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The Battle of Marathon has inspired American and French revolutionary leaders; we find it in the 18th and 19th century literature

07 January 2011 / 14:01:12  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The Battle of Marathon - one of the most important battles in the European history - took place late in the summer of 490 BC. Athenians defeated the Persian army that was much larger in number and thus put an end to the first attempt of Persia to subjugate Greek cities - states. For the first time at Marathon the Greeks proved, even to themselves, that Persians could be defeated. And this victory most likely had its influence on the next Greco-Persian wars.

According to historians, that battle and the subsequent triumph of the Greeks became the milestone in the development of Western civilization as it was followed by heyday of Athenian culture and its great achievements in mathematics, drama, philosophy and astronomy.

The most popular legend about the Marathon is that the soldier Pheidippides was sent from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory and once he ran 42 kilometers and told the news to the Athenians he died from exhaustion. But there is another legend. It is older and dates back some 600 years after the battle. It says that Pheidippides was sent from Athens to Sparta to bring aid first. He was refused there and he ran to Marathon, and then he ran the distance from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory only after the battle in which he himself had fought.  

Many cultural events were organised to honour the anniversary of the battle. One of them is the exhibition The Battle of Marathon: Timeless Standard of Heroism, Enduring Source of Inspiration inaugurated in the lobby of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The exhibition has toured more than 23 capitals in Europe, Asia and Africa before arriving in Athens. Old books and engravings show the great impact of the Battle of Marathon over international ideological currents of the 18th and 19th centuries and the marathon recognition as a sports discipline. Here is what the curator and writer George Dolianitis told about the exhibition:

"My goal was to show how revolutionaries, intellectuals, poets and artists, especially those who lived and worked in the 18th century were inspired by the Battle of Marathon. One of them was Francisco de Miranda, the legendary Latin American revolutionary. He was the first person from the American continent who visited Greece and Marathon particularly two years before the French Revolution in which he participated. The other person is one of the most famous and misunderstood, I think, leaders of the French Revolution - the "incorruptible" but also the "terrorist" Robespierre. He said in his speech at the inaugural meeting in Paris in 1793 during a discussion about human rights that he would prefer to be the son of Aristides, to be grown up in Pritanion according to the rules of democracy rather than be the future successor of Xerxes born in the mud of the royal court to get a throne, decorated with the humiliation of people that will shine from public misery. A year later, shortly before the guillotine for his attempts to establish national holidays in France inspired by ancient Greek festivals, Robespierre said that nobody could talk indifferently about festivals in ancient Greece. The games were their most important element in which the power of the body, the experience and talent of poets and orators shone. But one could see something more than games. These were the spectators themselves. The people that defeated Asia and whose democratic virtues rose them above the whole of the humanity.  

The exhibition presents works of the ancient Greek writers Herodotus, Onomacrites, Thucydides, Plutarch and Lucian reissued during the French Revolution. George Dolianitis was able to collect and offer the visitors many books devoted to the heroic marathons.

"The claim that Greek culture has set up the marathons could be found in the book L'Héroïsme by Armand Renaud the cover of which pictures the famous sculpture Hoplites from Marathon, exposed in the Louvre from 1843. The Greek book Filostrat, Gymnastic was published in French in Paris back in 1858. Its last chapter mentions "the need to establish the Olympic Games in Greece." In this appendix the author supports the proposal of Evangelos Zapas for reviving the Olympic Games. This text was circulated in Paris five years before the birth of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of modern Olympic Games."

In 1788 Jean-Jacques Barthelemy published his remarkable study Voyage of Young Anacharsis in Greece. Because of it he would be elected a member of the French Academy the next year, the first of the French Revolution, which then was an exceptional achievement and recognition.

The second section of the exhibition Enduring Source of Inspiration is almost entirely devoted to Michel Breal - academician and Professor of Greek language at the University of Paris and initiator of the marathon. He had not only proposed a marathon to be organized but had provided the Silver Cup for the winner in 1896.

"Last but not least, I want to say that there were quite a lot of skeptics concerning the inclusion of the marathon in the Olympic disciplines. Pierre de Coubertin was not convinced ether. But Dimitris Vikelas – the President of the International Olympic Committee then – insisted. It is already clear that if the first modern Olympics were held in Paris the marathon would not become a sports discipline. Its recognition is due to the enthusiasm of the 75,000 Athenians who attended the finals of the first marathon on the pan Athenian Kalimarmaro Stadium."

The exhibition was inaugurated by the Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas and the Minister of Culture and Tourism Pavlos Geroulanos and will continue until January 20.

Tags: HistoryLiteratureMarathonBattleOlympic GamesMarathon runningRobespierre
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