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Screening the Golden Ages of the Classical Tradition$
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Meredith Safran

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474440844

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440844.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 31 May 2020

A Leonidas for the Golden Age of Superhero Films: The Thermopylae Tradition in 300 (2006)

A Leonidas for the Golden Age of Superhero Films: The Thermopylae Tradition in 300 (2006)

Chapter:
(p.83) 4 A Leonidas for the Golden Age of Superhero Films: The Thermopylae Tradition in 300 (2006)
Source:
Screening the Golden Ages of the Classical Tradition
Author(s):

Eric Ross

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440844.003.0005

In the second of two chapters investigating the role of Homeric epic in fabricating golden ages, Ross proposes the current golden age of superhero movies as an effective lens for viewing the modern idealization of the Spartan king Leonidas as portrayed in 300 (2006). He cites several criteria: the superhero’s origin story; the threats posed by a tyrannical enemy and by civic bureaucracy; and the superhero’s tragic alienation from loved ones and society he protects. Leonidas’ superhero status resonates with Herodotus’ fifth-century BCE account of the Battle of Thermopylae, a “golden” moment in Western historiography, when Leonidas led his 300 Spartan warriors into Homeric “doomed combat” by standing their ground against the massive invasion of the Greek mainland by the army of Xerxes, Great King of Persia. Herodotus’ account has long been recognized as assimilating the Spartan warriors, especially Leonidas, to Homer’s depiction of mythical heroes, who were themselves the bases for twentieth-century superheroes. Ross demonstrates the political ramifications of the film’s use of storytelling to mobilize nostalgia for this golden age into contemporary re-enactment – despite director Zack Snyder’s (in)famous denials of political engagement.

Keywords:   300, golden age of superhero movies, Leonidas, 300 Spartans, “doomed combat”, Herodotus, Homeric epic, nostalgia, hero’s alienation, Battle of Thermopylae

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