Song of Pheidippides

“I laid the foundations in my own heart,

and there came into being multitudes of created things…”


All down to shore, for the tide is out.

O glorious victory, glorious

the gambit of Miltiades,

swan-breasted prows at last unbeached.


Gone is Datis who sacked Eretria,

and the traitor Hippias, too,

the tyrant who was so cruel to us.


We’ve seven Persian ships outfitted

with good canvas and sheep, and many

pithoi of wine and Libyan salt.


In the foaming breakers fair Kynegeiros

has seized the sternpost of another

as fieldhands drag stubborn oxen by the yoke.


Trembled we at the thought of gilded Medes,

and at their arms at the precinct of Herakles.

See now their bow and slingmen grasping

jellied seaweed, now gripless in their task?


A thousand more routed to the marshlands

thanks to thee, Themistokles,

and to thee, just Aristides,


the double center bracing to the beaten zone.

Nor will Athens forget those who came to her aid,

brave Plataeans who held the left.


Henceforth will our heralds honor thee

at the Four-Year Festivals of our Fathers.

Now let us to the burial work,


unroot the abbatis of our camp

and make us several pyres of tall smoke.

Send for a clean knife washed in milk

to meet the throats of nineteen ewes.


Where is fleet-footed Pheidippides?

Here’s a task yet for an apprentice of Pan.

Make haste afield across the high fennel


and cry to Athens and all Attika

‘Victory! Victory! The Greeks are free!’

Oh Pheidippides, our day-long runner


who strides with Hermes’ wingèd-boots,

fly quickly over the plains of poplars,

take the busy fosse through Brilittos,


follow the marble-carts from the quarry

and sing thee all the while ‘Victory’

until thy breath is spent,

until the wide world knows we are free.


Lie quiet Plutarch. That is Plutarch’s account

from Heracleides of Pontus in the Moralia,

he says all this was done in full armor,


the courier, who has at least five names,

burst open the doors of a Romanesque Athens,

the poetry of ‘Hail! We are victorious’


squeezed from the last accordion note of his lungs.

Did no one offer him a bowl of water?

Except he ran, not from Marathon but Athens,


and ran to the Peloponnese

entreating the Spartans for aid.

How embarrassing when his haste was met with

let’s call it apathy, since they were busy


butchering rams and waiting for a full moon.

Even more embarrassed must’ve been

that Athenian a hundred years after


who ran to Persepolis asking for aid

against a Sparta thirsty for the entire Aegean.

I wonder how much dirt he stuffed in his pockets,


how much water from the wells of Athens

he poured out before the feet of Artaxerxes.

In his treatise, Plutarch considers the merits


of Athens’ glory, whether by her warriors or poets

she won fame, and concludes that

without the deeds at Artemisium and Salamis

there could be no tragedies from the likes of Thespis,


for it was in those places Plutarch says

Athens laid far-shining foundations of freedom.

That, of course, is a quote from Pindar.


Nor did those German scholars and archaeologists,

Winckelmann, Meyer, Burckhardt and the like

learn of Athens and her prolific deeds

by staring at the soros of dead Greeks piled in haste

but by reading the epigram of Simonides.

R. Charboneau

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