Because I want to share my experience in writing a novel about ancient Sparta.
Why a book about ancient Spartiates, men known in their own language as homoioi or Equals? Didn’t we see enough of their ripped abs in the movie 300? Well, if you’ve read anything about the real Spartans, you know they didn’t look anything like the Hollywood version. One of the reasons they kicked Xerxes’ ass at Thermopylae is because they were the only professional heavily armored infantry of the time, sort of the knights on steriods of their age. The homoioi didn’t run around bare-chested, they wore a bronze, iron, leather or boiled linen cuirass to protect them from getting skewered.
The thing is, if you thought 300 was a good movie, you’ve only heard half of the story. The real plot is much better than the video. The tale of Thermopylae comes from ‘The Father of History,’ Herodotus, and although the movie does contain a few accurate scenes, unfortunately the really juicy facts in the original have never gotten any press.
For instance, Leonidas. He didn’t look a thing like Gerard Butler. Hardly. Historians think Leonidas was probably around 65 years old when Xerxes and the Persians gunned him down in the pass. Even the 1962 movie, The 300 Spartans, used a young Richard Egan in the role of King Leonidas. The story plays better that way. We want to believe that a brave, young hero sacrificed his life and the lives of his men for lofty ideals like freedom, but if you really knew the truth, Leonidas may have decided to stay and die at Thermopylae for other reasons. What reasons? Well, because if he’d returned home to Sparta he might have been put on trial for murder. The murder of his own brother Cleomenes, whose death made Leonidas king.
Do you remember Leonidas’ wife Gorgo in the movie? Hollywood left out the fact that she was Cleomenes’ daughter, or rather, Leonidas’ niece. Marrying Gorgo cemented Leonidas’ claim to the throne. Why might Leonidas have to take such a firm hold on the royal scepter? Well, because his twin brother Kleombrotus probably thought he deserved to be king too. What, you didn’t know Leonidas had a twin? Oh yeah, I guess the movie left that part out. Ah well, what do you want, you can’t exactly jam Herodotus’ 700 page book into a 2-hour digital effects swords ‘n sandals extravaganza.
The best part of 300, and it came straight from the pages of Herodotus, is when Xerxes demanded Leonidas lay down his weapons. Leonidas replied, “Molon la’be!” or “Come and take them!” That part was real. The stuff about the rhino’s charging the Spartan lines, Xerxes wearing nose rings and the Persian Immortals dressing like ninja turtles, well, those parts came out of Frank Miller’s comic book.
Herodotus’ story, or at least my version of it, centers around King Anaxandridas’s four sons, the royal princes: Cleomenes, Dorieus, Leonidas and Kleombrotus, each of whom fought with Shakespearean zeal over the kingship.
Stop back. More to come.