Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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King Xerxes I Character Analysis

Xerxes is the King of Persia. At the beginning of the novel, his forces are overrunning Greece. Having conquered most of Asia, he now has ambitions to overrun Europe as well, beginning with Greece. When Xeo is found and brought to him, Xerxes wishes to hear the full story of the Spartans—both their tactics and their characters. Xerxes comes to trust in Xeo’s account because he knows that, unlike his other advisers, Xeo has nothing to gain from him. Unlike his foil, Leonidas, Xerxes remains aloof from his men, motivating them with fear instead of love. Though Xerxes’s forces prevail at Thermopylae, they are soundly defeated by Greece the following year.

King Xerxes I Quotes in Gates of Fire

The Gates of Fire quotes below are all either spoken by King Xerxes I or refer to King Xerxes I. 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 1 Quotes

What kind of men were these Spartans, who in three days had slain before His Majesty’s eyes no fewer than twenty thousand of His most valiant warriors? Who were these foemen, who had taken with them to the house of the dead ten, or as some reports said, as many as twenty for every one of their own fallen? What were they like as men? Whom did they love? What made them laugh? His Majesty knew they feared death, as all men. By what philosophy did their minds embrace it? Most to the point, His Majesty said, He wished to acquire a sense of the individuals themselves, the real flesh-and-blood men whom He had observed from above the battlefield, but only indistinctly, from a distance, as indistinguishable identities concealed within the blood- and gore-begrimed carapaces of their helmets and armor.

Related Characters: Gobartes the Historian (speaker), Xeones, King Xerxes I
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
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 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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King Xerxes I Character Timeline in Gates of Fire

The timeline below shows where the character King Xerxes I appears in Gates of Fire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
King Xerxes’s historian, Gobartes, records the king’s exploits in the battle of Thermopylae. After His Majesty’s glorious... (full context)
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
A grievously wounded Greek was discovered on the battlefield, and Xerxes ordered that the man be spared and nursed back to health. Within ten days, the... (full context)
Chapter 1
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...The Greek prisoner identifies himself as Xeones, son of Skamandridas of Astakos. He explains to Xerxes that his tale “would not be of generals or kings,” but an “infantryman’s tale,” as... (full context)
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Xerxes wishes to know what kind of men these Spartans are, who slew 20,000 of his... (full context)
Chapter 2
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...to enjoy the baths’ curative powers. The earth there is very dry; Xeo reminds King Xerxes that even the clay was churned into deep mud by the blood and urine of... (full context)
Chapter 5
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...tanning spikes through his palms. At this point in his story, Xeo stops speaking. At Xerxes’ inquiry, Xeo explains that he’s listing for the gods’ direction as to how he should... (full context)
Chapter 7
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Xeo tells Xerxes that his intent has been to convey “some poor measure of the soul terror and... (full context)
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...Ptammitechus showed to the Spartan leaders. He wants to impress on Dienekes the vastness of Xerxes’ territory and resources and to persuade him that there will be no dishonor in Sparta... (full context)
Chapter 8
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
At the time that Xeo is giving his story to King Xerxes, the Persians are advancing unopposed into Greece. Despite the near-constant demands of war, Xerxes demands... (full context)
Chapter 11
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Leonidas goes on to explain that the Persian Xerxes is a different kind of king than he is. He doesn’t join the men in... (full context)
Chapter 15
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...inclined, like Thebes, Argos, and Macedonia. Even Sparta has a deposed king, Demaratos, who became Xerxes’ sycophant. In Persia, after King Darius’ death, there was some hope that the mobilization to... (full context)
Chapter 18
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Xerxes continues to read the transcribed reports from Xeo even as the Persians advance deep into... (full context)
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
After making their reports, Xerxes’ advisers leave, except for the two most trusted: Mardonius, his field marshal, and Artemisia, warrior-queen... (full context)
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
...motivated Spartan army and allies will pose a great threat; it would be disgraceful for Xerxes to leave now. Let the Greeks rely on superstition, she says: “We must be men... (full context)
Chapter 19
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Unable to sleep and obsessed with the thought of the Spartans, Xerxes summons Xeo. Artemisia and Mardonius both scorn this move, urging the King to “trouble [himself]... (full context)
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...he is allowed for the first time to have his eyes uncovered and to behold Xerxes’ face. Xeo says that he has seen Xerxes’ face before, on the night raid into... (full context)
Chapter 23
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...son, who speaks Attic Greek and interprets the exchange. Tommie has a message from King Xerxes for the Spartans alone. Olympieus tells him that his message must be delivered to the... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...If they surrender to the Persians, they will be ruled with respect; more than that, Xerxes will grant the Spartans dominion over Greece and grant them whatever they ask. The allies... (full context)
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Tommie continues to beg the Spartans not to act out of pride. He describes Xerxes’ ambitions for Persia. Greece is merely the beginning; having conquered Asia, he now has his... (full context)
Chapter 24
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...that the delay has been caused by the erection of a platform and throne for Xerxes on the ridgeline high above. Soon they see purple-robed Xerxes himself, looking “like a man... (full context)
Chapter 25
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
The enemy’s final attack that day is brought by Xerxes’ guard, known as the Immortals. These foes wear masses of gold ornament, tiaras, and kohl... (full context)
Chapter 28
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...reinforcements coming, and Leonidas will never pull them out. He also tells them exactly where Xerxes’ tent is located, and it’s lightly guarded, at a spot thought impassible. Rooster begs Xeo... (full context)
Chapter 29
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
The Greeks accordingly respond harshly to the Persian informer, telling him it’s Xerxes who’s in peril. Xeo knows what he’s seeing is katalepsis, “grief- and horror-spawned rage.” The... (full context)
Chapter 30
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Leonidas grudgingly spares a party of 11 soldiers to raid Xerxes’ tent. It includes Dienekes, Rooster, Suicide, Alexandros, and Xeo. Rooster, after all, has only been... (full context)
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...a numbingly cold stream, and before long they’re within the Persian camp, mere paces from Xerxes’ tent. (full context)
Chapter 32
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Suicide and Polynikes quickly kill two Egyptian marines who are guarding Xerxes’ tent. The rest of the party pours into the interior of the tent, fighting through... (full context)
Chapter 33
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...from the Persian camp among men who haven’t yet been alerted to the emergency in Xerxes’ tent. In any case, the Persian draftees don’t seem to care a bit about whatever... (full context)
Chapter 34
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
The preceding account was given to Xerxes prior to the burning of Athens. That was six weeks after the victory at Thermopylae.... (full context)
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...army reconfigures and begins to assemble. A Persian herald arrives, including Ptammitechus. He calls that Xerxes doesn’t want their lives, only their arms. Leonidas calls back, “Tell him to come and... (full context)
Chapter 35
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Xeo knows that Xerxes has no need for Xeo to recount the details of the final battle. However, he... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Xeo tells Xerxes that a king doesn’t stay in his tent while his men bleed on the battlefield.... (full context)
Chapter 36
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
After the defeat, Xerxes is on a rampage, putting to the sword many officers of his own court. Mardonius... (full context)
Chapter 37
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
...Xeo’s “god has used him up and restored him at last” to his comrades. Outside Xerxes’ tent, Athens is descending into chaos. Orontes apprehends some street rabble and shows them Xeo’s... (full context)
Chapter 38
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Soon Xerxes and his army depart for Asia with the intention of resuming their campaign in the... (full context)
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
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... (full context)