Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Battle of Marathon
By Denton Jaques Snider (1841–1925)
From ‘A Walk in Hellas’

BUT as I turn around a little thicket and emerge on the other side, behold! The whole valley, green with alternate patches of shrubs and grain-fields, gracefully narrow and curving, stretches out before me. Through it a silvery ribbon of water is winding brightly along: it is the river Marathon. Toward the further end of the vale is a pleasant village lying quietly between the hills in sunny repose: it is the village Marathon. In the distance through the opening between two mountains, following with the eye the course of the stream, I can behold a plain spreading out like a fan, and stretching along the blue sparkling rim of the sea: it is the plain of Marathon. The whole landscape sweeps into the vision at once from the high station; something struggles within the beholder, wings can be felt growing out of the sides: let us fly down into the vale without delay from this height….  1
  Just as I was prepared to start once more, a new appearance I notice coming down the road: it is the traveling merchant, with his entire store of goods laden on the back of a little donkey. His salute is friendly, his manner is quick and winning; we go along together toward the village, talking of many things. He tells me that he is from Oropus, a town on the Attic border famous in antiquity; that his name is Aristides, that he is going to Marathon, and will show me a place to stay during the night. There is something new and peculiar about this man, the like of which I have not yet seen in these rural portions of Greece. He walks with a quick, alert step, he has a shrewdness and brightness of intellect, a readiness and information which are remarkable in comparison to the ordinary intellectual gifts found in the country; his features and his physical bearing, his keen dark eye and nervous twitch, distinguish him in the most striking manner from the stolid Albanian peasant. He is a Greek of pure blood, he tells me: manifestly we have met with a new and distinctive type.  2
  I enter the village of Marathon with Aristides, who brings me to the chief wine-shop, where lodgings are to be had as well as refreshing beverage. First a thimbleful of mastic, a somewhat strong alcoholic drink, with my merchant, who then leaves me and goes to his business. A number of people are in the wine-shop; they are the Albanian residents of the village: all look curiously at the new arrival. The merchant soon passed around the word that I was from America—a fact which I had imparted to him on the way. But of America they had very little notion. The strangest sort of curiosity peeped out of their rather small eyes: the news spread rapidly through the town that a live American had arrived; what that was, they all hastened to see. So they continued to pour in by twos and threes till the spacious wine-shop was nearly full. Not a word they said, but walked along in front of the table where I sat, and stared at me; they kept their kerchiefed heads drawn down in their shaggy capotes, being dressed in tight breeches like close-fitting drawers, with feet thrust into low shoes, which run out to a point at the toes and curl over. Thus they move before me in continuous procession; when they had taken a close survey of me, they would sit down on a bench, roll a cigarette in paper, strike fire from a flint, and begin to smoke. A taciturn, curious, but not unfriendly crowd.—I called for recinato.  3
  Presently a man clad in European garments appeared among them, and in courteous manner addressed me, talking good Greek but very bad French: it was the village schoolmaster, whom the people familiarly called Didaskali. I hailed him joyfully as a fellow-craftsman in a foreign land, and lost no time in announcing to him that I too was a schoolmaster in my country. Professional sympathy at once opened all the sluices of his heart: we were friends on the spot. He was not an Albanian, but a Greek born in the Turkish provinces; I do not think he was as bright as my merchant Aristides, though he was probably better educated. I took a stroll with him around the town; he sought to show me every possible kindness, with the single exception of his persistency in talking French. One neat little cottage I noticed: it was the residence of the Dikastes or village judge; but the most of the houses were low hovels, with glassless windows, often floorless. Women were shy, hiding forehead and chin in wrappage at the approach of a stranger,—who perhaps was too eager in trying to peer into their faces, as if in search of some visage lost long ago in this valley. Still human nature is here, too, in Marathon; for I caught a young girl giving a sly peep through the window after we had passed, which she had pretended to close when she saw the stranger approaching.  4
  But it is growing dark; I have done a pretty good day’s work; I must put off the rest of the sight-seeing till to-morrow. Only half a mile below is the Marathonian plain, which one can see from the village, but it must now be turned over to darkness. At my request the Didaskali goes back with me to the wine-shop, when he excuses himself, promising soon to return. There I had a supper which was eminently satisfactory after a day’s walk: five eggs fried in goat’s butter, large quantities of black bread, and abundance of recinato at one cent a glass,—good-sized glasses at that.  5
  While I sat there eating, the people began to assemble again. The Papas, the village priest, came and listened,—the untrousered man, with dark habit falling down to his heels like a woman’s dress, and with long raven hair rolled up in a knot on the back of his head, upon which knot sat his high, stiff ecclesiastical cap; the Dikastes or village judge came,—an educated man, who had studied at the University of Athens, and who dressed in European fashion, possessing, in noticeable contrast to the rest of the Marathonians, the latest style of Parisian hat; a lame shopkeeper came, a Greek of the town; bright, full of mockery, flattering me with high titles—in order to get me to hire his mules for my journey, as I had good reason to suspect; finally the schoolmaster and the traveling merchant appeared again, both in excellent humor, and expecting a merry evening. There was no doctor present: I asked for him; they told me that there was none in the valley, though it is scourged with malarial fever in summer; one man in particular complained of the health of the place. All the representative citizens of Marathon were before me, looking at me eating in the wine-shop on a wooden table. Some one asked me about my native language. “This is the language that I understand best,” said I, raising a mouthful of egg and bread to my lips: “you seem to understand it too.” This jest, for whose merit I do not make any high claims, caused all the Albanians to laugh, and set the whole wine-shop in a festive mood. It is manifest that this audience is not very difficult to please.  6
  Finally my long repast was finished; long both on account of the work done and on account of the continued interruptions caused by question and answer. The people still held out; there they were before me, more curious than ever, now with a laughing look on account of that one sterile jest,—laughing out of the corner of the eye, and with head already somewhat drawn out of the shaggy capote from expectation. What next? I was on the soil of illustrious Marathon; expectant gazes were centred upon me: what had I, as a true American, to do for the honor of my country? My duty was clear from the start: I must make a speech. I should have been unfaithful to my nationality had I not done so at Marathon. Accordingly I shoved the table aside, pulled out my bench, and in the full happiness of hunger and thirst satisfied—perhaps, too, a little aglow with the golden recinato—I began to address them as follows:—
          Andres Marathonioi—Ye men of Marathon—
  At this point I confess I had to laugh myself, looking into that solid Albanian stare of fifty faces; for the echo of the tremendous oath of Demosthenes, in which he swears by the heroes of Marathon, rung through my ears, and made the situation appallingly ludicrous. Still, in spite of my laugh, you must know that I was in deep earnest and full of my theme; moreover, there were at least four persons before me who could understand both my Greek and my allusions. As to my Greek, I affirm that Demosthenes himself would have understood it had he been there,—though he might have criticized the style and pronunciation. But I resumed:—

          Ye men of Marathon, I never was gladder in my life than I am to be with you to-night. I crossed over the mountains on foot from Stamata; every step that I took was lighter with thinking of Marathon. When from yonder summit I first caught a glimpse of your village and valley, and gave a distant peep into the plain beyond to the sea, I had to shed tears of joy. Your name is indeed the greatest, the most inspiring in all history. In every age it has been the mighty rallying-cry of freedom; nations oppressed, on hearing it, have taken hope and risen, smiting to earth their tyrants. It has been the symbol of courage to the few and weak against the many and strong; the very utterance of the name inspires what is highest and noblest in the human breast,—courage, devotion, liberty, nationality. Under a banner inscribed with that word Marathon, our Western civilization has heroically marched and fought its battle: here was its first outpost, here its first and greatest triumph,—and the shout of that triumph still re-echoes and will go on re-echoing forever through history. But Marathon is not merely here; it has traveled around the world along with man’s freedom and enlightenment. Among all civilized peoples the name is known and cherished; it is familiar as a household word,—nay, it is a household prayer. In the remote districts of America I have often heard it uttered—and uttered with deepest admiration and gratitude. There, in my land, thousands of miles from here, I first learned the name of Marathon in a log schoolhouse by the side of the primitive forest; it fell from the lips of a youth who was passionately speaking of his country. It had in its very sound, I can still recollect, some spell, some strange fascination, for it seemed to call up, like an army of spirits, the great heroes of the past along with the most intense feelings of the soul. There you can hear it among the people in their little debates; also you can hear it from great orators in senate halls. Marathon, I repeat, is the mightiest, most magical name in history, by which whole nations swear when they march out in defense of their Gods, their families, and their freedom. By it too they compare their present with their past, and ever struggle upwards to fulfill what lies prophetically in their great example. Now I am in the very place: I can hardly persuade myself that it is not a dream, and that you are not shadows flitting here before me. In that log schoolhouse I did not even dare dream of this moment; but it has arrived. I have already had to-day a glimpse where the old battle-field reposes in the hazy distance; to-morrow I shall visit it, run over it, spend the whole day upon it, looking and thinking; for I desire to stamp its features and its spirit into my very brain, that I may carry Marathon across the ocean to my land, and show it to others who may not be able to come here and see it for themselves. Nor shall I refrain from confessing to you a secret within me: I cannot help thinking that I have been here before; everything looks familiar to me; I beheld yon summit long ago,—the summit of old Kotroni; I have marched down the Marathonian stream as I marched to-day; I seem to be doing over again the same things that I have done here before; I made a speech on this spot ages ago in Greek,—a much better one, I think, than I am now making. And further let me tell you what I believe: I believe that I too fought along at Marathon, that I was one of those ten thousand Athenian soldiers that rushed down yonder hillside and drave the Oriental men into the sea. I can now behold myself off there charging down a meadow toward a swamp, amid the rattle of arms and the hymn of battle, with shield firmly grasped and with spear fiercely out-thrust,—on the point of which, spitted through and through, I can feel a quivering Persian.
  At this strange notion, and still more at the accompanying gesture made in a charging attitude, the mirthful Greeks could hold in no longer, but burst suddenly into a loud and prolonged laugh, in which the Albanians joined; they all laughed, laughed inextinguishably like the blessed gods on Olympus, and the whole wine-shop was filled with wild merriment. Whereat the speech was brought to a close which may be modestly called a happy one: thus let it be now.  9
  As soon as the speech had come to an end, I rose and looked out of the wine-shop; desiring to take a short stroll before going to bed, in order to catch a breath of fresh air, and to see a Greek evening in the Marathonian vale. Though long after sunset, it appeared light out of doors everywhere; that vague flicker from the sky it was which gives a mystical indefiniteness to the things of nature, and produces such a marked contrast to the clear plastic outlines of daytime. The schoolmaster went along, and we walked up the stream of Marathon, which often gurgled into a momentary gleam over the pebbles, and then fell back into darkness. The mountains on each side of us were changed into curious fantastic shapes which played in that subtle light; caprice of forms now ruled the beautiful Greek world, as begotten in the sport of a Northern fancy; Hecate with her rout of witches and goblins had broken loose from her dark caverns in the earth, and was flitting across glimmering patches of twilight up and down the hillsides. Below the peaks, the dells and little seams of valleys running athwart one another were indicated by lines of darkness, so that their whole figure came to resemble a many-legged monster crawling down the slant; while above on the summits was the dreamy play of light with the dance of the fairies. But these shapes let us shun in Greece: we may allow them to sport capriciously before us for a few moments in the evening, though in truth they belong not here. Let us then hasten back to the wine-shop and await to-morrow the return of Phœbus Apollo, the radiant Greek god, who will slay these Pythons anew with his shining arrows, and put to flight all the weird throng, revealing again our world in clear clean-cut outlines bounded in this soft sunlight.  10
  When we arrived there, we still found the priest,—the long-haired, dark-stoled Papas,—though nearly everybody else had gone home. He began to catechize me on the subject of religion, particularly its ceremonies; of which examination I, knowing my weakness, tried to keep shy. But he broke out directly upon me with this question: Were you ever baptized? Therein a new shortcoming was revealed to myself, for I had to confess that I actually did not know; I did not recollect any such event myself, and I had always forgotten to ask my father whether the rite had ever been performed over me when an infant. The priest thought that this was bad, very bad—kakon, polù kakon was his repeated word of disapprobation; then he asked me if I never intended to be baptized. This question, here at Marathon, drove me to bed; I at once called for a light. But it was only one of the frequent manifestations that will be observed in modern Greece, of a tendency to discuss religious subtleties. The ecclesiastical disputes of the Byzantine Empire—Homoousian and Homoiousian—will often to-day be brought up vividly to the mind of the traveler. Especially the ceremonies of the Eastern Church are maintained with much vigor and nice distinction in a very fine-spun, and consequently very thin, tissue of argumentation.  11
  After excusing myself from the Papas, who in company with me performs a slight inner baptism of himself with a glass of recinato as the final ceremony of the day, I ask to be conducted to my quarters, and am led to an adjoining building up-stairs. The room is without furniture. In one corner of it lies a mattress covered with coarse sheeting and a good quilt, on the floor—for in Greece bedsteads are not much in vogue: they are considered to be in the way, and to take up unnecessary room; so the bedclothes are spread out on the floor along the hearth every evening, and packed away every morning. This bed was considered a particularly good one; intended for strangers who might visit Marathon, and who had to pay for it two francs a night. Indeed, during a great portion of the year in this hot climate, the bed is not only unnecessary but a nuisance, in which one can only roll and swelter; hence the family bed has no such place in the Greek as in the Northern household.  12
  The light which is left me is also worthy of a passing notice. It consists of a cup two-thirds filled with water; on the water lies half an inch of olive oil; on the surface of the oil is floating a small piece of wood, to which a slender wick is attached reaching into the oil; the upper end of this wick is lighted, and painfully throws its shadowy glimmer on the walls. A truly pristine light,—going back probably to old Homer, thinks the traveler, by which the blind bard could have sat and hymned his lines to eager listeners around the evening board; an extremely economical light, burning the entire night without any diminution of the oil apparently, and giving a proportionate illumination; it is a hard light to read by, still harder to write by. There is no tallow in the country for candles; the little wax which is produced is used for tapers in the churches. There is no desk or chair in the room; one must write on the floor in some way, if he wishes to send a line to the dear ones, or take a note.  13
  Accordingly the traveler goes to bed, props himself upon his elbow, opens his book on the floor near the light,—but the eyes swim for a moment, the head totters, back it falls upon the mattress: that is the end of one day’s adventure; he will rapidly descend into Lethe, where, though in dream she fight the great battle over again alongside of Miltiades at one moment, and the next moment argue the question of baptism with the Papas, he will lie in sweet unconscious repose, till the Sun-god, rising from his bath in the ocean, stretch his long golden fingers through the window, gently open the eyelids, and whisper to the slumberer, who will hear though half awake: “Rise, it is the day of Marathon.” Thereupon the traveler leaps from his couch,—for he knows that it is the voice of a god, and he dares not disobey: if he have any winged sandals, he now puts them on, for to-day he will have to make an Olympian flight; if he have that staff of Hermes with which the Argus-slayer conducts departed souls out of Hades and into it, he will seize the same and sally forth; for to-day he will have to call up from the past many mighty spirits,—those colossal shades which still rise at Marathon.  14
  When I came out of my high-sounding chamber in the morning, I met my good host with a ewer of water, which he proceeded to pour upon my hands for the purpose of ablution; unpoetical wash-basins do not exist, or were refused me, perchance on account of my Homeric habits. After a breakfast quite like the supper on the previous evening, I begin the march for the battle of Marathon, having filled a small haversack with a piece of black bread and some cheese for luncheon, and having slung around my shoulder a canteen of recinato. Nor do I forget my chief weapons,—two books and the maps, which I hold tightly under my arm. Thus equipped, I tread along,—with becoming modesty I trust, yet with no small hopes of victory.  15
  But there is no hurry: let the gait still be leisurely. As I pass down the road through the village which is spread out on the banks of the stream, I meet many an acquaintance made the evening before at the wine-shop; each recognizes me by a slight nod of the head, with a pleasant smile. All of them seemed still to be laughing at the idea of my being an ancient hoplite now revisiting former scenes of activity. Such friendly greeting on every side, together with the genial sunshine of the morning, puts the traveler into a happy mood, slightly transcendental perhaps. Whatever he now does is an adventure worth recording to future ages; whatever he now sees is a divine revelation.  16
  Passing along to a shelving place in the stream, he beholds the washers: one hundred women or more, at work with furious muscle, pounding, scouring, rubbing, rinsing the filth-begrimed fustanellas of their husbands, brothers, sons. There is a strength, vigor, and I should say anger in their motions, that they seem animated by some feeling of revenge against those dirty garments, and in my opinion with good reason. One Amazonian arm is wielding a billet of wood, quite of the weight and somewhat resembling the shape of the maul with which the American woodman drives wedges into the gnarled oak. Upon a flat smooth stone are laid the garments, boiled, soaped, and steaming, when they are belabored by that maul. None of our modern machinery is seen; even the wash-board is very imperfect, or does not appear at all. Somehow in this wise the ancient Nausicaas must have blanched their linen at the clear Marathonian stream; one will unconsciously search now with eager glances for the divine Phæacian maid, to see whether she be not here still. At present the washers are strewn along the marble edge of the water for quite a distance,—dressed in white, bare-armed, mostly bare-footed and bare-legged, in the liveliest, fiercest muscular motion, as if wrestling desperately with some fiend. Look at the struggling, wriggling, smiting mass of mad women,—Mænads under some divine enthusiasm,—while the sides of old Kotroni Mountain across the river re-echo with the thud of their relentless billets. A truly Marathonian battle against filth, with this very distinct utterance: “For one day at least we are going to be clean in Marathon.”  17
  But it is impossible to look at the washers all the time, however fascinating the view; indeed, I had almost forgotten that I am on my way to the field of the great battle—which does not speak well for an ancient hoplite. I still pass along the stream, with its white lining of marble through which flows the current pellucid;—what! are the eyes deceived, or is the water actually diminishing in the channel? Yes, not only has it diminished, but now a few steps further it has wholly vanished, sunk away into the earth, leaving merely a dry rocky bed for the wildest torrent of the storm. Thus that crisp joyous mountain stream which gave us such delight in its dance down the hill through the valley, when we looked at it coming to Marathon, now disappears with its entire volume of water, to rise again in the marshes beyond, or perchance in the sea….  18
  So one saunters down that short neck which attaches the village to the plain, joyously attuned by the climate, and trying to throw himself back into that spirit which created the old Greek mythology, determined to see here what an ancient Greek would see. Nature begins to be alive; she begins to speak strange things in his soul, and to reveal new shapes to his vision; an Oread skips along, the mountain with him, while the Naiads circle in a chorus round the neighboring fountain. Such company he must find if he truly travel in Greece. Not as a sentimental play of the fancy, not as a pretty bauble for the amusement of a dreary hour, but as a vital source of faith and action, as a deep and abiding impulse to the greatest and most beautiful works, will the loyal traveler seek to realize within himself these antique forms.  19
  But that shape at yonder spring drawing water—what can it be? Clearly not a Naiad: dark eyes flashing out from blooming features that lie half hidden among her hair falling down carelessly on both sides of her forehead, a short dress drooping over her luxuriant frame in romantic tatters of many colors, under which the bosom swells half exposed, cause the white water-nymphs to vanish into viewless air, and leave a seductive image behind, which will long accompany the traveler in spite of himself; rising at intervals and dancing through his thoughts even at Marathon. It is the Wallachian maiden who has come down from her mountain lodge for water, which in two large casks she puts on the back of a donkey. A wild beauty, fascinating on account of wildness, not devoid of a certain coy coquetry, she seems not displeased to have attracted the marked attention of that man in Frankish garments who is passing along the road; for her dark eyes shoot out new sparkles from under the falling tresses, tempered with subdued smiles. She has nothing to do with the villagers of Marathon: she is a child of the mountains; she belongs to a different world. Slowly she passes out of sight with her charge into the brushwood; looking back at the last step, she stoops and plucks a flower; then she springs up and vanishes among the leaves.  20
  It is a slight disappointment, perhaps; but look now in the opposite direction, and you will behold in the road going toward the plain a new and very delightful appearance: three white robes are there moving gracefully along through the clear atmosphere, and seem to be set in high relief against the hilly background. Three women—evidently of the wealthier people of the village, for their garments are of stainless purity and adjusted with unusual care,—appear to be taking a walk at their leisure down the valley. Their dress is a long loose gown flowing freely down to the heels; all of it shows the spotless white except a narrow pink border. Over this dress is worn a woolen mantilla, also white with a small border. At the view there arises the feeling which will often be experienced in other localities of Greece with even greater intensity: the feeling of a living plastic outline which suggests its own copy in marble. No costume can possibly be so beautiful and so distinct in this atmosphere; there they move along, as if statues should start from their pedestals and walk down from their temples through the fields. Why the white material was taken by the old artists for sculpture, becomes doubly manifest now: here is the living model in her fair drapery; yonder across the river is the marble, Pentelic marble, cropping out of the hills. Unite the twain: they belong together; both have still a mute longing to be joined once more in happy marriage. I have not the least doubt that the ancient Marathonian woman in the age of the battle paced through this valley in a similar costume, producing similar sensations in this bluish transparent air.  21
  But the three shapes draw near; one will look into their faces as they pass: they are Albanian women,—not beautiful by any means, not with features corresponding to their costumes, you will say. Therefore we must add something very essential to bring back that ancient Greek woman; for she had brought body into the happiest harmony with dress, if we may judge of those types which have come down to us. Still this is a delightful vision of antique days, passing with stately gait through the clear sunlit landscape;—forms of white marble in contrast to the many-colored tatters of the Wallachian maiden, who, having no sympathy of dress with the climate, shows that she does not belong to Marathon.  22
  Now we have arrived—if you have succeeded in keeping up with me—at the point where the bed of the river passes into the plain, in full view of which we at present stand. It sweeps around almost crescent-shaped, like the side of a vast amphitheatre cut into the mountains: the line from tip to tip of the arc is said to measure about six miles. That line, seen from the spot where we now are, has a beautiful blue border of sparkling water,—the Euripus, which separates the mainland from the island Eubœa. There is upon the plain but one tree worthy of the name,—a conifer which rises strange and solitary about in the centre of it, and looks like a man, with muffled head in soldier’s cloak standing guard, still waiting for some enemy to come out of the East. The plain is at present largely cultivated, vineyards and fields of grain are scattered through it, but the ancient olives are wanting. At the northern horn of the crescent is a large morass running quite parallel to the sea; a smaller one is at the southern horn. Into the plain two villages debouch, both having roads from Athens. There is a beautiful shore gradually shelving off into deep water with a gravel bottom; here the traveler will sit long and look at the waves breaking one after another upon the beach. This coast, however, is but a narrow strip for several miles; just behind it lies amid the grass the deceptive marsh, not visible at any considerable distance. This morass and its conformation will explain the great miracle of the battle: namely, its decisiveness, notwithstanding the enormous disparity in the numbers of the two contending armies. For the morass was the treacherous enemy lurking in ambuscade at the rear and under the very feet of the Persians.  23
  In regard to the battle of Marathon we have only one trustworthy account: this is given by Herodotus, the Father of History. It is short, and omits much that we would like to know, indeed must know in order to comprehend the battle. Still, a view of the ground will suggest the general plan, with the help of the old historian’s hints, and of one contemporary fact handed down by the traveler Pausanias. The battle was a fierce attack in front, aided by the enemy in the rear,—the morass, which had a double power. It on the one hand prevented the foe from getting assistance, which could only come from the ships by a long detour round the narrow strip of coast easily blocked by a few soldiers. On the other hand, broken or even unbroken lines being forced into the swampy ground would become hopelessly disordered, and would have enough to do fighting the enemy under their feet.  24
  Imagine now this line of coast with the vessels drawn up sternwards along the shelving bank; then comes the narrow strip of shore on which a portion of the Persian army lies encamped; then follows the marshy tract, then the plain upon which another portion of the Persian army is drawn up; still further and beyond the plain is the slope of the mountain, where with good vision you can see the Athenians arrayed in order of battle. At the mouth of one of the two villages, doubtless near the modern hamlet of Vrana, they have taken position; since they could easily pass round the road and protect the other valley, if a movement should be made in that direction by the enemy. Single-handed of all the States of Greece they stand here; they had sent for aid to the Spartans, who refused to come on account of a religious festival. Still the suspicion lives, and will forever live through history, that this was a mere pretense; that the Spartans would gladly have seen their rival destroyed, though at the peril of Greek freedom.  25
  But who are these men filing silently through the brushwood of Mount Kotroni, in leather helmets and rude kilts, hurrying forward to the aid of the Athenians? They are the Platæans, a small community of Bœotia,—in all Greece the only town outside of Attica that has the courage and the inclination to face the Persian foe. One thousand men are here from that small place,—a quiet rural village lying on the slopes of Kithæron: the whole male population, one is forced to think, including every boy and old man capable of bearing arms, is in that band; for the entire community could hardly number more than three or four thousand souls. Yet here they are to the last man: one almost imagines that some of the women must be among them in disguise,—as to-day the Greek women of Parnassus often handle the gun with skill, and have been known to fight desperately in the ranks alongside of their fathers and brothers. But think of what was involved in that heroic deed: the rude villagers assemble when the messenger comes with the fearful news that the Persian had landed just across at Marathon; in the market-place they deliberate, having hurried from their labor in the fields, in coarse rustic garb with bare feet slipped into low sandals; uncouth indeed they seem, but if there ever were men on the face of this earth, they were in Platæa at that hour. No faint-hearted words were there, we have the right to assume—no half-hearted support; no hesitation: every man takes his place in the files, the command to march is given, and they all are off. Nor can we forget the anxiety left behind in the village: the Greek wife with child on her arm peers out of the door, taking a last look at the receding column winding up Kithæron, and disappearing over its summit; there is not a husband, not a grown-up son remaining in Platæa. What motive, do you ask? I believe that these rude Greek rustics were animated by a profound instinct which may be called not only national but world-historical,—the instinct of hostility to the Orient and its principle, in favor of political autonomy and individual freedom. Also another ground of their conduct was gratitude toward the Athenians who had saved them from the tyranny of Thebes, their overbearing neighbor: now their benefactors are in the sorest need; patriotism and friendship alike command; there can be no hesitation. So those thousand men on a September day wind through the pines and arbutes of Kotroni with determined tread, are received with great joy by the Athenians, and at once take their position on the left wing ready for the onset. Let any village in the world’s history match the deed! Well may the Athenians after that day join the Platæans with themselves in public prayers to the gods in whose defense both have marched out.  26
  Scarcely have these allies arrived, we may suppose, when the moment of battle is at hand. Doubtless it was the most favorable moment, and as such eagerly seized by Miltiades: why it was so favorable, no one at this late day can know. Perhaps the much-feared Persian cavalry were absent on a foraging expedition; perhaps the enemy were negligent, or were embarking; or as Herodotus says, because it was Miltiades’s day of command,—alas, who can tell? At any rate the order to charge is given; down the declivity the Greeks rush, over the plain for a mile. The deep files on the wings of their army bear everything before them; but the centre is defeated for a time and driven back, for it had apparently been weakened to strengthen the wings. Such is the first fierce attack.  27
  Now comes the second stage of the struggle, the battle at the marshes. The front of the enemy, pressed by the Greeks, and consolidated into a mass of panic-stricken fugitives, bore the rear backwards; thus the whole hostile army pushed itself into the swamp. Whoever has seen a regiment of infantry in a morass, reeling, struggling with broken lines, sinking under their equipments, soldiers extricating one foot only to sink deeper with the other, cursing their stars and damning the war,—that is, a complete loss of all discipline, and a sort of despair on account of the new victorious enemy underfoot,—such a person can imagine the condition of a large part of the Persian army after that attack. The Greek lines stood on the edge of the marsh, and smote the struggling disordered mass with little or no loss to themselves. They also prevented succor from coming round the narrow tongue of coast till the battle at the morass was over, wholly victorious for the Greeks.  28
  The narrative of Herodotus omits entirely this second stage of the conflict, and modern historians have slurred it over with little or no separate attention. Thus, however, the whole battle is an unaccountable mystery. Fortunately this struggle at the morass and its result are vouched for by an authority at once original and contemporaneous,—an authority even better than Herodotus, who was a foreigner from Asia Minor. It was the picture in the Pœkile at Athens painted not long after the battle. Of the details of that picture we have several important hints from ancient authors. Says Pausanias, evidently speaking of its leading motive, it shows “the barbarians fleeing and pushing one another into the swamp.” There can be no doubt that this was the salient and decisive fact of the battle: the barbarians fled and pushed one another into the swamp. By the fierce onset of the Greeks the front lines of the enemy were driven upon the rear, and the whole multitude was carried by its own weight into the treacherous ground, numbers only increasing the momentum and the confusion. Such was the conception of the artist painting the battle before the eyes of the very men who had participated in it; such therefore we must take to be the contemporary Athenian conception. The picture may well be considered to be the oldest historical document we have concerning the fight, and as even better evidence than the foreign historian. The ground, moreover, as we look at it to-day, tells the same story. A skillful military commander of the present time, other things being equal, would make the same plan of attack. Thus too the great miracle of the battle—the defeat of so many by so few, and the small loss of the victors—is reasonably cleared up.  29
  The third stage of the conflict was the battle at the ships, while the enemy were embarking. This, to be successful, had to take place partly upon the narrow strip of shore to which the Greeks must penetrate at a disadvantage. In their zeal they rushed into the water down the shelving pebbly bottom in order to seize the fleet; still the faithful traveler visiting the scene will, after their example, wade far out into the sea. Seven vessels were taken out of six hundred, the enemy making good their embarkation. Many Greeks here suffered the fate of brave Kynegeirus, brother of the poet Æschylus, who, seizing hold of a vessel, had his arms chopped off by a Persian battle-axe. In general, the Greeks were repulsed at the battle of the ships; but this third stage, since the enemy were leaving, is the least important of the whole conflict.  30
  Not a word does Herodotus say about the numbers engaged on either side: a strange, unaccountable omission. Yet he must have conversed with men who fought at the battle,—with the leaders possibly,—and he gives with the greatest care the loss on both sides,—6,400 Persians, 192 Athenians. The omission leads to the conjecture that he could not find out the true figures; yet why not at Athens, where they must have been known? It is a puzzle: let each one solve it by his own conjecture, which is likely to be as good as anybody else’s.  31
  Ancient writers much later than the battle give to the Persians from 210,000 to 600,000 men; to the Athenians and Platæans 10,000 men. Modern writers have sought through various sources to lessen this immense disparity, by increasing the Athenian and diminishing the Persian numbers. Indeed, Marathon became the topic of the wildest exaggeration for the Greek orators and rhetoricians: 300,000 were said to have been slain by less than 10,000; Kynegeirus, already mentioned, is declared to have had first the right hand cut off, then the left hand, then to have seized the vessel with his teeth like a wild animal; Callimachus, a brave general who was slain, is represented to have been pierced by so many weapons that he was held up by their shafts. It was the great commonplace of Athenian oratory; thence it has passed to be the world’s commonplace. Justly, in my opinion: for it is one of the supreme world-events, and not merely a local or even national affair; thus the world will talk of its own deeds. Do not imagine with the shallow-brained detractor that rhetoric has made Marathon; no, Marathon rather has made rhetoric, among other greater things.  32
  Far more interesting than these rhetorical exaggerations of a later time are the contemporary accounts which come from the people and show their faith,—the legends of supernatural appearances which took part in the fight. For there was aught divine, the people must believe, at work visibly upon the battle-field that day. Epizelus, a soldier in the ranks, was stricken blind, and remained so during life, at the vision of a gigantic warrior with a huge beard, who passed near him and smote the enemy. Theseus the special Athenian hero, Hercules the universal Greek hero, were there and seen of men; no doubt of it, the heroes all did fight along, with very considerable effect too. Nor were the gods absent: the god Pan, regardless of slighted divinity, met the courier Phidippides on the way to Sparta for aid, and promised his divine help if the Athenians would neglect him no longer. Finally, Athena herself, the protecting goddess of the city, in helm and spear strode there through the ranks, shaking her dreadful ægis, visible to many—nay, to all—Athenian eyes.  33
  Even a new hero appears, unheard of before; in rough rustic garb, armed with a plowshare he smote the Oriental foe who had invaded his soil. After the battle he vanishes: who was he? On consulting an oracle, the Athenians were merely told to pay honors to the Hero Echetlus. On the whole the most interesting and characteristic of all these appearances—the rustic smiter he is, who reveals the stout rude work put in by the Attic peasant on that famous day. Indeed, all who fell were buried on the sacred ground of the battle, and were worshiped as heroes with annual rites. Still in the time of the traveler Pausanias, about a hundred and fifty years after Christ, the air was filled at night with the blare of trumpets, the neighing of steeds, and the clangor of battle. Says he: “It is dangerous to go to the spot for the express purpose of seeing what is going on; but if a man finds himself there by accident without having heard about the matter, the gods will not be angry.” Greece was, at the period of Pausanias, extinct in Roman servitude; yet the clash of that battle could be heard—loud, angry, even dangerous—over six hundred years after the event. Still the modern peasant hears the din of combat in the air sometimes; I asked him, he was a little shy of the matter; the noise, however, has become to him comparatively feeble,—still there is a noise. But long will it be, one may well think, before that noise wholly subsides.  34
  So the heroes and gods fought along with the Athenians at Marathon, visible, almighty, and in wrath. Thus it has been delivered to us on good authority: thus I, for one, am going to believe, for the event shows it; far otherwise had been the story if the gods had not fought along on that day. There would have been no Marathonian victory, no Athens, no Greek literature, for us at least. But now Theseus, the deserving hero, will have a new temple, beautiful, enduring, at this moment nearly perfect, after almost twenty-four centuries. Athena also will have a new temple, larger and more beautiful than any heretofore, still the unattained type of all temples; it shall be called, in honor of the virgin goddess, the Parthenon. Attic song will now burst forth, Attic art too, celebrating just this Marathon victory; that long line of poets, orators, philosophers, historians, will now appear, all because the gods fought along at Marathon….  35
  The most prominent object on the plain of Marathon is an artificial mound, perhaps thirty feet high at present; upon it is growing some low brushwood. It is generally considered to be the tomb of the 192 Athenians who were buried on the battlefield, and had there a monument on which their tribe and their names were written. To the summit of this mound the traveler will ascend and sit down; he will thank the brambles growing upon it that they have preserved it so well in their rude embrace from the leveling rains. He may reasonably feel that he is upon the rampart which separates the East from the West. Yonder just across this narrow strait are the mountains of Eubœa, snow-capped and loftily proud; yet they stooped their heads to the Persian conqueror. All the islands of the sea submitted; Asia Minor submitted. But here upon this shore, defiantly facing the East, was the first successful resistance to the Oriental principle; its supporters could hardly do more than make a landing upon these banks, when down from the mountains swept fire and whirlwind, burning them up, driving them into the sea. Here then our West begins or began in space and time,—we might say upon this very mound; that semicircular sweep of hills yonder forms the adamantine wall which shut out Orientalism. Regard their shape once more: they seem to open like a huge pair of forceps, only in order to close again and press to death.  36
  Strange is the lot of the men buried here—the unconscious instruments of a world’s destiny—nameless except two or three possibly. Yet they had some mighty force in them and back of them: one is quite inclined to think that they must have remotely felt in some dim far-off presentiment what lay in their deed for the future, and that such feeling nerved their arms to a hundredfold intensity. Here upon the mound this question comes home to us before all others: What is man but that which he is ready to die for? Such is his earthly contradiction: if he have that for which he is willing to give his life, then he has a most vital, perdurable energy; but if he have naught for which he would die, then he is already dead, buried ignobly in a tomb of flesh.  37
  But what is this Greek principle which Marathon has preserved for us against the Orient? It is not easy to be formulated in words, to anybody’s complete satisfaction. Politically, it is freedom; in art, it is beauty; in mind, it is philosophy; and so on through many other abstract predicables. Perhaps we may say that the fundamental idea of Greece is the self-development of the individual in all its phases,—the individual State, the individual city or town, the individual man. Henceforth the task is to unfold the germ which lies within, removed from external trammels; to give to the individual a free, full, harmonious development. Thus will be produced the great types of States, of men, of events; still further, these types will then be reproduced by the artist in poetry, in marble, in history, and in many other forms. This second production or reproduction is indeed, of all Grecian things, the most memorable.  38
  The battle of Marathon is itself a type, and has always been considered by the world as a supreme type of its kind, representing a phase of the spiritual. Athens from this moment has the spirit of which the Marathonian deed is only an utterance. Soon that spirit will break forth in all directions, producing new eternal types, just as Marathon is such a type in its way. Athenian plastic art, poetry, philosophy, are manifestations of this same spirit, and show in a still higher degree than the battle, the victory over Orientalism. The second Persian invasion came, but it was only a repetition of the first one; it too was defeated at Marathon, which was the primitive Great Deed, the standing image to Greece of herself and all of her possibilities. Hence the use of it so often by her writers and speakers, as well as by those of the entire Western world.  39
  With Marathon, too, history properly begins; that is, the stream of history. Now it becomes a definite, demonstrable, unbroken current, sweeping down to our own times. Before Marathon indeed there is history, and much history; but it is in flashes, short or long, then going out in darkness. The history of Greece itself before Marathon is merely an agglomeration of events quite disconnected. The head-waters take their start at Marathon; Oriental bubblings there are in abundance, but no stream. In fact it could not be otherwise: such is just the character of the Orient,—to be unable to create this historical continuity. But the West has it, and it was won at Marathon, marking the greatest of all transitions both in the form and in the substance of history. Moreover, the historic consciousness now arises; history for the first time is able to record itself in an adequate manner. If you now scan him closely, you will find that man has come to the insight that he has done in these days something worthy of being remembered forever. But where is the scribe to set it down? Behold, here he comes, old Herodotus, the Father of History, with the first truly historical book; in which he has written, together with the rest of the Persian war, the noble record of just this great Marathonian deed. Thus with the worthy action appears the man worthy of transmitting its glory.  40
  Still the traveler remains upon the top of the mound, asking himself, Why is Marathon so famous? Other battles have had the same disparity of numbers between the two sides, and the same completeness of victory, while they have had the same principle of freedom and nationality at stake. The battle of Morgarten, with its sixteen hundred Swiss against twenty thousand Austrians, is often cited, and is sometimes called the Swiss Marathon. But Morgarten to the world is an obscure skirmish: it is not one of the heroic deeds which determined a civilization; it is not one of the hallowed symbols of the race. This then must be the cause: Greece has created to a large extent what we may call the symbols of our Western world,—the typical deeds, the typical men, the typical forms which are still the ideals by which we mold our works, and to which we seek, partially at least, to adjust our lives.  41
  Marathon therefore stands for a thousand battles: all other struggles for freedom, of which our Occident has been full, are merely echoes, repetitions, imitations to a certain extent, of that great primitive action. And Greece is just the nation in history which was gifted with the power of making all that she did a type of its kind. The idea of the West she first had, in its instinctive form, in its primal enchanting bloom; most happily she embodied that idea in her actions, making them into eternal things of beauty.  42
  That is, all the deeds of Greece are works of art. In this sense the battle of Marathon may be called a work of art. Grandeur of idea with perfect realization is the definition of such a work, and is that quality which elevates the person who can rightly contemplate it into true insight. It fills the soul of the beholder with views of the new future world, and makes him for a time the sharer of its fruits. Marathon is only that single wonderful event, yet it is symbolical of all that are to come after it,—you may say, embraces them all; it tells the race for the first time what the race can do, giving us a new hope and a new vision. So indeed does every great work of art and every great action: but this is the grand original; it is the prophecy of the future standing there at the opening of history, telling us what we too may become,—imparting to us at this distance of time a fresh aspiration.  43
  One step further let us push this thought, till it mirror itself clearly and in completeness. The Athenians were not only doers of beautiful deeds, they were also the makers of beautiful things to represent the same: they were artists. Not only a practical, but an equal theoretic greatness was theirs: in no people that has hitherto appeared were the two primal elements of human spirit—will and intelligence—blended in such happy harmony; here as in all their other gifts there was no overbalancing, but a symmetry which becomes musical. They first made the deed the type of all deeds, made it a Marathon; then they embodied it in an actual work of art. They were not merely able to enact the great thought, but also to put it into its true outward form, to be seen and admired of men. Their action was beautiful, often supremely beautiful,—but that was not enough; they turned around after having performed it, and rescued it from the moment of time in which it was born and in which it might perish, and then made it eternal in marble, in color, in prose, in verse.  44
  Thus we can behold it still. On the temple of Wingless Victory at Athens is to be seen at this day a frieze representing the battle of Marathon. There is still to be read that tremendous war poem, the ‘Persæ’ of Æschylus, who also fought at Marathon; the white heat of this first conflict and of the later Persian war can still be felt in it through the intervening thousands of years. Upon the summit of the mound where we now stand, ancient works of art were doubtless placed; the stele inscribed with the names of the fallen is mentioned by Pausanias. Only a short distance from this tomb ancient substructions can still be observed: temples and shrines, statues and monuments, must have been visible here on all sides; to the sympathetic eye the whole plain will now be whitened with shapes of marble softly reposing in the sunshine. The Greeks are indeed the supreme artistic people: they have created the beautiful symbols of the world; they have furnished the artistic type and have embodied it in many forms; they had the ideal and gave to it an adequate expression. Moderns have done other great things, but this belongs to the Greeks.  45
  So after the mighty Marathonian deed there is at Athens a most determined struggle, a supreme necessity laid upon the people, to utter it worthily, to reveal it in the forms of art, and thus to create beauty. Architecture, sculpture, poetry, spring at once and together to a height which they have hardly since attained, trying to express the lofty consciousness begotten of heroic action; philosophy, too, followed; but chiefest of all, the great men of the time, those plastic shapes in flesh and blood, manifesting the perfect development and harmony of mind and body, rise in Olympian majesty, and make the next hundred years after the battle the supreme intellectual birth of the ages;—and all because the gods fought along at Marathon and must thereafter be revealed.  46
  But let us descend from this height, for we cannot stay up here all day: let us go down from the mound, resuming our joyous sauntering occupation; let our emotions, still somewhat exalted, flow down quietly and mingle once more with the soft pellucid Marathonian rill. The declining sun is warning us that we have spent the greater part of a day in wandering over the plain, and in sitting on the shore and the tumulus. Let us still trace the bed of the river up from the swamp: everywhere along its bank and in its channel can be seen fragments of edifices. Here are ancient bricks with mortar still clinging to them; there is the drum of a column lying in the sand half buried; pieces of ornamented capitals look up at you from the ground with broken smiles. Remains of a wall of carefully hewn stone speak of a worthy superstructure: the foundation of a temple of Bacchus was discovered here a few years ago, together with a curious inscription still preserved in the town. The fragments scattered along and in the channel for half a mile or more tell of the works once erected on this spot to the heroes and gods of the plain, and which were things of beauty. The traveler will seek to rebuild this group of shrines and temples, each in its proper place and with suitable ornament; he will fill them with white images, with altars and tripods; he will call up the surging crowd of merry Greek worshipers passing from spot to spot at some festival.  47
  As one walks slowly through the fields in the pleasant sun, a new delight comes over him at the view of the flowers of Marathon. Everywhere they are springing up over the plain, though it be January still,—many of them and of many kinds, daisies, dandelions, and primroses,—looking a little different from what they do at home, yet full as joyous. The most beautiful is a kind of poppy unknown to me elsewhere; so let me call it the Marathonian poppy. In most cases it wraps its face in a half-closed calyx, as the Greek maiden covers forehead and chin in her linen veil: still you can look down into the hood of leaves and there behold sparkling dark eyes. Some of the flowers, however, are entirely open, some only in bud yet; then there is every variety of color,—red, purple, and blue, with infinite delicate shadings. One tarries among them and plays after having gone through the earnest battle; he will stoop down and pluck a large handful of them in order to arrange them in groups passing into one another by the subtlest hues. So, after being in such high company, one gladly becomes for a time a child once more amid the Marathonian poppies….  48
  But will this city [St. Louis] ever mean to the world the thousandth part of what Marathon means? Will it ever make a banner under which civilization will march? Will it ever create a symbol which nations will contemplate as a thing of beauty and as a hope-inspiring prophecy of their destiny? Will it rear any men to be exemplars for the race? Alas! no such man has she yet produced; very little sign of such things is here at present: we are not a symbol-making people, do not know nor care what that means; our ambition is to make canned beef for the race—and to correct the census. St. Louis has some fame abroad as a flour market, but she is likely to be forgotten by ungrateful man as soon as he has eaten his loaf of bread or can get it from elsewhere. A great population she has doubtless, greater than Athens ever had; but I cannot see, with the best good-will, that in the long run there is much difference between the 350,000 who are here, and the 150,000 who are not but were supposed to be. Marathon River is often a river without water; but will turbid Mississippi with her thousands of steamboats—stop! this strain is getting discordant: at Marathon should be heard no dissonance, least of all the dissonance of despair. Yes, there is hope; while the future lasts—and it will be a long time before that ceases—there is hope. The Marathonian catabothron is certain to rise here yet, with many other catabothrons, and form with native rivers a new stream unheard of in the history of the world. Who of us has not some such article of faith? When this valley has its milliard of human beings in throbbing activity over its surface, we all of us, I doubt not, shall look back from some serene height and behold them; we shall then see that so many people have created their beautiful symbol.  49

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