This is a chapter of Evergreen Stories by W. M. L. Hutchinson. It includes the following stories: King Midas and His Strange Adventures — Alcestis, the Noble Wife — The Real Helen — Cupid and Psyche — The Vision of Er — Circe, the Island Witch — Bellerophon, the Rider of Pegasus — How Theseus Slew the Minotaur — Odysseus in the Land of Shadows — Heracles and the Poisoned Robe | The Story of Pheidippides — The Story of Solon, Croesus, and Cyrus
So to this day when friend meets friend the word of salute
is still “Rejoice!” — his word, who brought rejoicing indeed.
So is Pheidippides happy for ever, the noble, strong man
who could race like a god, bear the face of a god, whom a god loved so well.
He saw the land saved he had helped to save, was suffered to tellRobert Browning, Pheidippides
such tidings, yet never decline, but gloriously as he began,
so to end gloriously — once to shout, thereafter be mute:
“Athens is saved!” — Pheidippides dies in the shout, for his meed.
“And this, friend Herodotus, is my little grandson — the darling of mine old age. Child of my heart, leave your play and come hither. Here is an honored guest of our house, whom you have not seen before. Give him greeting prettily.”
“Rejoice!” said a childish voice, gravely and sweetly, in that language which is itself music.
“Rejoice thou likewise, little friend,” was the answer, gently given.
And the child, looking up shyly, met the keen, kindly eyes of the stranger with a smile — for there was a twinkle in them, though his face was serious and thoughtful. Eyes that seemed to notice everything with a sort of bird-like alertness — and now roved hither and thither over his grandfather’s garden.
“Truly, Cephalus,” exclaimed the stranger, turning to the old man, “the lot is fallen unto you in a fair ground. How pleasant is this riverside garden of yours on this sweet spring morning! How soft and fresh the grass of this bank where we sit — and Ilissus flowing at our feet — how musically he plashes over the pebbles!… Look, there goes the first swallow. And see the young leaves of the plane tree above us, with the light shining through them — emeralds cannot match them for color, nor Indian chrysoprase. Then, yonder, what a view we have of the city on her sacred rock — how her bulwarks and temples gleam pearl-like in the pure, bright air that it does one good to breathe! Ah, my friend, there is no place like Athens, after all.”
“We Athenians think so,” replied Cephalus simply; “but that Herodotus of Halicarnassus has said it may well make us proud. Ay, glad I am that this child has heard those words — he will not forget them.” He drew the little boy onto his knee, and went on solemnly: “Listen to me, son of my son. Remember as long as you live that you have seen the famous Herodotus and the words you heard him speak just now in praise of your own dear city, for he himself is a citizen of a great city in the beautiful land of Ionia and, moreover, he has traveled over half the world and has seen the wonders of more cities and countries than I can tell you even the names of.”
“Is he a merchant, grandfather?” whispered the child, for he had seen merchant ships in the harbor of Athens and heard sailormen talk of their far voyages to foreign ports.
“No,” said the grandfather. “He travels not for gain, but from noble love of wisdom and knowledge, as did the seven sages long ago. And he is as wise as the best of them.”
“Enough, enough, old friend,” cried Herodotus, laughing. “Do not deck me with borrowed plumes. Here is your grandchild looking at me with as much awe as if I were Solon himself; and no wonder! Nay, my little man— By the way, what do you call him, Cephalus? I mean, what is his pet name? His real name, of course, is the same as yours.”
(He said this knowing that by Athenian custom the eldest son of an eldest son was named after his father’s father, and while a child was usually called at home by some “little name” to avoid confusion.)
“We call him Linnet,” answered Cephalus, “and a merry one he is, twittering and chirping from morning to night.”
“Well, little Linnet,” Herodotus went on, “just this once, you must not believe your good grandsire. In his kindness, he thinks too well of me. But I will tell you the truth — I am not nearly so like those wise men of old as I am like you, Linnet, for here are you in this large garden, which is full of all sorts of curious and delightful things, and you are never tired of looking at them and asking questions about them — isn’t it so? Well, the wide world is just another such place — to me. And I, too, am never weary of beholding and admiring and finding out all I can. I, too, am always asking: ‘What is this?’, and: ‘What is that for?’, and: ‘Why do you do so and so?’… You see, it is all so interesting even the little, everyday things that most people don’t notice at all. For instance, when you greeted me just now, you said: ‘Rejoice!’ Now, why did you say that?”
“Because everybody does,” said the child, looking puzzled. “You said it too, sir.”
“I did,” said Herodotus, “for at Athens one must speak like the Athenians, and that is their word of salutation, and most other Greeks have learned it from them. But in other countries, people would wonder what you meant by it. And small blame to them; for why should a man rejoice whenever he happens to meet someone he knows in the street?”
“I don’t know,” said Linnet, looking still more puzzled. “But what do they say instead of ‘Rejoice’, then? Perhaps that doesn’t mean very much, either,” he added, hopefully.
“Shrewdly said, little one,” the great traveler answered, smiling. “Every nation of mankind has its own form of greeting, and that form means little enough in the mouths of the users, whether they say: ‘Peace be with you’ like the Medes, or: ‘May you live forever’ like the Persians, or ask after your health, like certain northern barbarians. Still, all these are greetings that need no explaining; you understand at once that they are addressed to you out of politeness. But when an Athenian comes up to you and tells you to rejoice, you want to know what you are to rejoice about — at least I did, being an inquisitive man.”
“I should like to know, too,” said Linnet eagerly. “Please, will you tell me — I am sure you found out.”
“Ask your grandfather,” said Herodotus. “He can tell you far better than I can how the custom began. And it is a beautiful tale.”
“No, no,” said Cephalus. “I cannot tell a story — never could. Do you tell it to us, Herodotus. You have the gift — and, well, as I know it, I can never hear that tale too often. As for our Linnet, I can see he is longing to hear it.”
“I will do my best, then,” said Herodotus, “for both your sakes.”
And this was the tale he told…
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“Many years ago, when your grandfather, Linnet, was a boy, a terrible danger threatened this city of Athens, for the citizens had offended the Great King, the king of Persia, the lord of all the Eastern world, by helping the Greeks who dwelt in his dominions to rebel against his tyranny; and in his wrath he vowed vengeance upon them and sent forth a great fleet and army to destroy them utterly. He commanded that all the menfolk of Athens should be slain with the sword, all their women and children brought to Persia as slaves, and their city burned to the ground. And word of his decree was brought to the Athenians, together with the news that the Persian fleet was already nearing their coast.
“Now the Athenians were few, and their enemies a great multitude; yet, like good men and true, they resolved to fight to the death in defense of their country, so they mustered their little force — every citizen fit to bear arms was in the ranks — and elected commanders, of whom the chief was Miltiades, a brave man and a skillful general. And Miltiades, having called a council of war, proposed asking help from the Spartans, who had long been accounted the best soldiers in Greece. Some of the council shook their heads and said that the Spartans had long been jealous of the rising power of Athens and would not lift a finger to hinder her downfall, but others, and Miltiades among them, denounced this as a groundless and unworthy suspicion, and it was agreed at last to send an urgent appeal to Sparta by the swiftest messenger that could be found.
“There was a young Athenian by name Pheidippides, who was the most famous runner of the day and had won countless prizes in the foot races at the Great Games. This youth was chosen for the errand.”
“But he couldn’t go as fast as a chariot, could he?” interrupted Linnet, who was listening with rapt attention.
“No,” said Herodotus, “no runner could, except for a short distance. But, you see, a well-trained man can keep going longer without food or rest than a horse — and besides, the nearest way to Sparta lies over steep, craggy mountains where neither chariot nor saddle horse can go at all. That was why the Athenians sent their message by a runner… Well, away went Pheidippides with his message; up hill and down dale he raced as he had never raced to win the victor’s garland, for now he ran for a greater stake, and the thought of his city’s peril spurred him like a goad. More than a hundred miles of hilly country he must cover to reach Sparta; how he did it, he never knew — but on the third morning he was there, in the marketplace of the city. I suppose he lay down and slept a little, now and then; as for food, he carried some bunches of raisins, some olives, and a few barley scones in his satchel. That, with a drink from a wayside spring, was all he needed.
“Now, when Pheidippides came full speed into the marketplace of Sparta, it was thronged with citizens in holiday attire, for the Spartans hold a great festival of Apollo, which they call the Carneia, in the month of September; that is to say, they keep the Carneia during the week before the full moon of that month. This day was the ninth of September, and the moon would be full on the twelfth; so Pheidippides had arrived in the very middle of the festival.
“‘A messenger from Athens,’ he gasped out, breathless with running, as the crowd gathered round him. ‘Let me speak to your rulers.’
“Now the rulers of Sparta are the two kings —why there are two you shall hear another time, Linnet— and certain chief magistrates who are called the ephors. All these assembled forthwith in the Hall of Council; and there Pheidippides gave them the message he was charged to deliver. He knew that the Spartans were chary of speech and prided themselves on never showing any signs of what they felt — neither grief, pain, pleasure, anger, or anything else. So he was not surprised that they listened with unmoved faces as he hurriedly told the sore need of Athens — how the Persian host was at her very doors, and her only hope lay in the valiant troops of Sparta marching instantly to the rescue; nor was he surprised when, as he paused, the elder king asked him if that was all he had to say.
“‘This is their way,’ he thought, ‘and a provoking way, too — but I must fall in with it.” And curtly he answered: ‘Yes. But I must add, there is not a moment to lose——’
“‘You said that before,’ interrupted the king.
“‘—and that I am ready to take back your answer this instant.’
“‘That is obvious. Do not waste words.’
“The young man bit his lip to keep back an angry rejoinder. It would never do to offend these slow, pompous, cold-blooded Spartans — but how exasperating they were! He stood quivering like a leashed greyhound waiting to be let slip…
“‘We will debate on this matter,’ the king said deliberately. ‘Let the messenger from Athens withdraw meanwhile.’
“And two attendants ushered Pheidippides from the hall to the pillared porch outside. The debate was short. After some thirty minutes —but everyone seemed an hour to him in his burning impatience— he was brought in again…
“‘Tell the Athenians,’ said the elder king, ‘that the Spartan army will march to their assistance on the fourth day from now, but not before, for this is the ninth day of the month, and the moon will not be full till the twelfth. While the moon is waxing, we may not set out expedition; we must wait till she is full. That is an ancient law of Sparta.’
“‘Wait for the full moon!’ exclaimed Pheidippides. ‘Why, then you will not get to Athens for another week. All will be over by that time… The Persians must have landed already… You must start this very day, I tell you, if you are to save us.’
“‘I have spoken,’ answered the king coldly. ‘Farewell, Athenian.’
“Pheidippides cast a despairing glance around the assembly. All sat rigid… it seemed to him that every face wore a look of hate and suspicion… every eye glittered with triumphant malice. Contempt filled his soul. This, then, was the real Sparta; to this depth of baseness she could descend — the state that claimed the leadership of all Greece! Yes, in their vile jealousy, the Spartans would stand by, looking on, while Athens perished under the heel of the barbarian.
“‘Athens, my Athens,’ he muttered to himself, ‘since there’s no help, I’ll come back to die with you.’
“And with that, he rushed out of the Council Hall and out of the city, like a whirlwind.”
“The young man’s thoughts were very bitter as he sped homeward along the rough mountain track. He had seen the wicked in great power; and he asked himself whether there could be any justice in the gods, who suffered such villainy to triumph. Why had not Zeus thundered a warning? Why had no heavenly messenger come down to bid Sparta repent, under pain of divine vengeance? Alas, it seemed that the gods themselves had abandoned Athens in her utmost need! And yet no city honored them more devoutly — no folk in the world were more pious than the Athenians. Where was Pallas Athena, their own loved goddess…? Where were Phoebus and Artemis, mighty to save, and all that host of Olympians whose altars at Athens continually blazed with rich sacrifices…? And this, then, was their gratitude!
“Such were his thoughts while he held swiftly on his way; when suddenly, as he ran down into a narrow, rocky glen, a deep voice called close by: ‘Halt, Pheidippides!’
“Halt he did — looked right and left — beheld the speaker, and then stood fixed in awe and wonder, for it was the god Pan, he knew, who sat yonder — in a cleft of the rocks that was overhung with ivy and cushioned with velvety moss. The first glance showed him the goat thighs below the grand human trunk; a second revealed that this was none of the hill-haunting satyr folk, but their king himself. To none other belonged that majestic countenance — that grave, kindly smile on the bearded lips, the smile of a god waiting to be gracious yet amused at a mortal’s awe…
“‘Come hither, Pheidippides, and fear not,’ the deep, musical voice went on. ‘I know you and your errand, and I have somewhat to ask you. Why is it that among all the shrines, all the festivals in your city, there is none for Pan? Athens, alone among Greek cities, pays me no worship. Yet have I always befriended her, and will now, and forever, if she will trust me. Go, bear her this message from me: the goat god bids her be of good courage and have faith in the temples and tombs, for they that inhabit these shall fight on her side. Go, say to the Athenians, when the Persian host, so much of it as strews not the battlefield, hath fled overseas — then let them thank Pan, who fought unseen in their ranks; ay, made common cause with the men who dared to die for liberty! Tell them that, Pheidippides — and let this, foreshowing the place of combat, be the pledge that I will not fail them there. As for thyself, count on a worthy reward for thy good running.’
“With that, the goat god plucked from the ground at his feet a handful of some green herbage and held it out to Pheidippides. It was wild fennel, wet with the morning dew. The young Athenian grasped the token in reverent silence; then, as Pan made a gracious gesture of farewell, he turned and raced onward with new hope in his heart.”
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“The next morning, Pheidippides told his wondrous tale to the Athenian generals in council. Then said the brave Miltiades, captain of them all: ‘We are at point to march out to the plain of Marathon, where scouts inform us that the Persians are even now about landing. May great Pan indeed succor us in the battle we must wage there! But you, Pheidippides, best of runners, whose strength and speed have done such noble service this day — tell us what the reward was that Pan promised you.’
“Blushing at the great general’s praise, the youth answered: ‘He did not say what it would be, Miltiades. But I dare to hope Pan meant, I am to fight along with my comrades on whatever field this fennel betokens, and help drive the barbarians into the sea, and then —when Athens is safe— marry a certain maiden I am betrothed to… perhaps someday see our children playing around me, and tell them how that great and kind god rewarded their father.’
“But the reward was to be something far different from this. And it came very soon, for ten days later was fought the glorious battle of Marathon that every Athenian child is told the story of at his mother’s knee — the battle that saved Greece and first humbled the pride of Persia. Yes, you know that story, little Linnet, I see, though you have not heard yet about Pheidippides.
“Well, Pheidippides marched with the rest to that great fight and, when he saw the place where they must encounter the enemy, he understood Pan’s token, for it was covered with wild fennel. And in truth, the name Marathon means ‘fennel field.’ He was one of the foremost in that famous charge that broke the Persian line — his spear did right good service in the rout and slaughter of their mighty host. Then, when the day was won for Athens, cries arose from the victors: ‘Run, Pheidippides! Take the news to the city! Ay, let Pheidippides tell the tidings — he deserves it!’
“And he flung down his shield and ran. It is twenty-four miles from that fennel field to Athens; the fight had been desperate; but without sense of weariness, he rushed onward and never paused until he burst into the anxious, pale-faced throng at the city gate… Gathering his last of breath, ‘Rejoice! We conquer!’ he shouted, in a voice like a trumpet. With that, voice and strength failed him, and he fell down like one in a swoon. But when they lifted him up, Pheidippides was dead.”