I had the privilege of interviewing Cyrus Kar for PersianMirror, last January and on his fabulous film project a Bio Epic on Cyrus the Great. Knowing Cyrus’ own stamina and interest in informing his compatriots on Persian History, I couldn't doubt that he would certainly have something to say on the most controversial movie of the year for the Persian Community at large: Zack Snyder’s 300. The movie has sparked a series of unprecedented reactions in the Iranian community with several online petitions circulating condemning the films message as a false depiction of Persian History.
Ironically even the Islamic Regime in Iran has condemned the movie as an “Insult to Persians” accusing Hollywood of ‘Psychological Warfare’. True or false an assessment, Iran's government's sudden outrage is in total contradiction with its own interior behavior and policy of neglect towards Persian archeological sites such as Pasargarda and Persepolis threatened by the construction of the Sivand Dam (see petition & website).
Western press has however to its credit echoed the current malaise of the Persian community despite the movie’s immense Box Office Results . Thus to name a few Time Magazine’s correspondent Azadeh Moaveni (author of Lipstick Jihad) expresses the current mood in Tehran by ‘300 vs 70 Million Iranians’ and the Associated Press titles ‘Iranians outraged by Hit Movie 300.’ Cyrus Kar kindly asked me to share with you his views on the film and wishes for the new Persian New Year. This article is also available on his website dedicated to his own film project In Search of Cyrus the Great which is currently struggling to gather the necessary finances to finally enter production.
The Truth Behind ‘300’ by Cyrus Kar
For many Iranians the cinematic movie ‘300’ may come as a shocking revelation. But to those of us who came up through America’s school system, the ‘Battle of Thermopylae,’ which is what the movie ‘300’ is based on, is as familiar as George Washington’s fabled “cherry tree” incident.
The Battle of Thermopylae was of course written by the classical Greek author, Herodotus, who lived in the Persian city of Halicarnassus. His book, ‘The Histories’ became part of Western folklore only recently. It was not until about 1850 that America embraced Herodotus as the leading authority on Persian history.
Before 1850, however, the West had a very favorable impression of the Persian Empire. That’s because the West’s main source for Persian history was the Bible and the ‘Cyropaedia,’ written by another Greek author named Xenophon.
But the Cyropaedia glorified the monarchy of Cyrus The Great, and in the wake of two bloody revolutions fought by America and France to liberate themselves from their own monarchies, a major campaign began, around the mid 19th century, to promote democracy throughout the rest of Europe, and Herodotus was the perfect propaganda tool.
Herodotus was a democratic groupie and was quickly ushered in as the “Father Of History.” Around 1850, his ‘Battle Of Thermopylae’ came to symbolize the West’s struggle for democracy against the powerful forces of Persia’s monarchy.
The story is easy to buy into: 300 brave Spartans saved Western democracy from 2.7 million evil Persians. But aside from the fanciful numbers which need decimal-point adjustments, this whimsical tale has far graver consequences than a mere biased account of history.
The ‘Battle Of Thermopylae’ has been the single most powerful wedge, which has divided East and West for over 2 millennia. In a time when East and West should be reconciling their differences, along comes the movie ‘300’ to drive that wedge even deeper.
What is most disturbing about this movie is not that it lacks historical accuracy. It is not that Xerxes, the Grandson of Cyrus The Great and loving husband of Esther, is shown as an oversized drag queen. It is not even the outdated racist cliché of casting the Persians as Africans and the Spartans as white, blue-eyed ‘Chippendale dancers,’ when in reality the roles may well have been reversed.
What is so distressing about this movie is the realization of the tremendous power Hollywood wields in determining a people’s identity. It is the same nightmare Native Americans endured during the whole ‘cowboy-movie’ genre.
But for those who are quick to dismiss ‘300’ as a fleeting fantasy flick aimed at the insignificant, 17 to 24 year-old male video-gamer, think again. First there was Alexander, now ‘300,’ next could well be the ‘Battle Of Marathon,’ another one of Herodotus’s glowing accounts of ancient Persia.
Herodotus is accepted blindly by virtually all Western demographics. Even the New York Times is not immune. Here is how it described the Persians in its April 20, 2004 issue about the Battle Of Marathon:
“the defeat of a ruthless state (Persia) that had enslaved much of the known world from the Balkans to the Himalayas.”
“the ancient Greeks defeated the Asian invaders (Persia) and saved Europe in what scholars call one of the first great victories of freedom over tyranny”
- William J. Broad, NY Times
What stretches the limits of hypocrisy is that there isn’t a single shred of archeological evidence that the Persians ever owned slaves. Yet we know that slavery was an integral cornerstone of Greek society. Aristotle’s manifesto even sanctions it. Persia, which was once a haven for runaway slaves from Egypt, Greece, and later Rome, is today branded as a slave-hungry empire by cultures which were built on slavery!
What makes Herodotus’s propaganda so difficult to refute is that it is peppered with facts. But in reality, it is a desperate diatribe. Perhaps his biggest ploy is his attempt to equate democracy with freedom. These two words are used virtually interchangeably throughout his book. And the West has swallowed it hook-line-and-sinker.
But America’s founding fathers knew better. They were not swayed by Herodotus. They implemented many safeguards to protect freedom from the pitfalls that mired Athenian democracy. Even Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others which have been tried.”
Go to Part II