Gates of Fire


Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Soon Xerxes and his army depart for Asia with the intention of resuming their campaign in the spring. Then, they suffered a “calamitous defeat” against 100,000 free Greeks. Gobartes believes that no earthly force could have stood up against the valor and discipline of the Spartan-led forces that day. In the aftermath, the historian’s station was overtaken by armed helots. Just before Gobartes is slaughtered, he finds himself crying out the names of Xeones and the other Spartans. Immediately he’s taken to a Spartiate officer. It’s one of the Spartans, in fact, whose names he’d just cried out: Rooster, or Dekton, son of Idotychides.
It’s the beginning of the end for Xerxes—the Persians fail to rally themselves in order to prevail the following spring. Gobartes almost dies, but Xeo’s story has made such an impression on him that he instinctively calls out his name and those of his beloved comrades—one of whom just happens to be there. The defiant helot Rooster, in response to the respect and mercy King Leonidas showed him, has become a Spartan himself.
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Rooster listens as Gobartes pours out his story, explaining that Xeo’s body was at last carried to the sanctuary of Persephone of the Veil. This convinces Rooster that Gobartes speaks truly, and he commands that the historian be released. Gobartes is held captive by the Greeks for the next month, then employed as an interpreter of the Allied Congress. It turns out that Xeo’s story saved Gobartes’ life.
Knowing Xeo’s story and no doubt spurred by his own experience as a captive, Rooster is quickly persuaded to spare Gobartes. This means that Xeo’s story will survive, too.
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Gobartes’ two years of employment in Athens allow him to witness its dazzling resurrection from the war. In fact, it undergoes “a second conflagration […] of boldness and self-assurance.” The Greeks’ defeat of the Persians seems to have propelled their destiny. Trade, the arts, and democracy flourish.
The aftermath of the Second Persian War is transformative for Greece. In particular, the Spartan emphasis on democracy spreads across the land, in concert with other cultural advances.
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Related Quotes
Some time later, Gobartes is repatriated in Persia and resumes his duties to Xerxes. While assisting in the interrogation of a Greek captain, whose ship had borne a party of Spartan officers and envoys to Thermopylae, where a monument to the Three Hundred was being unveiled. An urn of Spartan ashes was also interred on the site. The captain reports that a single woman lingered long at the site, until he was compelled to urge her back to the ship. Gobartes asks for a description of the woman, but the captain can tell him nothing. The woman, he explains, was veiled.
Later Gobartes hears more of the Spartans and the famed Three Hundred. The veiled woman is clearly meant to be Diomache, who’s survived, is still a priestess of Persephone of the Veil, and lovingly honors her fallen cousin’s memory.
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Gobartes asks about the epitaph on the monument. It’s easy for the captain to remember, because the words, Spartan style, were terse, wasting no words. He recites them from memory: “Tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, / that here obedient to their laws we lie.”
The novel fittingly ends with the famous epitaph which still stands on a monument that can be seen near Thermopylae, honoring those who willingly fought to the death for the survival of Greece.
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