Gates of Fire


Steven Pressfield

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Gates of Fire: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Xeo reflects on the horror of finding himself an orphaned refugee. He and Diomache do not, after all, go into the city. They reunite with Bruxieus the next day. Their city has been annihilated, and not just physically: “the very spirit of our nation, the polis itself, that ideal of mind called Astakos […] Without a city, who were we?”
Xeo and Diomache don’t know how to make sense of their identity without the city. It’s more than just a place, but an “ideal of mind”—a culture and a sense of self.
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
When the threesome comes upon a grief-stricken man burying his infant, the man remarks that they needed the Spartans. The Spartans, he says, would never have drifted around in a daze in the aftermath of such a catastrophe; “they move through horrors with clear eyes and unshaken limbs.”
Xeo hears about the Spartans for the first time—that there’s something distinct about their ability to handle horror and betrayal. In his own grief and homelessness, this makes a deep impression on him.
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
When they return to the family farmhouse, the Argives encamped there permit them to retrieve and bury Xeo’s parents. The Argives sing a hymn to Zeus. Right after that, the soldiers restrain Xeo and Bruxieus, take Diomache outside, and brutally rape her. Bruxieus has to carry her away. As they leave, one of the Argives gives them some wine and bread and urges them to flee to the mountains, or worse will happen to them.
This horrifying scene—the Argives’ seeming kindnesses coupled with savage brutality and violation—is meant to shock the reader, giving a sense of what warfare does to ordinary people. This event will impact both Diomache and her cousin for the rest of their lives.
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon