The History Of The King Leonidas English Literature Essay

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Throughout history, the brave legend of the powerful and courageous stand from King Leonidas and his Spartan army against King Xerxes has remained a fascination subject for historians and war fans alike. There have been movies, short films, and novels written about the historical suicide mission that King Leonidas and his men faced. Set in the fifth century, Gates of Fire written by Steven Pressfield pays tribute and homage in one of the most glorious and brutal historical novels to grace the fingertips of readers around the world. Pressfield's novel examines the battle between King Leonidas and Xerxes through the eyes of an injured Spartan squire who is recanting the story to King Xerxes to present the king with an understanding of the Spartan way of life, warfare, and society.

Steven Pressfield was born in a port of Trinidad, Spain, in 1943. Pressfield struggled with many different jobs for seventeen years until he received his first paycheck for The Legend of Bagger Vance in 1955. [1] Forty years later, Gates of Fire was created from Pressfield's lifelong experiences from his time spent in the Marine Corps. Gates of Fire is one of Pressfield's bestselling novels and for good reason. Since its publication, the novel has been circulated throughout varies ranks in the Marine Corps and U.S troops. In addition the novel has found a home on the Commandant of the Marine Corps Reading list and is taught at West Point and Annapolis. [2] Pressfield really is an author qualified to have written a novel about warriors and war because he spent many years on the battlefield in the Marine Corps. Pressfield's novel is an amazing work of literature that combines a unique style, extremely rich character development, and references to other epic novels creates a novel truly worth of tribute to King Leonidas and his army.

Pressfield's main objective with this novel is to retell the ancient battle of Thermopylae through the first-person voices of Gobartes, the historian, and Xeones. He achieves such a goal by using a very distinct style that can only be described as a violent narrarative prose that shapes the story, characters, and setting. One example can be seen on page 284:

"Adding further to the theater of terror presented by the Hellenic phalanx and, to my mind most frightening of all, were the blank, expressionless faces of the Greek Helmets, with their bronze nasals thick as a man's thumb, their flaring cheekpieces and unholy hollows of their eye slits, covering the entire face and projecting to the enemy that he was facing not a creature of flesh but some ghastly invulnerable machine." [3] 

Pressfield is extremely good with stringing together words and creating vivid images for the readers. Xeones's mental description of the sight before him and the Spartans before the battle is just one of many examples of Pressfield's writing talent. Here, he describes the Greeks not as being simple immortal but goes into detail that creates the mood of hopelessness, destitute, and fear. This style is captivating and draws the reader into the story. In addition, the style of the novel also brings out thoughts or feelings of heroism, honor, loyalty, and discipline that is rarely achieved in such a violent novel.

Another reason why Pressfield's novel is considered a literary masterpiece is the character development. Many war novels such as A Farewell to Arms and Catch-22 tried to create a sense of "weariness" in the main characters and soon after these moods were developed, the novel itself became nothing more than a weary read. However, Gates of Fire's main character Xeones's weariness is not overdone or drawn out. Xeones' exploits with several other characters such as Alexandoros, Bruxieus, and Dienekes strengthens the novel in creating a more realistic setting and period. The reader begins with a wounded Spartan squire and instantly inside the interrogation tent the reader is filled with awe and sympathy for Xeones because of his hardships. Xeones continues with his tale by depicting his troubled childhood from his near death lashing for being caught as a thief and to the raping of his cousin Diomache. Throughout these childhood stories and flashbacks, Pressfield is attempting for Xeones to form a connection with the reader. This forged connection allows the reader to feel a sense of urgency in uncovering the tale that the wounded Xeones painfully recounts. Pressfield is able successfully to convey emotions, feelings, and thoughts of the Spartan warriors that make them into living breathing people in the reader's mind. These characters, through Pressfield's writing techniques, are given lives of their own and become more than black words on paper.

Another fantastic aspect about Gates of Fire is Pressfield's ability to reference to other epic novels. A reader can certainly identify Pressfield's epic style to The Iliad and The Odyssey. The "epic sense" of Pressfield's novel is deeply rooted in his ability to create such a vivid feeling of similarity with the ongoing battles in relation and reference to age-old Greek mythology. One specific battle scene near the beginning of the novel on page eleven describes the narrator dying in a battle only to be "revived" by the Greek god, Apollo. The existence, acknowledgement, and admiration expressed for Apollo in that one scene is enough for the readers to find themselves immersed once again in a familiar war-like setting similar to the Odyssey. In addition, there are certain phrasings of words or descriptions that seem very similar to Homer's perspective of the existence of gods and fate become recognizable as readers continue the epic tale.

Gates of Fire truly is an amazing fictional novel constructed from the very real events at the battle of Thermopylae. Despite the novel being fiction and slightly historically inaccurate, Pressfield's amazing style from the description of terror to the empathy connect forge to the main character. Also, the reference to other epic novels really blends together, making Gates of Fire a standalone book that is a must read for any fan of honor, bravery, courage, and brotherhood.