Gates of Fire


Steven Pressfield

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Themes and Colors
Cities, Identity, and Belonging Theme Icon
Faith and Divine Intervention Theme Icon
Warfare and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Fear, Courage, and Love Theme Icon
Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom Theme Icon
Female Strength and Influence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Gates of Fire, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Cities, Identity, and Belonging

In the ancient Greek context of Gates of Fire, which centers on the Battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and Persians in 480 B.C., cities were everything. A city was not just a geographic home, but the environment in which people forged relationships, learned their culture, and formed their sense of identity. To lose a city was really to lose one’s self. This is what befalls the main character, Xeo, who is a…

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Faith and Divine Intervention

While it’s hardly surprising that gods and divine activity are a significant theme in Gates of Fire, Pressfield’s treatment of the human/divine relationship is far from simplistic. The gods are interested in human lives—even seemingly insignificant human lives—yet their intentions for those lives are not always clear from a human perspective. Through a range of personal and collective encounters between Greeks and their gods, Pressfield suggests that religious faith is a complex matter, at…

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Warfare and Brotherhood

After Xeo’s hometown is destroyed by the Argives, he longs to join the Spartans because they are the only warriors who can defeat the Argives. “The Spartans became for [him] the equivalent of avenging gods. [He] couldn’t learn enough about these warriors who had so devastatingly defeated the murderers” of his family. In Xeo’s journeys with the Spartans, he encounters different views of what being a warrior and engaging in battle entail. These views are…

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Fear, Courage, and Love

Throughout Gates of Fire, fear is pervasive, from the destruction of Xeo’s city to the hovering threat of the Persian invasion to the horrors of Thermopylae. Dienekes, seasoned mentor to the young Alexandros and the master whom Xeo serves as squire, is preoccupied with the study of fear and how it may be overcome. Through Dienekes’ exploration of the question of fear at pivotal moments in the story, Pressfield argues that fear can’t…

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Kingship, Loyalty, and Freedom

Though Pressfield is not heavy-handed in his portrayal of Greece as the traditional birthplace of democracy, he does portray King Leonidas and the Spartans as fledgling freedom-fighters, in contrast to the enslaving Xerxes and the masses of soldiers Xerxes compels to dominate Asia and Europe on his behalf. More than a political or historical point, Pressfield uses the contrast between Leonidas and Xerxes to make a point about the nature of leadership itself. He argues…

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Female Strength and Influence

Though Gates of Fire is very much dominated by male characters, women play a surprisingly prominent role throughout. Speaking of what prompted the monumental battle at Thermopylae, Xeo readily acknowledges that “In the end it was their women who galvanized the Spartans into action.” Though female characters are largely viewed through the eyes of male characters in the novel, Pressfield argues that women were the major inspiration for Spartan actions and character in war and…

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