A Humble Democracy?

At the National Prayer Breakfast this week, President Obama called for America to become more humble. He said:

“In a democracy as big and as diverse as ours, we will encounter every opinion. And our task as citizens—whether we are leaders in government or business or spreading the word—is to spend our days with open hearts and open minds; to seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view and to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation, as a people, to take real and meaningful action.”

He goes on to say that we need humility to do these things. He’s probably right, we need humility, but his admonition comes across as a little naive to this ancient historian.

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The Original Marathon Run

English: Painting of Pheidippides.

Around this time of year, 2,502 years ago, the Athenian phalanx defeated a much larger Persian expeditionary-force at the Battle of Marathon. And so, to commemorate this achievement, hundreds of thousands of Americans will run 26.2 miles and call themselves “marathoners.”

But really, they’re not commemorating the battle; they’re commemorating the run that followed. After the victory on the plains of Marathon, the Athenians sent a messenger back to Athens to bring the good news. The runner quickly covered the 26.2 miles between Marathon and Athens, alerted his countrymen that they need worry no longer, and then died of exhaustion. It’s a very romantic tale. Too bad it’s not true. Continue reading