How Accurate Is: Troy (Film, 2004) Part 2

Poor Hector being retrieved by Priam.
Poor Hector being retrieved by Priam.

Hello everyone! For today’s post about Troy, I will be focusing on my second classification of issues with the film: Anti-Myth Realism. (By the way, if anyone has any opinions on the classification system let me know in the comments, because I am considering incorporating it into future posts.) Anti-Myth Realism was, to anyone who has read the Iliad, perhaps the category that loomed largest when watching Troy. What do I mean by Anti-Myth Realism? Essentially, that Troy decided it did not want to be a movie grounded in Greek mythology. This was either because the director felt strongly about the issue or because it was believed (wrongly, in my opinion) that the mythological aspects of the Iliad would serve only to confuse audiences.

For more, continue past the link.

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How Accurate Is: Troy (Film, 2004) Part 1

Troy poster

Hello everyone! I know it has been a while, but hopefully from here on in posts will be somewhat more regular, as the last month has been very busy for me. Today’s post is on the movie Troy, released in 2004, and starring Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Eric Bana. The topic of Troy, as might have been evident from the title, is the Trojan War. This is technically not a historical event, it is true. However, given the length of time the story of the Trojan War has been in circulation, it would seem to be reasonable to hold media which attempts to interpret the story to a standard similar to that applied to historical media. As a film for this site, Troy is an interesting case. Had Troy not been based on the Iliad, it would have been a decent movie, if not a particularly inspired one. Eric Bana as Hector was particularly good in this film, and the battle scenes were excellently choreographed throughout. Furthermore, the script writers for this film did a wonderful job, and almost every line in the movie was highly quotable (“I see fifty thousand men, brought here to fight for one man’s greed”); some, no doubt, were inspired directly by the Iliad.

However, Troy is based on the Iliad, and therein lies the problem. The story veers so heavily from its source material that it becomes unrecognizable; only the bare bones of events remain the same. Because there are so many differences, it is a good idea to divide the differences into four categories:

  1. Condensation
  2. Anti-Mythical Realism
  3. Hollywood Romanticism
  4. Fact-based Omissions

Because the movie is fairly long and there is so much to talk about (particularly with numbers three and four), only the first set of differences will be covered in this post. For more, continue past the link.

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Book Recommendation: The Last Lion (Book, William Manchester, Paul Reed, 1983)

The Last Lion

Hello everyone. For today’s post, I will be doing a book recommendation for the The Last Lion, a three-volume biography of Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester, and completed after his death by Paul Wells. This trilogy is one of the best biographical works I have ever read. It covers the entirety of Churchill’s life, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death, though naturally the largest sections are dedicated to his time during the World Wars and between them.

The first volume, titled Visions of Glory, covers the period from 1874-1932. This period was a fascinating period in Churchill’s life, as it extends from his early childhood until his quitting of the Tory party over its position on India, therefore covering his service as First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War and his earlier military service. The second volume, titled Alone, covers his time in “the political wilderness”, extending from the time he quit the Tories until he was invited back as Prime Minister in 1940, therefore taking over the running of the war. The final volume, Defender of the Realm, covers the period of the Second World War until his death in 1965, and serves as an excellent history of the Western European theatre of the war as well as a biography of Churchill.

All three volumes are excellent examples of biographical writing. Manchester’s prose is supreme, and he turns it to good use in these volumes. He succeeds in putting many of the events of Churchill’s life in context, and in reading these volumes it is impossible to emerge without a better understanding of the man. This series also has a connection to one of the other books you have read about on this site; Manchester opens his second book with a dedication “To Bill Shirer who saw it from the other side and saw it first.“; referring, of course, to William L. Shirer, whose work you will have already read about here.

If I was to recommend only one biographical series, this would have to be it; it is certainly long, but it gives an invaluable understanding of a man whose contributions to the history of the world cannot go unrecognized. Furthermore, this and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich are the two books I would recommend on the Second World War, as they allow it to be seen from both sides; there are certainly some viewpoints, that of the Eastern Front and the Pacific, missing after reading these, but they can be filled in with supplementary reading. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a good day.

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How Accurate Is: Ivan Grozny (Film, 1944)

Film cover for Ivan Grozny.
Film cover for Ivan Grozny.

Hello everyone! It has been longer than I hoped, but here is another post, this time on Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan Grozny, made in the Soviet Union in 1944. The subject of this film is the first Tsar of Russia, Ivan IV, the Terrible (the first Tsar because he was the first Grand Prince of Moscow to formally adopt the title). It should be noted that “Grozny” more accurately translates to “awesome” than Terrible, and so it does not necessarily refer to his legendary cruelty. Eisenstein was a master filmmaker, and his films are widely regarded as among the best surviving examples of the Socialist realist style of filmmaking. Ivan Grozny was produced at the personal request of Stalin, who had always identified with Ivan the Terrible; as a result, the film makes every effort to depict Ivan kindly. There were, in fact, two parts of this film released, but Stalin did not feel Ivan was depicted kindly enough in the second and so the film was banned, only being fully released in 1958. This post is on the first part. Because this is a propaganda film, there is quite a bit to talk about with regards to the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of the film:

  • Many of Ivan’s verifiable cruelties are simply left out of the film; for example, at the age of 13 he had Prince Andrei Shuisky (a boyar who had partially ruled Moscow during Ivan’s regency, and had by all accounts been very cruel to Ivan) fed to a pack of wild dogs.[1] Furthermore, the later purging of the boyars is presented in charitable terms, to say the least, as in the film the boyars seem to attempt flee to Poland-Lithuania to escape the guilt of their crimes, whereas in real life a significant number were simply murdered, before they could make an effort to flee, and the only crime they had committed was being part of the boyar class.[2]
  • The Chosen Council, a governing body who aided Ivan’s rule during the first half of his reign, does not make an appearance in the film (except perhaps in the form of the scheming priests and boyars frequently shown). In real life, the Council consisted of Metropolitan Macarius, a priest named Sylvester, and a court official named Alexei Adashey, the latter two of whom would be among the first victims of his later purge.[3]
  • The dramatic scene with Ivan on his deathbed (though he confounds expectations, including his own, by surviving) has a rather different ending than it did in history. In the film, he fails to convince any of the boyars except for Shurbsky (a
    Ivan IV.
    Ivan IV.

    nd even then it is only his wife who convinces Shurbsky by telling him Ivan is still alive) to swear fealty to his son; in real life, he did eventually convince them.[4]

  • The poisoning of Ivan’s wife is not necessarily historical. Although there is a chance that she was poisoned, historians often argue that it was illness that killed her, and the poisoning was a figment of Ivan’s paranoia.[5] Whatever the case, it was his overreaction to her death and subsequent murder of many of his former advisors and many of the boyars which provoked the boyar flights, not any wrongdoings on their part (for the most part).[6]

For more, continue past the link.

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Q&A: The Golden Mean (Book, Annabel Lyon, 2009)

A bust of Aristotle.
A bust of Aristotle.

Hello everyone! While I do have a (hopefully) very interesting post on a Soviet propaganda film in the works, which I hope to get on the site by next week, and I may get another full post out on the weekend, today I am going to do a second post on The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon. I am doing this post because I was asked several questions about my first post, which I have done my best to answer here. So, with no further delays, here we go. Because this is a long one, continue past the link to see more.

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How Accurate Is: The Golden Mean (Book, Annabel Lyon, 2009)

Aristotle tutoring Alexander the Great; by JLG Ferris, 1895.
Aristotle tutoring Alexander the Great; by JLG Ferris, 1895.

Hello everyone! Today, I am going to be doing a book post, this time on The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon. This book focuses on the tutoring of Alexander the Great by the famous philosopher (and student of Plato) Aristotle from 343 BCE until (possibly) 335 BCE. This is a period of history surrounding which there is much speculation but little information; no details from the sessions survive until today, and so only the record of their existence remains. As a result, Lyon had a large canvas to work with, and she does not disappoint, providing a carefully constructed description of the tutoring and the effects it had on both figures involved, as well as a brief summary of the life of Aristotle himself through flashbacks. Essentially the only times in the book she deviated from the historical record, in fact, were when she filled in gaps in the historical record surrounding the life of Aristotle. I will list such examples of those as could be found here.

  • Aristotle’s second wife, Herpyllis, is presented in the novel as the maid of Aristotle and a childhood acquaintance; in fact, little is known about her except her marriage to Aristotle. However, her identity in the book is one of the more common theories surrounding her, so Lyon is as close to historically accurate as possible.[1]
  • As far as I have found, there is no record of Aristotle tutoring Arrhidaeus, the incapable elder brother of Alexander; it is likely this was a fiction on the part of Lyon so the relationship between Alexander and Arrhidaeus could be seen.
  • Although Lyons does not appear to weigh in specifically on how long the tutoring of Alexander lasted, there is some debate on the subject; estimates range between five and eight years.[2]

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How Accurate Is: The Social Network (Movie, 2010) Part 2

Facebook's headquarters beginning in 2009, a far cry from their newest building, which has an entire park on the roof.
Facebook’s headquarters beginning in 2009, a far cry from their newest building, which has an entire park on the roof.

Hello everyone! Because I know you are tired of this site only ever pointing out mistakes, today I am going to do a post on the things The Social Network did right. Please do not assume my previous post means the movie was entirely inaccurate; all this website tries to do is educate people on historical inaccuracies so that their views of historical events are not coloured by inaccuracies in popular media. With that said, here are several things that the movie did well.

  • The emails and blog posts present in the beginning of the film appear to have been quoted exactly as written; these were not dramatizations for the purposes of the plot.[1]
  • The depiction of Facemash crashing the Harvard networks was partially accurate; the Harvard Crimson says “traffic to the website was so heavy that [Zuckerberg] could not even log on to his own computer.”[2]
  • Zuckerberg’s anecdote about constructing a program that Microsoft wanted to buy appears to have been accurate; the program in question was named Synapse. Also true is the fact that he turned them down.[3]
  • The role of Eduardo in the business appears to have been related correctly, regardless of any disputes about the nature of his eviction from the company; he was, in fact, the first investor in the company.[4]

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How Accurate Is: The Social Network (Film, 2010) Part 1

A poster for The Social Network.
A poster for The Social Network.

Hello everyone! Today, I decided to do a post that will examine a very contemporary topic; the film The Social Network. This 2010 film, written by Aaron Sorkin, takes a dramatic look at the founding story of Facebook. Yes, this is much more recent than some of the other movies and television featured in recent posts, and it is therefore certainly difficult to decide how much credence to lend the different sides of the story; however, this post will mainly aim to clear up some major misconceptions created by the film’s portrayal of many central characters.

  • To begin, as in any movie, many characters were simply left out to facilitate the plot; for example, Adam D’Angelo, a friend of Zuckerberg’s and briefly Facebook’s CTO, was not present in the film.[1]
  • Similarly, the portrayal of Zuckerberg’s character as a social loner was somewhat inaccurate; he has been dating the same woman, Priscilla Chan, since 2005 and the two are now married.[2]
    • Facemash appears to have been mostly accurate, but there is nothing specifically mentioning him breaking up with a girlfriend; there was something about a girl included in his original blog, however. Furthermore, he created it in a week, not a night, and he was certainly not drunk that entire time.[3]
  • Even those who received favourable treatments by the film have rights to be annoyed. For example, instead of angrily moping as in the film, the real-life Winklevoss twins actually went out and founded their own company, ConnectU. This was the entity through which they eventually sued Zuckerberg, but the company was not particularly successful and has now been so thoroughly lost to history that it does merit so much as a mention in the film.[4]
  • Other, smaller, inaccuracies also proliferate. The most egregious example is the scene near the close of the film where Sean Parker is arrested after being caught with drugs (and underage interns) during the million-user party for Facebook; although the bones of the story are true (Parker was arrested after cocaine was found in a vacation home he was renting), most of the story was simply made up for effect.[5]

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Book Recommendation: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer, 1960)

RiseAndFall

Hello everyone! Today’s post will be another book recommendation, this time on a true historical classic, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Most individuals who are interested in the history of the Second World War will have heard of this book already, but since not everyone reading this will, I have decided to do a post about it.

Rise and Fall chronicles a familiar story- the Second World War- from a perspective that will seem unusual to many students of history; that of the Germans. The book is certainly not an apology for the Nazis, and in fact spends a great deal of time pointing out the flaws in their decisions. For me, it was a fascinating experience to learn an unknown side to such a familiar story- surely, for any true student of the war, names like Jodl and Rommel should be at least as familiar as Montgomery or Eisenhower. The book finds its sources both in the experiences of the author (a correspondent in Berlin until 1941 and the outbreak of war between Germany and America) and the diaries of those Nazis who survived the immediate end of the war.

Rise and Fall is written in a dramatic and engaging style, frequently quoting from other literature on the subject and examining at parts of the war that are not commonly put under the microscope. The period leading up to the war, for example, is discussed in great detail. I, at least, learned a great many things about that period that I had not previously known, such as the exact methods with which Hitler subdued his political opponents within Germany. (Of particular interest was his strategy of calling a massive May Day celebration to bring the Labour movement to Berlin and then having all their leaders arrested.) The most dramatic section of the book is the final chapters, fittingly titled Gotterdammerung, describing the fall of Berlin: “Heinrici’s army, to the north of Berlin, was beating a hasty retreat westward so that it might be captured by the Western Allies instead of by the Russians.”(Shirer, 1960, 1120.)

All in all, this book deserves to be required reading for a student of the Second World War; knowing both sides to a story is always key to truly understanding it, and this proves to be no exception. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a nice day! (For a reference, continue past the link)

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How Accurate Is: Baudolino (Book, Umberto Eco, 2000)

baudolino

(Spoilers will be present. Always assume they will.)

Hello everyone! Today, I will be doing a post on the Umberto Eco novel Baudolino, written in 2000. This book, set during the time of the Fourth Crusade and its sack of Constantinople, tells the story of the title character through a long series of flashbacks. The character of Baudolino is a peasant from Northern Italy who, through chance, encounters the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and becomes his adopted son; from there, most of the rest of his life is dedicated to finding the mythical kingdom of Prester John, a myth that he helps create in the process. As was Prague Cemetery, this book by Eco is impeccably researched; for example, the figure to whom Baudolino dictates his life story, Niketas Choniates, was a real Byzantine court historian and actually wrote an account of the Fourth Crusade, which he begins at the end of the book.[1] There are many other such accuracies:

  • Everything Frederick does in the book is as it occurred in history; his six expeditions to Italy, his canonization of Charlemagne, and all the rest. The only invented thing about Frederick in the book is his motive for embarking on the Third Crusade.[2]
  • Almost all the minor characters not directly related to Baudolino (the members of Frederick’s court, etc.) are also historical; however, Baudolino and his group of friends are not.
  • Much like in the Prague Cemetery, Baudolino uses its fictional main character as an explanation for the motives behind historical events that we know little about, which is a strategy that allows them to maintain historicity and an interesting story.
  • For more, continue past the link.

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