This is an introduction to a new series of articles in which I look at those lgbt athletes and adventurers who take themselves to the limit and push themselves to the extreme.
In part this series is
inspired by research I undertook last year when I was putting together my
“Around the World in 80 Gays” series. The most recent of these articles ten
days ago featured some extreme athletes – mountaineers and multi-marathon
runners. There were many others I would also liked to have mentioned, so many
that I had no space for them, so what better place to begin this new “Xtremely
Queer” series by coming hot on the trail after my article of Keith Tomlinson,
Cason Crane and Todd Henry. Of others that I’ve previously written about I will
mention Count Eigil Knuth, the Danish archaeologist who discovered the world’s
most northerly civilisation beyond the Arctic Circle.
There are various
activities that can be classed as “extreme”. You may have tried some of them
yourself. Some are son popular that people have forgotten that they’re actually
“extreme”. Marathon running is an example. We should remember that the very
first marathon run by Pheidippides in 490 BC ended in his death from
exhaustion. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures and film of marathon runners in
difficulties during a run.
But the facts behind
Pheidippides’ marathon run are not as we may think. Modern scholars believe the
story of hi s run is a mixture of other, unconnected, stories that were
confused together by authors writing down the event decades after it was
supposed to have occurred. It is not now believed that the message that
Pheidippides conveyed was not delivered after the Battle of Marathon but
before. The confusion may have been created by Lucian, the Roman writer who
also described a fantastic journey to the intersex race of human on the Moon.
Pheidippides may have been
a real person. He is mentioned in other ancient Greek writings as a kind of
long-distance messenger. Over the rough mountain tracks between the ancient
city states it would have been quicker to send runners instead of messengers on
horseback because the rough terrain would slow the horses down to a walk, even
though they could go faster on the flat. It seems there was a special class of
messenger, a specially trained long-distance runner, of which Pheidippides was
In the full legendary
version of his run Pheidippides not only ran the 26 miles to Athens to bring
news of the victory at the battle of marathon but he had also run 150 miles to
Sparta and back in the previous two days. So it’s no wonder that the story of
him collapsing and dying from exhaustion was created.
The first part of the
legend is probably true. The esteemed writer Herodotus records Pheidippides ran
from Athens to Sparta on a mission to ask for military help in fighting the
Persians at marathon. The next day he ran back to Athens.
One diversion on the
mission was an encounter with the shepherd-loving god Pan. Phiedippides was met
by Pan on the run to Sparta who asked him why the Athenians hadn’t called upon
him for help against the Persians. He had helped them in the past and was
willing to help again. So, when Phiedippides returned to Athens 2 days later he
passed on his message as well as the one from the Spartans.
The Athenians called upon
Pan’s assistance and they firmly believed that the god was with them at the
Battle of Marathon and helped in their victory. As a result they built a new
shrine to Pan next to the Acropolis and instituted a new annual festival in his
honour complete with games, sacrifice and torch race. Even though Pheidippides’
run to Sparta is recorded by Herodotus, the famous run from Marathon is not and
doesn’t appear until Lucian wrote it down 500 years later.
A modern ultra-marathon
event commemorating Pheidippides’ 150 mile Spartan run is a much more fitting
tribute to this long-distance messenger. The event, called the Spartathlon, was
created in 1983 after a group of RAF officers proved it was possible. I haven’t
been able to ascertain if any lgbt runners have competed but they’ll feature in
a future “Xtremely Queer” article if they have.
Before I sign off for
today there’s another lgbt link between the Battle of Marathon and sport.
Leading the Persian army at the battle was the exiled Athenian tyrant Hippias.
He, along with his brother Hipparchus, was one of the most hated rulers of
Athens. In 514 BC a plot to assassinate them was hatched up by the couple
Harmodius and Aristogeiton. The plan was to kill the tyrants during the Greater
Panathenaean Games – the “Gayest Games in Ancient Greece”. I told the story of
the assassination here. In brief, Hipparchus was assassinated and Hippias
escaped to rule as tyrant alone. Also, as Pheidippides was Athenian we assume that
he competed at the Panathenaean Games at some point in his life.
The first regular
“Xtremely Queer” article will appear at the weekend with a look at an lgbt
pioneer of female mountaineering.