Straight Dope Message Board

Straight Dope Message Board (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/index.php)
-   Cafe Society (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/forumdisplay.php?f=13)
-   -   Recommend a book on Thermopylae (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=410592)

Just Some Guy 03-01-2007 08:43 PM

Recommend a book on Thermopylae
 
With the movie 300 coming out next week I wanted to read something more in depth about the battle that is the focus of the story. I have Miller's graphic novel and he generously provides a bibliography but I'd like to get the opinion of some Doper's. What book should I read to get the low down on the battle of Thermopylae? Are there any classic histories worth mentioning (and potentially available on Project Gutenburg)?

Waenara 03-01-2007 08:49 PM

I know you're looking for non-fiction books (and I'm interested too, so I'll keep an eye on this thread to see other replies), but if you're looking for fiction involving the battle of Thermopylae, I would highly recommend Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Amazon link

EddyTeddyFreddy 03-01-2007 09:30 PM

I'm currently about halfway through Pressfield's book and very much enjoying it, although I should point out that the author is greatly enamored of the Spartans. It probably presents a more fair and balanced view than the movie will offer, but still, I'd explore any links you can find for other viewpoints, such as the helots'.

Frostillicus 03-01-2007 10:34 PM

I third Gates of Fire.

Helen's Eidolon 03-01-2007 10:35 PM

Well, you could always read Herodotus. He's the Greek who wrote a history of the wars between the Persians and the Greeks, with lots of fantastic digressions along the way. He's actually one of my favourite authors of all time - a real pleasure to read, and it's certainly the best source you'll get.

The two books listed as notable treatments of the Battle of Thermopylae in the Oxford Classical Dictionary (the best and most trustworthy reference book for stuff like this) are C. Hignett, Xerxes' Invasion of Greece (1963) and J. F. Lazenby, The Defence of Greece (1993). I can't vouch for either, not having read them, but I've just recently read another book by Lazenby, and I enjoyed it, although it was very militarily-focused. It also looks like Paul Cartledge has just come out with a new book in 2006 on Thermopylae too, called "Thermopylae : the battle that changed the world". He's certainly one of the foremost authorities on all matters Greek alive at the moment.

Paul in Qatar 03-01-2007 11:54 PM

Gate of Fire. As everyone has noted.

Diogenes the Cynic 03-02-2007 12:05 AM

Another for Gates of Fire. Much more accurate than 300.

t-bonham@scc.net 03-02-2007 12:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Helen's Eidolon
Well, you could always read Herodotus. He's the Greek who wrote a history of the wars between the Persians and the Greeks

And his books are available for free, in Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/h#a828

VampyChick 03-02-2007 12:48 AM

Yet another vote for Gates of Fire, which was recommended to me by my Ancient Greek History professor. She said it was one of the most historically accurate novels about ancient Greece she'd found--although it does leave out the gay, which makes sense, as it's not the concern of the book. 300 is horrendously inaccurate.

Helen's Eidolon 03-02-2007 01:07 AM

Herodotus is indeed available on Gutenberg, but that translation doesn't look fun to read, to say the least. The translation on the Internet Classics Archive seems marginally better, but my favourite (still copyrighted) translation is by Aubrey de Selincourt.

GingerOfTheNorth 03-02-2007 01:10 PM

Helen's Eidolon doesn't seem to want to tell you this, but this is her area of expertise. She is a Master's student of Classics.

Larry Borgia 03-02-2007 01:20 PM

I found David Grene's translation of Herodotus very readable.

BrainGlutton 03-02-2007 02:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by VampyChick
Yet another vote for Gates of Fire, which was recommended to me by my Ancient Greek History professor. She said it was one of the most historically accurate novels about ancient Greece she'd found--although it does leave out the gay, which makes sense, as it's not the concern of the book.

That's not quite so jarring as the scene where
SPOILER:
one of the Spartan citizens saves the life of a rebellious helot by claiming paternity of him -- or his child, forget which. In either case, one of the krypteia expresses skepticism that the citizen in question would be guilty of "infidelity" to his wife -- in a time, place and culture where a husband had no acknowledged duty to be sexually faithful to his wife; the burden of fidelity was all on her. That was as true in Sparta as anywhere else in Greece, AFAIK.

bump 03-02-2007 03:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
That's not quite so jarring as the scene where
SPOILER:
one of the Spartan citizens saves the life of a rebellious helot by claiming paternity of him -- or his child, forget which. In either case, one of the krypteia expresses skepticism that the citizen in question would be guilty of "infidelity" to his wife -- in a time, place and culture where a husband had no acknowledged duty to be sexually faithful to his wife; the burden of fidelity was all on her. That was as true in Sparta as anywhere else in Greece, AFAIK.


SPOILER:
If I'm remembering right, it was Dienekes who claimed the paternity, and the thought that I had when the krypteia member said his bit about fidelity was more that Dienekes wouldn't be unfaithful, not that a Peer wouldn't be unfaithful.


On a different note, here's another vote for Gates of Fire. I particularly liked the way that the Spartans were treated as very serious, professional soldiers, not as some hyper-macho, bloodthirsty crazies, which seems to be what 300 is aiming for, although I don't really remember it as much from the graphic novel as I do from the tv ads.

Just Some Guy 03-02-2007 03:22 PM

There was a used copy of Selincourt's translation of Herodotus for a penny on Amazon (not the same edition). I ordered that since Herodotus is a hole in my reading that needs filling. If anyone is interested there are a couple of copies of that same edition left on Amazon to be had at a price where you're essentially just paying the shipping.

Since everyone loves Gates of Fire so much I'm adding it to my reading list, though at the moment I'm in the mood for something non-fiction.

BrainGlutton 03-02-2007 03:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by bump
SPOILER:
If I'm remembering right, it was Dienekes who claimed the paternity, and the thought that I had when the krypteia member said his bit about fidelity was more that Dienekes wouldn't be unfaithful, not that a Peer wouldn't be unfaithful.

Perhaps,
SPOILER:
but culturally speaking, the one makes no more sense than the other. I believe some contemporary Greek writer said, "We use courtesans for pleasure, slaves for the daily health of our bodies, and wives to provide us with lawful children." So it was. A consistently faithful husband would be some kinda freakin' freak.

t-bonham@scc.net 03-02-2007 05:37 PM

Quote:

in a time, place and culture where a husband had no acknowledged duty to be sexually faithful to his wife; the burden of fidelity was all on her. That was as true in Sparta as anywhere else in Greece, AFAIK.
That's still true in many places, even today.

A few years back, I worked on a Minnesota Legislative Committee reviewing state criminal laws. I was surprised to discover that in Minnesota, adultery is strictly a crime for wives, husbands having sex with someone they are not married to is not adultery.

DesertDog 03-02-2007 10:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by bump
I particularly liked the way that the Spartans were treated as very serious, professional soldiers, not as some hyper-macho, bloodthirsty crazies, which seems to be what 300 is aiming for, although I don't really remember it as much from the graphic novel as I do from the tv ads.

I remember in particular a scene describing a battle the Spartans had -- not the stand at Thermopylae, against Thebans I think -- and the onlooker noted how the they formed up their phalanx and when they were ready to go, their pikes snapped as one to a perfectly straight, unwavering line, turning the phalanx into a killing machine. Their opponents' on the other hand, dipped and shook as the realization of what was to befall them sunk in. Several broke and ran before first contact.

I devoured the book in two days.

EddyTeddyFreddy 03-02-2007 10:19 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
That's not quite so jarring as the scene where [spoiler]

I'm not going to write a multi-paragraph spoiler-boxed analysis of how crucial this scene is, how it illuminates a number of aspects of the Spartans' culture and beliefs, the position of women, the demands of honor, etc., etc. I'll just say, having read that bit yesterday, that in context it is entirely believable and upon it hinges some major plot developments.

It's driving me crazy, not being free to sit down with this book and devour it without interruption!

DesertDog, you are so right, that scene with the pikes snapping into position was stunning, it really illustrated why the Spartans were such feared warriors.

ElvisL1ves 03-03-2007 09:28 AM

Yep, Gates of Fire, especially the audio version, one of the prolific Grover Gardner's best performances. Pressfield's choice of a helot archer as the narrator was just perfect, as it allowed a full view of Spartan society from the inside.

George Clooney had been cast as Leonidas, but the project was shelved. Too many other swords-and-sandals flix in the pipeline, apparently.

Helen's Eidolon 03-03-2007 10:29 AM

I have to admit, after all of the glowing recommendations I'm almost curious to read Gates of Fire myself... although some of the stuff quoted/referred to here makes me suspicious that it's not as accurate as it could be.

EddyTeddyFreddy 03-03-2007 10:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Helen's Eidolon
I have to admit, after all of the glowing recommendations I'm almost curious to read Gates of Fire myself... although some of the stuff quoted/referred to here makes me suspicious that it's not as accurate as it could be.

Well, dammit, hurry up then, woman, so you can come back here and tell us your take before this thread drops into oblivion! :D

Perhaps it does take some liberties with historical truth, but by reading it I'm coming to see the Spartans as real people, not the cardboard cutouts my history education made of them.

Helen's Eidolon 03-03-2007 10:47 AM

Ha! Unfortunately, I'm a bit busy at the moment reading about the Spartans (no, really!) to pick up a new fiction book. I may aim for March break, though!

Arnold Winkelried 03-03-2007 12:19 PM

Helen's Eidolon, looking at your location, I wonder if you have any good french translations of Herodotus to recommend.

Helen's Eidolon 03-03-2007 12:27 PM

Hm. I haven't read any editions of him in French, so I can't speak from personal experience. I found a new edition of him from Belles Lettres, who usually produce good translations, that came out in 2002. However, it's Greek on one side of the page and French on the other, so if you can't read Greek, it's half-useless. If you're interested, I can check out what else my library has and give you a personal opinion.

Arnold Winkelried 03-03-2007 12:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Helen's Eidolon
Hm. I haven't read any editions of him in French, so I can't speak from personal experience. I found a new edition of him from Belles Lettres, who usually produce good translations, that came out in 2002. However, it's Greek on one side of the page and French on the other, so if you can't read Greek, it's half-useless. If you're interested, I can check out what else my library has and give you a personal opinion.

Actually, the Belles Lettres sounds very good, I had 3 years of Ancient Greek, and I could pretend to myself that I still know something. In english I've been buying Loeb Classical Library editions to have the latin along the translation.
Is this what you mean? (amazon link)
A tad expensive for a paperback.

Helen's Eidolon 03-03-2007 12:43 PM

Huh, it is - and each book of Herodotus is published in a different book in that series, so there's nine total. Maybe not the best investment.

The next most recent translation my library has (and it doesn't have the best French collection, being in PA) is Stéphane Gsell's, from 1971.

Diogenes the Cynic 03-03-2007 12:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Helen's Eidolon
I have to admit, after all of the glowing recommendations I'm almost curious to read Gates of Fire myself... although some of the stuff quoted/referred to here makes me suspicious that it's not as accurate as it could be.

In terms of historical fiction, Pressfield is about as accurate a writer as I've found on the ancient Greeks. He's also written novels on the Peloponnesian Wars and one on Alexander (His best known novel is probably The Legend of Bagger Vance, though). His descriptions of actual warfare are where he's the most authentic. The weapons, the armor, the hierarchy of command, the procedures, the fighting itself and the descriptions of the devolpments of real, historical battles are all right on the money. He also does a good job of working in aspects of religion and how they influnced military culture. If he has a flaw it's that he seems a little squeamish about teh gay, but when his portrayal of the actual fighting at Thermopylae is very accurate.

Helen's Eidolon 03-03-2007 12:48 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Diogenes the Cynic
If he has a flaw it's that he seems a little squeamish about teh gay, but when his portrayal of the actual fighting at Thermopylae is very accurate.

Since one of my interests is ancient sexuality, this might bug me a fair bit. Especially since, in Sparta, a man could be fined for not having an eromenos. We will see.

BrainGlutton 03-03-2007 01:18 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by EddyTeddyFreddy
Perhaps it does take some liberties with historical truth, but by reading it I'm coming to see the Spartans as real people, not the cardboard cutouts my history education made of them.

But in real life, they were cardboard cutouts.

EddyTeddyFreddy 03-03-2007 06:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
But in real life, they were cardboard cutouts.

Ha! Cardboard hadn't been invented yet, mister! Any cutouts would be made from either parchment or papyrus.

Thought you could fool me, did you? :mad:

BrainGlutton 03-03-2007 08:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by EddyTeddyFreddy
Ha! Cardboard hadn't been invented yet, mister! Any cutouts would be made from either parchment or papyrus.

Thought you could fool me, did you? :mad:

:D

Nevertheless, IRL, the Spartans were cardboard cutouts, or not much more. Practically every other polity in Hellas in the relevant period produced art, music, philosophy, theater . . . all the things for which we remember Ancient Greece. The Spartans were known for exactly one accomplishment along those lines: Pithy or "Laconic" epigrams. (E.g., General Pausanius, on seeing the luxurious captured tent of a Persian general: "You see what fools these were, who live like this, yet came here to rob us of our poverty!") Otherwise, they were unimaginative and brain-dead. Their culture and political system made them so. Males of the citizen class lived under military discipline from childhood. That is not an environment conducive to the flowering of individual personalities.

I would strongly recommend Just Some Guy read some historical fiction that treats the Spartans from a non-Spartan POV -- e.g., The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault.

EddyTeddyFreddy 03-03-2007 10:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
I would strongly recommend Just Some Guy read some historical fiction that treats the Spartans from a non-Spartan POV -- e.g., The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault.

An excellent recommendation -- although Renault tends to fall in love with her characters and see the best in the Greece she writes about. But she does incorporate Ancient Greek homosexuality into her books as a normal part of the culture. I'd recommend, in fact, all of her books set in that milieu.

DrDeth 03-04-2007 03:20 AM

The "original" movie- "The 300 Spartans" is not bad at all.

BrainGlutton 03-04-2007 06:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Helen's Eidolon
Especially since, in Sparta, a man could be fined for not having an eromenos.

Well, that wasn't just about pleasure. Greek pederasty was a functional social institution -- the erastes (adult lover) was expected to mentor and educate the eromenos (teenage lover), set a good example for him on the battlefield, and so on. (Homosexuality between adults was considered ridiculous.)

Helen's Eidolon 03-04-2007 09:39 PM

Heh, I know. I gave a lecture on the topic of Greek homoeroticism last year :)

Hentor the Barbarian 03-04-2007 10:26 PM

I just read Gates of Fire last year, and was momentarily pumped when I heard about the "300" movie.

Then I saw the trailer.

EddyTeddyFreddy 03-04-2007 10:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Hentor the Barbarian
I just read Gates of Fire last year, and was momentarily pumped when I heard about the "300" movie.

Then I saw the trailer.

I'm still reading the book, and after seeing the movie trailers online, there's no way in Hades I'd go see it.

Baldwin 03-04-2007 10:58 PM

Yet another vote for Gates of Fire. Even if it weren't historically accurate, it's a crackin' good story. (Just saw a tv ad for 300. Not even sure if I'll go see it. The historical facts are so amazing, it really doesn't need to be tarted up with comic-book fantasy.)


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 04:15 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.