Letter: Marathon scandal

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Sir: Martin Mottram may be on to something when he asks (letter, 11 December) whether the original Marathon runner had consumed performance- enhancing drugs. According to Robert Browning's poem Pheidippides, "fennel a-tremble with dew" seems to have been the main substance.

However, as with all drug-related cases, the causes of death are complex. It seems that before proceeding to the fennel/dew cocktail, Pheidippides had been on oak, olive and bay which, when enwreathed, make the brows bold: this and his punishing training schedule - from Athens to Sparta and back in the days before the battle - were contributory factors.

Nevertheless, on the actual death certificate Browning recorded "joy in his blood" as "bursting his heart".


Hove, East Sussex