The Gates Of Fire Essay, Research Paper
Steven Pressfield?s The Gates of Fire is set in the fifth century B.C. in Greece. The story revolves around the famous battle of Thermopylae where three hundred Spartans held off hundreds of thousands of Persians, saving Greece. Pressfield creates a fictional story around the battle where one man, a squire named Xeones, survives to tell the Spartan story of the battle and the events preceding it. Xeones, who is the protagonist, tells his life story to the royal Persian historian while in captivity. This life history of Xeones constitutes the body of the book.
Xeones tale starts when he was a young boy living in Astakiots, a small Greek polis. Xeones is ten and lives a happy life with his mother and father, who are prosperous farmers. Xeones closest friends are his cousin Diomache, and a wise elderly slave Bruxieus. The first conflict of the book is the sacking of Astakiots by their supposed allies Pleuron and Kalydon. Astakiots is completely destroyed and distributed to the conquerors. Xeones parents are killed and Diomache is raped.
Together Diomache, Bruxieus they flee to the mountains. Diomache is pregnant from the rape and she tries to abort the fetus and nearly ends up killing herself. Xeones, filled with grief over the death of his family and the destruction of his nation and faced with a life of living in the mountains without a polis, vows to take revenge against the invaders. This undying vengeance of Xeones will drive him the rest of his life.
One day stealing chickens from a farm is caught and has a nail driven through his wrist as punishment. This nail cripples his hand. He can no longer grasp a sword. He will no longer be able to kill the murders of his parents. That night he is filled with so much shame he tries to commit suicide. Before he can the god Apollo comes to him and shows him a bow. His crippled hands can still draw a bowstring.
After two years in the mountains Bruxieus dies and Diomache and Xeones decided to find a new polis. Diomache knows a rich woman in Athens and wants to go live with her until she?s old enough to marry. Xeones, still filled with vengeance, wants to go to Sparta, home of the legendary warriors that constitute the best army in Greece. They cannot decide so they end up parting ways, Xeones to Sparta, Diomache to Athens. In their entire lives they will only meet once more.
When Xeones arrives in Sparta (Lakedaemon) he cannot become a soldier because he is not Lakedaemonian. Instead he becomes a squire, a station that is basically a form of slavery. This in itself doesn?t present a conflict to Xeoes, he is willing to do anything to serve with the Spartans.
For the rest of The Gates of Fire the conflicts are not Xeones?s, but his master?s. Xeones?s first master Alexandros is a young Spartan around his age who is enrolled in the Spartan military school. Alexandros?s father is Polemarch and he is a pure bred Lakedaemonian. Alexandros isn?t the military type though, he is much better at singing. However, since he is a pure bred Lakedaemonian he has no choice but to serve in the military from the age of seven till he is sixty. He will become a full soldier at twenty when he completes military training. Xeones? job as his squire is to be his sparring partner and clean his gear, and basically be his slave. Despite the fact that he is much better soldier than Alexandros, Xeones doesn?t resent being his slave, indeed he grows to love him (as a brother.)
One day during military exercises Alexandros lets his shield fall to the ground, a terrible crime in the Spartan military. Polynikes his training officer is to punish this crime. Polynikes is an Olympic champion and is considered one of the best soldiers in Sparta sees this and brutally beats Alexandros breaking his nose several times.
Polynikes grows to hate Alexandros from this point on and makes it a personal goal to see that he is either disgraced or killed in training to stop him from entering the army. One day Alexandros tries to prove his bravery despite his physical limitations and daily humiliations by Polynikes. He sneaks off to a battle that is being fought close by. Xeones, his loyal squire follows him and fights bravely in battle. Alexandros is severally punished for joining battle without orders and has Xeones taken away from him. He is reassigned to Dienekes, Alexandro?s mentor. Dienekes is very old and is considered the most honorable soldier in Sparta.
Xeones meets a helot named Rooster in his first year in Sparta. Rooster is the illegitimate son of Dienekes?s stepbrother, who was the greatest soldier of his generation before his death in battle. Rooster has been offered a place in the army were he may earn citizenship for his renowned fighting ability. He turns it down because thinks of himself as a Medeian and hates the Spartans. He and his family are to be killed by a secret organization that tracks unloyal helots. Before his infant son is killed though Dienekes?s wife Arete steps forward and proclaims the son is her husband?s bastard child. Everyone present knew that the infant wasn?t really Dienekes?s son. But in order to please his wife he proclaims that the infant really is his son, saving the infants life.
Xeones marries and has two children. But he hardly knows his wife because he spends most of his time with his master on campaign. Under Dienekes Xeones fights many battles. These battles are against other Greek cities that have been showing signs of allegiance to the Persians.
The Persian King Xerxes is the antagonist. He rules the largest empire that had ever existed stretching from India to Asia Minor. Xerxes has decided to conquer Greece and raises an army of two million men. Three hundred Spartans under their King Leonidas are sent to the pass of Thermopylae to hold off the Persians long enough for the rest of Greece to organize. These three hundred are all-sires. Meaning that their lines have been preserved through a son. Dienekes would not have been eligible but he lied about Rooster?s son being his own so Dienekes is selected for the suicide squad. Xeones is forced to go with him. Alexandros and Polynikes are also selected.
The Spartans fight with great bravery, killing twenty thousand Persians and delaying them seven days. Most of the last half of The Gates of Fire is about the military movements and plans of two armies. Very little conflict can be found in these, for that part of the story reads more like a history. On the last day Xeones is given the choice to leave. He decides to stay and die for Greece and his master. His wish isn?t granted and Xeones is the lone survivor and lives to tell this story to the Persian historian. Shortly after he is done Xeones joins his comrades and dies of his wounds.
Entry Two:I have very little in common with Xoenes. He was a Greek boy who lived twenty-five hundred years ago. He experienced such hardships in his short life, the rape and loss of his cousin, the murder of his parents, the destruction of his nation, going through Spartan military training, and seeing his friends die in battle while he remained alive. While my life has been event free and relatively good. When Xenoes parents were killed he devoted his whole life to vengeance. I have never experienced such a powerful, driving form of vengeance, hopefully I never will. After the destruction of his country Xeones joins the Spartan military and spends the rest of his life undergoing going rigorous training. He fights in dozens of campaigns in his short life.
I am around Xeones?s age when he joined the military. But in my country I am to young to join the military. Once he joins the military Xeones has no one outside of it, he hardly even knows his wife and young children. I on the other hand have a very close family. Xeones never really loves anyone in his life other than his parents Bruxieus, and Diomache. His parents and Bruxieus are killed and when he is faced with the decision of carrying on to Athens with the only person he has left in the world or going to Sparta to seek revenge, he chooses the latter. I know in my heart I wouldn?t have been as strong, or depending on how you want to see it, as cold-hearted as Xeones. I would have chosen the safer, the happier route. Xeones spends the rest of his life in harsh military training. Where men drop dead of exhaustion and punishments are a severe as being whipped to death. I guess I?ve gone through something similar to this, football practice. Only punishments are sprints and up downs and if coaches kill you they get in trouble. In the end Xeones gives his life for his masters and his country, something I don?t know if I could do.
The values expressed in this story are surprisingly similar to the ones expressed in our country. Perhaps this isn?t surprising, the values and culture of Greece formed the basis for Western civilization. Perhaps it is because the traits which the Spartans exemplified are valued by all cultures. Sparta was offered great wealth and dominion over all of Greece in return for becoming part of the Persian Empire. The Spartans refused these terms saying that freedom was more valuable than any wealth. That is why they underwent their strict military training, to protect their freedom. The U.S. has the greatest army in history for this same reason.
However, in Sparta this need for a strong army turned the Lakedaemonians to way of life centered on war. In America this hasn?t happened, hopefully it never will. The best was I can compare the values of the Spartans values of the Spartans are to those I have experienced in football. An odd comparison I know but in both cases size, speed, strength, courage, toughness, loyalty, self control, and discipline are valued above all else. Except in football these values are harnessed for scoring touchdowns, not killing people.
Entry Three:The Gates of Fire is set twenty-five hundred years ago in Sparta. In The Gates of Fire the Spartan society is focused on one thing alone, war. Sparta was ruled by the Lakedaemonians, an aristocracy who were direct descendants of the conquers of Sparta and ruled the polis with an iron fist. The vast majority of Spartans though weren?t Lakedaemonians they were the Messinian slaves who farmed the land around Sparta. The Messinians outnumbered the Lakedaemonians twenty to one. To keep them under control the Spartans had a secret society that would kill a slave?s entire family if he was suspected of being disloyal.
Even the aristocratic Lakedaemonians didn?t really have choice in the warrior culture of Sparta. Without exception every Lakedaemonian had to become a soldier. Defective children were killed, as were those who couldn?t pass a ritual strength test directly after birth. Lakedaemonians were subject to military service from the age of seven till the age of sixty. Those who weren?t killed by their instructors in the harsh training died in battle. Only a few men made it to sixty. Lakaemonians lived this harsh life because they were indoctrinated from birth of the glory of the polis, which was more important than anything in Spartan society. Family, happiness, even your own life was secondary to the concerns of the polis.
Two hereditary warrior kings, absolute monarchs, ruled Sparta and constituted their entire political system. A council of the few elders who lived pass sixty advised them and could assume the role of regent if both kings were campaigning.
Woman?s main role in Spartan society was to produce sons to carry on their husband?s line. Women couldn?t wear makeup or jewelry, such things would distract men from the military. Their job was to look after the house while the men campaigned. Men?s only role was to fight.
Entry Four:For an overall assessment of The Gates of Fire Pressfield has done an excellent job of writing a story preceding the battle of Thermopylae. Even though I already knew the outcome of the battle Pressfield wrote in such away that I still found myself hanging on the outcome of the battle. Maybe this time the Greeks will win, or reinforcements will arrive, were swirling through my end near the end. That?s something that rarely happens to me, getting excited over the end of a book, especially a story like this where the author had already revealed the ending at the beginning of the book. What also intrigued me about The Gates of Fire, were the two parallel stories the author tells at the time. Pressfield can do this because the book is told as if it is a Persian writing down Xeones?s story. The Persian historian tells the Persian side of things in summaries to the king he places before each chapter in Xeones tale.
Another thing I enjoyed about this book was how much I learned about ancient Sparta. Before reading The Gates of Fire I knew little about Sparta and had never heard about the battle of Thermopylae before. Pressfield obviously did a lot of research for the book. Most of the last part of the book wasn?t fiction but actual historical facts about the maneuvering and battle between the two armies. That is the part of the story I enjoyed the most.
Pressfield does a good job of mixing these historical facts in with another story, that although it is fictionalized meshes in so perfectly with the historical part that they are nearly impossible to separate. The character (except Dienkess) aren?t really likeable. I admired the Spartan?s courage, but Xeones quest for revenge in the end seems pointless because he never takes revenge on his family?s killers. After I finished with The Gates Of Fire I realized what would have happened of the Spartans had been unsuccessful in delaying the Persians at Thermpolyae. Greece would have been conquered, the cradle of Western civilization destroyed before its ideas could flourish. And I hadn?t even heard of the battle of Thermopylae before. For that reason alone you should read it. The Gates of Fire though is rare because it uses this interesting historical context for the frame an excellent fictional story.