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Literature / Gates of Fire

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Gates of Fire is a historical fiction novel by Steven Pressfield, published in 1998. The story revolves around the Battle of Thermopylae and has a strong base in historical fact. It is told from the viewpoint of a Spartan helot and details the major events of his life leading up to the battle, then the battle itself.

After their hometown is destroyed, Xiones and his cousin flee away. Xiones chooses to go to Sparta, while his cousin travels to Athens.

The novel tells the story of Xeones working as a Helot to Alexandros, a Spartan boy in training, and his journey to the Hot Gates.

Tropes in this work include:

  • Action Girl: Diomaxe, Xiones' cousin. Justified, since after their city-state was destroyed, they had to live on the mountains and learn how to hunt to survive.
  • A Father to His Men: Dienekes to his platoon, specially Alexandros and Xeones. Leonidas to all the allies.
  • Badass Army: Obviously, the Spartans and the Thespies.
  • Badass Boast: Several, by both sides, including many famous historical remarks. "We will fight in the shade," "Come and take them," and so on. The former doubles as an Analogy Backfire.
  • Battle Butler:
    • Xeones, being a helot and Dienekes' squire.
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    • Cock. He is a helot, just like Xeones, but his blood-thirsty attitude earned the respect of Spartans and they suggested him to be part of their army. He refused all of the times.
  • Blade on a Stick: The 8-ft long spear is the main weapon of the spartan phalanx.
  • Blood Knight: Pretty much every Spartan warrior. They are trained to be this from an early age.
  • How We Got Here: Xeones' narration.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Everyone on the Greek side, up until the end, no matter how many wounds they've taken. Two particularly memorable examples are Leonidas, who is over seventy and heavily wounded, unable to use one arm, still going out to fight, and a Spartan squire who took a bad wound in the midsection proclaiming "I can't shit, but by the gods I can still fight."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Polynikes is this to some extent. He is a merciless warrior and assassin and he will make sure you DAMN well know if he doesn't think you live up to Spartan standards. However, he isn't in it for personal glory as much as he is trying to live up to the physical gifts he's been given. The more awards he wins on and off the field of battle, the more disciplined and strict he gets. If you do live up to his standards, though, he's a great guy.
  • The Power of Friendship: The reason why the Spartans stay together and why they are such a massive force (outside of their brutal training). Because they think and act as one!
  • The Power of Love: As stated by Dioneke.
    Dioneke:The opposite of fear is… love!
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Spartans.
  • Rain of Arrows: The arrows that the Persians fire to the Greek army. They don't do that much of a harm.
  • Redemption Quest: Dekton. The bastard son of a spartan peer, always hated the Spartans, as he was part Messenian, and forced to flee Sparta. Manages to get back to the Spartan camp at the Hot Gates, and not only show the spartans a way into Xerxes camp, but joined in the assault as well. Survives, is given reprieve by Leonidas and becomes a full fledged Spartan warrior by the end of story.
  • Suicide Mission: The battle at the Hot Gates, since it's clear that no warrior will return alive.
  • The Hero Dies: Xeones only survives long enough to tell his story to Xerxes' historian, expiring shortly this.
  • The Spartan Way: Obviously. The early chapters show a glimpse of life of the young Spartan boys.
  • War Is Glorious/War Is Hell: The narration alternates often between these two.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Dienekes refers like this to Tripod, a young spartan boy during the training camp. The narration also refers to this to some of the armies facing the Spartans at the Hot Gates.
  • Work Off the Debt: Xeones. He was actually a freeman, but decided to serve Sparta out of his own volition, and even in the last stand, when all the squires had been dismissed he still decided to stay. Finally getting the chance to wear the scarlet he always wanted to before but couldn't (out of actually not being a Spartan).