January 6, 2010

Which Hoplitodromos is Which?

I've received my first comments, and in another forum I was asked which hoplitodromos I intended to run: the 1 stade, the 2 stade, or the, "Plataian," 7 stade race mentioned in Philostratus', "On Athletics":

"The hoplite race at Plataia in Boiotia is considered to have the most prestige because of the length of the race and because the equipment (the shield?) reached to the ground and protected the competitor as if he were actually fighting."

The translation is from Sweet's, "Sport and Recreation in Ancient Greece," and I must confess to be intrigued at the thought of a special Plataian event.

We know from Plutarch that the Plataians were great runners. The story of the Plataian Euchidias is one of the Greek tales that has been confabulated in the evolution of the modern marathon. After the Hellenic victory at the battle of Plataia in 479, and despite having just fought a battle, Euchidias was dispatched to Delphi to fetch the holy fire of Apollo. The doughty runner completed his task in a in a single day and night, covering 1000 stades, or 113 miles, round trip. However, the exertion was so great he expired after completing his charge. Like Pheidippides famous run to Sparta from Athens, the feat was proven to be possible by a modern runner. In May 1993 Antonopoulos Panayiotis re-enacted Euchidias' feat (fortunately without expiring).

Despite this heroic effort, on some consideration I am inclined to believe that the Plataian hoplitodromos is a later development. The source alone makes this suspect, as Philostratus was writing about current events in 220 AD. In addition, the shield is reminiscent of the Roman scutum, not the Greek aspis, which never reached to the ground. When you include the relative novelty of the event (it had only been around for 30 years at the time of the Battle of Marathon) it seems extremely unlikely that Philostratus' event has a seven century vintage.

So I will be running the two stade hoplitodromos. That said, I have ordered Sweet's book, as it may contain other interesting information. From what I have seen of the sample online, the hoplitodromos was run in two legs, with a turning post for each runner at the end of the first leg which he likely swung around by gripping with his right hand. These are excellent details that will help make the race more interesting, and who knows what else might be there to be found.

No comments:

Post a Comment