Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Monday, August 13, 2012

Marathon Knitting Academy

Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to a bit of chatter about life, the universe of knitting, and all the other stuff going on – well, some of it, anyway.
I hope you are all well and that the weather where you are is as lovely as it is here. We are having a bit of summer again after a period of rather dismal, chilly and wet weather. It never fails: when the schools start, the weather turns.

This was supposed to be last week’s post, but knitting got in the way. Now, of course, the Ravellenic Games as well as the Olympics are all done, and life can return to normal. The Apple of the Week is related to sports, though, and The Knitting is nearly all about the Ravellenic projects. So let’s get onto that.

It’s Monday morning after the party ... the party that lasted more than two weeks. There has been lots of knitting, lots of reading and posting in fora (I refuse to call them ‘forums’, that would be selling out), lots of sport – well, not that much sport, actually. I’ve watched bits here & there, following the medal counts; we did watch the opening ceremony, but not yet the closing ceremony. We taped it (not literally, it’s been recorded on an HD box), because it started at 10 pm, which is too late on a school night.

One of the final events of this year’s Olympics, taking place on Sunday, was the men’s marathon, in which – not surprisingly – the three medals were won by Africans, one from Uganda and two Kenyans. I was just looking at the stats and noticed this, of course, but also that the two North Koreans came in at exactly the same time. How weird is that?
Running a marathon is a big accomplishment; whether everybody has it in them, as they say on Marathon Training Academy, I can’t tell. I think maybe quite a few people who don’t think they can, could if they really, really want to and are prepared to put in the tremendous effort that it takes to train and prepare for it. If you make sure to pick the right parents for the optimal genetic make-up and to grow up in a mountain region for oxygen utilisation conditioning, you will make it easier on yourself; so remember to do that.

The 42 kilometres or 26.2 miles have become an iconic distance, something to put on your bucket list for a once-in-a-lifetime achievement or, for the really ambitious, something to do 50 times in 50 states. And if you’re Dean Karnazes – which nobody is but himself – 50 times in 50 days in 50 states. Or, for the likes of sir Ranulph Fiennes, 7 times in 7 continents in 7 days. Amazing.

Now, we all know the story behind the distance, right? The one about the soldier who, after the battle of Marathon, ran all the way back to Athens to announce the victory and then dropped dead. Great story, isn’t it? Full of drama, sensation, and pathos. Quite the tabloid kind of news.
You see where I’m going here? That’s right: do not believe this story. It’s most likely fiction. We have no textual evidence of this tale from around the time when it is supposed to have happened, only from more than 600 years later; and let’s face it, it is rather too good to be true.
There is another story that is much less sensational, but much more likely and in fact even better.
Let’s have a little background first, from the historian Herodotus, who wrote about the Persian Wars in BCE 490 and 480-479. Herodotus gives us several hundred years of history before the wars, to explain how the Persian Empire expanded and how the animosity between Hellenic and barbaric (i.e. non-Greek speaking) states arose. He starts out with stories that we regard as legends: in those days, they didn’t distinguish too much. So one of the stories is about a prince from Ilion (Troy) who stole a Spartan queen, which led to a full-scale war – according to the Persian historians, says Herodotus, this was the cause of all the troubles. Because who in their right mind bothers to fight over a woman?

Anyway, the Persian Wars:
In 490, the Persian king Dareios the Great decided to add Hellas to his already vast empire. The Hellenic city states, poleis, weren’t too happy about this, particularly not the Athenians. They had just invented democracy – or what passed for democracy in those days – and had no intention at all of being subjects to a foreign king. They prepared their defence near a town called Marathon north-east of Athens. Now, the Persian army was huge, so the Athenians decided to ask the Spartans for help in the upcoming battle – the Spartans being known elite warriors (more about them later).
To get the message through, they did the usual thing and deployed a runner. Herodotus tells us that the man, Pheidippides, arrived in Sparta ‘the next day’ after having run about 150 kilometres. We get no more details than that, no counting of hours, let alone minutes or seconds, no list of aid stations or fuelling strategy or anything like that. This is obviously all in a day’s work for a Hellenic runner. We may guess that he chose to run through the night, this being August; and we know from the runners who attempt this distance today that it is regarded as one of the hardest ultra marathons, through mountainous regions and a climate that can be quite hot.

Anyway, Pheidippides arrived in Sparta with the plea for help; but the Spartans would not give it. They were in the midst of a religious festival and could not go to war. Which message Pheidippides then brought back to Athens. The Athenians were on their own in the battle – and they defeated the Persians hands down. No problem.

Of course, the Athenians thought they were the cat’s whiskers after this; but 10 years later, they needed help once again. In 480, the new king of the Persians, Xerxes son of Dareios, tried to fulfil his father’s ambitions and add Hellas to the Persian empire. This time, he marched his vast army across the lands and came to Hellas from the north. At a mountain pass well known as Thermopylai, he was delayed in his progress for about a week, mainly due to the heroism of 300 Spartan warriors, who chose to fight to the death.
Again, it is Herodotus who tells us the story. The movie is based on a cartoon by Frank Miller; this means that for once, it is fairly easy to discern what is history and what is fiction: we get the chronological sequence of events as told by Herodotus, while the more grotesque elements are quite obvious additions. Very tidy.

To round it all off, even though we are digressing somewhat from the Marathon theme: in the year following the battle at Thermopylai, there was a sea battle at Salamis outside Athens, in which the Persian fleet was destroyed, and another ground battle at Plataiai, where the Persian army was finally defeated. Xerxes gave up his attempts on Hellas.

Take a moment to think about it: these Persian Wars were one of the defining events in European – and World – history. If Dareios or Xerxes had succeeded, it would have been the end of the fledgling democracy in Athens. The rational thought and  scientific endeavours of the natural philosophers would have been curbed. All of this might, of course, have resurfaced in later times, but when? Rome was at this time, in the early 5th century BCE, far too small and weak to have been able to oppose the Persians – for they would not have been satisfied with just Hellas, they would have continued their conquests.
We owe a lot to men like Pheidippides, citizen soldiers who fought to protect their homes and their freedom; just as we owe a lot to our soldiers today who fight to protect the global home and freedom of all of us.

Moving on now to The Knitting:
It feels like I’ve been deadline-knitting for months ... and I have, actually. I started out back in May with the baby blanket and the shawl that wasn’t finished – and still isn’t, come to think of it.
Then came the wedding blanket that was finished. Just. At the last moment.
In the few days’ lull before the Games began, I cast on for Laura’s birthday dress – and then, of course, it’s been all about TARDISes for the past two weeks :o) Mostly, anyway.
The TARDIS appears quite suddenly
Now, how will the Doctor get out of this?
More TARDISes! In the middle of the Time Vortex

I started writing this yesterday and then realised that I needed to get knitting to get my third Ravellenic project across the finish line. Which I did. This is the top formerly known as Pythia, that I renamed Daphne because of the laurel leaf pattern. I finished all of my planned projects! 
Remember Daphne?
And I have been celebrating it on various Ravelry threads, mostly the one for Team TARDIS.

So today, I’m getting the birthday dress back out. It’s for this coming Saturday. I can make it; I'm already well into te pattern again and the whole idea of it. No pics yet, but they will be coming.

After all this, it will be nice to be able to choose a project, maybe even have a day of not knitting very much, if I don’t feel like it or have other things that need to be taken care of.
Now, before you all shout at me: I am very well aware that I chose all of these projects myself and that I chose to knit them at all in the first place. Nobody held a gun to my head; nobody kidnapped my children and sent me a ransom note specifying knitted items. If that happened, I would have to call Liam Neeson to come and kill them with pointy sticks.

Anyway, I know that I laid this on myself; I have no-one to blame. And really, I am not complaining. I enjoy knitting – maybe not so much the last day and a half of the wedding blanket, when I hated the pattern and my hands hurt, but apart from that – I enjoy the challenge of trying out new patterns and techniques and even having specified periods of time to do them in. I really have enjoyed the knitalong-like experience of being on a team where everybody knits related items and several people even knit the same pattern: there are a lot of new Bigger on the Inside shawls out there!

I have been knitting a lot this summer, more than I probably would have if it hadn’t been for all these self-imposed deadlines. But nobody got hurt, the garden hasn’t quite turned into a jungle yet, the kids and the cat were fed. And did I mention I enjoy knitting?

So that is what I will do: knit on to make a dress for my niece for her 3rd birthday. And everybody is happy :o)

Thank you for stopping by once again! I hope you have a brilliant week, whether you or yours are back in school or not. I’ll be back, and until then:
Happy knitting!

PS: A few shots from my garden (I am not showing you the unmowed lawn):

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