Women’s History- Hydna the Diver, Artemisia I of Caria and the Many Failings of Frank Miller’s 300

-Gabrielle Friesen, student staff

So 300 was a movie (2007) based on a comic (1998) based on a historical event, and I’m still irked about the movie and the comic. Frank Miller’s comic was a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae. The movie was directed by Zach Snyder, with Miller as executive producer and consultant. As Xerxes invaded, 7,000 men moved to block his way through the coastal pass Thermopylae. Included in this force was King Leonidas I of Sparta. For two days, Xerxes’ forces were successfully kept out of the pass, until a local man showed them a secret pass. Learning of this, Leonidas dismissed much of the force, knowing that they were vastly outnumbered, keeping about 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans to protect the rear, most of whom were killed. Miller guts this to the Spartan 300, ignoring the other forces and injecting his normal heterosexism, racism, xenophobia, and sexism into the tale. The movie jacks this up to a hundred.

In the movie and the comic, the Persians are depicted as sub-human monsters, some of the most memorable foes being barely even recognizable as human. When the movie came out, some critics thought the movie was a thinly veiled allegory about the U.S. and the middle east, the heroic, hyper-masculine, tragic Spartans of course being the U.S., and the non-human Persians being Iran. So, there’s you’re racism and xenophobia, right there.

In the movie, Xerxes gets the knowledge of the secret pass by tempting a failed Spartan with a harem of lesbians, basically. Those damn lesbians, threatening the West, both today and in 480 BC. (Women who have sex with women in order to titillate a dude and under orders by Xerxes to have se with other women, so not really lesbians, but I doubt the two dudes in charge can tell the difference). Real Spartan tactics are thrown out the window in favor of displaying hyper-masculine, hyper-individualistic heroes with CGI abs. Weep before Miller and Snyder’s ode to U.S. individualism and the masculine ideal. It is only acceptable to wear pink when it is enemy brain matter! Real men fight by themselves, teamwork is for women! Real men don’t even need armor, their abs deflect fucking arrows with the sheer force of their masculinity! Actual Spartans carried gear and armor that weighed between at least 40 and 80 pounds, and one of the reasons they were able to hold out as long as they did was not because everyone rushed off on their own to give the audience thrilling fights, but because they stayed in tight formation, working together to create an impenetrable wall of shields (which, it’s a battle, that would still be pretty thrilling to the audience).

The movie also tries very hard to distance itself from any implications of homosexuality, in a film based on the Spartans, featuring an all male cast who oils each other up before a fight. In the comic, the Spartans even ridicule the Athenians as being “boy-lovers,” ignoring the fact that pederasty was a time-honored tradition in Sparta, meant to develop bonds and facilitate training between the old and young generations of warriors. Comic writer Alan Moore pointed out this inaccuracy saying: “That specific example probably says more about Frank’s grasp of history than it does about his grasp of homosexuality, so I’m not impugning his moral situation there. I’m not saying it was homophobic; just wasn’t very well researched.Miller responded “If I allowed my characters to express only my own attitudes and beliefs, my work would be pretty darn boring. If I wrote to please grievance groups, my work would be propaganda. For the record: being a warrior class, the Spartans almost certainly did practice homosexuality. There’s also evidence they tended to lie about it. It’s not a big leap to postulate that they ridiculed their hedonistic Athenian rivals for something they themselves did. “Hypocrisy” is, after all, a word we got from the Greeks. What’s next? A letter claiming that, since the Spartans owned slaves and beat their young, I do the same? The times we live in.” Ignoring the fact that by his own omissions and re-imagining of history he is forwarding his own propaganda. History is propaganda.

The only woman in the movie (save for the lesbians, who obviously aren’t characters but scenery) is Leonidas’ wife, King Gorgo, and she gets raped. Because what else do are women good for in story-telling, really? Nevermind that Spartan women were also trained in fighting. Instead of a really gross scene where to secure more troops for her husband she has to endure rape, is double-crossed and accused of adultery, and then in a fit of rage kills the man, in turn discovering he was a double-agent for the Persians, we could have another really awesome fight scene, minus the rape, where the treachery is revealed at the edge of her short-sword, instead of a dagger (women can carry weapons as long as they’re small and “feminine”- can’t depict them being competent with a “man’s weapon”).

Now that we’ve gotten some of what 300 did wrong out of the way, lets talk about awesome ladies who were doing things like not being a prop in a movie about dudes during Xerexe’s attack! Hydna the diver and Artemisia of Caria, specifically.

Hydna the diver was a woman taught how to dive by her father Scyllis of Scione, who was a renowned diver, able to dive “into the very deepest parts of every sea.” Some historians think the pair may have been clam divers.

Along with Xerxes land force, he also sent ships to engage the renowned Athenian fleet. There’s this whole awesome thing where the Oracle at Delphi said the wooden wall would save Athens, leading many citizens to put their faith in this really small and really terrible wall around the city, when in fact the Oracle meant the Athenian fleet- a wall of wooden ships. While Xerexes fleet was moored near Mount Pelion, a storm rolled in. The winds and violent waves threatened to crash the ships against one another, were it not for their anchors and mooring lines. Noting this fact, Hydna and Scyllis swam out to the Persian fleet, the storm still going strong, and dove beneath the fleet, where they proceeded to cut the anchors and mooring lines. Without their stability, many of the Persian ships were destroyed as they were dashed against one another or the coast. “In return for this deed the Amphictyons dedicated statues of Scyllis and his daughter. The statue of Hydna completed the number of the statues that Nero carried off from Delphi. Only those of the female sex who are pure virgins may dive into the sea.

Artemisia I of Caria was on the other side of events, a naval commander for Xerxes. She was also the ruler of Caria in Ionia. She was Xerxes’ sole woman commander, and was the one who suggested a joint land and sea attack. (Couldn’t put her in the movie, then we’d have to women with speaking roles). She proposed attack the Greek fleets one by one, but Xerexs instead attacked the Greek fleet when they had all assembled together at the Battle of Salamis. Artemisia participated in this battle, commanding five ships.

The Greeks won the battle, because it was fought in cramped conditions between the Straits of Slaamis, where the small number of Greek ships was able to outmaneuver the large numbers of Persian ships (ancient sources say 1,200, but modern historians put it at 600-800), which became a hindrance to themselves as they blocked and ensnared one another. After this defeat, Artemisia convinced Xerxes to retreat to Asia Minor.

While both of these women’s contributions to history can be summarized fairly quickly, their participation in Xeroxes’ invasion was vital to how the war went. If the Spartan 300 get to be immortalized and remembered for basically failing spectacularly (being a bit hyperbolic- they did hold off the invasion force for a few days), Hydna should also be remembered for scoring an actual victory for the Greek side, and Artemisia was the only woman commander, which is awesome, and she forwarded the basic outline for the whole invasion.

3 thoughts on “Women’s History- Hydna the Diver, Artemisia I of Caria and the Many Failings of Frank Miller’s 300

  1. I bet you feel stupid because they are making another movie with artemisia being played by Eva green. Although im not sure if hydna is in the movie

    • You know, I don’t particularly feel stupid for writing the article at a point in time when that information didn’t exist and they hadn’t released any details about the second 300 movie, let alone the fact the Artemisia was going to be a character. The larger points of the article still stand as well, and Hydna does not have a credit line on IMDB even though the movie is taking place exactly when she helped save the Greek world. It also waits to be seen how much Artemisia even is in the film, affects the plot, or is reduced to just a hot action babe in the sequel itself.

  2. Pingback: Hydna of Scione | Badass Ladies of History

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