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Published: 07-10-2019

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The Society in Sparta, Seen in the Gates of Fire

In Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire, a mortally wounded soldier named Xeones tells his life story to a Persian scribe below the order of King Xerxes of Persia. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, broken up by the scribe, who inserts his own notes. Xeones starts by describing life as a refugee in the mountains with his cousin Diomache and his slave, Bruxieus. Later, he tells of life with the men in the agoge, Dienekes, Alexandros, Rooster, Polynikes, and a number of other individuals. Throughout the course of the novel, Xeo information life in Sparta, including the education of Spartan guys and the roles that girls played. The narrative culminates at the Battle of Thermopylae, where all are slaughtered except Xeones.

One aspect of Spartan life that Xeones describes is the instruction of Spartan boys to turn into warriors. All Spartan males have been supposed to train as soldiers, if they were capable. It was only as soldiers and warriors that a Spartan man could be a citizen. The warriors were subjected to harsh workouts that would strengthen both the thoughts and the physique. The Spartans believed that it was only by means of the strength and discipline of the thoughts that a warrior could discipline his mind. In describing the workouts, Xeo says that “The hardship of the exercises is intended much less to strengthen the back than to toughen the thoughts. The Spartans say that any army might win whilst it still has its legs beneath it the real test comes when all strength is fled and the guys need to make victory on will alone. (Pressfield, 68)

To the Spartans, the accurate mark of a man was how courageous he was. One of the prominent themes all through the book is the shedding of fear. The exercises the Spartans endured were designed to drive all fear from their thoughts, so that in the face of battle, the Spartans would be fearless and fight to the best of their potential, without the hindrance of being afraid. In order to develop courage and prove one’s manhood, punishments had been extreme. The boys, no older than fifteen, would hold on to a wooden bar while they had been whipped. At any time, they could let go of the bar and the punishment would be over. Xeo tells a story of a a boy named Tripod who refused to let go of the bar and was hence beaten to death. Xeo’s friend, Alexandros, was comforted by his mentor, Dienekes, who explained that the eirenes, or guys who had been punishing Tripod, did not do so for their own pleasure, but to harden his mind against pain.

Such punishments had been made to strengthen the mind and physique against physical discomfort. One more example of how the eirenes had been supposed to help the boys understand discipline and prove their manhood was for them to practice ‘tree-fucking.’ In this practice, boys lined up with their shields, a single behind the other, and push more than a tree. If they did not succeed, they ran the threat of becoming labeled as effeminate. Xeo describes the practice, saying “It was unthinkable that they be permitted to return to the city while this tree but defied them such failure would disgrace their fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, all the gods and heroes of their line, not to mention their hounds, cats, sheep and goats and even the rats in their helots’ barns, who would hang their heads and have to slink off to Athens or some other rump-split polis where men had been males and knew how to place out a respectable fucking.” (Pressfield 71)

Even so, showing one’s courage and the definition of manhood extended far beyond practice for battle. Manhood was also shown in the capacity to generate sons and carry on one’s loved ones name. Dienekes is married to Arete, and has 4 daughters. Even so, given that he is not a sire, or a father of sons, he can not be selected for the 3 Hundred to fight at Thermopylae. He sees this as a dishonor. That he is not as significantly of a man because he has no sons and cannot fight at the “Hot Gates.” Dienekes is usually compared to Polynikes, who is a lot younger, and yet has far more sons than Dienekes. Although Polynikes covets the position Dienekes has amongst the warriors, he is 1 of the very first to be chosen for the Three Hundred, considering that he has male heirs. Dienekes is only capable to participate in the battle after he adopts the son of his bastard nephew, enabling him to have an heir.

Xeones describes in detail phobologia, or the science of studying fear. The exercises that the men of Sparta perform are supposed to drive out worry and generate a state of, what Xeones called esoterike harmonia, or the state of self-composure in which the warrior drives out all worry and, metaphorically, produces an individual and unique note, which all things possess. Whilst speaking with Dienekes and Alexandros, Xeo learns not only about esoterike harmonia, or the self-composure, but also exoterike harmonia, in which the Spartan enters into a state of unity with his fellow Spartans, who generate a metaphoric harmony. Each person note comes collectively to generate a lovely and harmonious accord. They are taught that “In battle exoterike harmonia guides the phalanx to move and strike as 1 man, of a single thoughts and will. In passion it unites husband to wife, lover to lover, in wordless perfect union. In politics, exoterike harmonia produces a city of concord and unity, in which every single person, securing his personal noblest expression of character, donates this to every single other.” (Pressfield 76) In this way, Xeo learns that each and every person in the Spartan society has an individual location, and that they all come collectively in harmony.

One more element of Spartan life that the reader learns about by way of Xeones’s tale is the function of females in society. The females are described as wearing no cosmetics or facial paint in other cities in Hellas, but in Sparta, the girls Xeones encounters wear none of these. Throughout the novel, he encounters a number of Spartan females: Arete, the wife of Dienekes, Paraleia, Alexandros’s mother, his personal wife, and the wives of Alexandros and Rooster. The primary role of ladies, as can be seen in the novel, is to generate sons. Spartan ladies were meant to create boys, who would then defend the city. Xeones describes them, saying “They have been dams, these ladies, wives and mothers whose principal calling was to make boys who would develop to be warriors and heroes, defenders of the city. Spartan women were brood mares, the pampered damsels of other cities might scoff, but if they had been mares, they were racers, Olympic champions. The athletic glow and vigor which the gynaikagoge, the women’s education discipline, developed in them was potent stuff and they knew it.” (Pressfield 124)

The Spartan lady who is most prominent in the novel is Arete. The wife of Dienekes, she was very first married to his brother, who died in battle. Arete has created 4 daughters, but no sons. Even so, she still runs her household and manages her servants. From the novel, if seems that she is well respected by all, guys and females, even though most likely simply because of her husband’s status. This does not imply that girls are completely useless in Spartan society. The Lady Paraleia asks Xeones about the interrogation of her son by the Peers. It is clear by the way she speaks, that right here, in the property, the girls are in charge. In fact, Xeones even says “This was her way of letting me know that the women ran the show and that if I didn’t want to locate myself permanently back in the farmers’ shitfields, I’d greater commence coughing up a satisfactory dose of data.” (Pressfield 122)

Nonetheless, the ladies of Sparta had influence that reached further than just the house. One of the most striking examples of this is throughout the trial of Rooster. The Peers choose that he and his family need to be killed. Nonetheless, Arete prevented them from killing the newborn boy by forcing her husband to claim it as his personal. In carrying out this, he became eligible for the Three Hundred. The females of Sparta have been also the ones who galvanized the Spartans into action. Refugees from other cities came to Sparta, young mothers with young children. There, the wives of Spartan warriors heard their stories and spurned their husbands into action, telling them of the horrors the citizens had been via. Xeones says of the Spartan ladies that “The women’s scorn excoriated the city. A delegation of wives and mothers presented itself to the ephors, insisting that they themselves be sent out next time, armed with hairpins and distaffs, considering that certainly the females of Sparta could disgrace themselves no much more egregiously nor accomplish much less than the vaunted Ten Thousand.” (Pressfield 140) Consequently, even though girls don’t seem to have a key function outside of birthing the future Spartan warriors, they are the ones who, in the finish, encouraged the Spartans to make a stand and fight the Persians.

Although not much is mentioned about the financial status of Sparta, a number of issues are explained that permit the reader to infer the economic status. The males of Sparta are employed as full time warriors, and women are only meant to be wives and mothers. Consequently, the food was grown and provided by a group of men and women called the Helots. Helots have been a group of individuals, someplace amongst serfs and slaves, that provided most of the economic help for Sparta. The Helots were Messenians and Laconians, both regions getting controlled by Sparta. 1 of the only examples of this other culture was in Rooster. Rooster was the bastard son of Arete’s brother by a Messenian lady. He was in charge of the animals, till he was offered to Alexandros’s father as a squire. It was only by way of the support of the Helots that the Spartans had been able to have a standing military at all times.

Even though it is not expressly stated in Gates of Fire, the general attitude toward other Greek nations is one particular of contempt. The Spartans see themselves as superior, considering that they have the strongest military and given that they’re unburdened with corruption, like most of the other city-states are. Even Athens looked to Sparta as a city to be admired. Polynikes summed up the Spartan views on other city-states when he stated “Observe the specimens in any nation other than Lakedaemon. Man is weak, greedy, craven, lustful, prey to each species of vice and depravity. He will lie, steal, cheat, murder, melt down the quite statues of the gods and coin their gold as cash for whores. This is man. This is his nature, as all the poets attest. Fortunately God in his mercy has provided a counterpoise to our species’ innate depravity. That present, my young buddy, is war.” (Pressfield 118) Polynikes doesn’t just speak of other nations. He speaks of every nation except Sparta, or Lakedaemon. This involves city-states such as Sparta or Thebes. The Spartans believe that they are superior to the other Greek city-states, as they only concern themselves with war, rather than greed or depravity.

There are numerous benefits to life as a Spartan. Spartans are really nicely off economically. Because the Helots supported the Spartans monetarily and agriculturally, Sparta was a wealthy nation. It was also really effectively respected. The other Greek city-states followed the command of the Spartan king and commander of the army, Leonidas, at Thermopylae. Also, with a complete time, standing army, the city-state of Sparta was one of the most properly-protected cities in Greece. Nonetheless, the greatest advantage to Spartan life was the emotional closeness of Spartans to each other. In battle, every single man’s shield protected not himself, but his fellow man. Therefore, one had to completely trust and rely on the man to his left to defend him. By way of the coaching that started in boyhood, the Spartans learned to rely on each other and completely trust 1 one more. Suicide addressed this when he described the ‘glue’ that held the Spartan army collectively. “I understood then that it was the glue that made the phalanx excellent. The unseen glue that bound it with each other. I realized that all the drill and discipline you Spartans really like to pound into each and every other’s skulls had been actually not to inculcate ability or art, but only to generate this glue.” (Pressfield 260) Although Suicide was not a Spartan by birth, he saw the advantages to the camaraderie and the life of a Spartan.

Nonetheless, Xeones shows that there are a number of down sides to living in the Spartan society. Boys are raised away from their families, and are raised to be warriors. The instruction they are subjected to is harsh and occasionally, in the minds of the reader, cruel. If a single was a Helot in Spartan society, their life would be miserable. Helots had been not only looked down upon, but occasionally were treated cruelly. The worst part of Spartan society was the reality that their males have been often at war, and if not at war, education for it. The harsh education circumstances and the wars that the Spartans fought in led to a quick life expectancy for Spartan males. Arete, the wife of Dienekes, sums the scenario up by saying “What is far more organic to a man than to fight, or a lady to adore?…What could be much more contrary to female nature, to motherhood, than to stand unmoved and unmoving as her sons march off to death? Should not every single sinew of the mother’s flesh get in touch with out in agony and affront at such an outrage? Have to not her heart seek to cry in its passion, ‘No! Not my son! Spare him!’” (Pressfield 191) Whilst the Spartan men faced a shorter life expectancy, it was the Spartan females who had to deal with the reality that they have been losing their sons and husbands. Therefore, it was extremely emotionally taxing to be a Spartan woman.

By means of his narrative, Xeones describes Spartan life with no ever being a Spartan by birth. It is by means of Xeones that the reader gets to discover the life of the society Xeones adopted as his personal, and the reader feels a sense of loss as every single character, which includes Xeones himself, dies. While the perform is a single of fiction, it does a great job in detailing the life of Spartans as they prepare for the Battle of Thermopylae and the Persian War.
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