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Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae Paperback – Unabridged, September 27, 2005
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Pressfield's first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was about golf, but here he puts aside his putter and picks up sword and shield as he cleverly and convincingly portrays the clash between Greek hoplites and Persian heavy infantry in the most heroic confrontation of the Hellenic Age: the battle of Thermopylae ("the Hot Gates") in 480 B.C. The terrifying spectacle of classical infantry battle becomes vividly clear in his epic treatment of the Greeks' magnificent last stand against the invading Persians. Driven to understand the courage and sacrifice of his Greek foes, the Persian king, Xerxes, compels Xeones, a captured Greek slave, to explain why the Greeks would give their lives to fight against overwhelming odds. Xeones' tale covers his years of training and adventure as the loyal and devoted servant of Dienekes, a noble Spartan soldier, and he describes the six-day ordeal during which a few hundred Greeks held off thousands of Persian spears and arrows, until a Greek traitor led the Persians to an alternate route. Rich with historical detail, hot action and crafty storytelling, Pressfield's riveting story reveals the social and political framework of Spartan life?ending with the hysteria and brutality of the spear-thrusting, shield-bashing clamor that defined a Spartan's relationship with his family, community, country and fellow warriors. Literary Guild and Military Book Club selections; film rights sold to Universal Studios for George Clooney and Robert Lawrence's Maysville Pictures; UK rights to Bantam, Spanish rights to Grijalbo Mondadori, Italian rights to Rizzoli.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The level of dedication, loyalty and sacrifice endured by these men is difficult to comprehend, it is so foreign to our lives today. Certainly, many aspects of such training are utterly barbaric and inhumane, however they must be viewed in the context of their time.
Having read this novel soon after seeing the movie "300", the book gives excellent background to the sights and sounds highlighted in the movie. Anyone with an interest in ancient history or even in human nature will enjoy and benefit from reading this book.
Far more than simply a blood and guts war novel, it says a lot about the complex emotions and human behavior elicited by a fight for survival, both personal survival and the survival of a way of life.
This book has profoundly and deeply affected me. I was in the military for almost 14 years and I can say that I am deeply sorry I did not discover this gem much, much earlier in my life.
This book needs to be required reading. "Freedom is not purchased with gold, but with steel."
Amen Mr. Pressfield.
The story itself grips the reader early enough: one man explains how the Spartans trained for war, then recounts their terrible stand at the gates of Thermopylae where a mere 300 of them held back 20,000 Persians and died doing so.
The novel explores the soldier's mind, or more properly his mindset. The total dedication to training, to winning not so much over the enemy as over oneself, and ultimately the total dedication to the mission, even at the cost of one's life. The novel evokes this dedication, rather than thoughtless fanaticism.
To drive this theme home, Pressfield draws very bloody scenes; the gore spills off the page into our laps and we get an inkling of the Spartans's toil.