Monday, February 24, 2014

Favorite Books - Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield is about the 300 hand-picked Spartans (and a few thousand other Greek warriors) who held off Persian King Xerxes’ million man army for three days at Thermopylae pass in 480 B.C. Ultimately this allowed Greece to rally and defeat the Persians in a later naval battle at Salamis. This possibly saved democracy and Western civilization as we know it.

Nothing against Frank Miller’s 300 (the comic and /or film), which portrays the same events, but this book is a far superior retelling of the story. It’s not really a novel, it’s an event. The story is told through the eyes of non-Spartan Xeones, a squire to Spartan warriors. The novel takes it’s time, drinking up Greek and Spartan culture, explaining the Spartan lifestyle, how they trained and why and when they fought.

The characters are fascinating. There is the stoic Dienekes, a self-actualized athlete and philosopher who is constantly questioning the meaning of fear. There is Polynikes, who lives for power and glory and detests any inferior who doesn’t. Rooster is a young warrior who serves the Spartans, yet hates them with every fibre of his being. And there is Xeones himself, who comes to Sparta no better than a slave, but is honored as a full warrior at Thermopylae.

So many universal questions are explored in this book. What does it mean to be a man? What is a man’s duty to himself and others? Why do men fight even if they know they will die? What is courage? What is heroism? What is honor? Who has honor and why is it important? Is it acceptable to be afraid? To show fear in the face of overwhelming odds? Of course Spartan leader Leonidas is given his due, as are the clever and intelligent Spartan women. And the twist at the end regarding which warriors were chosen as the 300 and why is wonderful, and a salute to Spartan women.

I also have two friends whose reading taste does not have much in common with mine, who also consider this their favorite novel. Get it.

Rating: ***** Out of 5 stars

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