It was a time filled with arguments, discourse and debates about a great many things. They argued about what was right. They debated what was real. They even disagreed about what a noun referred to. Despite this, everyone agreed that ancient Greece was far too hot and that someone should do something about it.
Herodotus of Halicarnassus agreed with the masses but could do nothing about it as he was too busy inventing history. He sat at his table with reed in hand trying to keep the sweat that collected in his considerable eyebrows from dripping onto the papyrus in front of him.
Being the Father of History was a more thankless task than he would have guessed when he first invented it. While the title had its perks, it predominantly involved writing a lot of history and he rarely found time to get away from his labor and enjoy the moniker. Even now his wrist ached as he reached for the block of ink.
He set the reed down and massaged the cramp out with a sigh. It was the most common pain for the historian but not the only one.
There was a clatter outside his room and he stood to stretch the ache out of his back and see what it was. He was almost to the door when the man burst in dripping with sweat and gasping for air.
“Pheidippides!” Herodotus recognized the man as a messenger for the Athenian army. He had spoken to him before, but then the man had been less sweaty and rushed. Pheidippides panted heavily and leaned against the wall while trying to catch his breath. Herodotus pulled a chair from the wall and directed the man to sit.
It was a few moments before the man was able to speak in any thing short of a wheeze and the first thing Herodotus heard was his own name.
Herodotus stuck his head out the door and called for some water. Soon a pitcher was brought and he let the messenger drink heavily from it.
“Herodotus,” Pheidippides said with the water falling from his lips.
“What is it, my boy?”
“I have just run all the way from the plains of Marathon to deliver this news. We have defeated the Persians.”
Herodotus gasped. “This is wonderful news.” He slapped Pheidippides on the back and rushed across the room to his table. The pain in his wrist forgotten, he dipped his reed and began making notes about this historic event. He spoke as he wrote. “Thank you, Pheidippides, for bringing me this news.”
Pheidippides nodded with a smile and leaned back in the chair. He let out a great breath as the Father of History read his notes aloud.
“On this August day, the Greeks won a great victory over the superior numbers of the Persian army at the Battle of Marathon.” He smiled and set down the reed. “There. That is some good history.”
Pheidippides leaned forward in his chair. “That’s it?”
“That’s it for now. I’ll fill in the details later. Thank you, again, Pheidippides. Now I’m sure you’re very tired and would like to rest.” Herodotus shook the man’s hand and helped him stand. He ushered him to the door.
The messenger put his hand against the doorframe and stopped his exit. He turned around and pointed at the history text on the table. “But what about my run?”
“What about it?”
“Aren’t you going to write that down?”
Herodotus sighed, “Oh, here we go. Herodotus, I want to be in history. Herodotus, why don’t you put me down in history? My daughter just did a somersault. It was history’s first somersault. Write down that my daughter did history’s first somersault. Or, Herodotus, my wife baked you a delightful tart. A tart so delightful that it would make history don’t you think? Nudge, nudge. One man came to me and said he invented history’s first zero for crying out loud.”
“What’s a zero?” Pheidippides asked.
Herodotus shrugged. “He said it was nothing.”
“What do you mean? What did he want you to write down?”
“That he invented something that was nothing.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“That’s what I told him.”
“How can nothing be something?”
“Exactly my point. See? You get it, Pheidippides.”
“But my run…”
“Oh, your run. You’re not the first person to run. This isn’t even your first time to run.”
Pheidippides pointed in the general direction of north east. “But it’s a really long way from Marathon.”
Herodotus sat back down behind his table. “Oh, it’s not that far.”
“Not that far!” Pheidippides cried. “It’s like thirty miles.”
“No, it’s not.” Herodotus looked out the window. “It’s like twenty something.”
Pheidippides crossed his arms and stood in front of the table. “It’s still far.”
“So what do you want Pheidippides? Do you want me to write that you ran really far to bring us the good news? Is that what you’re looking for?”
“I’d like some kind of credit. I mean if I’d thought it wouldn’t get noted I would have probably jogged a little. Or even walked a bit.”
Herodotus studied the young man before him. There was no doubt he had run really hard. But as the Father of History he couldn’t just put anything in there or what would be the point? Still, he felt for the boy. “I get it, Pheidippides. I do. And it’s a great run but I’m not really sure it’s ‘history great,’ you know?”
“I’d still like people to know.”
Herodotus scratched at his beard. It was too hot today. Too hot to think. Too hot to have a beard. Too hot to be bothered by all of this nonsense. “I have an idea. What if you wrote it down on the back of your chariot. Like a little banner that says, ‘I ran like twenty something miles.’”
Pheidippides expression hardened. “That’s lame.”
“No it’s not.” Herodotus said. “Whenever you rode through town people would see the little banner on your chariot and go, oh, wow, that guy ran like twenty miles, awesome.”
“They wouldn’t say that.”
“Sure they would.”
“They wouldn’t. They’d say it was lame. And it is. Why would I put on my chariot that I ran really far? The whole point of a chariot is so you don’t have to run. What kind of an asshole would do that?”
Herodotus threw up his hands. “I’m out of ideas here. What do you want me to do?”
“I want to go down in the history books! I want you to tell the world that I just ran like thirty miles to bring the news of our victory over the Persians.”
“I want to help you, Pheidippides. I do. I just don’t think people will really care how far you ran.”
The young man was already physically exhausted and this bluntness took the rest of the spirit right out of him. His shoulders slumped and he spoke quietly. “Oh. I see.”
Herodotus felt a twinge of guilt but it was quickly swept away by the sweat of the day. He stood and put a hand on Pheidippides and steered him back to the door once more. “I’m sorry. It’s just not that dramatic.”
The messenger went willingly at first but suddenly stopped and perked up. He turned to face Herodotus and whispered. “Hey, what if I died?”
“I’ll miss you but I still don’t think people will care,” Herodotus said and tried to lead the young man once more to the door. But he resisted.
“No, I mean like what if I died like right now. From running all that way.”
“I don’t follow.”
Pheidippides smiled and pointed to the table full of papyrus. “The history would go, Pheidippides ran all the way from the fields of Marathon to deliver great news of the victory over the Persians, which heralded in a time of Greek influence that would be felt throughout the Western world. Then died.”
Herodotus gave the young man a crooked look. “Like right then? Just now? Dead?”
“Yeah, like I came running into town and with my last breath I say something dramatic and then collapse dead.”
Herodotus rubbed his beard and smiled. He thought it over and began to nod. “This is really starting to sound like some kick ass history.”
Pheidippides smiled. “I know, right?”
Herodotus smiled back. “What would you say?
“I could say something like, ‘attic!’”
“Attic,” Herodotus repeated the word as if it was echoing through the ages. “Ooh, I like that. What does it mean?
“It means ‘we’ve won,’” Pheidippides explained. “But in Greek.”
“That’s perfect.” He was getting excited now. This was history at its finest. It’s why he invented history in the first place. “I’ll write it down.”
Pheidippides looked as if he could run another twenty something miles. “Thanks Herodotus. Now everyone will know I ran really far this one time.”
Herodotus shook the man’s hand and sat back down at his table. He dipped the reed and held it above the papyrus and waited. He waited another long moment before he looked up at the messenger. “Well?”
“Get on with it.”
Pheidippides looked around the room. “Get on with what?”
“The thing, with the dying.”
“What? Like I really have to die?”
“Of course,” Herodotus said. “I can’t write it if it didn’t happen.”
“Sure you can. You can write anything down.”
Herodotus sighed and explained to the millionth person for the millionth time. “But that’s not how history works.”
“Sure it is.”
Herodotus dropped the reed. “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess you’re the Father of History now.”
“But, nothing. I decide how this works and I say if it didn’t really happen, it’s not history.”
“Oh, really?” Pheidippides crossed the room to a shelf and grabbed one of the books. He double checked the title on the cover and held it out for Herodotus to see. “You’ve got a part in this one about Pan showing up at the battle.”
Herodotus shrugged and crossed his arms. “Yeah, well, people like it when the gods show up.”
“Pan wasn’t there and you know it. That half-goat pervert totally flaked on us.”
“Look, Pheidippides, my hands are tied here. I just can’t write about something if it isn’t true.”
The messenger tossed the book on the table and dropped back into the chair. He looked around the room searching for an answer before trying one last thing. “What if we changed it then? What if we say I got a cramp? I’d be willing to get a cramp.”
“I don’t think a cramp is going to do it.” Herodotus said. “It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And Pheidippides ran all the way from the fields of Marathon to deliver great news of the victory over the Persians, which heralded in a time of Greek influence that would be felt throughout the Western world. Then got a little tickle in his side.”
It was obvious the messenger agreed with the decision so he didn’t push the cramp. “I’d be willing to break a leg.”
Herodotus bit his lower lip and nodded slowly for a minute. But then the nod turned to a shake. “I’m not sure a leg is going to do it, either.”
“So it’s really death then?” Pheidippides asked.
“I’m afraid so.” Herodotus said. “I mean, if you’re not comfortable with it you don’t have to do it. No one is forcing you to do anything.”
“I just won’t be able to put it into history otherwise.”
“No, I get it.” Pheidippides stood and looked at the Father of History with eyes full of sadness.
Or sweat. He couldn’t really tell. It was too hot today.
But then the young runner’s eyes firmed up and became hard. He stared into Herodotus’ own tired eyes and he drew in a deep breath. “Attic!”
And then he died.
And despite Herodotus sadness, he smiled at the fallen young man and picked up his reed and he began to write making it official that Pheidippides was the first person in all of recorded history to make a big deal out of running twenty something miles.
If you wish to inform me that Herodotus was not even born at the time of the Battle of Marathon, don’t even bother. I already know that.