Few against many : the reception of the battle of Thermopylae in popular culture, South Africa and children's literature.
The Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. is an event of Greek history that has inspired numerous subsequent receptions. Many of these later ‘receptions’ of the battle have been studied in varying degrees of detail by scholars over the years, however certain periods, or modes of reception have been ignored or neglected in this scholarship. In this dissertation I examine some of these neglected areas of research. These areas include: the uses and abuses of the Battle of Thermopylae in contemporary popular culture. In this section I focus primarily on Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 (1998/9), as well as Zack Snyder’s 2006 film of the same name. Secondly I focus on a ‘national’ response to the ‘Thermopylae theme’, in which I consider its use in South Africa. I narrow my focus to examine its use as a motif in the poetry of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Finally I explore how the Battle of Thermopylae was employed by writers of children’s literature in the Victorian period, where I delimit my discussion to Caroline Dale Snedeker’s The Coward of Thermopylae (1911), as well as Andrew Lang’s short story: ‘The Spartan Three Hundred’ in The True Story Book (1893). These categories cover films, graphic novels, poetry as well as fiction and non-fiction for children. Yet despite being disparate categories, each of these periods, places or genres maintains the ‘kernel’ of the story of Thermopylae: a few, brave Greeks who fought for freedom against the countless Persians invading their land. At the same time different elements of the story are exploited to highlight various issues important in the different contexts and periods. It is my hope that this thesis will not only play a role in researching these lesser known appropriations and adaptations of the Battle of Thermopylae, but that it will also ‘break boundaries’ in the field of reception studies within the discipline of Classics.