Movie “300” versus a book called ”Cyrus the Great:
The art of leadership and war”
I write these notes at a time when the movie “300” has irritated many Persian-Americans and Persian-Europeans across this country and in Europe.
I believe that in such circumstances, we should firstly bear in mind that the portrayal of Persians or Spartan in this film is very similar to those movie series such as Lord of the Rings and its characters. In fact, mainstream media and movie industries are known by their inaccurate portrayal of many historical facts. That is nothing new. There was another movie under the name of “300 Spartans” made in mid 1950’s which was a far better and realistic portrayal of what really had happened in far way past. (Even though, the costumes of the Persians from Imperial Guards to common soldiers seemed far more Parthian and Sassanian than Achaemenid!)
Movies come and go but no movie has ever been able to re-write the course of history nor has been viewed as the only version of what really has happened. Let’s take the case of Rome and Hollywood. There have been countless movies on Rome and her empire. They have shown scenes like throwing Christians to the lions, bloody gladiator fights, unfairness of the rulers and, above all, the brutal crucifixion of Christ himself. Nevertheless, Italians do not react to such exaggerated fabrications because they have learnt to be relaxed about their history, its achievements and what it offered. Typically anyone who sees any movie these days is aware of the fact that this is only a means of entertainment. I can tell you from observing my students who have seen the movie, including those who are born here as Iranian-Americans, that they do not see anything negative as this is another Lord-of-the-Ring type movie based on sheer fantasy. As a matter of fact, we need to remember what Hollywood’s motto is: “No publicity is bad publicity”.
Story telling and specially those that are based on historical events mostly becomes the artistic license for the designers and producers to create effects that are shocking to their consumers. The shock value in performing art is a highly important process for the actors and the story tellers. The message of “good guy, bad guy” has to be delivered quickly to the viewer and then to move on.
What I would be concern about is a movie that borrows from Persian Culture without crediting it. Two such instances come to mind. In Lord of the Rings, the suspended crown over the throne of the king is a clear Sasanian costume. In Camelot, starring Richard Gear and Sean Connary, King Arthur’s cavalry members hide their armors under regular clothing and at the opportune moment take the clothing off and expose the armor to the shining night light which is visually devastating to the enemy as it seems the hour of reckoning has come. This was devised by no other person but Surena, the Parthian commander of the Persian army, fighting the Roman emperor Crausus.
The positive way to counter such instances is to write about them and make others aware.
Secondly, to compensate the kind of anger and sense of loss we, need to look at good things about our heritage such as what we can find in a fairly new book about Cyrus the Great (ISBN: 0-312-35531-9) which is beautifully put together. Its material is taken from historic records specifically, Xenophon’s writing about which, Peter F. Drucker (who is considered to be the father of modern management for corporations and organizations) has said “Xenephon’s Cyrus -the earliest book on the subject- is still the best book on leadership.” This statement alone from the man who led the management revolution in corporate America, Western Europe and Japan in the past 30 years, describes the value and importance of Cyrus the Great for the entire world.
In America, Europe and Asia, understanding the essence of leadership in government, military and other private or public organizations has become a major endeavor that goes into the realm of the history of the past leaders and their experiences and many books have been written on this subject with the translation of some of them available in different languages. An important one is “The Art of War” written by Sun Tzu. This treatise on war and leadership became an overnight success in the late 70s and early 80s presenting a model for many management guru’s including those in Wall Street who used it to prepare themselves for their daily encounters with management difficulties. The same goes for treatises by Napoleon under the title of “Maxims on War”. Also there are various versions of strategic studies and methods of brilliant leaders such as German Generals Moltke and Goderian who are considered to be the fathers of mechanized warfare. Nevertheless, there has not been a reliable book on many of the Persian leaders until the publishing of this book.
Persian culture is very rich due to its old age. The experiences of successes and failures, conquering and being conquered, as well as scientific and philosophical achievements have allowed Persians to weather many difficulties and overcome huge obstacles.
It is very important that we see the appreciation of what we have by others and thank those who make major efforts in bringing the positive points of our culture to the fore without any bias.
It is due to the above premise that I do believe it is imperative for all of us to read this book and enjoy understanding the brilliance of Cyrus the great - a man who side by side his people show great and passionate effort to alleviate the life of themselves and those of others, thus, achieving the unthinkable through bringing all important cultures of the world under a single ceiling and make the fruits of their prosperity accessible to everyone.
The book renders both facts and fictions and let’s its reader to come to the final conclusion. We hear what Cyrus’s last opponent, the Queen of Daha and Massagets, submerged Cyrus’s body in a pool of blood - a vengeance caused by the unfortunate death of her son in Cyrus’s camp while in captivity. While doing that she said that such an act can be considered as “a feast of blood for a blood thirsty ruler”. But was Cyrus really a blood thirsty ruler? The book on the leadership of Cyrus pictures this scene and narrates what the queen has said. A reliable history should not change or omit parts of history. Nevertheless, it also tells us that Cyrus has always been seen a liberator and the Father of Human Rights.