In the novel, fire symbolizes the transformative effects of war on human lives. At the beginning of the novel, Xeo is alerted to the imminent change in his life by the sight of neighboring farms burning. The next day, in the aftermath of the destruction of his home city of Astakos, he learns that after battle, “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.” Everything he’s known has been changed forever, and the expected course of his own life has been irrevocably altered. The climactic event of the book is, of course, the battle at the “Gates of Fire,” the hot water spas at Thermopylae. Pressfield interprets this battle, in accordance with traditional interpretations, as a civilizational showdown between Eastern (Persian) and Western (Greek) forces. Thus, the theme of fire symbolizes the horrors of battle making way for the renewed Hellenic culture that emerges from the ashes of war.
Fire Quotes in Gates of Fire
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.