Pondering Marathon Origins

The incipit:

If Monday’s famed 26.2-mile Boston Marathon seems brutal, consider the true plight of Pheidippides, the legendary messenger whose reputed exploits and legacy have been traced from the plains of Greece to Hopkinton’s Town Common.

Entering the popular imagination centuries afterward through a series of accounts, Pheidippides supposedly ran roughly 25 miles to spread word of a historic and decisive Athenian upset of Persian forces in 490 B.C., collapsing and dying in the fledgling city-state after delivering his message.

But drawing on the work of the chronicler Herodotus, who interviewed surviving Battle of Marathon soldiers and their sons and never mentioned the messenger run, Columbia University professor Richard Billows believes Pheidippides really ran 140 miles over two days to request pre-battle Spartan help, then ran back.

“He was not the kind of guy who would keel over after a mere 26 miles,” said Billows, who straightens students out each fall in his class on ancient Greece. “What actually happened is much more impressive.”

But for whatever reason an inadvertent conflation of events, a deliberate romanticizing of history the image of Pheidippides’ noble victory run has become inextricably intertwined with marathoning and with a battle that had nothing less at stake than the future of Western civilization.

Still outmatched two-to-one after Persian leaders split their forces, the bronze-clad Greeks used a combination of superior equipment, timing and strategy to defeat their foes.

After the Athenians won at Marathon, they quickly marched 25 miles to protect Athens itself from a separate Persian invasion from the sea. The Persians took one look and never bothered to land.

The Persians had not suffered a serious loss leading up to the fight, emptying villages of vanquished enemies and resettling them within the empire. In his coming book, “Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization,” Billows describes the consequences had that record remained intact. […]

via The original marathon and its connection to Hopkinton | The MetroWest Daily News.

For those of you wondering, there is definitely some confusion of sources going on, it seems … ages ago we had a discussion on the Classics list on this very matter

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