Reading Advice: ‘Gates of Fire’

Up to this point you’ve been reading two types of texts, academic prose (‘Reading History’ essays), and primary documents. Gates of Fire is a different type of work and, therefore, should be approached somewhat differently when reading. Generally, it should be easier (and faster) for you to read than the other types of text. However, this particular novel is actually based upon a serious bit of historical writing (Herodotus’ Histories), so there’s quite a bit to learn from it concerning Sparta and the Persian Wars. There’s also much to be learned about those qualities prized by the Greeks, and still prized by many of us today. (The book is used, for example, at West Point and at Officer Candidates School of the US Marine Corps as part of the training for a young officer.)

I do not want you to get so bogged down with note-taking that you miss the enjoyment of the story. That being said,  keeping some notes as you go along will be important for recalling information in class. This is what you should think about while moving through the book:

1. First of all, Gates is a narrative, a story, and you should digest the general plot as you read. You should know who is who and what is happening. Keep a list of main characters as part of your reading notes and know how they relate to eachother and fit into the story.

2. Gates introduces a number of Greek terms, some that you already know, many that you do not. Keep a list of Greek words and their definitions.

3. And like all reading, keep a list of thoughts and questions that come to your head while reading. They are a base-line for discussing any serious piece of literature – and you will forget them by the time class rolls around.


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