Steven Pressfield's The Gates of Fire is set in the fifth century B.C. in Greece. The story revolves around the famous battle of Thermopylae where three hundred Spartans held off hundreds of thousands of Persians, saving Greece. Pressfield creates a fictional story around the battle where one man, a squire named Xeones, survives to tell the Spartan story of the battle and the events preceding it. Xeones, who is the protagonist, tells his life story to the royal Persian historian while in captivity. This life history of Xeones constitutes the body of the book.
Xeones tale starts when he was a young boy living in Astakiots, a small Greek polis. Xeones is ten and lives a happy life with his mother and father, who are prosperous farmers. Xeones closest friends are his cousin Diomache, and a wise elderly slave Bruxieus. The first conflict of the book is the sacking of Astakiots by their supposed allies Pleuron and Kalydon. Astakiots is completely destroyed and distributed to the conquerors. Xeones parents are killed and Diomache is raped.
Together Diomache, Bruxieus they flee to the mountains. Diomache is pregnant from the rape and she tries to abort the fetus and nearly ends up killing herself. Xeones, filled with grief over the death of his family and the destruction of his nation and faced with a life of living in the mountains without a polis, vows to take revenge against the invaders. This undying vengeance of Xeones will drive him the rest of his life.
One day stealing chickens from a farm is caught and has a nail driven through his wrist as punishment. This nail cripples his hand. He can no longer grasp a sword. He will no longer be able to kill the murders of his parents. That night he is filled with so much shame he tries to commit suicide. Before he can the god Apollo comes to him and shows him a bow. His crippled hands can still draw a bowstring.
After two years in the mountains Bruxieus dies and Diomache and Xeones decided to find a new...
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