Friday, October 14, 2005

The Race from Marathon

from the 1911 Book of Knowledge: The Children's Encyclopedia (Grolier)
page 1803

"Rejoice, we conquer!" Gasping out these words as joyfully as his parched tongue can utter them, a poor worn-out youth drops lifeless into the arms of those Athenians who have hurried out of their city to learn his tidings. His faint whisper goes from mouth to mouth, and is passed on throughout an anxious city, quickening the pulses of the citizens until they lose themselves in an outburst of thanksgiving and rejoicing.

The story of this victory is one of the most thrilling the world has ever known. It takes us back over 2,000 years to one of the first decisive battles in the world's history. Darius, the Mede, has made himself master of Asia, and, angry at some interference on the part of some little Greek state, he assembles his picked soldiers, summons the various tribes who own his sway, and sails over the Aegean Sea to conquer and enthrall those little Greek states of whose skill in peace and war reports have reached him.

Athens is the first large city in the path of his hitherto unconquered hosts, and the Athenians feel the need of aid from the famous Spartans, whose state lay 120 miles to the south across the Isthmus of Corinth. The army of the Medes and Persians are fast approaching, and their city will soon be infested. How are the Spartans to arrive in time? The rulers of Athens, seated in grave council on the Acropolis, send for Pheidippides, their champion runner, who has won for his state the myrtle crown at the famous Olympic games held by the Greek states every five years. They command him to run and urge Sparta to come to their aid. And for two days and two nights Pheidippides runs, swimming the rivers and climbing the mountains in his path.

But the Spartans were envious and mistrustful of Athens. Though brave and fearless, they lacked intelligence; and besides, they were a very superstitious people, and so Pheidippides was sent hurrying back with the news that their army would come, but could not start until the full moon.

Pheidippides races back to Athens again. The Athenians were now thrown on their own resources. The Persians had landed and the Athenians resolved to oppose them at once. The weary but dauntless Pheidippides takes his long spear and his heavy shield, and marches with the 10,000 picked men to meet the foe. We read elsewhere of the famous battle of Marathon and how these 10,000 Greeks drove back hundreds of thousands of Medes and Persians; this story is of Pheidippides.

Marathon was fought and won, and the victorious Greeks called to Pheidippides to take the news to the capital. He flung down his shield, and ran like fire the long twenty-six miles to Athens. Then, bursting into the city, he fell and died, gasping as he fell the two Greek words which mean "Rejoice, we conquer!"

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