Eight glimpses of Marathon in Scroll 1 of Pausanias

2016.07.14 | By Gregory Nagy

I am working on an ongoing project entitled “A Pausanias Reader in Progress,” where I translate and comment on Scrolls 1–9 of Pausanias. In my posting here for 2016.07.14, I concentrate on eight passages in Pausanias Scroll 1 that refer to Marathon in general and to the Battle of Marathon in particular. The translations are almost entirely my own, though at times I follow closely the original wording found in the translation of W. H. S. Jones (1918).

Theseus and the bull of Marathon. Attic red-figure calyx-krater (ca. 440–430). Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Theseus and the bull of Marathon. Attic red-figure calyx-krater (ca. 440–430).
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


{1.14.5} Still farther off is a shrine [nāos] of Eukleia ‘goddess of good glory [kleos]’, this too being a thank-offering [ana-thēma] having to do with [the victory over] the Persians who had landed at Marathon. It is in-response-to [epi + dative case] this victory [nīkē] that the Athenians have their most lofty thoughts [phroneîn + malista]. A special example is Aeschylus. When the completion [teleutē] of his life was coming into view for him, he reminisced [mnēmoneuein] not about any of his other deeds, even though he had reached such heights of glory [doxa] with his poetry [poiēsis] and with his participation in the naval battles of Artemision and at Salamis. Instead, he just wrote down [graphein] [in an epigram] his name, his father’s name, the name of his city of origin [= Athens], and how he had as his witnesses for affirming his manly valor [andreiā] the grove [alsos] at Marathon and the Persians who had landed there.



{1.15.3} At the concluding part of the painting [graphē][1] are the men who fought at Marathon, namely, the men from [the city of] Plataea-in-Boeotia and the men from all the territory-of-Athens [= Attica]. They are at the moment of coming into contact in hand-to-hand combat with the foreigners [barbaroi, = the Persians]. At this point, the two sides are evenly matched for the action [ergon], but then, in a close-up of the battle [makhē], the foreigners [barbaroi] are starting to turn and run, heading for the marshland [helos] and crowding each other [into the morass]. At the outer edges of the painting are [represented] the [beached] ships of the Phoenician navy and the Greeks [Hellēnes] who are slaughtering those of the foreigners [barbaroi] who are scrambling to climb on board. And at this point is painted [graphesthai] also the hero [hērōs] by the name of Marathon, after whom the plain [pedíon] called Marathon gets its name.[2] Also represented [eikazesthai] is Theseus as he appeared when he was coming back up from under the earth. Also Athena and Hēraklēs. Let me explain: you see [= gar], the people of Marathon were the first to establish-the-custom-of-venerating [nomizein] Hēraklēs as a god [theos]. Featured most prominently in the painting [graphē] are Kallimakhos, who had been elected commander-in-chief [polem-arkhos] by the Athenians, and Miltiades, one of the generals [stratēgoi]. Also [featured is] a hero [hērōs] called Ekhetlos, about whom I will make mention [mnēmē] also at a later point.[3]



{1.27.9} There is another deed [ergon] that they [= the Athenians] have represented-in-the-form-of-a-dedicatory-offering [ana-tithenai], and here is the tale [logos] that pertains to that deed. The land of the Cretans and especially the part that is next to the river Tethris was ravaged by a bull. You see, beasts [thēria] in ancient times were much more formidable for humans. For example, there is the Nemean lion. And the lion of Parnassus. And so many serpents [drakontes] in many parts of Greece [Hellas]. And then there are the boars of Calydon and Erymanthos. Also the one from Krommyon in the land of Corinth. It was said that some [of these beasts] were sent up from the earth down below, that others were sacred [hiera] to the gods, while still others had been let loose for the punishment [tīmōriā] of humankind. In the case of this bull as well, the Cretans say that it was sent by Poseidon to their land because, although Minos was ruler [arkhōn] of the Greek [Hellēnikē] Sea, he did not give more honor [tīmē] to Poseidon than to the other gods.

{1.27.10} Anyway, they say that this bull was conveyed [komizesthai] from Crete to the Peloponnesus, and became one of what are called the Twelve Labors [āthloi] of Hēraklēs.[4] When he was set loose on the Plain of the Argives he fled [pheugein] through the isthmus of Corinth and then fled [pheugein] further[5] into the land of Attica as far as the Attic deme [dēmos] of Marathon, killing everyone he encountered, including Androgeos, son of Minos. Minos then sailed against Athens with his navy, not believing that the Athenians were innocent of the death of Androgeos, and oppressed them so badly that it was finally agreed that they [= the Athenians] would bring seven girls [parthenoi] and seven boys [paides] to the Minotaur, who was said to dwell [oikeîn] in the Labyrinth [laburinthos] at Knossos. But, later on, Theseus is said to have driven the bull of Marathon to the Acropolis, where he sacrificed [thuein] it to the goddess [Athena]. And the dedicatory-offering [ana-thēma] [that signals this deed] is from the deme [dēmos] of Marathon.


"Theseus Taming the Bull of Marathon" (ca. 1730?); oil of canvas. Charles-André Vanloo (French, 1705–1765).  via Wikimedia Commons.
“Theseus Taming the Bull of Marathon” (ca. 1730?); oil on canvas. Charles-André Vanloo (French, 1705–1765).
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.



{1.28.2} Above and beyond the things that I have listed so far in my inventory, there are two tithes [dekatai] dedicated by the Athenians in the aftermath of wars.[6] There is first a bronze statue [agalma] of Athena, tithe [dekatē] from the [victory over the] Persians who landed at Marathon. It is the work [tekhnē] of Pheidias, but the reliefs upon the shield, including the fight between Centaurs and Lapithai, are said to be the metalwork of someone named Mys,[7] for whom they say Parrhasios son of Euenor designed this and the rest of his works [erga]. The point of the spear of this Athena and the crest of her helmet are already visible to those sailing to Athens as they pass by Cape Sounion. The other tithe [dekatē] is a bronze chariot, offered by the Boeotians and by the people of Khalkis in Euboea.[8]



{1.28.4} Descending, not to the lower city, but to just beneath the Propylaia [‘Gateway’], you see a fountain [pēgē] and near it a sacred space [hieron] of Apollo in a cave [spēlaion]. It was here, according to traditional-thinking [nomizein], that Apollo had sex with Kreousa daughter of Erekhtheus.[9] [There seems to be a gap here in the text.] When the Persians had landed in Attica, Philippides was sent as a messenger [from Marathon] to Lacedaemon. When he returned [to Marathon], he said that the Lacedaemonians had postponed sending out [any reinforcements], on the grounds that it was their custom not to go out to fight before the circle of the moon was full. Philippides went on to say that near Mount Parthenios he had been met by Pan, who told him that he is kindly-disposed [eu-nous] to the Athenians and would come as their ally [summakhos] to Marathon. This deity, then, gets honored [tīmâsthai] in return for this message [angeliā].



{1.29.4} There is also a monument [mnēma] for all the Athenians who happened to die in war, whether in battles [makhai] at sea or on land, except for those who had their struggle [agōnizesthai] at Marathon. These, on account of their manly valor [andragathiā], have their burial-places [taphoi] on the field-of-battle [khōrā], but the others lie along the road to the Academy [Akadēmiā], and over their burial-places [taphoi] stand slabs [stēlai] that say [by way of inscriptions] the name and the deme [dēmos] of each.



{1.32.3} Before turning to a description of the islands, I follow up further on matters having to do with the demes [dēmoi] [of Attica].[10] There is a deme [dēmos] called Marathon, equally distant from the city [polis] of the Athenians and from Karystos in Euboea. It was at this point in Attica that the foreigners [barbaroi, = Persians] landed, were defeated [krateîsthai] in battle, and lost some of their ships as they were trying to pull away [from the shore]. On the plain [pedíon] is the tomb [taphos] of the Athenians, and upon it are slabs [stēlai] with [inscriptions of] the names of those killed, organized by way of their subdivisions [phūlai]; and there is another tomb for the men of Plataea from Boeotia and also for the slaves. You see, slaves too fought there, and it was the first time that this happened.

{1.32.4} There is also an individual monument [mnēma] for one man, Miltiades son of Kimon, although his end [teleutē] happened later, after he had failed to capture Paros and for this reason had been put on trial by the Athenians. At this place [= Marathon] every night you can hear horses neighing and you can sense that men are fighting in combat. No one who has deliberately set out to experience this vision [théā] in-full-view [en-argēs] has ever really had any success, but still, if something is experienced in some alternative way by someone who has no ear for such things, this is no cause for anger [orgē] on the part of the spirits [daimones]. The people of Marathon worship [sebesthai] both those who died in the fighting, calling them heroes [hērōes], and also [the hero] Marathon, from whom the deme [dēmos] derives its name, and then Hēraklēs, saying that they were the first among the Greeks to establish-the-custom-of-venerating [nomizein] him as a god [theos].[11]

{1.32.5} They [= the people of Marathon] tell about something that happened at the battle [makhē] [of Marathon]. It was the presence of a man who had the looks [eidos] of a farmer [agr-oikos]—and implements [skeuē] to match. Wielding a plough [arotron] he slaughtered with it many of the foreigners [barbaroi, = Persians], and then, after having done what-was-done [ergon] he disappeared [= became a-phanēs]. When the Athenians consulted the god [Apollo], he did not give-an-oracular-answer [khrēsai] with regard to him [= the man with the plough] but simply commanded them to honor [tīmân] Ekhetlaios (= he of the plough-handle) as a hero [hērōs]. A trophy-column [tropaion] of white marble has been made [to mark the turning-point or tropaion of the battle of Marathon]. The Athenians say that they buried the Persians, since it is a universally [pantōs] holy-thing [hosion] for the corpse [nekros] of a human to be covered by the earth, but I could not find any tomb [taphos] for them. There was neither a tumulus [khōma] nor any other marker [sēmeion] to be seen. They must have carried them [= the dead Persians], just as they found them, to some ditch and tossed them in.

{1.32.6} In Marathon is a spring [pēgē] called Makariā, and what they say about it is as follows. When Hēraklēs left Tiryns, fleeing from Eurystheus, he went to live with his friend Keyx, who was king of Trakhis. When Hēraklēs departed the life of humans [anthrōpoi], Eurystheus demanded his children. But the king of Trakhis sent them to Athens, saying that he was weak while Theseus was hardly powerless to protect them. The arrival of the children as suppliants [hiketai] caused for the first time war between Peloponnesians and Athenians, since Theseus refused to give them up [= the children of Hēraklēs] at the demand of Eurystheus. And they say that an oracle [khrēsmos] was given the Athenians that one of the children of Hēraklēs must die a voluntary death, or else victory [nīkē] could not be theirs. Then Makariā, daughter of Deianeira and Hēraklēs, slaughtered [apo-sphazein] herself and gave to the Athenians the upper hand [kratos] in the war and to the spring [pēgē] her own name.[12]

{1.32.7} There is at Marathon a lake [limnē] which for the most part is marshy [hel-ōdēs]. Into this lake fell the foreigners [barbaroi, = the Persians] as they were turning and running [after the battle], since they did not know their way around the roads, and it is said that much of the slaughter [phonos] that followed was because of this. Above the lake are the stone stables of the horses of Artaphernes, and there are marks [sēmeia] of his tent [skēnē] on the rocks. Out of the lake flows a river, providing near the lake itself water suitable for cattle, but near its mouth it becomes saline and full of sea fish. A little beyond the plain is the Hill of Pan and a Cave of Pan, which is worth seeing [théā]. The entrance to it is narrow, but farther in are chambers and baths and the so-called Pan’s herd of goats, which are rocks that look very much like goats.



{1.33.2} About sixty stadium-lengths from Marathon as you go along the road by the sea to Oropos stands Rhamnous. The houses [oikēseis] for human habitation are on the coast, but a little way inland is a sacred space [hieron] of Nemesis, who of all the gods [theoi] is the most inexorable toward humans who-commit-outrage [hubristai]. It is thought that the wrath [mēnīma] of this goddess [theos feminine] countered the foreigners [barbaroi, = Persians] who landed at Marathon. Scornfully thinking that nothing stood in the way of their capturing Athens, they were bringing a piece of Parian marble for the making [poiēsis] of a trophy [tropaion], as if their task were already finished.

{1.33.3} Of this marble Pheidias made a statue [agalma] of Nemesis, and on the head of the goddess [theos feminine] is a garland [stephanos] picturing deer and small statues [agalmata] of Nīkē. In her left hand she holds an apple branch, in her right hand a cup on which are crafted the figures of Aethiopians.



[1] Pausanias is viewing the paintings that decorate the walls of the Stoa Poikile or ‘Painted Stoa’ in the Agora of Athens. He has already described the images depicting (1) the Battle of Oinoe, (2) the Battle of the Amazons and Athenians, and (3) the Capture of Troy. Now he turns to (4) the Battle of Marathon.

[2] We see here an important example of a convention: a place-name can be simply a hero’s name. Another example is the place-name Kolōnos, named after a hero called Kolōnos, as we see in Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus 59: see H24H 18§§2–4.

[3] See 1.32.5.

[4] The events that add up to the Twelve Labors can of course vary.

[5] The double use of pheugein ‘flee’ here gives the impression that the bull was fleeing not only its pursuers but also running away from becoming one of the Twelve Labors of Herakles.

[6] A dekatē ‘tithe’ is an offering that amounts to one-tenth the value of income from (in this case) material captured in war.

[7] Floruit 430 BCE.

[8] Circa 507 BCE.

[9] The verb sun-gignesthai, meaning literally ‘be with’, is conventionally used as a euphemism for ‘have sex with’.

[10] By way of his mode of reference, Pausanias seems to be privileging here the deme of Marathon.

[11] See also Pausanias 1.15.3.

[12] See MoM 3§47.