Pheidippides and the marathon

What do we know about
Pheidippides and his relation to
the modern marathon?
According to Whittaker
• Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens
after the Athenian victory against the Persians
in the Battle of Marathon.
• Pheidippides run was important because the
Persians who escaped from Marathon were
sailing around to Athens.
• Pheidippides died on delivering the news of
According to Whittaker
Whittaker’s ability to know
• He wrote 2500 years after the event
• Does not cite any sources
• Degree in science but doesn’t appear to have
any expertise in history let alone ancient
Greek history
Whittaker’s motivation & audience
• Useless Facts – entertaining trivia
• “The Origin of the Marathon”
Whittaker - error
• Describes the distance between Marathon
and Athens as 42km.
• The route from Marathon to Athens run at the
first modern Olympics was only 40km.
Other Sources - Herodotus
• Herodotus does mention Pheidippides
accomplishing a great run.
• But in Herodotus’ account, Pheidippides run is
before the battle of Marathon, not after it.
• And Pheidippides runs from Athens to Sparta
and back (to seek Spartan help against the
Persians) not from Marathon to Athens.
According to Herodotus
Other Sources - Herodotus
“But the Athenians with all possible speed
marched away to the defence of their city, and
succeeded in reaching Athens before the
appearance of the barbarians... The barbarian
fleet arrived, and lay to off Phalerum, which was
at that time the haven of Athens; but after
resting awhile upon their oars, they departed
and sailed away to Asia." (Herodotus, Book VI)
Conflict between Whittaker & Herodotus
• Whittaker describes Pheidippides running
from Marathon to Athens after the Battle of
• Herodotus describes a journey undertaken by
Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta before the
Battle of Marathon.
• Neither source mentions the journey
described in the other source.
Herodotus - reliability
• “For myself, my duty is to report all that is
said; but I am not obliged to believe it all alike
– a remark which may be understood to apply
to my whole History.” (Herodotus, 7. 152)
• : “... according to the account which he
[Pheidippides] gave to the Athenians on his
return... [he] fell in with the god Pan, who
called him by his name...”
Other sources support Whittaker
• Plutarch (runner from Marathon to Athens
who dies on finishing)
• Lucian
• Browning
Browning - reliability
• Date: no closer to the events than Whittaker
• Poet – motivation is not necessarily to
determine historical truth
Lucian - reliability
• Date – lived and wrote in the second century
• Satirist and rhetorician
Herodotus vs. Plutarch
• Herodotus had a much greater ability to know;
spoke to participants
• Plutarch wrote in the first and second
centuries CE. Did have access to older sources.
Still, much room for misunderstanding.
“The romantic story about the runner who came
from Marathon to say that the Athenians had
been victorious and died from exhaustion, is
untrue. It originates in a combination of two
stories: Pheidippides' athletic achievement and
the swift Athenian march from Marathon to the
harbor. The famous legend can be found in
Plutarch of Chaeronea, The Glory of Athens.”
Jona Lendering

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