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Classics Professor Struggles Through Race That Killed Phidippides

Peter Krentz and family
Professor Peter Krentz with his spouse, Jeri Fischer, and sons, Will, John , and Tyler, outside the Panathenaic stadium with his Peace Marathon certificate.

November 20, 2000
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

For a professor of classics, retracing the steps of the original marathon qualifies as "academic research."

For Peter Krentz, professor of classics and history at Davidson College, the effort was the most painful project ever, but at least he fared better than the original marathoner. "You know, Phidippides dropped dead at the end, so I did pretty well in that light!" he joked.

Krentz and about 1,000 other runners from all over the world completed the Athens Peace Marathon in early November, finishing with a lap in the historic marble stadium. The route of the race followed the path that Phidippides ran 2,500 years ago to bring home the news that the Athenians had defeated the Persian invasion.

Krentz ran his race while on sabbatical with his family in Athens as an Elizabeth A. Whitehead Visiting Professor at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He has received a grant from the National Endowment from the Humanities to do research on a book about archaic and classical Greek warfare.

His work thus far has led him to believe that Greek warfare was not so bound by a code of honorable conduct as many scholars believe. "Some have even referred to the battles as 'tournaments' to emphasize the rules they followed," explained Krentz. "But my notion is that things were never so rigid."

His most recent article covers deception in Greek warfare, and argues that ambush and trickery were accepted practices. Krentz said, "It may be that early Greek warfare followed a set of rules, but I think most accounts of 'noble battles' were fictions."

The largest task he faces is cataloguing and describing in an appendix every one of the several hundred known invasions in Greek warfare between 776 BCE and 338 BCE.

This will be Krentz's fourth book. He has previously written The Thirty at Athens about Athenian politics, two volumes of translation and commentary covering Xenophon's Hellenika, and co-translated Polyaenus's Stratagems of War. He is also working on a chapter on land campaigns for the forthcoming Cambridge History of Ancient Greek and Roman Warfare.

As he planned for his sabbatical year, the temptation to run the Athens Marathon was too great for the classicist and former varsity volleyball player at Yale to resist. He recalled, "I remember the first time I went to Marathon, twenty-five years ago. Standing on the mound where the Athenians buried their 192 dead was a moving experience. Everything I study would be different if they hadn't prevailed that day."

Krentz began the Peace Run in Marathon at 8:30 a.m., and struggled home over a hilly course in about 4-1/2 hours. He said, "Halfway through I remembered that after the Marine Corps marathon, in 1987, I swore off marathoning,, and wondered why in the world I'd changed my mind! At 35 km. I was just hoping to finish while the course was still open, within five hours. But finishing at the all-marble Panathenaic stadium was so wonderful that I actually forgot to look at the official clock or stop my watch!"

Krentz said that the best part of the race, other than running in a field of international athletes, was meeting Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to Greece, after the race in the stadium.

With the arduous ordeal behind him, Krentz says he's happy to get back to his research project, and recall the rest of Greek history in mind, rather than deed!

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