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Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
by Steven Pressfield
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.36
210 used & new from $0.01

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a Spartan's perspective, January 7, 2002
As a teenager training in track & field events I crossed the grandiose statue of Leonidas with its dignified stand at the entrance of our stadium in Sparta numerous times. Cognizant of the stories and the legend of the king of Sparta, I had always admired this noble hero and the spirit he represented for our society. However, I hadn't realized the full scope of his charisma and the significance of his accomplishments to our civilization until much later. While studying abroad I became familiar with the writings of ancient Greek historians like Herodotus and Thucydides, as well as with the works of contemporary historical analysts and professors. I read about Spartan history with a passion, even though I didn't major in classics and grew to appreciate immensely my ancestors' ethos and contributions to Western civilization. Without a doubt Pressfield's novel Gates of Fire has been the most influential reading that I have encountered of the tale of the "300 Spartans".
The story in Gates of Fire revolves around the heroic stand of the Spartans against the millions of invading Persians. Thermopylae, the site of the heroic battle is a narrow passage between the enormous mountain ranges and ocean cliffs in central Greece. The Persian masses were advancing undisturbed in their conquest of southern Greece. The Greeks with an army of seven thousand with King Leonidas at the helm marched to Thermopylae, the only place that they stood a slim chance of resisting the invasion due to the nature of the extremely narrow site.
In reply to king Xerxes' demand of their surrendering of weapons, Leonidas answered with the infamous "Molon lave", "Come and take them from us". The Persian king couldn't believe the Greeks response in light of the fact they knew of the formidable forces the Persians had amassed. The Persian king waited four days for them to change their mind. The heroic battle started on the fifth.
The Greeks fought using brilliant strategies that took advantage of the natural escarpment and their defensive wall, and fought bravely and with discipline. They managed to hold the pass for days and in the process they decimated tens of thousands of the Persians army. Unfortunately, a traitor informed the Persians of a "goat path" that an elite force of ten thousand took to encircle the Greeks. Realizing the imminent the king of Sparta calmly convinced the Greek forces to retreat in order to live and fight another battle. Leonidas himself, true to Spartan tradition and rule, stayed to the end with his three hundred elite and a group of seven hundred locals of Thespiotia.
The battle was body to body combat, of the fiercest imaginable. Bravely, one by one the Spartans fell in their effort to take as many of the enemy they could with them, and with their sacrifice to provide an example of devotion to the ideals of their country that will remain enduring through the centuries. The Greek allies were able to regroup and using the example set by the Spartans won triumphantly in the sea battle of Salamina that followed.
With his novel Gates of Fire, Pressfield displays his incredible skill in describing and re-enacting the battle scenes. He captures all dimensions of this heroic saga, even the metaphysical. The characters in the story became real, you sympathize with them and feel their emotions as they prepare and take their final stance in the battlefield. Their ultimate sacrifice in honour of their peers, their wives and family, their city and its ideals, for the perseverance of their culture and its institutions. Pressfield provides such a thrilling account of the battle that you can't help but become mesmerized.
The battle at Thermopylae takes place in the second half of the novel. In the first half the author sketches the characters which we later empathize with. He also provides a very detailed and accurate account of the Spartan society. He has obviously researched extensively Spartan matters and provides a true historical lesson of military training, the role of women in their society, and the economic and political system of lykurgos' legacy.
I was personally very pleased to see a different spin put on the Spartan society than that from some contemporary historians that consider the Spartans strictly a military society. Contrary to this commonly held belief the Spartans were highly involved with the arts. Their ancient theatre of Orthia Artemidos could seat over ten thousand and played a central role in their culture. One only has to read Pausanias' "Lakonica" to understand the significance of architecture in the city. Pausanias provides a detailed eyewitness account of the monumental city buildings and statues present in Sparta especially on Afetaidos odos, something that has been neglected by contemporary historians. Most evidence of this great civilization was destroyed and lost with the violent earthquakes that have plagued the region, others destroyed by invaders of subsequent time periods and many lost to "archaeologists" like Fourmont who according to his own account destroyed anything he found of value at Sparta in 1730 and which he could not carry to France so other contemporaries don't find them and take the glory from him.
Ancient Sparta had numerous intellectuals, poets and artists that were highly regarded throughout the then known world. Among them Gitiades, Alkman and Hilon, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world.
Again, thank you Mr. Pressfield for writing such an enthralling novel, based on the battle at Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans, my ancestors. This is truly an incredibly gripping and moving novel.
I read " Tides of War" and thought it was a superb novel, too.

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