When Alexander marched southwards from Tyre, he met with resistance at one place only, the old Philistine city of Gaza, the last great coast-town before the Egyptian frontier, a strong fortress on an eminence, which was bravely and skilfully defended by the eunuch Batis with the help of Nabatean mercenaries. Not until the heavy siege-engines had been fetched from Tyre and placed upon an artificial rampart and the walls had been undermined, did he succeed in taking the city after a two months’ siege. In the course of it he was wounded by a shot in the shoulder. As a clean sweep had been made of the population partly by death and partly by enslavement, Alexander fetched in new settlers from the neighborhood, and converted the town into a Macedonian fortress.
–Ulrich Wilcken, Alexander the Great, p. 112
“In the course of it he was wounded by a shot in the shoulder.”
Make that two shots to the head: one for Alexander–and one for Wilcken.
I saw Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” last night, with Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer, and Angelina Jolie. For long swatches of it I found myself thinking: how about three shots to the head? Meaning one for myself.
The first rule of ancient Greek reception in popular culture is that there are no good movies about ancient Greece. When something like 300 looks good by comparison, this truth only becomes more apparent.
Well, it’s not a movie, and I myself haven’t seen it, but Carrie-Ann has been plugging this play on Facebook:
And it’s gotten good reviews (not that I don’t trust Carrie-Ann’s judgment):
That said, I saw a dramatic production of the death of Socrates a few years ago in New York, and its transcendent awfulness was almost enough to scare me away from watching any further attempts.
Anyway, I’m not going to have time to see a 2 hour, 45 minute play between now and May 19, so I guess the issue is moot.
And though it both does and doesn’t count as a depiction of “ancient Greece,” I thought Alejandro Amenabar’s “Agora” was a good movie. It’s been criticized on grounds of historical accuracy, which I’m not competent to judge, but I still think it’s a good movie. But then, I’m the kind of guy who thinks that Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was a good movie, so my tastes may be questionable.
Passing thought: we seem to be better at depicting the post-Christian world than the pre-Christian. Also better at depicting Christendom than the Islamic world.
I think Rome movies are less bad as a rule than Greek movies. I literally can’t think of an ‘ancient Greece movie’ that I’d consider a good movie unless I judge it by deviant standards (I judge horror movies by deviant, genre-specific standards, so maybe I should consider it for ancient Greece movies). Some Rome movies, by contrast, are at least decent as movies, or at least as Hollywood action-adventure movies. I suppose that by that standard ‘300’ isn’t too terrible. But my main complaint about these movies is that they’re almost entirely about superficial spectacle and lack anything approaching depth; ‘300’ is no different. The literature that all this stuff is based on is complex and subtle, even if not always in ways that we’d recognize if we compare it to modern novels. What we get in these movies is typically stuff that adolescent boys can adequately understand. I confess, though, that my distaste for these things, and my not spending much time watching movies in general, have led me to skip many of them; I’ve never seen Stone’s Alexander, for instance. So maybe I’m missing something somewhere.
A friend of mine with whom I studied Classics as an undergrad went to see Troy with some of his non-classicist friends when it came out. They mercilessly mocked him afterwards: “that’s the kind of crap you study?” Of course his protestations fell on deaf ears. But it is indeed hard to see how anybody could watch Troy and think, “wow, I need to learn ancient Greek to read the original of that stuff.” By contrast, I read Plato and Homer and thought, “wow, I need to learn ancient Greek to read the original of that stuff,” and it was one of the only decisions I’ve made in my adult life that I haven’t ended up second-guessing at some point.
Rome movies probably are less bad, but have you ever seen Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone”?
Again, one of those cases where it both does and doesn’t count as an “ancient Greek movie” (though in a different way than “Agora”), but still a very enjoyable flick with the depth you’re looking for.
There are a bunch of Sophocles films that seem promising, if only because of the cast (and Sophocles). I haven’t seen any of them, but what could go wrong?
Clearly, we have some serious watching to do:
Oh, and don’t forget this one: