Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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King Leonidas Character Analysis

Leonidas is the King of Sparta and a foil for King Xerxes. He is around 60 years old at the time of Thermopylae. Leonidas is beloved for treating his men like comrades, training and fighting alongside them. He perceives the Persian threat long before the invasion and leads the Spartans in battle and diplomacy in order to gain the alliance of as many city-states as possible before war comes. He refuses to withdraw his troops from Thermopylae even when prospects are clearly hopeless, knowing Greece will despair if they do. He is killed and his corpse is desecrated by the Persians.

King Leonidas Quotes in Gates of Fire

The Gates of Fire quotes below are all either spoken by King Leonidas or refer to King Leonidas. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bantam edition of Gates of Fire published in 1998.
Chapter 11 Quotes

Listen to me, brothers. The Persian is not a king as Kleomenes was to us or as I am to you now. He does not take his place with shield and spear amid the manslaughter, but looks on, safe, from a distance, atop a hill, upon a golden throne […] His comrades are not Peers and Equals, free to speak their minds before him without fear, but slaves and chattel […] The King has tasted defeat at the Hellenes’ hands, and it is bitter to his vanity. He comes now to revenge himself, but he comes not as a man worthy of respect, but as a spoiled and petulant child, in its tantrum when a toy is snatched from it by a playmate. I spit on this King’s crown. I wipe my ass on his throne, which is the seat of a slave and which seeks nothing more noble than to make all other men slaves.

Related Characters: King Leonidas (speaker), King Xerxes I
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Put this fatigue-spawned dream from your mind, Your Majesty. It is a false dream, a phantasm. Let the Greeks degrade themselves by resort to superstition. We must be men and commanders, exploiting oracles and portents when they suit the purposes of reason and dismissing them when they do not […] If you retire now, Lord, the Greeks will say it was because you feared a dream and an oracle.

Related Characters: Artemisia (speaker), King Xerxes I, King Leonidas, Mardonius
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

High above the armies, a man of between thirty and forty years could be descried plainly, in robes of purple fringed with gold, mounting the platform and assuming his station upon the throne […] He looked like a man come to watch an entertainment. A pleasantly diverting show, one whose outcome was foreordained and yet which promised a certain level of amusement. He took his seat. A sunshade was adjusted by his servants. We could see a table of refreshments placed at his side and, upon his left, several writing desks set into place, each manned by a secretary.

Obscene gestures and shouted insults rose from four thousand Greek throats.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), King Xerxes I, King Leonidas
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 29 Quotes

“A most impressive testimony of faith, my lord,” the prince spoke after some moments. “Such devout orations cannot fail to sustain your men’s courage. For an hour. Until darkness and fatigue efface the passion of the moment, and fear for themselves and their families resurfaces, as it must, within their hearts.”

The noble repeated with emphasis his report of the mountain track and the Ten Thousand. He declared that if the hand of the gods was at all present in this day’s events, it was not their benevolence seeking to preserve the Hellenic defenders but their perverse and unknowable will acting to detach them from their reason. Surely a commander of Leonidas’s sagacity perceived this, as clearly as he, lifting his glace to the cliff of Kallidromos, could behold there upon the rock the scores of lightning scars…

Related Characters: Tyrrhastiadas (speaker), King Leonidas
Page Number: 313
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 34 Quotes

“Why do we remain in this place? A man would have to be cracked not to ask that question. Is it for glory? If it were for that alone, believe me, brothers, I’d be the first to wheel my ass to the foe and trot like hell over that hill. […] If we had withdrawn from these Gates today, brothers, no matter what prodigies of valor we had performed up till now, this battle would have been perceived as a defeat. A defeat which would have confirmed for all Greece that which the enemy most wishes her to believe: the futility of resistance to the Persian and his millions. If we had saved our skins today, one by one the separate cities would have caved in behind us, until the whole of Hellas had fallen.”

Related Characters: King Leonidas (speaker)
Page Number: 353
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

I will tell His Majesty what a king is. A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field […] A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them. He serves them, not they him […] That is a king, Your Majesty. A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), King Xerxes I, King Leonidas
Page Number: 360
Explanation and Analysis:
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Gates of Fire PDF

King Leonidas Character Timeline in Gates of Fire

The timeline below shows where the character King Leonidas appears in Gates of Fire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
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Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...rations. Though brutal, the exercise is marked by “relentless hilarity” among the men. Even King Leonidas was not exempt; his good humor and willingness to share the men’s misery endeared him... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...port on the gulf of Corinth which has not consented to ally with Sparta. If Leonidas’s army succeeds in persuading the Antirhionians, they will succeed in bottling up the gulf to... (full context)
Chapter 11
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As the enemy continues to advance, Leonidas remains at the front of his troops and performs the ceremonial goat sacrifice. With the... (full context)
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King Leonidas moves among his men, “not declaiming like some proud monarch […] but speaking softly like... (full context)
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Leonidas goes on to describe the “holy moment” when a surviving solider reclaims his ticket from... (full context)
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Leonidas has ordered that pursuit of the Antirhionian foe should cease. He reminds the men that... (full context)
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Leonidas goes on to explain that the Persian Xerxes is a different kind of king than... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...from Athens. Xerxes has been having troubling dreams, which he attributes to his desecration of Leonidas’s corpse. The king’s advisors worry that he is becoming emotionally disturbed. Meanwhile, Athens offers no... (full context)
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...dream to them in detail. In the dream, when he approached the spike on which Leonidas’s decapitated head was placed, he realized with horror that the head was actually his own.... (full context)
Chapter 20
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On the morning of the march-out, Xeo watches Arete solemnly bid Dienekes goodbye. King Leonidas does the same with his wife, Gorgo. Xeo bids his wife, Thereia, a warm goodbye,... (full context)
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After the final sacrifices, Leonidas prepares to lead the army toward Thermopylae. He makes a speech, saying that it’s from... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...makeshift shops—a bakery, a tavern, and even a brothel. The Persians haven’t been seen yet. Leonidas sends out raiding parties to destroy or seize anything that the enemy could use. He... (full context)
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While various engineers wrangle over how best to construct a protective fortification, Leonidas simply begins hauling boulders into place himself. Soon the men are eagerly working alongside him,... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...visible across the river. By the following day, the plain is filled with enemy units. Leonidas speaks to his officers. He reminds them that they must show courage if they expect... (full context)
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As the non-Spartan officers join the gathering, Leonidas reminds all the men that they should set an example for their men by being... (full context)
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Leonidas’s whole demeanor calms the men, focusing on the practical, rather than trying to produce a... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...what’s so admirable about women’s sacrifice. Dienekes promises to later tell them a story about Leonidas that will give them insight both into women’s courage and into the question of fear... (full context)
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...King is a crusty old drunk. Tommie realizes with amusement that the elderly speaker is Leonidas himself. (full context)
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Accepting the outcome of the exchange, Ptammitechus offers Leonidas a gift before he leaves: a heavy golden goblet that had belonged to an ancestor... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...their eyes. There are 10,000 of them, to the Greeks’ fewer than three thousand. But Leonidas encourages his men by saying that these Immortals, for the first time, are of Persian... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...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... (full context)
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...recalls being assigned as Alexandros’s mentor by Olympieus. Then Xeo assists his limping master toward Leonidas’s command post. (full context)
Chapter 28
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...envelop the Greeks in no more than a day; there are no reinforcements coming, and Leonidas will never pull them out. He also tells them exactly where Xerxes’ tent is located,... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...bellow of unearthly power”—a lightning strike—hits Kallidromos, the mountain overlooking the sea. At this, King Leonidas calls out in praise of “Zeus Savior” and freedom. With fresh courage, the Spartans rush... (full context)
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...he’s seeing is katalepsis, “grief- and horror-spawned rage.” The Persian noble stays and talks with Leonidas, insisting that if the gods have a hand in all this, it’s “their perverse and... (full context)
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The Persian noble continues to appeal to Leonidas. He warns him that Thermopylae won’t be the decisive battle. Greece needs Leonidas, he says.... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Leonidas grudgingly spares a party of 11 soldiers to raid Xerxes’ tent. It includes Dienekes, Rooster,... (full context)
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Leonidas has special words for Rooster, whose family will be emancipated if he dies, including his... (full context)
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...to attack the Spartans from the rear. They send their fastest runner back to warn Leonidas. Rooster guides them down a numbingly cold stream, and before long they’re within the Persian... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...badly wounded, reach the deer shelter once again, where the messenger they’d sent back to Leonidas reports that the Immortals haven’t yet arrived, but that the allies are being dismissed. Dienekes... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...been spotted. They have encircled the Spartans and now stand six miles to their rear. Leonidas has dismissed the allies to safety. Rooster, too, is pulling out, eagerly accepting the liberty... (full context)
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...herald arrives, including Ptammitechus. He calls that Xerxes doesn’t want their lives, only their arms. Leonidas calls back, “Tell him to come and get them.” That ends the exchange. (full context)
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Leonidas addresses his men. He tells them that if they had withdrawn today, it would have... (full context)
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Leonidas then invites anyone else to speak who wishes. Several men step forward to give short... (full context)
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Leonidas speaks final words to the Spartans alone. He tells them that, many years from now,... (full context)
Chapter 35
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...Majesty might not have noticed. Because the Persians didn’t actually begin their assault until midday, Leonidas began by taking a relaxed and comfortable nap. He juxtaposes this with the memory of... (full context)
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Xeo recalls that in the moments before the final battle, Leonidas chatted with each of his generals. As he talked with Dienekes about their shared respect... (full context)
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Like Leonidas, Xeo dozes before the final battle, dreaming of his loved ones, especially Diomache, whom he... (full context)
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Xeo recalls the timeless, inexorable tide of the fight, watching Leonidas’s corpse being heroically dragged from the fray. He killed an Egyptian warrior with his spear... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...execution, Orontes asks Xeo to tell the last bit of the story that remains untold—what Leonidas had to say about women’s courage. Xeo does so, as the story was originally told... (full context)
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Gorgo tells Paraleia that Leonidas wants to speak to her about the double grief she bears, as wife and mother... (full context)
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Paraleia is about to cry out in rage at this injustice when Leonidas himself comes in. He sits down with the two and asks Paraleia if she hates... (full context)
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Comforting Paraleia, Leonidas explains that if Greece saves herself at this hour, it won’t be at Thermopylae, but... (full context)
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Leonidas tells Paraleia that she is now a mother of all of Greece, a task to... (full context)