Gates of Fire

Pressfield, Steven
Bantam 1998
ISBN 0-553-58053-1
Date finished: 2004-04-27

This novel is set in 480BC when the Persian army, led by their king Xerxes, invaded Greece. A small Greek army, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, held off the much larger Persian army for several days thanks to the terrain at Thermopylae, which provided a narrow pass that the smaller force could readily hold. After a few days the Persians were informed of a way around the pass, and the defenders were doomed. Warned by a Persian defector, Leonidas sent most of the forces back, leaving only 300 Spartans who, facing attack from both sides, held out as long as they could but couldn't avoid being killed, down to the last man.

Or... maybe not. The novel begins after the battle with the discovery of one grievously wounded survivor of the Three Hundred. Xerxes, wanting to learn more about the opposition, has doctors patch up the remaining Spartan and has the court historian begin recording his story. This is the frame for the narrative, in which the Spartan Xeones tells of his childhood in a city named Astakos. After Astakos is put to the sword by the Argives, Xeones goes to Sparta, an old enemy of the Argives, in hope of becoming a soldier and exacting some measure of revenge. We follow Xeones and his master Alexandros through their teenage training, first sight of battle, and internal political intrigues, leading up to their first participation in battle, which comes at Thermopylae.

The novel is superb, an epic and often disturbing tragedy. Pressfield's depiction of Sparta's harsh society is vivid and makes them a people to respect, if not necessarily a people to like. Highly recommended, especially if you have an interest in Classical history.

Tagged: classics, military, novel


%T Gates of Fire
%A Pressfield, Steven
%G ISBN 0-553-58053-1
%K novel, military, classics
%D 1998
%I Bantam
%P 442pp
%* *
%@ 2004-04-27

Contact me