The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides

The First Marathon: The Legend of Pheidippides

by Susan Reynolds, Daniel Minter

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Twenty-five hundred years ago Greek soldiers faced the Persian army on the plain of Marathon. Pheidippides ran to neighboring Sparta, 140 miles away, to ask for the Spartans' aid. Afterwards he sped back to the battle, where he helped defeat the enemy.


Twenty-five hundred years ago Greek soldiers faced the Persian army on the plain of Marathon. Pheidippides ran to neighboring Sparta, 140 miles away, to ask for the Spartans' aid. Afterwards he sped back to the battle, where he helped defeat the enemy.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A sound addition for most collections."

School Library Journal

Children's Literature
Reynolds retells in picture book format the 2,500-year-old story of Pheidippides, the young runner who raced from the plain of Marathon to the city of Sparta to seek help for the Athenian army when they confronted the Persians in war. After returning to the battlefield and helping the Athenians win, the young man then ran to Athens to relay the news of the victory. Reynolds manages to exercise the turn of story to her advantage by making a final connection between the legend and modern marathons, those who take part in them, and those who aspire to do so. Daniel Minter's bold paintings use flat and shaded primary colors accented with rich black strokes that lead the eye. A black-and-white border employs a variation of the Greek key pattern—its mythic and artistic significance sustaining the textual links between ancient Greece and our contemporary world. A detailed afterword provides interesting background and supports the retold legend with sources and contextual material. Taken together with the bibliography that follows, this section goes a long way toward rendering the retelling transparent, pointing out to readers where the author has fictionalized and why. The afterword includes some fascinating facts that older readers will enjoy (e.g., that a Greek woman who showed up at the first modern Olympics in 1896 was refused a place and ran alongside the men but off the course). In an author's note, Reynolds also provides a brief description of the process of researching the story of Pheidippides. 2006, Albert Whitman, Ages 4 to 8.
—Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Twenty-five hundred years ago, a small band of Greeks faced the huge Persian army. Given the horrendous odds, help was a necessity, so a young runner named Pheidippides ran 140 miles to Sparta to request aid, and then ran back to report that the Spartans were on their way, albeit in their own good time. The boy stayed to help the Athenians defeat the Persians, and then ran to Athens to relate the news of the victory. Completely spent by his superhuman efforts, he collapsed and died-but he left a legacy in the 26-mile race named after the battle he reported on. This rather heavily fictionalized picture-book recounting presents an engaging young hero in readable, if slightly "gee whiz" prose. The facts of the story, as they are known, are set out clearly within the context of a tale, and the book would read aloud quite well. Minter's illustrations are reminiscent of Ashley Wolff's work, with the strong black outlines and blocks of solid color. The map of Greece and the Persian Empire on the endpapers is most helpful in laying a framework for the story. An afterword includes detailed information on the historical sources the author used to inform her story. A sound addition for most collections.-Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Reynolds, a distance walker herself, spins detail around skimpy Classical sources to create a tale in tribute to every marathoner's hero. Unfortunately, however impressive Pheidippides's achievement may have been-he ran 140 miles to Sparta to beg for help against the invading Persians, ran back to fight in the battle of Marathon, then ran about 25 miles to Athens to report the victory, before dying of exhaustion-this rendition of it never rises above the pedestrian. Minter's static, amateurishly drawn figures are paired to lines like, "But Pheidippides would just laugh and run in circles so that he could stay close to his mother but still get to run." Reynolds closes with a detailed source note and a brief history of the modern marathon-not enough to carry this, or readers, much past the starting line. (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)

Product Details

Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
11.06(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.41(d)
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Read an Excerpt

The First Marathon

The Legend of Pheidippides

By Susan Reynolds, Daniel Minter


Copyright © 2006 Susan Reynolds
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8075-0867-1


Before there were telephones, cars, or computers, there was a boy named Pheidippides (Fi-DIP-un-deez). He lived twenty- five hundred years ago in Athens, the biggest of the Greek Cities both then and now.

Pheidippides loved to run from the time he was young. The merchants in the marketplace would hear his mother fuss at him while she shopped. "Son, slow down! You're getting too far ahead!"

But Pheidippides would just laugh and race in circles so that he could stay close to his mother but still get to run.

The country of Greece is rocky and full of hills and mountains. Pheidippides grew up running those hills, and they made his legs strong and his feet sure. All Greek boys were encouraged to be athletes, and they spent hours running and jumping and wrestling.

Pheidippides was fast and won many races. But even more than running fast, Pheidippides loved to run for miles and miles. He would run for hours and still feel like he could run forever.

When his parents asked him why he ran so far, he would say in a most serious way, "Who knows, someday I might have to run clear across Greece!"

It was common then for each of the major cities to have its own army, and Pheidippides, as was expected of young men, joined the Athenian army. He was a soldier but often ran as a herald, delivering messages for the generals. (Runners were used instead of riders on horseback when the route was too rocky for horses to traverse.)

Armies then didn't have tanks or trucks or any other way of getting their soldiers around. So the soldiers marched. They often marched and marched for days. Sadly, there were lots of wars, and so the soldiers did a lot of marching. They were lean and strong from all that marching.

Persia was a mighty empire to the east of Greece. Many Athenians had moved to Persian settlements, and when rebellion broke out there, the Athenians were blamed. King Darius of Per- sia wanted revenge on all of Athens!

In the summer of 490 B.C.E., the Persians invaded Greece. Their army sailed over the Aegean Sea to the plain of Marathon, a level ground where the Persian cavalry could fight best.

It must have been a fearsome sight! The soldiers' helmets shone brightly in the hot sun, and their spears looked like they were lit with lightning. The Persian war-horses proudly snorted and tossed their manes.

News arrived in Athens that the Persians had landed at Marathon and were preparing for a great battle.

The Athenians were very brave, but their army was vastly outnumbered. For every soldier from Athens, there were four soldiers from Persia.

One of the fiercest armies in all of Greece was from the city of Sparta. The Spartans didn't believe in luxuries and lived so they would become tough. The Athenian generals wanted the Spartans to come and fight alongside them. But there wasn't much time before the battle was to start. And there was no way to call over to the Spartans and talk them into coming. The generals decided that someone would have to run to Sparta go get help. The runner they chose was Pheidippides.

It is one hundred forty miles, up and down mountains, from Athens to Sparta. If you are driving on a highway, it will take you two to three hours to drive that far.

But Pheidippides wasn't afraid to make this long run; he had trained for this moment all his life. He knew that the lives of his fellow soldiers and the safety of the city he loved depended on his making that run. He never thought of saying, "No thanks, choose someone else." It was an honor to run to save all he loved.

And run he did. Pheidippides ran for almost thirty-six hours without resting.

He reached Sparta and met with the leaders there. They told him, "Yes, we'll send our army, but our religious laws do not allow us to march until the full moon."

Pheidippides was disappointed, but he understood the Spartans had to follow their laws. Now he needed to get back to his army.

With the sad news that the Spartans would not be coming right away, Pheidippides ran another one hundred forty miles back to his generals!

The generals turned to their troops and let them know that there would be a great battle. They looked upon the faces of the courageous soldiers who trusted them, and it hurt their hearts to know that many would die. But they knew that those same soldiers of Athens would fight hard to save their families and their city.


Excerpted from The First Marathon by Susan Reynolds, Daniel Minter. Copyright © 2006 Susan Reynolds. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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