny/Persia are the bad guys, there is a much deeper sub-plot that is lost on most of the American audience in the rivalry between Athens and its traditional rival Sparta.
At the beginning of the film, 300 Rise of an Empire gives the viewer two glimpses into the nature of both Athens and Sparta setting the stage for the intra-Greco fight for the heart of Greece. At the first scene of Athens, it is in their senate with senators punching and cursing at each other over how to handle the Persian messenger. This scene starts in a very similar fashion to the first 300 in which Leonidas “Sparta kicked” the Persian messenger into the enormous pit. Already here we see the contrast between Athenian temperance and Spartan masculinity. Leonidas, the alpha male of the military society, ends the negotiations with one kick as a mighty sign of Sparta’s defiance to tyranny. In Athens, crotchety old men argue and shout obscenities over what to do, with it only being resolved once Themistocles stands up and reasons with them, which results in a reluctant Athens going to war and Themistocles traveling to Sparta to convince Leonidas to join with him in his pan-Greek/democratic war against Persia.
When Themistocles arrives in Sparta, he bears witness to Spartan men in training, where there are four warriors, heinously fighting a young recruit, beating him within an inch of his life and forcing him to learn the ways of survival, strength and resourcefulness in defeating multiple opponents. Upon seeing this extremely bloody and painful scene, Themistocles can only shake his head in an amazed disgust murmuring under his break “Spartans” as he stands in awe of their savage brutality (a brutality that saves his hide later).
He is then met by Queen Gorgo who asks him if he has traveled to Sparta to see how real men fight, to which Themistocles has no answer and begins blabbering on the need for a pan-Greek navy to protect Greece and fight for freedom.
Queen Gorgo, sensing the true nature of Athenians and their Democracy, tells Themistocles that Leonidas is visiting with the oracle and cannot receive him. Nonetheless, Gorgo tells Themistocles that they will not march out to fight for him; Athens or his democratic ideals and that Spartan warriors fight for their king and for Sparta. Themistocles, then very upset declares to Gorgo that the age of aristocracies and oligarchs is over, as if implying Sparta is behind the times, and that Sparta alone cannot resist the Persians anymore than they can resist the changes coming towards Democracy.
It is very proper this rivalry was depicted, as it is both a symbolic depiction of the intra-Greco ideological fight in antiquity and this rivalry truly existed between Athens and Sparta (i.e. the Peloponnesian War).
The Athenian-Spartan rivalry was hinted at in the first 300 when Lenonidas refers to the Athenians as “boy lovers,” in this film it is explored much more deeply in the tense interactions between Themistocles and Queen Gorgo of Sparta.
Whereas the first 300 was the exaltation of the Spartan military culture and masculine strength as the mighty arm of Greek civilization, 300: Rise of an Empire explores the Greco-Persian War from the Athenian perspective of exalting democracy as the new progressive movement of Greek civilization that will triumph over Persian barbarism and even Spartan hierarchy.
There is no doubt the movie places Themistocles and his democratic ideals as the pinnacle of Greek thought in the fight against the Persians, but a deeper look at how the movie proceeds reveals a much more ambiguous message. As Persia ransacks Greece, kills Leonidas and his 300 warriors, and Themistocles cobbles together a fleet to resist Xerxes, Sparta and Athens spend the entire film in conflict, distrust and mutual condescension of one another.
One of the most telling contrasts between the first 300 and the second is the narrative of father-son relationships that speaks to the massive differences between Sparta and Athens. In the first 300, Leonidas’s captain, voluntarily offers up his young and virgin son, who has completed the Agoge, to fight amongst Leonidas’s guard. Leonidas expresses concern over this decision; given how young the son is and that he has yet to make love to a woman. The captain then justifies his decision and Leonidas respects the patriarchal will of his captain. Throughout the movie, nothing makes the father more proud than to see his son, wearing the crimson red, fighting and ready to die for his king and for Sparta. Ultimately, the son dies, leading to the captain’s rage spilling over into the death and slaughter of many Persians.
In contrast with the Athenian sequel, one of Themistocles’s closest warriors and personal friends has a son, who has been taught virtue in a philosophical sense, yet has never expressed himself in a military context and has not proved himself a man. His father does everything to protect him from going off to war. Ultimately the son sneaks off and joins Themistocles’s navy, without his fathers’ knowledge or permission. Once Themistocles discovers him amongst the ranks, he tells the son to stay with him despite the son admitting his father does not know what he has done.
Themistocles allows him to stay and fundamentally sanctions the son’s acts of youthful deception. Once the father discovers what his son has done, he is upset and scolds his son in the heat of battle, with his son defending his actions saying “it is a man’s duty to fight for his family and nation.” To which the father stupidly replies, “who told you that?” with the son saying “you did” as he runs off to kill more Persians with his father left speechless. Ultimately the father winds up dead and the son earns the right to sit at the table of war veterans. An act that only comes about because the uppity son defied his father and had the blessing of Themistocles.
The contrast between these two familial experiences is quite telling to the inevitable consequences of the authoritarian Spartan system versus the free and democratic Athenian model. In the case of Sparta in the first 300 movie, the patriarchal will and wisdom is exalted as a natural and good virtue, one that Leonidas understands and honors despite his own misgivings. The son’s lifestyle and existence on this earth is then fully honored by his father, who adores to watch his son in battle, fighting for Sparta and Leonidas. In contrast, the Athenian father is left weak, confused and almost inept in the face of his rebellious son, who wants to gallivant off to war, that he knows nothing about. To make matters worse, the father’s natural patriarchal authority is usurped by Themistocles, who is wiling to steal any body that he can find to fight in his navy.
Ultimately these are the socio-familial results of the Spartan versus Athenian models that have massive implications for our age. Sparta with its authoritarianism, is neither tyrannical nor corrupt, but rather has organized society around a natural order that taps into the inner desires and constructions of men and women and drives them to maximize their potential in a manner fitting to their nature. Hence, men are bred into warriors and are taught to channel this inner beast into a good and noble fashion. Society then positively rewards this inner calling of the male and as a result, men in Sparta are the greatest warriors, who have created the greatest society and men have purpose and destiny. Consequently law, order and prosperity reign.
In contrast is the democratic world of Athens, in which the resulting consequence is men without a cause. It is perfectly natural inclination for men to want to fight and be warriors, but in order for this calling to be just, they must be honorable. Athens has no such system to train and guide males. The democratic order, rendering each man sovereign, results in a society without an ethos, destiny and mission. Therefore the father preached a hard-line, good and noble message, yet the society was so poorly constructed around equality and the democratic ideal, that ultimately the son’s sovereignty trump the power and authority of the father and when the son actually put two and two together and came up with four, meaning the son needs to go to war to fight and protect his home, the father is such a confused moron that he cannot even remember what the virtue of his fight is.
Ultimately it is a similar problem we have today in the modern West, where the nihilistic elements of liberalism and democracy are surfacing at every level, particularly amongst males who wallow in a purposeless society, with no way to properly channel their masculine intention and desires in a good and productive manner. Rather than being trained from a young age to fight for God, their families and Americana, they are taught that they can do whatever they wan in out society. That the virtue of America is freedom, meaning the freedom to do whatever one wants without responsibility or consequences, resulting therefore in a purposeless society where brutality, slothfulness, drug use, fornication and even rape are considered acts of masculine accomplishment.
This explains the knockout game for example. Yes though an all black event, nonetheless they are affected just as whites are by the emptiness of contemporary society. The knockout game, just like bar fighting, gang membership, hate based organizations etc are all attempts by males to breakout and express their inner masculine energy, but given Americanana’s inability to declare any moral principle absolute, the youth are left with nothing.
In other words, America is living the Athenian ideal at its logical consequence, which is every man out for him with no consequence or responsibility. The only remedy being then, to enact in a top down manner from the state, the principles and virtues of authoritarian Sparta, to bring about order out of the democratic chaos and give society and the individuals of society a purpose and destiny and more fundamentally, meaning on this weary planet.
The problem of conveying practically anything that relates to Sparta to an American or even contemporary European audience, is that the values, practices and identity of Sparta is so far removed from contemporary Western society. The great tragedy is that Sparta, rather than being reverenced is viewed as nothing more than brutal, extreme, and way over the top and if anything down right cruel, especially in regards to the rearing of children. If anything it is a testimony to the toll that liberalism and the Enlightenment has had on Western society.
Given that, the Spartan model on society, government and child rearing is perhaps the most merciful and just system presented to the Occident as a path to take. Life is a horrible, unjust, wearing and terrifying place if there is no ordered structure and framework for the individual to function in. Only when there is a transcendent social-religious order of hierarchy, is the individual given parameters in which to function and enjoy purpose and stability and perhaps, if lucky find a modicum of peace.
The Athenian and its more extreme partner, the American model, leave man lost in the preverbal state of nature that the liberals and Aristotle exalt. Consequently, liberalism results in nihilism, as the individual has nothing to reference himself to and contrast himself against, he is left along with no support system whatsoever as the relativistic nature of life swallows up the individual. In contrast to this bleak outlook, there is no room in Sparta for nihilism. The whole society and the individuals that make up the community, are always moving upward into higher levels of glory, honor and victory, where each member of the nation, has a genuine reason to support his neighbor and invest into the future and well being of his posterity. The Athenian/American model at the end of the day, leaves us with no such calling other than, get as much as you can and spend as much as you can for tomorrow it’s over.
This Athenian versus Spartan rivalry for control of Greece’s future comes to its most revealing moment at the end of the film when the Spartans arrive to save Themistocles and the Athenians from annihilation. Though the Greeks win the battle of Salamis and Democracy supposedly prevails, Sparta is actually the real victor. Sparta and Queen Gorgo never submit to Themistocles or his Democratic ideals. They fight for freedom (i.e. a free Sparta, not Greece) and their queen. As the Spartans arrive, Queen Gorgo storms the ships, leading her men and passes Themistocles by with glares of condescension while he stares back in disbelief that they actually showed up. Queen Gorgo and the Spartans then lead the charge, with Themistocles carrying up the rear.
This whole concluding portion of the film then lead the viewer to some very troubling questions about what the real message of the movie is. Did Democracy triumph? Well it was not defeated, but Athens and Greece would have been annihilated if it was not for Spartan militarism and their love for their Queen, Sparta and their thirst to seek vengeance for the slaughter of their King Leonidas. Despite how nice Athenian democratic morals may be, it is Spartan values and valor that wins the day.
The viewer is then left with a conundrum. Athenian democracy is exalted as the bright future of a pan-democratic Greece, yet it is insufficient to fully withstand the might of Persia and inspire Greece to unify as one entity. It is Spartan valor and the death of Leonidas that calls the rest of the Greek city-states around Queen Gorgo and her Spartans, rendering Themistocles as a mere observer with no city and no navy and proving correct the words of the oracle from the first movie (which is again quoted again in this version) that “if Sparta falls then Greece will fall.”
The film then concludes with the Spartans and other Greek navies united together to come to Themistocles’s aid, yet, the Spartans and Queen Gorgo pays him no homage. Rather, by the end of the film, Themistocles’s dream exists only in the ashes of Athens and the dead Athenian sailors that now lay prostrate before the might of Spartan militarism. If only Themistocles had not lead his movement as an idealist in a naïve attempt to force Sparta to be progressive and liberal, would he truly be a hero.
The end of the movie, while attempting to portray a new and glorious Greek future of democracy, equality and Enlightenment, actually winds up proving the Spartan narrative correct, that only the strong survive by living in a world where men exist and function in a divinely ordered hierarchy, rather than a world of equality where a sculptor can become a warrior and blacksmith could make a senator.