Let's be honest, what better than a popular comic to make our esteemed Persian scholars write about Persian history in a compact, digestible and comprehensible way?
I ask this question of myself and of all my fellow Iranian friends: Why have we never attempted to gain on the capital of our cultural heritage? Persian, is a culture full of myth andmetaphore; full of fairy tales and romance, full of passion and poetry, full of wars between good and evil, full of goblins and heroes, full of stories that make one laugh, make one cry, make one become a better person. We have all had a grand mother, a nanny, an aunt, who has filled our childhood with folk songs, folk stories; have we not?
The majority of Iranian professionals in exile are doctors, engineers,nuclear physicists, woman right activists, human right advocates, political scientists, mathematicians, ets. This is perhaps because we have left Iran to further our education in science and technology and acquire skills unavailable to us in Iran; or maybe it is because many of us are forced out of Iran because of the political dangers or the burden of our undemocratic society or families. But where are our simple stories?
Is it not time to reach the world in which we live with tales of where we come from? Is the banal community of the LA pop artists a true ambassador of our cultural heritage? And can we really blame others for misrepresenting us, when we have done so little in portraying a culturally coherent picture of ourselves?
Yes the Iranian cinema captured the art world by storm in the 90s; Yes Rumi is translated and is becoming popular, yes the Axis of Evil comedians are doing a great job touring around and debunking stereotypical notions about the Middle Easterners.
But what good came out of 300?
Fist it made Dr Samar Abbas, from the Institute of Physics, Bhubaneshwar, India, to write a long and informed essay about the historical background of The 300 Savages at Thermopylae and provide scholarly reference that debunks the "freedom-fighterliness" of the Dorian Sparta who in historical reality shared many characteristics with later totalitarian states:
Not only were the petty Greek tribal states full-scale slave societies; they were racist slave societies, with the indigenous Pelasgians and other tribes enslaved by a tiny minority of Greek invaders.
In protest to film's portrayal of the Iranians as paying no respect for human life, he draw attention to rampant culture of human sacrifice amongst the Greeks (and offers reference: Hughes 1991,Schwenn 1915).
Samar Abbas asks a simple question about the Pan-Occidentalists intentions of the film:
Who stood for civilization at Thermopylae? The 300 members of the Dorian tribe from a village called Sparta, or the 400,000 strong army of the largest and most powerful empire the world had seen ? This is just like asking whether the rabble of Goths at Adrianople stood for civilization, or the legions of the Roman Empire. (readmore)
But others used the film even more favorably towards Iran. Behzad Sarmast (who goes by the name Robert Sarmast and is the author of The Discovery of Atlantis) has an ironic take: He calls the fight between Persians and the Spartans a fight of religions; (Persian) monotheism versus (greek)paganism and suggests a reversed reading of the the 300's metaphore:
Cyrus and his successors always fought under the banner of Ahura Mazda, the one God. You can see it on their royal seals and read it in their numerous inscriptions, but so little of the historic records bearing the Persian viewpoint have survived the ages that the world sees things only through the Greek perspective. [Credit for thatereasure goes to our beloved Macedonian, Arab and Mongolian conquerors. I suspect America's stewing nuclear attacks will do a great job in effacing the rest of this civilization] It takes but a little of study to realize that the Persians saw this fight in a totally different light. In fact, their standing in the ancient world and their international policy at the time seems eerily similar to that of the US policy today.
The Persian Empire at around 500 BC seems so similar to the US Empire today that the present analogies drawn from the movie “300” should not only be modified, but completely reversed! The Persian Empire was, in its heyday, about as large as America and should really be thought of as the “United States of Persia,” because it was comprised of multiple nation/states with different languages, religions, and races. And they were all tolerated under a “Declaration of Human Rights” penned by King Cyrus himself. The world had never seen such a thing before. Again, you would have to be familiar with the pitiful state of our distant ancestors to truly understand what a remarkable and revolutionary feat this was, and what it meant to people living in those times. Cyrus’s Declaration of Human Rights was a historic landmark and a breath of fresh air for its time, and the actual [replica] clay barrel bearing the inscription is currently on display in the UN building in New York. [The inscriptions on the clay iwere translated to all official languages of teh world in the 70s by the UN]
We know that King Cyrus and his armies entered Babylon in 539 BC and deposed its wicked ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, without using force. Cyrus then did something that was simply unheard of: he freed all the Hebrews who had been enslaved in Babylon, and sent them back to Israel to rebuild their temple. To say that this was a revolutionary event would be an understatement. Kings simply did not do such things, ever. A king’s job was to expand the empire by sacking cities, taking their wealth, and capturing slaves in order to build and strengthen the empire. They did not organize armies and conquer distant lands to free slaves! One can only imagine the controversy this created with the Persian populace and the world at large. The king of the largest and most powerful nation on earth gave people freedom of religion, human rights for all races, and actually went around doing good and freeing slaves? This must have sent shudders through down the spine of tyrants and despots of that day, and created overwhelming respect and adoration for Cyrus among the more progressive Persians. [Emphasis was mine] (read more ...)
Had it not been for the 300, would we have felt the indignation to actually write about the Iranian origins of the charter of rights and freedom? (click on the image for more information)
But the other good thing about this movie was to learn that Iran is actually investing in animation projects such as Jamshid & Khorshid [follow links, film is displayed upon entrance] that are bringing the national heritage of Iran to the popular screens:
Once upon a time somewhere in the old Iranian plateau…
Jamshid is a young shepherd who lives in a plain far from the city. One day his friend, Mahan, urges him to go to the city where people are preparing for a celebration which every body knows about it except Khorshid Banou the daughter of the king.
The king, who doesn't have any son, has invited the princes of the neighboring countries to participate in a competition and the winner would be the king's so-in-law and also his successor. The party has been prepared for the entrance of these princes. WhenKhorshid knows the matter, she disagrees with such a forced marriage. She doesn't want to be the prize of a competition. The king blames her because she has rejected to accept the court astrologer's love.Khorshid goes to the portico of the palace and this is the first time that Jamshid sees her and an unknown feeling arises inside his heart.
[would anyone object if I suggest that "women's right" is central to the present popular culture in Iran ?...]