Much has changed since the day in 490 BCE when the indefatigable Athenian herald Philippides made his legendary run and delivered to the people of Athens news of their city’s victory over the Persians. One thing, however, hasn’t changed: it is still twenty-five punishing miles over rough terrain from Marathon to the Acropolis.
Each year, all over the world, thousands of professional athletes and millions of amateur enthusiasts replicate Philippides’s enterprise, many running with such gusto that one could be forgiven for thinking the fate of Athens once more hung in the balance.
Why do we run? To what end, all the effort and pain? Wherefore this love of muscle, speed, sweat, of testing one’s limits? The Greeks were the first to ask these questions and to wonder why we choose to measure ourselves in this way against others; they were the first to formulate the adage, mens sana in corpore sano; they were first to interrupt war, work, politics, the daily routine to enjoy public celebrations of athletic prowess. The Greeks invented sport! Sport as something separate from labor or war; activity as an end unto itself and a form of entertainment for others. They were also the first to understand how regular physical activity, victory, and loss connected to our emotional and mental well-being.
As the pandemic entered its second year, despondent, isolated, and apprehensive about the future, the internationally renowned classics scholar and best-selling author Andrea Marcolongo discovered running. After years spent with her head and heart in the books, trying to think like a Greek, she set out to learn how to run like a Greek. In doing so, she not only deepened her understanding of the ancient civilization she has spent decades studying, but also discovered a great deal about herself.
In this spirited, generous, and erudite book, Andrea Marcolongo shares not only her erudition but her own journey to understanding that a healthy body is indeed, and in more ways than one might guess, a healthy mind.
Andrea Marcolongo is an Italian journalist, writer, Classics scholar, and former speech writer for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The Ingenious Language was a bestseller in Italy and in many of the other dozen countries in which it has been published thus far. She is also the author of The Heroic Measure.