Thanks to the movie 300—and the totally hilarious and terrible spoof, Meet the Spartans—most people are acquainted with Sparta and the battle of Thermopylae these days. I’m proud to say I was a huge Sparta fan way before the movie. We read the Histories in college when I was 18, after first reading about the founding of Sparta’s political system, and I’d been half in love with the city-state ever since. (Not enough that I’d want to live there, mind you. Physical activity—shudder.
But this was a totally amazing battle. The Spartans were the most impressive warriors probably ever recorded. It was their life. Their bread and butter. They rose in the morning and drilled—as in, everybody. Men and women alike, though divided. They had no money. If your family had inherited some, you’d better still live in the commons and eat with your brethren, or you’d be in for it.
There was no chance they would bow the knee to Xerxes, but the other city-states were folding like an accordion. They knew that in order to save Sparta and get key troops in place to defend her in time, they needed to hold Xerxes off for three days at the Pass. (Thermopylae actually means “The Pass.”) So they sent 300 soldiers. That’s all they could spare from their army of 1000. And they held off the Persian army of over a million for the necessary three days. W-O-W.
The difficulty for me was that I love the Spartans. They are so. Stinking. Cool. But my hero is their sworn enemy. So . . . what in the world is an author to do? My answer was to make my heroine admire them. Not root for them, but admire them. And even draw an unexpected parallel between their way of life and hers, their service to an immutable law (Win a battle or die trying) and hers to a divine Law. Both of whom were made stronger because of it, though outsiders rarely understood that.
I wasn’t at first certain how I could show the battle in a way to make it compelling to my predominately female readership, but I like how it turned out. I hope you do too. =)
(Painting of Leonidas [Spartan king] at Thermopylae by Jacque-Louis David, currently in the Louvre.)