Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Immortals were indeed forced to retreat. That night, the camp is a horrifying spectacle. In the meantime, the army has picked up a mascot of sorts—Elephantinos, a merchant with a disabled wagon who trailed the army all the way to Thermopylae. He becomes a sought-after storyteller, friend, and jester among veterans and youths alike. After the horrors of the first day of battle, he becomes a kind of chaplain as well, tending and consoling the wounded and distracting them with stories of his travels. As Leonidas circulates among his men that night, he dispatches young messengers to the cities with appeals for reinforcement. Many men send scribbled notes or amulets home to loved ones.
The Spartans succeed in holding off even the fearsome Immortals. But it’s come at a terrible cost. Elephantinos, as an elder and outsider, has a unique ability to comfort and cheer the young, shocked warriors and begins making himself at home among them. Even though the first day of battle has concluded well, Leonidas knows that there’s worse yet to come and sends for reinforcements.
Themes
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Polynikes joins Dienekes’ fireside, looking grim. Dienekes asks him if he’s had enough of glory. Polynikes doesn’t reply, but he holds Alexandros’s hand while the latter is having his broken jaw set, instructing him to squeeze until he breaks Polynikes’ fingers. Afterward, he looks at Alexandros sorrowfully and asks his forgiveness for breaking his nose years ago. He also admits to Alexandros that he had argued against his inclusion in the Three Hundred. He had believed that Alexandros would not fight. “I was wrong,” he tells Alexandros, and moves on.
Polynikes has clearly been changed by that day’s carnage. In contrast to his brashness in training and his lofty words about the purifying beauties of war, he appears chastened and even repentant. With characteristically spartan terseness, he humbles himself before Alexandros, whom he’d so brutally tormented all through the latter’s boyhood. It’s a shocking example of how war changes people.
Themes
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Dienekes watches Alexandros with a bitter expression as his injured protégé volunteers to take the place of Suicide, who’s injured worse, in retrieving corpses. He watches some ants grappling in the dirt and wonders if the gods look no more sorrowfully upon mortals’ deaths than humans do upon the deaths of ants. Alexandros gently encourages Dienekes to get some sleep. Dienekes looks at Alexandros with his remaining good eye and recalls being assigned as Alexandros’s mentor by Olympieus. Then Xeo assists his limping master toward Leonidas’s command post.
Dienekes feels somewhat embittered as he watches his beloved Alexandros suffering the results of battle and still willingly continuing to serve. He can’t help reminiscing about Alexandros’s boyhood and even wondering if all the toil and struggle they’re going through is worthless in the sight of the gods, as the ants’ struggle seems so insignificant to humans.
Themes
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon