Gates of Fire


Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Unable to sleep and obsessed with the thought of the Spartans, Xerxes summons Xeo. Artemisia and Mardonius both scorn this move, urging the King to “trouble [himself] no more with this whimsy woven by a savage.” Xerxes replies that, on the contrary, he thinks Xeo’s account is “very much to the point of matters with which we now grapple.” He goes on to explain that he thinks only this captured Greek speaks before him with absolutely nothing to gain.
Xeo continues to make an impression on Xerxes. Xerxes senses that Xeo has nothing to lose and, therefore, may give him insights he can’t get from his advisers, as long as he’s willing to listen.
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When Xeo is brought in, he is allowed for the first time to have his eyes uncovered and to behold Xerxes’ face. Xeo says that he has seen Xerxes’ face before, on the night raid into the Persian camp. He points out the axehead, embedded in the ridgepole of the tent, which nearly struck him that night. He explains that Alexandros, Dienekes, and Polynikes were there, too. Xerxes examines the axehead and then tells Mardonius, “Tell me now … that no god’s hand is at work here.” He welcomes Xeo to continue his tale.
Xerxes’ esteem for Xeo’s perspective is shown by the fact that Xeo is actually allowed to look the king in the face. Xeo proves that he has actually seen the king before, in a raid that hasn’t been mentioned before. Seeing the evidence, Xerxes is confirmed in his belief that portents should, in fact, be heeded. He wants to hear more.
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