In honor of the recent Olympics in Rio, I read Marathon, tagged “the epic tale of the original marathon runner”.
Eucles, also known as Pheidippides in some historical documents, is introduced as a fleet youth in 502 BC who wins a race against the illegitimate son of King Hippias of Athens to become one of the king’s official messengers. Due to Eucles’s slave status, Hippias is disgusted that his son would lose to him, and kills his son. The king warns the boy if he ever does not deliver a message, his family will be put to death. Eucles’s victory comes at a heavy price, for he is sabotaged by the prince’s friends during a delivery, resulting in his parent’s death. This forever turns Eucles against the king, and he is glad when the king is sent into exile for his evil tyranny a few years later.
Hippias vows revenge and with the help of Persian King Darius and an army of battle ships, invades Greece in 490 BC with the intent to destroy the newly democratic Athens. The Athenians are outnumbered heavily and ask a now grown and married Eucles to run to Sparta to see if the soldiers there will come to their aid. He runs an almost 300 mile round trip to be denied assistance by Sparta. He returns exhausted with the bad news as the Battle of Marathon, that occurred outside of the city of Marathon, is about to begin. Despite his weakened state, he insists in joining the soldiers. The soldiers hold off the Persian army, but the city of Athens is still is at risk for it stands undefended. Eucles makes a final run to the city to announce Greece’s victory, but adds a warning that they must stand guard against a final attack, before he collapses and dies. The citizens make a show of solidarity, and the Persians turn back, for they fear an additional battle will further weaken them. Against all odds, the city of Athens win and their democratic ideal will continue forward into the future influencing future civilizations. In thankfulness of Eucles sacrifice, a new race was instituted in the Olympic games, and his story is passed into legend.
This legend, which is sketchy in details and has several inconsistencies, is the basis for this tale of historical fiction. The question is how much of the story is legend and how much is historical fact? Liberties are taken in describing Eucles life, for even if his name is suspect, the details about his childhood and marriage would be made up even if historically accurate of the era. The facts are there was a runner, and the details about the battle would be accurate, but all other details are conjecture. If used in a classroom, a teacher should challenge students to thing critically about sources of information and could be used as a learning opportunity.
The beginning artwork captures the look of Athens and the Greek countryside, and the clothing and architecture seems historically accurate. But then the panels during warfare become a blur and are evocative of the chaos of the battlefield, but at a detriment to the story. Several of the soldiers and leaders become indistinguishable from one another, and the story loses clarity and accuracy at that point.
That I lost track of the storyline made this story more muddled than I would have liked. While the historical tale was worthy to share, and the artwork was drawn well especially at the beginning and end, I came away slightly disappointed that the middle was so confusing. I would still give it a recommendation, but with reservations.