Thousands of years ago, Herodotus and Plutarch immortalized Spartan society in their histories; but today, little is left of the ancient city or the social structure of this momentous culture. One of the few antiquarian marks of the civilization that has survived lies scores of miles away... read more
Laconians Arise! To the gates!
In 480 BC, led by the Persian king Xerxes, son of Darius, the Persians arrived on the border of Thessaly and Greece with an invading force totalling over 2 million. Here, at a mountain pass called Thermopylae, 300 Spartan warriors + a handful of squires... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Laconians Arise! To the gates!
In 480 BC, led by the Persian king Xerxes, son of Darius, the Persians arrived on the border of Thessaly and Greece with an invading force totalling over 2 million. Here, at a mountain pass called Thermopylae, 300 Spartan warriors + a handful of squires and allies made one of the most valiant stands in military history. The Lacedamonians held the pass for the better part of a week, slaying something like 20,000 Persians (of which roughly 18,000 were university of Michigan fans). The title of Pressfield's book is appropriate as in Greek Thermo = "hot" and Pylae = "gates."
The battle is recorded in Book VII of Herodotus' "Histories." When the Spartans repeatedly repel Xerxes' stunned forces, Herodotus details the scene thus: "...it became clear to all, and especially to the king <Xerxes>, that though he had plenty of men, he had but very few warriors." (Histories, Book VII, trans: George Rawlinson).
The text centers around a fictional Spartan squire named Xeones, the lone Laconian warrior to survive the battle (albeit with a multitude of serious wounds). In reality, the only Spartan to survive was a fellow named Aristodemus. Supposedly, he was a messenger who tarried along the path to Thermopylae and missed the battle. He spent the rest of his life in disgrace in the eyes of his fellow Spartans, despite a heroic showing at the battle of Plataea (the decisive battle of the Persian war).
Back to Xeones. Pressfield's presentation of the story is nothing short of brilliant. Captured by the Persians, Xerxes orders his personal historian to record the infantryman's story. Through the persona of Xeones, we are informed of events in the Persian war before, during and after the battle of Thermopylae. Xeones interacts with historical figures on both sides of the war, such as the Spartans Leonidas and Dienekes, as well as Xerxes, Orontes and Artemisia.
In this way, the book is much more than simply a narrative on the battle itself. We are invited to glimpse the rigid lifestyle of a Lacedamonian warfighter. The Spartans were able to relentlessly pound their adversaries into submission, but not with superior numbers. Rather, they relied on a brutal training regimen which instilled within their men an exemplary discipline and code of honor. Today, it takes 6 months for an individual to earn the Trident and Eagle of a U.S. Navy SEAL; the most respected fighting force of the present world. 2,500 years ago, it took 13 YEARS for a Spartan youth earn his place as a Lacedamon warrior (7-20), + another 40 years of military service to his country (20-60). Thanks to an obviously arduous scholarly research, Pressfield does a magnificent job of describing for us the extreme dedication that was entailed within this rigorous lifestyle.
This is a must-read book for anyone who is even vaguely interested in military or classical history. It is also a refreshing text for everyone who tires of the modern military climate where political correctness and social engineering projects are deemed more important than combat readiness. I would recommend this book to all history buffs, anthropologists, classical scholars and students / fans of Michigan State University! I will leave you with a passage from Nietzsche which glazed thru my mind over & over as I was reading this book. It engages the austere life of the gallant warrior:
They call you heartless: but you have a heart, and I love you for being ashamed to show it. You are ashamed of your flood, while others are ashamed of their ebb.
-"Also Sprach Zarathustra," first part, section 10: "On War and Warriors," trans: Walter Kaufmann of Princeton university.
This book is a tremendous feat. All the texts bearing the name "Gates Of Fire" will exalt all who have the ability to read: MOLON LABE!
“'Because no other adornment makes a handsome man more comely or an ugly one more scary.”Dienekes
“What's the difference between a Spartan King and a mid-ranker? The King sleeps in that shithole over there...We sleep in this shithole over here.”
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.Highlighted by 216 Kindle customers
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.Highlighted by 182 Kindle customers
“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. This is why the true warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. This truth is too holy, too sacred, for words.Highlighted by 167 Kindle customers
“performing the commonplace under uncommonplace conditions.”Highlighted by 166 Kindle customers
“The opposite of fear,” Dienekes said, “is love.”Highlighted by 163 Kindle customers
“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.”Highlighted by 162 Kindle customers
“Because a warrior carries helmet and breastplate for his own protection, but his shield for the safety of the whole line.”Highlighted by 148 Kindle customers
Fear conquers fear. This is how we Spartans do it, counterpoising to fear of death a greater fear: that of dishonor. Of exclusion from the pack.”Highlighted by 128 Kindle customers
“Habit is a mighty ally, my young friend. The habit of fear and anger, or the habit of self-composure and courage.”Highlighted by 122 Kindle customers
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, not 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.Highlighted by 111 Kindle customers
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