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Gates of Fire

Gates of Fire

Author: Steven Pressfield
Rating: 9/10
Last Read: December 2013

Quick Summary: Most people are aware of the story of the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, recently popularized by the movie 300.  This novel predates the movie, and is told from a different angle - that of a slave in service to the Spartans.  This novel expands upon the battle, discussing Spartan society, training, and follows exploits of various Spartans as the situation rushes closer toward war.

This is a book about war, and the warrior's life.  It stresses many military themes: honor, duty, esprit de corps, and facing death in combat.  If you're not into military things, skip this one.  Otherwise, this is an excellent read.

Recommended Reading: The Virtues of War, Tides of War

My Highlights

No one may expect valor from one cast out alone, cut off from the gods of his home. --loc 657

we have learned that which you Greeks have not. The wheel turns, and man must turn with it. To resist is not mere folly, but madness. --loc 863

“You have never tasted freedom, friend,” Dienekes spoke, “or you would know it is purchased not with gold, but steel. --loc 866

The Spartans say that any army may win while it still has its legs under it; the real test comes when all strength is fled and the men must produce victory on will alone. --loc 1122

“Dienekes says the mind is like a house with many rooms,” he said. “There are rooms one must not go into. To anticipate one’s death is one of those rooms. We must not allow ourselves even to think it. --loc 1497

Deflect defamation with a joke, the coarser the better. Laugh in its face. A mind which can maintain its lightness will not come undone in war. --loc 2162

Dienekes’ courage was different. His was the virtue of a man, a fallible mortal, who brought valor forth out of the understanding of his heart, by the force of some inner integrity which was unknown to Polynikes. --loc 2236

“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. --loc 2303

“Remember what I told you about the house with many rooms. There are rooms we must not enter. Anger. Fear. Any passion which leads the mind toward that ‘possession’ which undoes men in war. --loc 2334

Habit will be your champion. When you train the mind to think one way and one way only, when you refuse to allow it to think in another, that will produce great strength in battle. --loc 2336

“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. --loc 3481

Men’s pain is lightly borne and swiftly over. Our wounds are of the flesh, which is nothing; women’s is of the heart—sorrow unending, far more bitter to bear. --loc 3534

Where there is work to do, turn your hand to it first; the men will follow. Keep your men busy. If there is no work, make it up, for when soldiers have time to talk, their talk turns to fear. Action, on the other hand, produces the appetite for more action. --loc 3770

Leonidas sought to instill courage not by his words alone but by the calm and professional manner with which he spoke them. --loc 3776

War is work, not mystery. --loc 3777

“All my life,” Dienekes began, “one question has haunted me. What is the opposite of fear? --loc 3860

“Man’s courage, to give his life for his country, is great but unextraordinary. Is it not intrinsic to the nature of the male, beasts as well as men, to fight and to contend? --loc 3918

“Let neither of us pity the other,” my cousin spoke in parting. “We are where we must be, and we will do what we must. --loc 4933

“My mother’s religion teaches that those things alone are real which cannot be perceived by the senses. The soul. Mother love. Courage. These are closer to God, she taught, because they alone are the same on both sides of death, in front of the curtain and behind. --loc 5484

For what can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. Not with a blade in the guts. But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. That, I saw, was the victory you Spartans had gained over yourselves. That was the glue. --loc 5508

When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. --loc 5511

I believe they sense that the virtues are like music. They vibrate at a higher, nobler pitch. --loc 5522

“The opposite of fear,” Dienekes said, “is love." --loc 5536

In one way only have the gods permitted mortals to surpass them. Man may give that which the gods cannot, all he possesses, his life. My own I set down with joy, for you, friends, who have become the brother I no longer possess. --loc 5866

Forget king. Forget wife and children and freedom. Forget every concept, however noble, that you imagine you fight for here today. Act for this alone: for the man who stands at your shoulder. He is everything, and everything is contained within him. That’s all I know. That’s all I can tell you. --loc 5891

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 dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. 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. --loc 5931

A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free. --loc 5946

I and every man there were never more free than when we gave freely obedience to those harsh laws which take life and give it back again. --loc 5950

Those were the last tears of mine, my lord, that the sun will ever see. --loc 6171

The Virtues of War

The Virtues of War

Hour of the Dragon

Hour of the Dragon