Compare and contrast the themes, settings, point of view, characters, plots, and narratives of the movies Troy and 300

Troy presents the Trojan War chronologically. Its theme is that victory can be fickle and glory in war is a path to immortality. Troy also presents a modernized Achilles while leaving out the Greek gods. 300 is a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, highlighting the virtue of the Spartans, who willingly face down certain death. Like Troy, 300 rejects Hellenistic religion and promotes an ethic of democracy that the Spartans did not remotely embody.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Troy is blockbuster film from 2004 that recounts the story of the Trojan War not as a flashback in an epic that starts in medias res but chronologically, beginning with the abduction of Helen from Sparta. Some of the themes from Homer's Iliad come through—for example, the idea that winning and losing in a war have little to do with the virtues of the victors or the vices of the conquerors. Menelaus, the abandoned husband, is revealed to be a boorish drunk, no match for the charming and handsome Paris. Agamemnon is revealed to be greedy and petty, almost ruining his chance to win the war by taking Briseis from Achilles. Agamemnon is shown also to be a machiavellian character who goes to war not to avenge his brother's honor but for simple gain.

No character on the Greek side seems to match the Trojans King Priam or Hector in terms of honor. Hector is a man with a code who chastises his brother for starting the war but fights for country when he has to. He kills Menelaus when Paris, defeated in single combat, cowers at his feet. He knows he's on the side that is in the wrong in the war, but forced to choose between principles and family, he chooses principles every time. Priam, meanwhile, shows himself to be the polar opposite of Agamemnon, going so far as to risk his life and abase himself by secretly visiting Achilles' tent and kissing his feet in exchange for the return of Hector's body. This show of honest, fatherly devotion disarms Achilles and he allows it.

Achilles is easily the character who differs most from his depiction in Homer's epic. His physical prowess and skill in war comes through, and his duel to the death with Hector lives up to Homer's description. Achilles's commitment to immortal fame, knowing from his mother that he will die at Troy, is also faithful. However, Brad Pitt's Achilles lacks the anger and pettiness of his counterpart in the epic. His anger at Agamemnon for taking Briseis is not, as the movie suggests, out of any love for the Trojan girl but out of wounded pride because the king took a prize from him. He is more spiteful in the epic, allowing the Greeks to suffer repeated defeats before intervening.

The death of Patroclus spurs Achilles to fight again, but Patroclus in the movie is merely a young cousin who has few lines and doesn't seem memorable enough to inspire the rage in Achilles to revenge his death (which was not murder but simply death in battle). According to many interpretations however, Homer's Patroclus is actually Achilles' lover, the Hephaestion to Achilles' Alexander the Great.

Achilles' inconsolable anger at Patroclus's death is accurately portrayed: he is unmoved at the fact that Hector killed Patroclus while the latter was wearing Achilles' armor. He won't make a deal with Hector to grant funeral rites to the defeated and drags his body away in the dust. Only Priam's humility makes him relent.

Perhaps the greatest deviation between Homer's Iliad and Troy is in the complete absence of the Greek Gods as characters. Only Achilles's mother, the goddess Thetis, is shown, and her divinity is never directly confirmed, while in the Iliad, the gods and goddesses supporting both sides repeatedly intervene in the war, alternately denying each side final victory.

300, released in 2006, tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians in 480 BC. It is a highly stylized retelling that does not intend to be historically accurate. The Persians are depicted as brutish and servile monsters led by an arrogant and effete king, Xerxes. The Trojans, meanwhile, are the polar opposite, devoted to physical prowess and military skill while shunning wealth, pomp, and comfort. King Leonidas instigates the war by killing Xerxes' emissaries, who seek only a token sign of submission (earth and water). However, the religious leaders of Sparta (later revealed to be corrupt) will not allow him to take the army to meet the Persian threat. Like Hector in Troy, Leonidas dismisses the superstitions of the priests in a way that seems unlikely for people loving 2,500 years ago. This, in a way, can be seen as foreshadowing Leonidas' willingness to face down inevitable doom against the god-king Xerses just to prove that a god can bleed.

The claim that the Trojans are fighting for reason and democracy against tyranny, however, is hopelessly anachronistic and clearly the invention of a modern author imposing contemporary liberal values. In fact, Spartan society's very existence depended on slavery of the majority of its population, the Helots. The work of the Helots in agriculture enabled noble Spartans to spend their time exercising and practicing for war.

The other main characters in 300 are Queen Gorgo, Theron, and Ephialtes. Queen Gorgo is fierce and strong, living up to Spartan ideals by telling her husband to come home with his shield "or on it." Theron is a fictional politician who argues against sending the army to aid Leonidas, propositions the queen in exchange for his help, reneges and is murdered by her. On his dead body is found a bag of Persian gold, symbolizing the corruption of Eastern influence. Ephialtes is a Spartan who lives as an outcast because he was born deformed and his parents wished to save him from an early death by deliberate exposure. Ephialtes wants to prove himself, but Leonidas gently explains that he can't fight with the Trojans because he can't hold up his shield high enough to maintain the phalanx formation. Ephialtes is revealed to be an ultimately selfish creature when he sells out the Trojans to Xerxes in exchange for money, women, and a soldier's uniform. Leonidas pronounces the ultimate expression of condemnation on his treachery by wishing that Ephialtes would live forever (because he is not brave enough to die with honor).

In terms of point of view, Troy lacks an obvious narrator and simply gives the viewer and third-person omniscient point of view by depicting all characters in both public and private settings. 300, meanwhile, is told as a flashback by Dilios, the sole survivor of Thermopylae, who lost an eye and was sent back by Leonidas to tell the tale of Spartan bravery. Dilios recount's Leonidas's youth and training to become a Spartan warrior and King, the outset of the war, Leonidas's decisions, and the entire course of the battle as he witnessed it and learned of its conclusion. His history is essentially a pep talk meant to rouse the full Spartan army and allied Greeks to victory over Xerxes at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial