Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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Polynikes Character Analysis

Polynikes is a pitiless warrior, a knight, and a famed Olympic champion. He is a nephew of Leonidas. Polynikes has always had a grudge against Alexandros and treated him brutally while Alexandros was in training. He also resents Dienekes’s beloved status in Sparta. Polynikes is arrogant and loves glory and warfare. After the horrors of Thermopylae’s first day of battle, however, Polynikes is humbled. He even gains respect for Alexandros and asks his forgiveness. He dies at Thermopylae.

Polynikes Quotes in Gates of Fire

The Gates of Fire quotes below are all either spoken by Polynikes or refer to Polynikes. 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 12 Quotes

“Mankind as it is constituted,” Polynikes said, “is a boil and a canker […] Fortunately God in his mercy has provided a counterpoise to our species’ innate depravity. That gift, my young friend, is war.

War, not peace, produces virtue. War, not peace, purges vice. War, and preparation for war, call forth all that is noble and honorable in a man. It unites him with his brothers and binds them in selfless love, eradicating in the crucible of necessity all which is base and ignoble. There in the holy mill of murder the meanest of men may seek and find that part of himself, concealed beneath the corrupt, which shines forth brilliant and virtuous, worthy of honor before the gods. Do not despise war, my young friend, nor delude yourself that mercy and compassion are virtues superior to andreia, to manly valor.”

Related Characters: Polynikes (speaker), Alexandros
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:
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Polynikes Character Timeline in Gates of Fire

The timeline below shows where the character Polynikes appears in Gates of Fire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Just before the last night of the drill, Alexandros gets in trouble with Polynikes, the 23-year-old Knight and Olympic champion. He has accidentally “defamed” his shield, leaving it facedown... (full context)
Chapter 12
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Polynikes, though only 24, is awarded the prize of valor for his actions at Antirhion, his... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...are still hanging heavily over the city. Late one evening, in the Peers’ dining hall, Polynikes calls Alexandros forward and begins to interrogate him about his experience watching the battle. “How... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...“excruciating candor” and is too proud to stop the interrogation, even though that’s his right. Polynikes relentlessly questions Alexandros on the types of wounds that can be inflicted by various weapons... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Xeo also suspects that Polynikes resents Dienekes’ fondness for Alexandros. He can tell that Polynikes has always envied the city’s... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Xeo observes that Polynikes’ courage is “something in the blood and marrow,” an “instinctual supremacy,” whereas Dienekes’ is the... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...every other boy under questioning. Alexandros replies that the company would see right through him. Polynikes defers to the other Peers, but, with an altered, almost kind tone concludes the “instruction.”... (full context)
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Outside the mess hall, Dienekes speaks to Polynikes, demanding to know why he hates Alexandros. Polynikes replies that Alexandros does not love glory,... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
After this, Dienekes takes a walk with Alexandros and comforts him, reminding him that Polynikes really would die for him, and that Spartan boys have endured these “harrowings” for centuries:... (full context)
Chapter 13
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
...watch Xeo, too, since he is well-spoken, courageous, and resourceful. She also tells him that Polynikes is one of the krypteia. She knows that war with Persia is coming. This war... (full context)
Chapter 16
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Suddenly four krypteia assassins burst into the hut and bind Rooster. Polynikes is one of them. In outrage, he tells Alexandros that his presence there constitutes treason.... (full context)
Chapter 17
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
...slit the child’s throat now, in accordance with the laws of Lykurgus. She even grabs Polynikes’ sickle and, before the horrified eyes of the onlookers, offers to do it herself, with... (full context)
Chapter 19
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...of the tent, which nearly struck him that night. He explains that Alexandros, Dienekes, and Polynikes were there, too. Xerxes examines the axehead and then tells Mardonius, “Tell me now …... (full context)
Chapter 23
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
...Dienekes says, was mostly invulnerable. Therefore, he cannot be said to have possessed true andreia. Polynikes, too, though the bravest of the Spartans, fights out of “greed for glory,” which also... (full context)
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
...messenger suddenly approaches the camp. He requests an audience with four Spartan officers: Olympieus, Aristodemos, Polynikes, and Dienekes. It turns out that the messenger is Ptammitechus, “Tommie,” the Egyptian marine the... (full context)
Chapter 24
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...Dienekes has lost his left eye. As Xeo tends to his injured master, he watches Polynikes shouting in triumph at the fleeing enemy, “Not today!” (full context)
Chapter 26
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Polynikes joins Dienekes’ fireside, looking grim. Dienekes asks him if he’s had enough of glory. Polynikes... (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... (full context)
Chapter 34
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...they are arming themselves and “dressing their hair, preparing to die.” When they bury Alexandros, Polynikes comments that Alexandros was “the best of us all.” (full context)
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
...wishes. Several men step forward to give short speeches ranging from moving to humorous. When Polynikes gets up to speak, he cries. He holds up the shield that has been passed... (full context)
Chapter 35
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
...The remaining Spartans continue going after the enemy even when they have no more weapons; Polynikes grabs a Persian’s throat before he is shot down. A burning wagon rolls over Xeo’s... (full context)