Amerithon – (III)

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.

Oh glorious victory, glorious

the gambit of Miltiades,

the swan-breasted prows at last unbeached.

 

Gone is Datis who sacked Eretria,

and the traitor Hippias, too,

once 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 their stubborn oxen by the yoke.

 

Trembled we at the thought of gilded Medes,

and the sight of their arms at the precinct of Herakles,

yet see you those 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.

Come, 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.

 

And 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’ wing├Ęd-boots beneath,

fly quickly over the plains of poplars,

take the busy fosse through Brilittos,

 

follow the marble-carts down from the quarry

and sing thee all the while ‘Victory’

until thy breath is spent,

until the wide world knows how 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 then, when his haste was met

with, let’s call it apathy, for they were busy

 

butchering rams and waiting for the full moon.

Even more embarrassed must’ve been

that Athenian a hundred years hence

 

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.

This, 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