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My attention lurching back into childhood, I began chanting instruction from a short work of moral philosophy I’d always liked: “I think I can, I think I can,” I mumbled, quoting from The Little Engine That Could. Before long, however, the image became clear: a line drawing of an ancient Greek warrior. Of course, I said, pleased. The Greeks had inspired this event. In 490 BCE a soldier had run considerably more than 22 miles from battlefield to Athens to tell his people that the day was saved. The Greeks had whipped the invading Persianswhipped them good, even routed their huge army on the glorious field at Marathon. Then immediately after delivering the news, the story said, the runner-messenger collapsed and died. No wonder, I thought. Fighting hand-to-hand all day was poor pre-run strategy. Then my sense of whimsy stopped, and one of my major points of reference vividly returned: The idea that, with varying degrees of awareness, all of us were celebrating Western civilization itself. The Greeks, in fact, had invented it; and if the Persians had won that day, Western civilization would have ended, and not long after its startlingly fast commencement. So much had been on the line then: democracy, philosophy, art, orderly debate, and the synthesis of the religious, the aesthetic, and the athletic. Everything, in effect, had been a . t stake, and the Athenians seemed to have known that. Terribly outnumbered, they had won through courage and wit. Something, though, was written on that shirt ahead of me, and its message was going to be mine. Then I saw another detail: a Spartan helmet on the warrior’s headthe buzzed broom brush curving a line from crown to nape. There was a legend of letters above him and below him, and now I saw what it said: Phidippides Running Wear. Flushed with anger, I flew into a rage, my fury a lot more vivid now than fatigue had been. Phidippides truly had been a great Athenian day-runner. Many have even identified him with the runner from Marathon, but he most likely wasn’t.We really have no idea who that runner wasthe one who brought the good news to Athens. In the Persian Wars, however, Herodotus tells us that when the Athenians discovered the Persians were nearing their shores, Phidippides ran from Athens to Sparta for help some 75 miles in one day, then the same distance back the next. The Spartans told him they were in the middle of a festival and couldn’t help yet, not for several more days till the full moon came again. Herodotus does not tell us what Phidippides said back to them, but I know what I was thinking: “You don’t put,” I said, a shout roaring through me, “a damn Spartan helmet on the head of a fine Athenian warrior. I’m gonna burn you off this road!” And as I did, ghosts of old friends were with me. One of them was Aeschylus, the great tragedian who said that the only thing he wanted to be remembered for was that he had fought that day at Marathon. His brother Cynegirus had died there. In retreat now, the Persians were rushing back to their ships, and Cynegirus ran into the water after them. Leaping up, he grabbed the poop of a vessel to try to stop it from escaping, and one of the enemy lopped off his hand with a sword. Legs light and full of power again, I sped up, and as I whipped by the man, I sneered at his damned inaccurate T-shirt. No Spartan helmets were going to deck my friends’ heads. I still had a good way to go, but that didn’t matter. I was ready to fly, and I did, the last half-mile even in a wideopen dead run. I felt great. Tears of joy and mystery flowed from me as, fist thrusting celebratively high and heart pounding wildly, I crossed the finish line. Sobs of breath heaved out and back in me. I was so deeply moved I couldn’t speak, and that wasn’t true for just the first marathon.The eight others following in the next several years turned out to be, in their own and similar ways, as strong as the first one. But there had been more than glory in that mad dash home. There were also defiance of fear and presence of mind, a kind of wild clarity, for on that day in 490 BCE the Athenian leader Miltiades devised a new strategy. Vastly outnumbered by the Persian army of archers, the Athenians with their short swords lined up across the field of battle, and when a thick volley of arrows sailed skyward, Miltiades gave the order to charge, the Athenians ran straight ahead, and the cloud of arrows struck dirt well behind them. That happened several more times, and soon the battle was between sharp short swords and empty bows. That day, Herodotus tells us in The History \(University of the first “we know of to charge their enemy at a run and the first to face the sight of the Median dress and the men who wore it. For till then the Greeks were terrified even to hear the names of the Medes.” Then and now, no matter how oblique they seem, these stories are personal, and not just for me. James Hoggard is a poet, novelist, essayist,. translator, and Professor of English at Midwestern State University in fl’ichita Falls. His most recent books are Medea In Taos & Other Poems and Rain In A. Sunlit Sky. 2/15/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31