Boris Johnson has spoken of the value of the classics in understanding modern politics. For example, in the popular press, as well as in the classics, the same theme is played out again and again: political leaders who let power go to their heads and then pay the price. There are many other parallels, but Greek history is also full of inspirational stories. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting some incidents from Greek history that still have lessons for us today.THE FIRST MARATHON RUNNER
In 490 BC, Athens was under attack by the Persians, led by King Darius. The world’s first democracy was under threat of extinction. The vastly outnumbered Athenians desperately needed the help of Sparta’s military base to help fend off the attack. With danger imminent, the Athenian generals sent Phidippides, a professional runner, on a two-day 140 mile run over mountainous terrain to Sparta to ask for help.
Phidippides’s brave effort was in vain - the Spartans would not come until the Moon was full, due to their religious laws. Phidippides had to run back to Athens with the terrible news that the Athenians would have to fight alone. The small Athenian army, vastly outnumbered, with Phidippides, marched to the Plains of Marathon. They launched an amazing surprise offensive thrust, and by the end of the day, 6,400 Persians lay dead on the field while only 192 Athenian soldiers had been killed. The surviving Persians fled, hoping to launch an attack by sea, and Phidippides had to run another 26 miles to carry news of the victory to Athens and warn them of the impending naval threat. He had already fought all day in the battle. Phidippides pushing himself to the limits of human endurance, reached Athens, delivered his message and died of exhaustion. Sparta came to the aid of Athens and the Persian threat was overthrown. Centuries later, the modern Olympic Games introduced a “marathon” race in memory of the brave Athenian runner who gave his life to deliver his message.