The most obvious fact about this movie is that men go around committing acts of slaughter. There is no sense of equals fighting, so to speak. The destruction of the Persians looks a lot like how predators destroy animals not made for war, except that the herds are throwing themselves at their destroyers. The destruction of the Spartans, in turn, looks like the destruction wrought by forces of nature – storms – except that the Spartans seek no shelter.
The style of the bloodshed leaves no doubt: The Spartans are beautiful, because they are men, & their enemies are deformed, mutilated creatures, because they are not. Furthermore, the ugliness & gore is also beautified in some way, partly because men are elated in battle, partly because their deeds are incomparably noble. This being in love of death is enemy to all peace but the grave.
Those who hate the story or hold it in contempt are reasonable: They would surrender today, given the opportunity, as many did then. Preferring life to death & avoiding great danger is reasonable: Life is in itself good. But those of us who look down on them are not most of us paragons of manliness. It is not true that each man is his own Achilles or Hector. At the same time, why should the pacifists be scared, when there is no real threat facing them?
That love of fight is spontaneous suggests it is natural; that it leads to sacrifice suggests it is not mercenary in nature, nor self-serving. Thus, if nobility is beautiful & natural to the human being, the most worshipful men are the strongest. This leaves out a consideration of victory & defeat, just as it leaves out a consideration of strategic reasoning. It seems obvious that defense is justified, or needs no justification…
Maybe young men see the situation of Leonidas as typical or even ideal. A man must defend his own even when he risks losing it, or especially then. That is not a controversial or complicated situation. It is even simpler than do or die. But the story makes it clear, this is the consequence of a way of life. Leonidas, talking to his allies, all citizens, says they are not really warriors. Only Spartans are real men.
To men & those who admire them, things must look as they do in this story. The story is told by a Spartan urging others into battle, to live & die like their forebears, their betters. But it’s not so simple anymore. Defeat leads to death & victory to peace. What good is peace if one lives for war? It seems, storytellers outlive warriors, but poetry is not the art of war.
Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here, obedient to their laws, we lie