Still from 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) © Warner Bros. Pictures.
A trailer has just been released for the 300 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014). It is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, Xerxes (2011). Miller presents a clichéed east-versus-west conflict with cultural and racial images which are sure to upset people and generate controversy. Miller's tone aside, it is true that the Persian Wars helped to shape the western cultural memory. Miller's story is more representative of the myth-making of memory around history, than it is about history.
Of course, this is a clear example of Millennial retro-futurism: some part of the ancient world is revived in a hyper-tech-mediafied way to explain modern concerns. The modern frame for this pop culture entertainment originates in rising tensions between Iran and America over nuclear weapons. Check out the subtly-altered mushroom cloud inserted into the ancient-Millennial mashed-up context of the trailer below. Some have argued that rising nuclear interests in Iran are strategically related to the expected decline of the regional importance of the Middle East when oil reserves are depleted there around 2050.
Miller explained the time frame of the graphic novel:
The time frame begins 10 years before 300 [which is set in 480 BCE around the Battle of Thermopylae] and ... starts with the Battle of Marathon [in 490 BCE], which was killer to draw, by the way, even if it was a lot of work. The lead character is Themistocles, who became warlord of Greece and built their navy. The story is very different than ’300′ in that it involves Xerxes’ search for godhood. The existence of gods are presupposed in this story and the idea is that he [is] well on his way to godhood by the end of the story. ...
The story will be the same heft as 300 [published in 1998] but it covers a much, much greater span of time — it’s 10 years, not three days. This is a more complex story. The story is so much larger. The Spartans in 300 were being enclosed by the page as the world got smaller. This story has truly vast subjects. The Athenian naval fleet, for instance, is a massive artistic undertaking and it [was] dwarfed by the Persian fleet, which is also shown in this story. The story has elements of espionage, too, and it’s a sweeping tale with gods and warriors.
King Xerxes of Persia strove for godhood, as conceived and depicted by Frank Miller.
Of his racist depiction of Xerxes, Miller commented:
Yes, I suppose it will be seen as provocative, but really to me he is such a pivotal character and in this story I get to explain him so much more fully. I do my best to crawl inside his head rather than have him be this iconic force that simply commands this huge army. There are many scenes with him alone or just with his people. There’s an extended scene set in Persepolis, for instance, where he takes power and there are several scenes where he is going through his transitions and he’s shown speaking to his mother and his wife and with all of that he becomes that much more interesting as a character.
The main sources on the Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 BCE) were the 'father of history,' Herodotus and subsequently, the Athenian scholar Thucydides. Herodotus's account was later criticized: "Plutarch criticised Herodotus in his essay 'On The Malignity of Herodotus,' describing Herodotus as 'Philobarbaros' (barbarian-lover) for not being pro-Greek enough, which suggests that Herodotus might actually have done a reasonable job of being even-handed." Plutarch, in his biographies of Themistocles, Aristides and Cimon wrote about this period of conflict, but was writing 600 years after the fact. He cited ancient histories which have not survived. There are no surviving historical accounts written by the Persians.
You can read Herodotus's account for free in English online here (the 1920 Godley translation), and a translated version of the account by Thucydides here.
You can see photos online of the ruins of Xerxes' ancient Persian capital, Persepolis, here.
Eva Green stars as the Persian queen and naval commander, Artemisia, still from 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) © Warner Bros. Pictures.
Video Source: Youtube.