Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Historical footnote of the day: The marathon run celebrates its 2,500th anniversary this year.
But the most important date for a 26.2-mile race — and perhaps the Western world as a whole — is 490 B.C., the year of an Athenian victory on the plains of Marathon that gave birth to the namesake race and protected the cradle of democracy from a Persian invasion.
"As my old Latin professor used to say, 'If it weren't for Marathon, it's highly likely we'd all be speaking Farsi,'" said Matthew Gonzales, a classics professor at Saint Anselm College and contributor to a History Channel feature on the battle. "There are very few things you can think of in the modern world, as far as how we define ourselves in the West, that would not be fundamentally different."
I suppose we'll all yet be speaking Farsi if we do not man up against the Iranians, but there's still time to fix that.
My guess is that regardless of the outcome at Marathon no Scandinavians would have been speaking farsi. And greek democracy petered out as a failed experiment as tyrants took over Athens.
We owe most of our western democratic traditions to the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and other viking peoples who created the basis of the common law and the alting.
As I recall after the Romans finished up with the Greeks the Turks took over until 1828. And nobody in Western Europe is speaking Turkish today unless you are a gastarbeiter. Or Farsi, unless you are a political refugee.
Apologies in advance.
The pedantic mathlete of my youth demands that I point out that the lack of a year zero -- meaning that the year after 1 B.C. was 1 A.D. (or would later be called that) -- means that the 500th anniversary of 490 B.C. is actually 11 A.D., not 10 A.D.
Thus, this is actually the 2,499th anniversary of the battle of Marathon.