Pheidippides

From Academic Kids

Pheidippides (Greek: Φειδιππιδης, sometimes given as Phidippides or Philippides), hero of Ancient Greece, is the central figure in a myth which was the inspiration for the modern sporting event, the marathon.

The traditional story relates that Pheidippides, an Athenian herald, ran the 42 km (26 miles) from the battlefield by the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) with the word "Νενικήκαμεν!" (Nenikikamen, We were victorious!) and died on the spot. Most accounts incorrectly attribute this story to the historian Herodotus, who wrote the history of the Persian Wars in his Histories (composed about 440 BC).

Robert Browning gave a version of the traditional story in his 1879 poem Pheidippides.

So, when Persia was dust, all cried, "To Acropolis!
Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!
Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!" He flung down his shield
Ran like fire once more: and the space 'twixt the fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,
Till in he broke: "Rejoice, we conquer!" Like wine through clay,
Joy in his blood bursting his heart, he died - the bliss!

("Fennel-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 and other founders of the modern Olympic Games to invent a running race of 42 km called the Marathon. Sadly for historical romance, the story is probably a myth. It is inherently improbable, since if the Athenians wanted to send an urgent message to Athens there was no reason why they could not have sent a messenger on horseback. In any case, no such story appears in Herodotus. The relevant passage of Herodotus (Histories, 105) is:

While still in the city, the generals first sent to Sparta the herald Pheidippides, an Athenian and a long-distance runner who made that his calling. As Pheidippides himself said when he brought the message to the Athenians, when he was in the Parthenian mountain above Tegea he encountered Pan. Pan called out Pheidippides' name and bade him ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, though he was of goodwill to the Athenians, had often been of service to them, and would be in the future. The Athenians believed that these things were true, and when they became prosperous they established a sacred precinct of Pan beneath the Acropolis. Ever since that message they propitiate him with annual sacrifices and a torch-race.

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. Why was this 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 judgement. The name of the fear inflicted by Pan is, of course, "panic".

Herodotus was writing about 50 years after the events he describes, so it is reasonably likely that Pheidippides is a historical figure, although whether he ran the 246 km over rough roads from Athens to Sparta and then back again, may be doubted. But he had no connection with the Battle of Marathon, 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 Roman writer Plutarch (46-120), in his essay On the Glory of Athens. Plutarch attributes the run to a herald called either Thersippus or Eukles. Lucian, 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, 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, celebrates Pheiddipides's at least semi-historical run across 250 km of Greek countryside.

Further reading

  • F J Frost "The Dubious Origins of the Marathon", American Journal of Ancient History, 4 (1979) 159-63

External link

it:Fidippide nl:Phidippides

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