Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Xeo reflects at this moment at the great advantage the Spartans possess over other men, which is warriors’ surpassing love for their brothers-in-arms. He wonders if the face of Suicide, his mentor, is the last face he’ll ever see. He thinks also of Elephantinos, who refuses to leave the Spartan camp when he has the chance. He said that he’d searched all his life for a noble city to belong to and has found it at last. At the end of his life, he will be “her magistrate and her physician, her orphans’ father and her fool.”
Suicide, previously Dienekes’ squire, had taught Xeo to occupy that role. Both Suicide and Elephantinos are outsiders who exemplify the ability to find belonging in an unexpected “city” in Sparta, much as Xeo himself has done. None of them are compelled to be loyal to Sparta, but all of them have chosen to die with it.
Themes
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Xeo also recalls a conversation that had taken place a few nights ago at the fireside. Suicide had abruptly begun speaking of his Scythian upbringing. His mother was a priestess of the Scythian religion. She had taught Suicide that nothing on earth is real—it’s merely the embodiment of a “more profound reality” that lies behind. Only imperceptible things like the soul, love, and courage are real, because they’re the same on both sides of death.
Xeo continues to think about Suicide’s outsider status. Suicide comes from a different culture, but his religious upbringing echoes some of the same heavenly realities that Diomache has pursued in Persephone’s temple.
Themes
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
When Suicide first arrived in Sparta, he explains, he thought at first that the phalanx formation was a joke; he came from a country where everyone fought on horseback. But in time he came to understand “the unseen glue” which holds the phalanx together, produced by all the endless drill and discipline. He adds that at first, he’d hated his nickname, “Suicide.” But he came to realize that the extinction of self for the sake of one’s brother warriors allows “himself and his actions [to] touch the sublime.” He tells Alexandros that he thinks this is the reason Alexandros was chosen for the Three Hundred; he will sing in that “sublime register” of the heart and not merely the voice.
As an outsider, Suicide at first found Spartan methods foolish, but in time he came to see them as exemplifying his own spiritual beliefs. The Spartan emphasis on brotherhood in battle accords with the Scythian emphasis on giving up the physical for the sake of the sublime.
Themes
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
Later, Dienekes speaks to Xeo, reminding him of the earlier conversation with Alexandros and Ariston about fear and its opposite. He says that Elephantinos and Suicide have given him the answer. Looking out over the camp, he tells Xeo, “The opposite of fear […] is love.”
After hearing the Scythian’s story and watching Elephantinos acting as a father to the warriors, Dienekes at last finds the answer to the question he’s long been seeking about fear and its opposite.
Themes
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
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