Gates of Fire


Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Xeo backtracks to an event that occurred several years earlier, about a year after the battle at Antirhion. In a battle between the Spartans and Thebans, Rooster, as Olympieus’ squire, displayed great heroism. During a moment of chaos on the battlefield, Olympieus received a crippling foot wound. Three Theban cavalryman go after him. Rooster, unarmored, grabbed a spear and raced to his master’s aid, taking on the horsemen single-handedly, even capturing one of their horses in the process. Back in Sparta, Rooster is the talk of the city and is even offered “stepbrother” warrior status—but he turns it down.
Earlier, Rooster had displayed impressive Spartan battle in the field and is offered a place among the Spartans, an honor rarely bestowed on helots. But he pridefully persists in rejecting this, an affront to the Spartan Peers.
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Though Rooster cites his age as the reason (he’s already 15), the Peers are furious, seizing upon the fact that he’s an “ungrateful” Messenian slave. Similar events happen on subsequent campaigns. Rooster keeps proving himself, repeatedly raising the question in Spartan minds as to whether this “treasonous” youth is trustworthy, especially now that Persia is on Greece’s frontier.
Because Rooster is proving himself to be such an amazing warrior, he’s beginning to attract a following of Messenians, helots, and other “outcasts.” This is why the situation is so pressing to the Spartans—he could mount a serious treasonous force, right on the eve of the showdown with the Persians.
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On the eve of the proclamation of the Three Hundred, Rooster is again offered the chance to become a Spartan, and again he turns it down. Later that night, Xeo finds Alexandros arguing with Rooster. Rooster has decided to flee that night to the Temple of Poseidon, where he’ll be granted sanctuary. In Rooster’s hut, his wife, Harmonia, and two children are packed and ready to go. Alexandros gives him a handful of money, telling him, “It is the gods’ injustice that makes you a slave and me free.” Rooster is disarmed by Alexandros’s candor and integrity.
Rooster knows he’s a target and is getting ready to flee with his family to a temple where he knows he’ll be granted a pardon on religious grounds—ironic for someone as impious as he, and a sign of his desperation. Alexandros admits that Rooster is a far better fighter than he will ever be, and Rooster, already somewhat softened toward Alexandros, is profoundly moved by this.
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Suddenly four krypteia assassins burst into the hut and bind Rooster. Polynikes is one of them. In outrage, he tells Alexandros that his presence there constitutes treason. Alexandros refuses to leave. He and Xeo are bound, too, and taken away along with Rooster’s wife and children.
As Arete had predicted, the assassins are on to Rooster, and it looks like he will come to a bad end. Alexandros and Xeo might even be implicated with him.
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