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’ wingèd-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.