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Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle…

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae (1998)

by Steven Pressfield

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Great story of heroism based upon the ancient battle. The remarkable culture and standards of behavior in the Spartan nation are the highlight of this one. Should be mandatory reading for teenagers - boys in particular, but the surprise at the end is in the particular strength of the women of Sparta. ( )
  damcg63 | May 27, 2018 |
I saw 300; I’ve even read Frank Miller’s graphic novel that inspired the movie, so I wasn’t completely unprepared when I was handed a copy of Gates of Fire and told, “This is one of my favorite books. You have to read it.” Though historical fiction isn’t normally my cup of tea, especially when its main characters are warriors and its main plot is a bloody battle wherein (SPOILER ALERT) they all die, I gave it a try.

The story is that of the battle of Thermopylae, otherwise known as the Hot Gates, a conflict between the invading Persian armies of King Xerxes and the defending Greeks who decided that the Hot Gates were the best place to die the best place to attempt to hold back the masses of Persians and their slaves who are in love with the idea of world domination. In order to better understand the Greeks, especially the Spartans, Xerxes has the one survivor of the battle, a dying slave to the Spartans named Xeones, tell them everything he knows about the Spartans.

Of course, it’s not that simple, otherwise the book would be about fifty pages long and would end most likely on the down note of Xeones getting put out of his misery after telling all. Instead, it starts when Xeones was a child, living happily, and his town gets sacked by some other Greeks, but he escapes to eventually wind up as a slave-squire to one of the Spartans who gets sent to Thermopylae as one of the three hundred.

Well, not actually as one of the three hundred. I mean, he is a squire to one of the Official Three Hundred Spartans, but it’s not like they were the only warriors to show up.

You see, part of what makes Gates of Fire a fantastic book is that Pressfield has a penchant for research, so much of what made it into the book is actually historically true and you end up actually learning something (which is another reason why I don’t normally read historical fiction--who needs stealth learning? My gosh).

What I mostly learned about the three hundred is that there was actually a bit more than three hundred people from Sparta showing up at the Hot Gates. There were three hundred actual, true Spartan citizens and then eleventy billion slaves-of-the-Spartans (okay, like a thousand, maybe) who showed up to be squires and blacksmiths and the like.

There were also Greeks from other city-states like Athens and Corinth and Mycenae hanging around waiting to get slaughtered...I mean...beat back the Persians. Granted, most of those are sent home by the Spartans at the end of the battle so they don’t get killed, but it’s still a bit of a misnomer to say “Only the three hundred Spartans held back Xerxes!”

So, if you’re interested in a compelling, well-written book in which you might actually learn a few historical facts, put this one on your to-read list. ( )
  amsee | May 8, 2018 |
This is a piece of historical fiction that I love to read. The story is logical, educational and gripping. You learn life as a Spartan warrior. Their dedication, their morals, their brotherhood and yes, their devotion to their womenfolk.

I won't go into details of the book because that would just be a repeat of many reviews here. But I have only one quibble with the book in that it uses too many modern English slang phrases. It is a pet peeve of mine. Aside from the F-bomb which did not exist in 4th century BC and phrases using the F-word in them... But also naming Greece as existing back then..... This word did not describe the area until the Romans dominated the area. Prior to that the area was a collection of city-states. Hellas would have been a better choice perhaps. In fairness the modern phrases were few and Sometimes I wished I were an editor who would circle the worst and suggest he use a better, less modern phrase. It is for this reason that I deduct a 1/2 star... If I could I would only deduct a 1/4 star.

An amazing read. ( )
1 vote Lynxear | Jul 6, 2016 |
( )
  MarijaSabljic | Jun 28, 2016 |
This is a fictional account of the battle at Thermopile. One thing I learned is that there were many more than 300 Spartan combatants on the defensive side. Thousands actually, but only 300 elite soldiers who were ultimately the only ones required to stand and die to allow the homeland to prepare for the Persian onslaught. Sometimes gripping narrative, with very brutal battle descriptions and modern day English vulgar language at times. It's one of those books that makes you wonder, "how close is this description to what really happened?" ( )
1 vote BrannonSG | Apr 4, 2016 |
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300 (2006IMDb)
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Although extraordinary valor was displayed by the entire corps of Spartans and Thespians, yet bravest of all was declared the Spartan Dienekes. It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, when they fired their volleys, the mass of arrows blocked out the sun. Dienekes, however, quite undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, "Good. Then we'll have our battle in the shade."
                                                                              ---HERODOTUS, THE HISTORIES
The fox knows many tricks;
the hedgehog one good one.
For my mother and father
First words
I had always wondered what it felt like to die.
O xein angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti tede
keimetha tois keinon rhemasi peithomenoi

via Steven Pressfield
Ō ksein', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti tēide
keimetha tois keinōn rhēmasi peithomenoi.

via Herodotus
[Go] Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
that here obedient to their laws we lie.

Steven Pressfield
Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

William Lisle Bowles
Stranger, tell the Spartans that we behaved
as they would wish us to, and are buried here.

William Golding
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
Lots of details here:

Military preps for the

best-known Spartan fight.


Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 055338368X, Paperback)

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.

Thus reads an ancient stone at Thermopylae in northern Greece, the site of one of the world's greatest battles for freedom. Here, in 480 B.C., on a narrow mountain pass above the crystalline Aegean, 300 Spartan knights and their allies faced the massive forces of Xerxes, King of Persia. From the start, there was no question but that the Spartans would perish. In Gates of Fire, however, Steven Pressfield makes their courageous defense--and eventual extinction--unbearably suspenseful.

In the tradition of Mary Renault, this historical novel unfolds in flashback. Xeo, the sole Spartan survivor of Thermopylae, has been captured by the Persians, and Xerxes himself presses his young captive to reveal how his tiny cohort kept more than 100,000 Persians at bay for a week. Xeo, however, begins at the beginning, when his childhood home in northern Greece was overrun and he escaped to Sparta. There he is drafted into the elite Spartan guard and rigorously schooled in the art of war--an education brutal enough to destroy half the students, but (oddly enough) not without humor: "The more miserable the conditions, the more convulsing the jokes became, or at least that's how it seems," Xeo recalls. His companions in arms are Alexandros, a gentle boy who turns out to be the most courageous of all, and Rooster, an angry, half-Messenian youth.

Pressfield's descriptions of war are breathtaking in their immediacy. They are also meticulously assembled out of physical detail and crisp, uncluttered metaphor:

The forerank of the enemy collapsed immediately as the first shock hit it; the body-length shields seemed to implode rearward, their anchoring spikes rooted slinging from the earth like tent pins in a gale. The forerank archers were literally bowled off their feet, their wall-like shields caving in upon them like fortress redoubts under the assault of the ram.... The valor of the individual Medes was beyond question, but their light hacking blades were harmless as toys; against the massed wall of Spartan armor, they might as well have been defending themselves with reeds or fennel stalks.
Alas, even this human barrier was bound to collapse, as we knew all along it would. "War is work, not mystery," Xeo laments. But Pressfield's epic seems to make the opposite argument: courage on this scale is not merely inspiring but ultimately mysterious. --Marianne Painter

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:13 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army. Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history -- one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale. In Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield portrays the boldest & bloodiest battle fought by the legendary Spartan Army against the Persian Empire. The national bestseller!… (more)

» see all 7 descriptions

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