Marathon Myths: A Single Herald or a Collective Dash?


SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

This re-post is in honor of our friends running today in Boston. Sorry we couldn’t arrange for warmer and drier weather!

According to many accounts online, our modern marathon is somehow related to Pheidippides’ run to Athens after the battle against the Persians in 490 BCE. As the story goes, When he arrived before the assembled citizens, Pheidippides announced “we have conquered” (nenikêkamen) and then then expired.

The problem is that this story is total hogwash. There was no Pheidippides (except in Aristophanes’ Clouds, and he was obsessed with horses). No one is ever recorded saying in ancient Greek “we have conquered” after the battle. I know where some of this comes from (Plutarch and Lucian, see below) but I don’t know where the rest does. Although some authors do have a messenger announcing the victory, the present form of nikâo is used. And the name…

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