Steven Pressfield

American screenwriter and novelist (1943-)
(Redirected from Gates of Fire)

Steven Pressfield (born September 1943) is an American author of historical fiction and non-fiction, and screenplays.

Steven Pressfield, 2011


  • I had always wondered what it felt like to die.

There was an exercise we of the battle train practiced when we served as punching bags for the Spartan heavy infantry. It was called the Oak because we took our positions along a line of oaks at the edge of the plain of Otona, where the Spartiates and the Gentleman-Rankers ran their field exercises in fall and winter. We would line up ten deep with body-length wicker shields braced upon the earth and they would hit us, the shock troops, coming across the flat in line of battle, eight deep, at a walk, then a pace, then a trot and finally a dead run. The shock of their interleaved shields was meant to knock the breath out of you, and it did. It was like being hit by a mountain. Your knees, no matter how braced you held them, buckled like saplings before an earthslide; in an instant all courage fled our hearts; we were rooted up like dried stalks before the ploughman's blade.

That was how it felt to die. The weapon which slew me at Thermopylae was an Egyptian hoplite spear, driven in beneath the plexus of the ribcage. But the sensation was not what one would have anticipated, not being pierced but rather slammed, like we sparring fodder felt beneath the oaks.

I had imagined that the dead would be detached. That they would look upon life with the eyes of objective wisdom. But the experience proved the opposite. Emotion ruled. It seemed nothing remained but emotion. My heart ached and broke as never it could on earth. Loss encompassed me with a searing, all-mastering pain. I saw my wife and children, my dear cousin Diomache, she whom I loved. I saw Skamandridas, my father, and Eunike, my mother, Bruxieus, Dekton and "Suicide," names which mean nothing to His Majesty to hear, but which to me were dearer than life and now, dying, dearer still.

Away they flew. Away I flew from them.

    • Xeno p.7
  • I have always found the spear to be a rather inelegant weapon
    • Apollo p. 47
  • You have never tasted freedom friend, or you would know it is purchased not with gold, but steel.
    • Dienekes p. 60
  • If you think this is funny, wait 'till you get into combat. You'll think that's hysterical!
    • Polynikes p. 80
  • There is something I must tell you. When Leonidas selected you for the Three Hundred, I went to him in private and argued strenuously against your inclusion. I thought you would not fight. [...] I was wrong.
    • Polynikes p. 324
  • I believe him, Dienekes. He's so fucking stupid, this is just the way he would skrew it up.
    • Polynikes p. 371
  • This aspis was my father's and his father's before him. I have sworn before God to die before another man took this from my hand. He crossed to the ranks of Thespians, to a man, an obscure warrior among them. Into the fellow's grasp he placed the shield.
    • Polynikes p. 405
  • Why have I nominated you, lady, to bear up beneath this most terrible of trials, you and your sisters of the Three Hundred? Because you can.
    • Leonides p. 427
  • Do you love your country? [...] This man, with his life, has preserved it. Bear him with honor.
    • Orontes (Handing over Xeones' corpse to Athenian civilians) p. 430
  • The Soldier is a farmer. He knows how to shape the earth. He is a carpenter; he erects ramparts and palisades. A miner, he digs trenches and tunnels; a mason, he chisels a road from a sheer face of stone. The Soldier is a physician who performs surgery without anesthetic, a priest who inters the dead without psalm. He is a philosopher who plumbs the mysteries of existence, a linguist who pronounces "pussy" in a dozen tongues. He is an architect and a demolition man, a fire brigadier and an incendiary. He is a beast who dwells in the dirt, a worm, owning a mouth and an anus and aught but appetite in between.
    • Polemides, p. 79
  • Among the ways the Spartans differ from other peoples is this. When an ally in distress applies to them for aid, they alone dispatch neither troops nor treasure but a solitary commander, a general. This officer alone, assuming charge of the beleagured forces, is sufficiant, they feel, to turn affairs about and produce victory. This as the world knows is what happened at Syracuse.
    • Polemides, p. 162
  • I approve of all you say, gentlemen. The fleet's needs are many and urgent. One, however, must take precedence. This item the men need before all, and we must get it for them without fail and without deferral. We must get the men a victory.
  • Both men were aware of the imperative held by all warrior races to serve honor before survival.
    • Mother Bones (Narrator) p. 10
  • At Athens and Athens alone, a new stamp of person was being born, neither baron nor yeoman, but a man of the city. A citizen.
    • Father p. 87
  • A youth loathes nothing more than his own callowness. Experience is his object. Experience, however ghastly, for the lad longs before all for the lined face and the chiseled squint of the vetern.
    • Damon p. 91
  • Humankind is commanded to ascend from savagery. This is God's mandate, which cries out from the epicenter of our being: the imperative to mount from the base to the noble, from the savage to the civil, from beast to human.
    • Theseus p. 119
  • Straight to her face advanced the Athenian Lykos, and it must be said that it took no slender spirit for him to do so, such was the light of slaughter in the Amazon's eyes. "What do you call this, thou savage!" The prince gestured to the broth irrigating the walls and floors of the canyon. "Are these God's footsteps?" Is this the 'path of holiness' in which your race treads?" Theseus hastened forward, reining-in at his countryman's shoulder. "This is not war," Lykos bellowed to Antiope. "It is butchery!" Theseus sought to speak, as if to offer extenuation for the actions of the Amazons. Lykos cut him off with a curse. "You cannot defend the indefensible!"
    • Lykos p. 153
  • Bear your command with humility. Lead, do not condescend. Remember, these are great events and men will rise to them. Treat every man as a Soldier. He may surprise you and be one.
    • Theseus p. 210
  • It is a terrible thing to be a king, especially a great one, for one must serve ideals of the spirit at the price of lovers of flesh and blood. Who profits from a king's fidelity save generations a thousand years unborn, and which of his works will they recall at that remove, or care?
    • Damon p. 221
  • The foe fell back. Our companies pushed through. For the time it takes to count to five hundred, I thought we might even conquer. For now the mulishness of the Athenian Soldier-farmer, the pigheaded refusal to yield which had at first been scorned by his betters-now this shone to the fore. By the gods, these clodkickers had learned how to fight! [...] They no longer fell apart at the apparition of cowardice among their comrades or themselves, but had come to understand that the same man may play the craven in the morning and the hero in the afternoon. Give them this: they were tough. Tougher than the Scyths and Getai, for all their savage valor, and tougher than the Amazons, despite their dash and dazzle.
    • Damon p. 308
  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
    • p. 13
  • To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
    • p. 13
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
    • p. 50
  • Nothing relieves Irish despair. The Irishman's complaint lies not with his circumstance, which might be rendered brilliant by labour or luck, but with injustice of existence itself. Death! How could a benevolent Deity gift us with life, only to set such a cruel term upon it? Irish despair knows no remedy. Love fades; fame is fleeting. The only cures are booze and sentiment. That's why the Irish are such noble drunks and glorious poets. No one sings like the Irish or mourns like them. Why? Because they're angels imprisoned in vessels of flesh.
    • Zachary Stein, p. 27
  • One act I will never stand for is leaving our fellows behind. Bugger military protocol, or lofty notions of honour. I can't live with running out on a pal, and I won't let any of you do it either.
    • Major Mike Mallory, p. 60
  • I could be counted upon to perform the mission they had assigned me, or, if that was unworkable, to improvise and turn my men's exertions upon a secondary undertaking as good as or better than the first.
    • Richmond Chapman, p. 175, the first criteria for an able commander
  • I had become someone they could look to for leadership and direction, who would shield from meddling from above, and would ask no act of them that he wasn't prepared to perform himself. I provided for my men a framework within which they were freed to use their own qualities of courage, resourcefulness and tenacity.
    • Richmond Chapman, p. 175, the second criteria for an able commander
  • The Mammoth we attacked was not Rommel's after all. [...] Rommel himself, we'll learn later, was not in that camp and never had been. At the time of our raid, he was with the 15th Panzer Division, somewhere west of Kidney Ridge, in the thick of the fighting at El Alamein.
    • Richmond Chapman, p. 177
  • These are armed enemy, who have hastened to this site with one object only: to take the lives of my comanions and me. I must take theirs first. No truth could be plainer. Yet at the same time nothing can alter the fact that beneath the fascist insignia of their uniforms, these men are fathers, husbands, sons.
    • Richmond Chapman, p. 204
  • You English are loath to embrace the virtues of the warrior. Such an act embarrasses you. You prefer to see yourselves as civilians summoned reluctantly to arms, as-what is the word?-'amatuers.' But you are warriors, you English. You are, Chapman. Trust me, who has faced you in the field.
    • Oberleutnant Ehrlich, wounded German POW, p. 237
  • The greatest commanders never issue orders. Rather, they compel by their own acts and virtue the emulation of those they command. The great champions throw leadership back on you. They make you answer: Who am I? What do I seek? What is the meaning of my existence in this life?
    • Gent, p. 2
  • I love a guy who knows how to bitch. Any moron can gripe about chow or rotations, but someone who can get exercised over architecture is my kind of dude.
    • Gent, p. 202
  • In the end the American dream boils down to what? I'm getting mine and to hell with you.
    • General Salter, p. 306
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