Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A rump court gathers under cover of darkness, near the mess hall butchery. Olympieus and Dienekes join the other Peers. It quickly becomes clear that Alexandros had tried to persuade Rooster to accept the honor of becoming a Spartan, but, treasonously, had taken no action against him when he refused. Dienekes speaks to clear Alexandros’s name. He explains that Alexandros has been doing nothing other than what his father has been trying to do (persuade Rooster), even though he had nothing personally to gain from it.
It looks as though Rooster will be quickly executed by night, and possibly Alexandros with him. Dienekes intervenes, pointing out that Alexandros was only trying to do what Olympieus had been trying to do all along when he made Rooster his squire.
Themes
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Suddenly, to everyone’s shock, Arete appears in the grove. Ignoring the men’s protests, she seizes Rooster’s infant son and wants to know which hero is going to murder the boy. A Peer speaks up, arguing that Arete just wants to preserve the bastard issue of her brother’s line. Arete retorts that her brother has already achieved imperishable fame; she is here only for justice’s sake. The boy, she says, is not Rooster’s at all; he is the son of Arete’s husband, Dienekes.
As she had done when she demanded that Dienekes marry her, Arete again bursts into a traditionally male space to demand justice. Her claim about Rooster’s son’s parentage is incendiary—potentially bringing shame on both herself and her husband.
Themes
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
Arete gets the sobbing Harmonia to admit that Dienekes is the infant’s father. The Peers refuse to believe this or even to ask Dienekes directly, since that would sully his honor. But Arete steps forward and addresses the senior Peer “like a commander” and tells the men that they must recognize the baby as her husband’s and duly enroll him in the agoge. If they refuse to believe her, then they should slit the child’s throat now, in accordance with the laws of Lykurgus. She even grabs Polynikes’ sickle and, before the horrified eyes of the onlookers, offers to do it herself, with “such a fierceness […] as must have informed Medea herself.”
Arete, perhaps because she is not bound by the warrior code in quite the same way, is able to ask questions that the Peers won’t. In doing so, she’s commanding her own right. Seeing her transgress these bounds, even going so far as to make a move toward executing the baby herself, seems to shock the Peers into action.
Themes
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
Arete stops short and, seeing the Peers frozen in consternation, quietly implores her husband. Staring into her wife’s eyes, Dienekes at last swears that the child is his. He accepts the baby from her, and the Peers agree to enroll him in the agoge the following day. But before they can drag Rooster off to be executed, Alexandros asks to speak. He points out that, given Rooster’s hero status among the helots, he will be revered as a martyr upon his execution. It would be better, he proposes, to turn Rooster loose on the frontier and let him go over to the Persians. Olympieus’ eyes “[glisten] with pride” at his son’s speech. The other Peers agree.
Dienekes finally admits that the child is his, which brings dishonor on himself and defames Arete. It is never entirely clear what the whole story is here, but it allows Rooster, and hence Arete’s family line, to be spared. Alexandros also shows himself to be brave once again, as well as wise under pressure.Turning Rooster loose in this way would let him prove himself the ingrate the Spartans already think he is. Alexandros seems to suspect that there is more to Rooster than meets the eye.
Themes
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
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As Dienekes helps his trembling wife away (she was “beginning to experience that quaking of the limbs which all warriors know in the aftermath of battle”), he looks at her with awe. She tells him, “Whatever deeds of virtue you have performed […] none will exceed that which you have done this night.” Dienekes doesn’t look convinced. The elder Peer, Medon, examines the strong baby boy with approval and then tells Dienekes that, because he has a son now, he can be chosen for the Three Hundred and Thermopylae.
Arete is portrayed as a warrior in her own way, complete with post-battle shaking as Xeo had seen on the battlefield before. Whether she has intended it or not, her action tonight means that Dienekes will now be eligible to go to war, too.
Themes
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon