The Marathon Victory Announcement Committee
Organizing for news
One class of Athenians was somewhat dissatisfied with the Ionian Revolt which began in 499 BC against the Persian Empire, opening the Greco-Persian Wars which would go on for half a century. These men were by inclination concerned with niceties of the honor of Athens: not with the fact, of course, which was glorious as far as Greek was spoken and beyond, and unto centuries yet unborn; but with its perception, which it must be admitted often was initially confused, misunderstood, rumor-ridden, and perhaps subject to less than ideal appreciation by the other Greek cities on the mainland and on Mediterranean isles and shores.
Some of these volunteer publicists or war correspondents (to use terms of our age) were disgruntled that their enthusiastic attempts to spread true news of campaigns and battles at Sardis, Ephesus, Cyprus, Pedasus, Miletus and so on were met by disdain, occasionally by disbelief in one or another subtle point. Several publicists even were sued by merchants who mistook the consequences of the several victories and defeats, and allegedly suffered shipping losses which they blamed on our promulgators of news.
Why, some of the unrestrainedly imaginative suggested, suppose there were to be someday a great Greek naval victory over the Persian fleet in the straits between the Greek mainland and the island of Salamis? Though Salamis virtually was on Athens' doorstep, not even all Athenians would hear the straight scoop right away. The myriad tongues of Rumor would lap the Aegean, nay the Mediterranean itself, into a froth of miscommunication. And what price honor against lawsuit then?
These early patriotic amateurs of news took counsel among themselves during several years, deciding that such confusion could and would be avoided whenever such an occasion again arose. Given the hostility and strength of the vast Persian Empire, Athens someday must rise to a tremendous battle. By then, with some planning and allocation of responsibility, the accuracy of distant war news could be brought to the same high pitch as Athenian valor at arms.
After some dispute, the publicists settled on a name for themselves: The Victory Announcement Committee. This was not thoughtlessly presumptive, nor even patriotically so: the members believing that in the case of the huge Persian army overwhelming the Greeks, the publicists would be in Hades when the clash of arms stilled, for they intended to be in the thick of the fighting themselves.
The Committee had more trouble choosing a motto, to the vocal mirth of some of their frivolous friends. "All the news that floats" was rejected as being too general as to news, and for warfare seemed to refer only to naval actions. "The Light of Greece" — bright, but not illuminating as to precise subject-matter. "News from the Crossroads of Fate" — land-oriented, and perhaps presumptively morbid. "Homer for our times" — shouted down. "World's greatest news" — perhaps for barbarians as well as Greeks, but still smacked of hubris. "The view from Olympus" — way too much hubris. "Greece and Persia: the battle's reckoning" — hey, we aren't merchants, to count and weigh; they're the ones who sued us last time.
"First news of the battle" and "True news of the war" held the weary field for a while. Eventually cool heads, maintaining that freshness, accuracy, and timeliness were what they strove for, and some dignity wouldn't hurt, pushed "Classical News Before It's Old", and this carried the motto phase of the Committee's preparations.
After years of such dogged and scarcely appreciated work, when the Persian army invaded mainland Greece in 490 BC the Committee was ready. Armed besides their bronze weapons with what they considered the scarcely less bright panoply of news promulgation (war correspondence, rumor control, propaganda — call it what you will), they were steeled for the clash of arms, and happily ready for the management of words in the cause of honor and glory.
As the great battle on the plain of Marathon drew to a close, and men could breathe a little easier after their sword- and spear-work, the surviving publicists shook themselves free of the dust and the ringing in their ears to hold their long-anticipated on-site meeting. In double-quick time, they modified their name to The Marathon Victory Announcement Committee; they were at Marathon and it was a decisive victory, so no point in mincing words. While marching toward Marathon, they'd worked out a basic and minimal notification to be sent, should the Greeks win; add a few colorful details and they had their official announcement. They all were almost mortally tired, so they were less effusive than they'd dreamed while at home.
As quickly as possible the best scribes among them began writing the messages on parchment, which should have gone into sealed diplomatic envelopes with red sealing wax, but not being real inventors they used standard scrolls. Lacking carbon paper, all messages had to be originals.
Other members of the Committee, though, were having problems. Shouting around the battlefield littered with dead and wounded, to convince the mostly exhausted Greeks not to think of starting for their home cities until the Victory Announcement Committee had readied and sent out copies of its official Announcement, was met with (to put it politely) soldierly disdain.
Appealing to the Greek generals brought no better results, the generals claiming that their men would mutiny if they had to wait on paperwork from some Committee before marching back to cities which would rejoice at their victorious return. In fact, the generals told the Committee where to go, in soldierly language.
Balked but not dismayed, the Marathon Victory Announcement Committee continued with its scribal efforts, finally dividing into prearranged subcommittees to carry, with due dignity, their true, accurate, and timely scrolls of Announcement to the nearer and more important of the Greek cities.
Unfortunately all the years of careful planning, and all the quick work on the battlefield, were as nought. While they were doing their post-battle inscribing and (failed) persuading, all unbeknownst to them a famous runner — the Pan-inspired courier Pheidippides — apparently took off with all speed to Athens, running his heart out for the eternal glory of Athens and of Greece; and so the news of the great victory at Marathon legendarily came to Athens and soon thereafter to the further Greek cities, before any of the subcommittees bearing official scrolls of Announcement could toil on to their destinations.
When the Marathon Victory Announcement Committee eventually regathered at Athens, the city still was rejoicing, but Marathon scarcely could be called news any more. In fact, they'd missed the earliest and most boisterous of the festivals.
Some of the Committee diehards tried to re-enliven their Committee beneath a new motto, "Classical News Never Gets Old"; but they could not muster a quorum to consider it.
And then they were sued.
© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson
Peace at Troynovant
Battle of Marathon, 490 BC