Gates of Fire

by

Steven Pressfield

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“Xeo,” son of Skamandridas of Astakos, is a young man and squire of the heavy infantry, rescued by Apollo after the battle of Thermopylae and tasked with telling the story of what happened there. While spending his youth in Sparta, at various times he works with Rooster, Alexandros, Suicide, and Dienekes as a servant, sparring partner, and squire. He grew up in Astakos, a city of Akarnania north of the Peloponnese. Just short of his tenth birthday, his city was captured by the Argives and his entire family murdered, except for himself, his cousin Diomache, and the family slave, Bruxieus. The three of them spend two years fending for themselves in the wilderness. Xeo hears stories about the Spartans and vows to someday live among them, thinking of them as “avenging gods.” One day, injured and despairing at his own cowardice, Xeo wanders off in the snow to die, but Apollo appears to him and saves his life, prompting him to fulfill his earlier dream of moving to Sparta. He finds Sparta, for all its brutality, to be his new city. At Thermopylae, Xeo ends up filling a gap in the line at Sparta’s last stand, even though he was given the option to evacuate. Among the Spartans he’s ultimately found not demigods or avengers, but beloved brothers. Xeo survives as a captive in the Persian court after the battle, but dies after he finishes telling his story.

Xeones Quotes in Gates of Fire

The Gates of Fire quotes below are all either spoken by Xeones or refer to Xeones. 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 2 Quotes

This I learned then: there is always fire.

An acrid haze hangs in the air night and day, and sulphurous smoke chokes the nostrils […] The pitilessness of flame reinforces the sensation of the gods’ anger, of fate, retribution, deeds done and hell to pay.

All is the obverse of what it had been.

Things are fallen which had stood upright. Things are free which should be bound, and bound which should be free. Things which had been hoarded in secret now blow and tumble in the open, and those who had hoarded them watch with dull eyes and let them go.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), Diomache
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Listen to me, boy. Only gods and heroes can be brave in isolation. A man may call upon courage only one way, in the ranks with his brothers-in-arms, the line of his tribe and his city. Most piteous of all states under heaven is that of a man alone, bereft of the gods of his home and his polis. A man without a city is not a man. He is a shadow, a shell, a joke and a mockery. That is what you have become now, my poor Xeo. No one may expect valor from one cast out alone, cut off from the gods of his home.”

Related Characters: Bruxieus (speaker), Xeones
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

We talked for hours in secret on the pursuit of esoterike harmonia, that state of self-composure which the exercises of the phobologia are designed to produce. As a string of the kithera vibrates purely, emitting only that note of the musical scale which is its alone, so must the individual warrior shed all which is superfluous in his spirit, until he himself vibrates at that sole pitch which his individual daimon dictates. The achievement of this ideal, in Lakedaemon, carries beyond courage on the battlefield; it is considered the supreme embodiment of virtue, andreia, of a citizen and a man.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), Alexandros, Dienekes
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Bruxieus began to fear for us. We were growing wild. Cityless. In evenings past, Bruxieus had recited Homer and made it a game how many verses we could repeat without a slip. Now this exercise took on a deadly earnestness for him. He was failing, we all knew it. He would not be with us much longer. Everything he knew, he must pass on.

Homer was our school, the Iliad and Odyssey the texts of our curriculum […] Bruxieus tutored us relentlessly in compassion, that virtue which he saw diminishing each day within our mountain-hardened hearts […]

We must have a city, Bruxieus declared.

Without a city we were no better than the wild brutes we hunted and killed.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), Diomache , Bruxieus
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

This, I realized now watching Dienekes rally and tend to his men, was the role of the officer—to prevent those under his command, at all stages of battle—before, during and after—from becoming “possessed.” To fire their valor when it flagged and rein in their fury when it threatened to take them out of hand. That was Dienekes’s job […]

His was not, I could see now, the heroism of an Achilles. He was not a superman who waded invulnerably into the slaughter, single-handedly slaying the foe by myriads. He was just a man doing a job. A job whose primary attribute was self-restraint and self-composure, not for his own sake, but for those whom he led by his example. A job whose objective could be boiled down to the single understatement, as he did at the Hot Gates on the morning he died, of “performing the commonplace under uncommonplace conditions.”

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), Dienekes
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

I had never seen the city in such a state as in the aftermath of that debacle. Heroes with prizes of valor skulked about, while their women snapped at them with scorn and held themselves aloof and disdainful […] To marshal such a magnificent force, garland it before the gods, transport it all that way and not draw blood, even one’s own, this was not merely disgraceful but, the wives declared, blasphemous.

The women’s scorn excoriated the city. A delegation of wives and mothers presented itself to the ephors, insisting that they themselves be sent out next time, armed with hairpins and distaffs, since surely the women of Sparta could disgrace themselves no more egregiously nor accomplish less than the vaunted Ten Thousand.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

“The gods make us love whom we will not,” the lady declared, “and disrequite whom we will. They slay those who should live and spare those who deserve to die. They give with one hand and take with the other, answerable only to their own unknowable laws […] Now, inspired by blind impulse,” she spoke toward me, “I have saved the life of this boy, my brother’s bastard’s son, and lost my husband’s in the process.”

Related Characters: Arete (speaker), Xeones, Dienekes , Dekton (“Rooster”), Iatrokles, Idotychides
Page Number: 209
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:

Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, but to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions.

Related Characters: Xeones (speaker), Dienekes
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27 Quotes

“The goddess unbound her veil and let it fall. Will you understand, Xeo, if I say that what was revealed, the face beyond the veil, was nothing less than that reality which exists beneath the world of flesh? […] I understood that our roles as humans was to embody here, upon this shadowed and sorrow-bound side of the Veil, those qualities which arise from beyond and are the same on both sides, ever-sustaining, eternal and divine. Do you understand, Xeo? Courage, selflessness, compassion and love.”

She drew up and smiled.

“You think I’m loony, don’t you? I’ve gone cracked with religion. Like a woman.”

Related Characters: Diomache (speaker), Xeones
Page Number: 295
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

Xeones Character Timeline in Gates of Fire

The timeline below shows where the character Xeones appears in Gates of Fire. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
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...that the Greek may speak in the King’s presence. The Greek prisoner identifies himself as Xeones, son of Skamandridas of Astakos. He explains to Xerxes that his tale “would not be... (full context)
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...the individuals themselves,” whom he only observed from a distance. After praying to his gods, Xeo agrees and asks for the King’s patience, since he must begin with events long before... (full context)
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Xeo begins his story. He begins with what he believed would be his death. He was... (full context)
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Xeo suddenly sees Apollo moving among the dead and dying men. His eye turns to Xeo,... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...there every summer 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... (full context)
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Xeo explains that by “Spartiates,” he refers to the full Spartans, or Peers, not the periokoi... (full context)
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Xeo’s own presence at the battle will require a digression. He explains that he was captured... (full context)
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...Spartiate heavy infantrymen are attended by at least one helot, and platoon leaders have two. Xeo had the good fortune to be chosen by Dienekes as one of these. His duties... (full context)
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Before all this, however, Xeo grew up in the city of Astakos in Akarnania. He always wanted to cross the... (full context)
Chapter 3
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On Xeo’s family’s farm lived a slave named Bruxieus, beloved and deferred to by the entire family.... (full context)
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Very early the next morning, Xeo and his cousin 13-year-old Diomache head to town early. Xeo hopes to sell some precious... (full context)
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A platoon of cavalry thunders toward them, and Xeo realizes that their allies, the Argives, have betrayed their city, along with a coalition of... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Xeo reflects on the horror of finding himself an orphaned refugee. He and Diomache do not,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Xeo, Diomache, and Bruxieus spend months drifting through the wilderness. Diomache is never quite the same.... (full context)
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As the year wears on and the refugees struggle to find food, Xeo has thoughts of vengeance against those who killed his family and shamed his cousin. He... (full context)
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One day, starving, Xeo gets caught stealing a goose. The farmers nail him to a board, driving tanning spikes... (full context)
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Xeo relates a story of something that happened in Sparta two years later—a Spartan boy, Teriander,... (full context)
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Xeo returns to the story of what happened in the barn. He screams disgracefully, but the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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That winter, Xeo, Diomache, and Bruxieus suffer through the cold in the mountains. Xeo refuses to go into... (full context)
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One night, despairing and racked with fever, Xeo sees his chance and climbs to the top of a mountain to die. He suddenly... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Xeo tells Xerxes that his intent has been to convey “some poor measure of the soul... (full context)
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Xeo jumps ahead in his story to the age of 19. He is now in the... (full context)
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Xeo accompanies Dienekes when he is urgently summoned to Olympia. Xeo suspects that this has to... (full context)
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In Olympia, Dienekes shows Xeo the name of his dead brother, Iatrokles, recorded on the Avenue of the Champions. That... (full context)
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Dienekes goes on to tell Xeo the story of his marriage to his wife, Arete. Arete had first been married to... (full context)
Chapter 8
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At the time that Xeo is giving his story to King Xerxes, the Persians are advancing unopposed into Greece. Despite... (full context)
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...something of the nature of the Spartan training of youth under the Lykurgan warrior code, Xeo tells a story that occurred six years before Thermopylae, when he was 14 years old... (full context)
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...gentle spirit. Once, when both boys were 13, both were whipped for various infractions, and Xeo took the beating much better than Alexandros did. To rub his nose in this, the... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...pushes himself all the harder in training, quietly supported by the other boys and by Xeo. He and Xeo talk for hours about the esoteric Spartans philosophies. One day, at the... (full context)
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...Persian sea assault. That night, after watching the army and the battle train head out, Xeo is abruptly awakened by Agathe, a Spartan girl of whom Alexandros is fond. He follows... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Xeo and Alexandros push on in pursuit of the Spartan army, who are half a day... (full context)
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Alexandros and Xeo arrive at the port of Rhion a little after midnight on the third day of... (full context)
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Alexandros asks Xeo to tell him about his survival in the mountains with Diomache and Bruxieus. Xeo tells... (full context)
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But finally, Bruxieus decides that Xeo and Diomache must have a city. He wants them to go to Athens, the most... (full context)
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By the time Xeo finishes his story, it’s not yet dawn, the Antirhion shoreline is still not visible, and... (full context)
Chapter 11
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When Alexandros and Xeo arrive late on battle site, finding a vantage point on a bluff, the Spartan rangers... (full context)
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...called to the slaughter, and the Spartans begin searching among the dead for fallen friends. Xeo follows Alexandros down the slope onto the field as his friend searches for his loved... (full context)
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Xeo, meanwhile, is stunned by the appearance of familiar warriors in the aftermath of battle; they... (full context)
Chapter 12
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At this point in Xeo‘s story, Gobartes records, Xeo learned of the “sacrilege” performed against the corpse of Leonidas by... (full context)
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...just once and had declined subsequent distinctions, preferring the obscurity of being a platoon commander. Xeo observes that Dienekes’ greatest gift is teaching, and that like all teachers, he is primarily... (full context)
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As punishment for joining Alexandros in pursuing the army, Xeo is removed from his friend’s company and forced to march in the dusty rear of... (full context)
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Dekton is the first person Xeo has ever met who doesn’t fear the gods. He doesn’t hate them, or mock them... (full context)
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Xeo also suspects that Polynikes resents Dienekes’ fondness for Alexandros. He can tell that Polynikes has... (full context)
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Xeo observes that Polynikes’ courage is “something in the blood and marrow,” an “instinctual supremacy,” whereas... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...can disperse for the night, a helot boy brings a message from Dienekes’ house. To Xeo’s shock, the summons is for him. He follows the servant boy to Dienekes’ peaceful cottage... (full context)
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Paraleia begins by asking Xeo who governs Sparta. Xeo quickly replies that the King, the ephors, and the Laws are... (full context)
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Finally, Paraleia concludes the interrogation by asking Xeo to evaluate her son’s andreia. Xeo points out that Alexandros was the only Spartan boy... (full context)
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After Paraleia departs, Arete invites Xeo to stay for some bread and wine. As he eats, she asks him if he’s... (full context)
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Arete then asks Xeo if he knows what the krypteia is. It’s a secret society among the Peers—the youngest... (full context)
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Arete gives Xeo more wine and asks him about his past. Xeo talks about his own mother and... (full context)
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Arete then surprises Xeo by admitting that the Spartan Idotychides was not only Rooster’s father, but her brother; thus,... (full context)
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Arete tells Xeo that the krypteia knows about Rooster’s identity and his allegiance. The watch Xeo, too, since... (full context)
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Before he goes, Xeo has a question, too, “for a friend.” He tells Arete about having been spoken to... (full context)
Chapter 14
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The following evening, both Alexandros and Xeo are whipped for having gone to Antirhion—Alexandros by his father before the peers, and Xeo,... (full context)
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The next morning, Suicide, Dienekes’ squire, summons Rooster and Xeo. They’re filled with dread, but Suicide tells them they must be under a lucky star.... (full context)
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Next Dienekes turns to Xeo. He tells Xeo that a good squire must be “dumb as a mule, numb as... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Over the years, Xeo wonders often about his cousin Diomache, but even when his service for Dienekes brings him... (full context)
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Dienekes sends Xeo to his house, with a message requesting Arete and their daughters to join him for... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Xeo backtracks to an event that occurred several years earlier, about a year after the battle... (full context)
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...the chance to become a Spartan, and again he turns it down. Later that night, Xeo finds Alexandros arguing with Rooster. Rooster has decided to flee that night to the Temple... (full context)
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...he tells Alexandros that his presence there constitutes treason. Alexandros refuses to leave. He and Xeo are bound, too, and taken away along with Rooster’s wife and children. (full context)
Chapter 18
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Xerxes continues to read the transcribed reports from Xeo even as the Persians advance deep into Greece, reaching the Three-Cornered Way, the famous waypoint... (full context)
Chapter 19
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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] no more... (full context)
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When Xeo is brought in, he is allowed for the first time to have his eyes uncovered... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Xeo recalls watching the marshaling of the tiny force of Three Hundred on the Spartan plain.... (full context)
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Two days before the march-out, Arete had summoned Xeo in private, on a “county day,” or festival during which the Peers are allowed to... (full context)
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Arete asks Xeo what happened when he accompanied Dienekes on embassy to Athens last month—did he locate Diomache?... (full context)
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Arete turns to Xeo and tells him that it isn’t too late for him. He isn’t Spartan, and he... (full context)
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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.... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...him, cheered by their king’s encouraging words. Later that night, an outlaw is brought in. Xeo knows him—a fellow named “Ball Player” who’d wandered the hills outside Astakos after their town... (full context)
Chapter 23
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That night, Dienekes is restless. Xeo watches his master give up sleep and join the king’s fireside. Xeo looks across the... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Xeo, atop the wall, watches in awe as the Medians advance with a contemptuous demeanor. However,... (full context)
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...their favor. Only the narrow passage onto the battlefield stops them from overrunning the Spartans. Xeo loses track of Dienekes’ whereabouts and steps in to help where he can. (full context)
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Xeo eventually finds Dienekes and Alexandros, collapsed in exhaustion on the ground, as the platoon is... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...with his remaining good eye and recalls being assigned as Alexandros’s mentor by Olympieus. Then Xeo assists his limping master toward Leonidas’s command post. (full context)
Chapter 27
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When Xeo and Dienekes reach the command post, Xeo sees that the clean nearby spring is now... (full context)
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Dienekes says it’s too late for him and Xeo to keep secrets from one another. He asks why Xeo didn’t run away in Athens,... (full context)
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Xeo and the boy locate the address, an apartment building in a seedy section of town.... (full context)
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Xeo had often imagined an emotional reunion between himself and his beautiful young cousin. Now, he... (full context)
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Diomache sits beside Xeo. She reminds him of that morning long ago, when he’d set out for the market... (full context)
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Xeo begs Diomache to tell him how she truly is. She laughs at her youthful foolishness... (full context)
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Diomache then tells Xeo a story that she’s only told her temple sisters and Bruxieus. After she was raped... (full context)
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Xeo tells Diomache about his own boyhood vision. Diomache tells him that she forgot her own... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Back in the Spartan camp, Suicide wakes Xeo before dawn. Rooster has been captured and interrogated as a deserter; he wants to speak... (full context)
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...self-righteous rage and turn their energies to resolution for the coming battle. Dienekes returns to Xeo and Rooster and says that he’ll slit his “bastard nephew’s” throat himself. (full context)
Chapter 29
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...Spartans do not believe this. They believe it’s a trick. This “irrational and self-deluding response,” Xeo explains, must be understood not just in light of exhaustion, despair, or euphoria, but in... (full context)
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...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 Persian noble stays and... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...party of 11 soldiers to raid Xerxes’ tent. It includes Dienekes, Rooster, Suicide, Alexandros, and Xeo. Rooster, after all, has only been detained, not executed. They’re divided into two squads, receiving... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Xeo reflects at this moment at the great advantage the Spartans possess over other men, which... (full context)
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Xeo also recalls a conversation that had taken place a few nights ago at the fireside.... (full context)
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Later, Dienekes speaks to Xeo, reminding him of the earlier conversation with Alexandros and Ariston about fear and its opposite.... (full context)
Chapter 32
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The Persians fight ferociously. Xeo is nearly felled by a battle-axe hurled in his direction, but it gets stuck in... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...and listens carefully for Alexandros’s breathing. Then he gives a cry of grief such as Xeo has never heard before and embraces the young man’s limp body, sobbing. Neither Xeo nor... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...burning of Athens. That was six weeks after the victory at Thermopylae. At this time, Xeo’s health suffers a reverse. Seeing the fate of Athens has distressed him badly. He inquires... (full context)
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Xeo returns to the action of the morning at the last morning at Thermopylae. The dead... (full context)
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...reports that Leonidas has released all squires from service as well. Dienekes has never compelled Xeo’s service. But Xeo refuses to leave. Rooster points out that Rooster owes Sparta nothing, and... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Xeo knows that Xerxes has no need for Xeo to recount the details of the final... (full context)
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Xeo tells Xerxes that a king doesn’t stay in his tent while his men bleed on... (full context)
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Xeo recalls that in the moments before the final battle, Leonidas chatted with each of his... (full context)
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Like Leonidas, Xeo dozes before the final battle, dreaming of his loved ones, especially Diomache, whom he can... (full context)
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Xeo recalls the timeless, inexorable tide of the fight, watching Leonidas’s corpse being heroically dragged from... (full context)
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About sixty defenders retreat to a knoll where there’s a weapons cache. Xeo finds a strap and cinches in his spilling guts. He marvels at the beauty of... (full context)
Chapter 36
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The day Xeo finished relating his tale, as transcribed by Gobartes, “in the bitter irony of God Ahura... (full context)
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...putting to the sword many officers of his own court. Mardonius instructs Gobartes to kill Xeo and destroy the transcripts of his story. When Gobartes finds Orontes to carry out this... (full context)
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Clearly wanting to delay the moment of execution, Orontes asks Xeo to tell the last bit of the story that remains untold—what Leonidas had to say... (full context)
Chapter 37
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These were Xeo’s last words. Gobartes records that Xeo’s “god has used him up and restored him at... (full context)
Chapter 38
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)