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Mary Macgregor

The Battle of Marathon

While the council of war was being held, a youth named Philippides was on his way to Sparta to beg the citizens to hasten to the help of their country. Philippides was sometimes called by his friends Pheidippides.

As Philippides sped on his errand a strange adventure befell him, for it is told that he met the great god Pan:

"There, in the cool of a cleft, sat he—majestical Pan.

Ivy drooped wanton, kissed his head, moss cushioned his hoof,

All the great God was good in the eyes grave-kindly—the curl

Carved on the bearded cheek, amused at a mortal's awe,

As under the human trunk, the goat thighs grand I saw.

'Halt, Pheidippides!' halt I did, my brain in a whirl;

'Hither to me; why pale in my presence?' he gracious began."

The young Athenian was too amazed to answer, he but gazed at the god in silence. Then Pan asked why he was no longer worshipped in Athens, and promised that he would fight among the ranks of the Athenians against Persia, so that henceforth they would worship him in gratitude for his help.

"Test Pan, trust me!

Go bid Athens take heart, laugh Persia to scorn; have faith

In the temples and tombs. Go say to Athens, 'The Goat-God saith;

When Persia—so much as strews not the soil—is flung under the sea,

Then praise Pan who fought in the ranks with your most and least,

Goat-thigh to greaved-thigh, made one cause with the free and the bold.' "

As a pledge the god then gave to Philippides a handful of a herb called fennel.

The youth then sped on as before until he reached Sparta. But although the Spartans said they were willing to fight, they could not march until the moon was full, for their religious rites forbade that they should.

So Philippides, having done his errand, hastened back to Athens and told the citizens all that had befallen him.

Glad that the god had promised his aid the Athenians at once set out on their march to Marathon. Here they were joined by a force of one thousand men from the little town of Plataea. They came to show their gratitude to the Athenians who had sent help to them when they were attacked by their enemies.

From their camp on a hill above the plain of Marathon, the Greeks looked down upon the vast army of the Persians. For several days no battle was fought, the Persians being unable to attack the Athenians without danger as they were on the hill.

At length Miltiades, whom the other nine generals were willing to follow, resolved to wait no longer. He ordered his men to advance at a sharp run down the hill and to charge the enemy.

When they had started, the soldiers could not stop themselves. Quicker and quicker they ran, until, when they reached the plain, they crashed into the Persian army with tremendous force.


They crashed into the Persian army with tremendous force

The shock was so great that the enemy gave way before it and was driven by the Athenians toward the sea or toward a small marsh that lay at one end of the plain.

But while both wings of the Greek army were victorious, the centre, which was weak, would have been beaten, had not Miltiades seen the danger and called back those who were pursuing the scattered Persian wings. Only after a fierce struggle was the centre of the Persian army also driven to the shore in utter confusion.

Those who escaped the sword of the Athenians tried to reach their ships, but seven of the vessels had been seized by the victors. In the struggle on the shore, Callimachus the polemarch was slain.

The battle of Marathon was won, and the glory of the victory was due to the prowess and skill of Miltiades.

No sooner was the victory certain, than the whole army cried that Philippides should race once again, but this time to the Acropolis, to tell Athens that by the help of Pan she was indeed saved.

"So Pheidippides flung down his shield,

Ran like fire once more; and the space 'twixt the Fennel-field

And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,

Till in he broke; 'Rejoice, we conquer.' Like wine through clay

Joy in his blood bursting his heart, he died—the bliss! . . .

So is Pheidippides happy for ever, the noble, strong man

Who could race like a god, bear the face of a god, whom a god loved so well.

He saw the land saved he had helped to save and was suffered to tell

Such tidings, yet never decline, but gloriously as he began

So to end gloriously—once to shout, thereafter be mute:

'Athens is saved!' Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed."