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Pheidippides

Pheidippides

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Pheidippides hero of Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, is the central figure in a story which was the inspiration for a modern sporting event, the marathon
Marathon
The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres , that is usually run as a road race...

.

The story



The traditional story relates that Pheidippides (530 BC–490 BC), an Athenian herald
Herald
A herald, or, more correctly, a herald of arms, is an officer of arms, ranking between pursuivant and king of arms. The title is often applied erroneously to all officers of arms....

, was sent to Sparta
Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

 to request help when the Persians landed at Marathon, Greece
Marathon, Greece
Marathon is a town in Greece, the site of the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, in which the heavily outnumbered Athenian army defeated the Persians. The tumulus or burial mound for the 192 Athenian dead that was erected near the battlefield remains a feature of the coastal plain...

. He ran 240 km (149.1 mi) in two days. He then ran the 40 km (24.9 mi) from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 to announce the Greek victory over Persia
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 in the Battle of Marathon
Battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. It was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate...

 (490 BC) with the word "" (Nenikékamen, "We have won") and collapsed and died on the spot from exhaustion.

Most accounts incorrectly attribute this story to the historian Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

, who wrote the history of the Persian Wars in his Histories (composed about 440 BC). In reality, the traditional story appears to be a conflation
Conflation
Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity — the differences appear to become lost...

 from several different ancient Greek sources having varying levels of authenticity.

Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

 gave a version of the traditional story in his 1879 poem Pheidippides.
("Fennel
Fennel
Fennel is a plant species in the genus Foeniculum . It is a member of the family Apiaceae . It is a hardy, perennial, umbelliferous herb, with yellow flowers and feathery leaves...

-field" is a reference to the Greek word for fennel, marathon, the origin of the name of the battlefield.)

It was this poem which inspired Baron Pierre de Coubertin
Pierre de Coubertin
Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin was a French educationalist and historian, founder of the International Olympic Committee, and is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games...

 and other founders of the modern Olympic Games
Olympic Games
The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world’s foremost sports competition where more than 200 nations participate...

 to invent a running race of 42 km called the Marathon.

The story is improbable, as the Athenians would more likely have sent the messenger on horseback. However, it may have been possible that they used a runner, as a horse's movements would have been hindered by the rocky, mountainous terrain. In any case, no such story appears in Herodotus. The relevant passage of Herodotus (Histories, Book VI, 105...106 [ 1 ]) is:
The significance of this story is only understood in the light of the legend that the god Pan returned the favor by fighting with the Athenian troops and against the Persians at Marathon. This was important because Pan, in addition to his other powers, had the capacity to instill the most extreme sort of fear, an irrational, blind fear that paralysed the mind and suspended all sense of judgment – panic
Panic
Panic is a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with an animalistic fight-or-flight reaction...

.

Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 was writing about 30 to 40 years after the events he describes, so it is reasonably likely that Pheidippides is a historical figure. If he ran the 246 km over rough roads from Athens to Sparta within two days, it would be an achievement worthy of remembrance. Whether the story is true or not, it has no connection with the Battle of Marathon itself, and Herodotus's silence on the subject of a herald running from Marathon to Athens suggests strongly that no such event occurred.

The first known written account of a run from Marathon to Athens occurs in the works of the Greek writer Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 (46–120), in his essay On the Glory of Athens. Plutarch attributes the run to a herald called either Thersippus or Eukles. Lucian
Lucian
Lucian of Samosata was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature.His ethnicity is disputed and is attributed as Assyrian according to Frye and Parpola, and Syrian according to Joseph....

, a century later, credits one "Philippides." It seems likely that in the 500 years between Herodotus's time and Plutarch's, the story of Pheidippides had become muddled with that of the Battle of Marathon (particularly the story of the Athenian forces making the march from Marathon to Athens in order to intercept the Persian ships headed there), and some fanciful writer had invented the story of the run from Marathon to Athens.

While the marathon celebrates the mythical run from Marathon to Athens, since 1982 an annual footrace from Athens to Sparta, known as the Spartathlon
Spartathlon
Spartathlon is a ultramarathon race held annually in Greece since 1983 between Athens and Sparta.-Origin:The Spartathlon aims to trace the footsteps of Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger sent to Sparta in 490 BC to seek help against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon...

, celebrates Pheidippides's at least semi-historical run across 250 km of Greek countryside.

In popular culture


Steve Reeves
Steve Reeves
Stephen L. Reeves was an American bodybuilder and actor. At the peak of his career, he was the highest-paid actor in Europe.-Childhood:...

 played Pheidippides in the 1959 film The Giant of Marathon
The Giant of Marathon
The Giant of Marathon is a 1959 Italian sword and sandal film. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur and Mario Bava...

.

Sources

  • Aubrey de Sélincourt and A. R. Burn. Herodotus - The Histories. Penguin Classics, 1954, 1972.

Further reading

  • F. J. Frost. "The Dubious Origins of the Marathon". American Journal of Ancient History, 4 (1979) 159-163.

External links