The Battle of Thermopylae is the stuff of legend.
It’s around 480BC and 300 Spartan warriors face an invasion force of 300,000 Persians.
Against the odds they determine to hold them off at a narrow pass called ‘The Hot Gates’ to enable the Greek city-states to muster their various armies and form a united front. It’s a suicide mission and they know it. They fight hard and to the last man. Historians tell how the last men standing were so ferocious they fought using their hands, feet and teeth.
Basically, the Greek city-states gained much needed time to muster their armies and eventually, after a brutal war, the Persian army was driven back and Greece was saved.
There’s no doubt that there were some epic moments among the tragedy of the slaughter.
In a famous exchange captured in the 2006 film 300, the historian Herodotus said this of one of the reputedly bravest warriors called Dienekes.
“He was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes, however, undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh: ‘Good. Then we will fight in the shade.'”
Of course, for all you history geeks out there, the historical version differs a bit from the film but it’s true they held the line, true they all died and true that they enabled the Greek armies to overcome and win the fight.
As a film, 300 rocked the world. It’s still the 24th highest-grossing film for an opening weekend, having taken more than £456 million and has a cult following to this day.
Interestingly the film is said to be popular with men and women, particularly because it has a strong female and male lead. There’s no denying it though that many men love the film and the story. I’m one of them.
Yes there’s glorified and over-stylised violence and I’m sure it says something about our culture that violent films do so well at the box office, but I confess that the film just gripped me. Why? Because it’s a band of brothers fighting against the odds who have each other’s backs. There’s unswerving loyalty to each other and to a cause. There’s pride in who they are and the nation they represent. They refuse to quit and stay upbeat even in the face of certain death. They are well-trained, drilled and motivated. I can’t explain why, but all this, and the sense of heroic struggle, deeply appeals to me.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a throwback dinosaur of a man (I can picture the nodding heads) or perhaps it’s because something deep within me wants to fight for a noble cause and get into a scrap. I think it’s probably something to do with my testosterone levels. Society wants me to be tame and so does the Church – or at least that’s what it tends to communicate.
My role model however isn’t King Leonidas, the Spartan warrior, or a gentile parish vicar; it’s Jesus, and in the words of C S Lewis: “Aslan is not a tame lion.”