Ok, I give up. I was going to write a full-fledged paper on this, then I got three new video games for Christmas. Time to just cut bait.
So here are some of the ideas and notes, for posterity.
The Problem with Sparta (and Greece)
300 (original graphic novel by Frank Miller and better-known movie)
Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield
The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
A War Like No Other, Victor Davis Hanson
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill
The fiction glorifies Sparta while the non-fiction is more critical than laudatory. I was struck by how much the fictional Sparta, in three stories I really love, did not match the history I'd been studying.
Did Pressfield make his story more palatable to his readership by soft-pedaling Helot slavery, radical conservatism and aristocracy, oligarchy and homosexuality and pederasty?
We moderns are very critical of the real, historical Sparta. Insofar as it stands in for Greece in the fiction above, it's an inaccurate portrayal. To say nothing of all the problems with our view of the Golden Age of Athens...