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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.

Tropes in this work include:

  • A Father to His Men: Dienekes to his platoon, specially Alexandros and Xeones. Leonidas to all the allies.
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  • Badass Army
  • 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.
  • Badass Grandpa: Several of the Spartans, but specially sixty-some years old Leonidas.
  • Battle Butler: Xeones, being a helot and Dienekes' squire.
  • 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.
  • Determinator
  • Doomed Hometown
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Dekton
  • Eye Scream: Dienekes
  • Foregone Conclusion: The outcome of the Battle of Thermopylae
  • Glory Hound: Polynikes
  • Heroic BSoD
  • 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."
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  • It Has Been an Honor
  • 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.
  • Last Stand
  • The Power of Friendship
  • The Power of Love
  • Proud Warrior Race
  • Rain of Arrows
  • 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.
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  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Leonidas.
  • Scars Are Forever
  • Suicide Mission
  • The Hero Dies: Xeones only survives long enough to tell his story to Xerxes' historian, expiring shortly this.
  • The So-Called Coward: Alexandros
  • The Spartan Way Obviously
  • Training from Hell
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy
  • 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).


Example of: