Letter to the Editor 4/25/2013
Mr. P started the Boston Marathon
EDITOR: The story you are about to read will forever change your perception of what happened at the Marathon. It will even connect Thomas Jefferson. Buckle in for a bumpy ride while I take you back to the year of our Lord 490 BC, the cradle of civilization - seeds of democracy.
If you woke up 2503 years ago in Athens Greece, the news of the day on your iPod would have been imminent invasion of Darius, head of the Persian hoard, - (modern day Iran) laying hungry eyes at the wealth of Athens. Darius had to constantly remind his barbarians who were not the sharpest tacks - to rememberâ¦ that it's pillage first - then, burn!
This part of the world has been a crucible of philosophical giant thinkers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Anaxogoras postulates vast globes without a telescope and atomic structure. The concept of four gospels of truth emerges - God is not to be feared, death cannot be felt, the Good can be won; all that we dread can be borne and conquered. Happiness according to Greeks is a virtue of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. History lover Thomas Jefferson 2000 years later takes note, loves the idea so much he tacks it on the American creed of government - life, liberty and pursuit of happiness differing from Thomas Paine, who declared the last should be property. Happiness does not to mean, get drunk happy, but that citizens should live a virtuous life -an umbilical connection from our form of government and the Athenians. Athens, vastly outnumbered, desperately needs the help of Sparta's military base to help fend off the attack. Time is short, so the Athenian generals asks Mr. P - a world class runner known to his friends as Phi-dip-pides (dashes are mine), to make a run to Sparta for help. The 140 mile course was very mountainous and rugged. Phidippides ran the course in 36 hours. Sparta agrees to help but not until the moon was full due to religious laws. This would leave the Athenians alone to fight the Persian Army. Phidippides ran back to Athens (another 140 miles) with the disappointing news. Immediately, the small Athenian Army including Phidippides marched to the plains of Marathon to prepare for battle.
The Athenian Army was outnumbered. Each man had 4 to fight. They launched a surprise offensive thrust, which at the time appeared suicidal. By day's end, 6400 Persian bodies lay dead on the field while only 192 Athenians had been killed. The surviving Persians fled to sea and headed south to Athens where they hoped to attack the city before the Greek Army could re-assemble there.
Phidippides was again called upon to run to Athens (26 miles away) to carry the news of the victory and the warning about the approaching Persian ships. Despite his fatigue after his recent run to Sparta and back and having fought all morning in heavy armor, Phidippides rose to the challenge. Pushing himself beyond limits of human endurance, he reaches Athens in 3 hours, manages to utter "NIKI" (victory), gives warning - then collapse and dies from exhaustion. (Niki wearers - think of Phidippides when you lace up your Nikies)
Sparta and the other Greek polies eventually came to the aid of Athens and were able to turn back the Persian attempt to conquer Greece.
The Greek victory marked one of the decisive events of world history because it kept an Eastern power from conquering what is now Europe. The victory gave the Greeks incredible confidence in themselves, their government and their culture.
In the two centuries that followed, the Greek culture spread across much of the known world. It made Europe possible and in affect won for civilization the opportunity to develop its own economic life.
Modern European-based nations such as the United States and Canada can trace their thoughts of governance directly to the Greek philosophers which would have been snuffed out had someone not stepped up to a Herculean task. Such is the message that needs to percolate through the mind of every runner. It is a victory of endurance, of personal sacrifice, commitment to a goal to succeed - to be happy.
The United States was one of 9 nations at the 1896 Athens Olympics, thanks to sponsorship of athletes by the Boston Athletic Association. Middle distance runner Arthur Blake was the only American to enter the first marathon. Blake won a silver medal in the 1500 meters 3 days before the marathon but unfortunately this left him exhausted and he dropped out after about 14.5 miles. Planning for North America's first marathon began on the boat back to United States. The first annual Boston Athletic Association marathon was conducted on April 19, 1897, the date chosen to commemorate the famous ride of Paul Revere in 1775. In history, doesn't it seem that what goes around, comes around one way or another?
Today, marathons have become a running tradition throughout the world. Yet the annual Marathon at Athens, where it all began, has a tradition and an appeal like no other. In 1996, the 100th anniversary of the modern Athens Marathon, more than 3,000 runners from every part of the world gathered to run in the footsteps of Phidippides. Each runner and cheerer on - on that fateful day in Boston a week ago, deeply experienced the tradition of an Athenian, celebrating a legacy of determination, love of freedom, love of life and pursuit of happiness.