Ancient World Now: Marathon

Listen to my podcast on Marathon: Episode #41: Marathon

Today started with Athens cordoned off for the annual half Marathon, with the starting and finish line right outside the hotel. So fitting for the day when we were to visit Marathon, I thought!

1But everything, I have discovered, on this magical trip has been planned intentionally, down to the breathtaking Vernal Equinox sunset at the Temple of Poseidon at day’s end. Our first stop was the ancient Agora, where law courts, temples, shrines, shops, a library, and performance spaces were built to accommodate the lively daily business of Athens. Most important of all citizen activities was voting, for it was here, in the Bouleuterion, where we find the very birthplace of democracy.The Bouleuterion Here, the great orators spoke to the people in support of various issues of concern to the community. Here, at the Bouleuterion, Miltiades proposed his plan to head off the Persians at Citizens voted in favor and headed over to the arsenal where officials distributed the weapons the citizen soldiers carried through the mountains to the coast at Marathon. Later, at this very spot, Pheidippides collapsed in front of the people, gasping in his last breath the message of

Our tour continued over to the battlefield where the 192 who fell defending their cultural and community lie beneath the soros (burial mound) at Marathon. Why was this battle so important?

Burial Mound at Marathon

Because if those brave citizen soldiers had failed in their endeavor, democracy, that unique experiment in community governance, would have been extinguished under Persian subjugation and Western civilization as we know it would have a very different shape.

We ended our day at the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, high on the cliffs above the Aegean. Professor Patrick Hunt, our leader, poured a libation (from bottled water!) to the god of the sea as the last rays of sun shot through the clouds on this first day of spring. Greece March 2016 436Menelaus, on his way home from the Trojan War, stopped here, and King Aegeus, the father of Theseus, waited here for news of his son’s quest to slay the Minotaur. A truly mythical end to a significant day!photo (2)

HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!

Food I Ate Today: Baked feta (sheep’s cheese) with tomatoes and onion.

I Wonder: I wonder how cheese is made.

Lesson and Activity: Voting in America is a very important duty. Find out how we vote and what it takes to cast an informed vote. Here is a photo of ancient Greek ballots: they scratched their choice onto pot (5)

Ancient World Now:Marathon

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #41.

Click here for previous episodes.

The sad death of Sammy Wanjiru, the Kenyan Olympic marathon champion and gold medalist casts its shadow over today’s podcast. May he rest in peace…

I remember I first heard the story of Marathon when I was in high school. It thrilled me to the core to know that the Greek underdogs had beaten back the Persian aggressors. But more thrilling to me was the story of Pheidippides, the messenger, who ran so faithfully to bring news of the victory to the people of Athens that he collapsed and died of exhaustion on the spot!

Later, I read different versions of the story. In reality, he ran 140 miles in one day from Athens to Sparta to beg assistance. The Spartans, being a cantankerous bunch, kept the Athenians waiting and arrived a day late & a dollar short! They missed the battle and never forgave themselves!

The victory at Marathon was a pivotal moment in history, galvanizing resolve in the fledgling democracies, and filling Greek spirits with the kind of triumph that makes nothing seem impossible. This spirit flourished and brought to fruition in later years the finest aspects of Western Civilization to which we lay claim. After Marathon, Persian King Darius began preparations for a second attack, but trouble in Egypt postponed his plans. He died 4 years after the Battle at Marathon, and it was another 6 years before his son Xerxes would carry out his father’s plans by returning for another try. This ten year respite gave the Greeks time to regroup. And thanks to a brilliant general by the name of Themistocles, those years were spent preparing for the next Persian invasion. But that, my friends, is another story…. Enjoy!

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