Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/146

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distance, provided the direction of the race was to be more or less uphill, not down-hill or over a sandy level. But the amateur runners of the Grecian and Roman armies frequently engaged in contests with race-horses and trained hounds without any such reservations; and Pindar sung the praises of a Rhodian athlete who could keep pace with a relay of four trotting horses, and tire them out successively.

The hemerodromes, or foot-couriers of ancient Greece, made from eighty to ninety miles a day, and the volunteer messenger who arrived in Athens with the news of the victory of Marathon on the night after the battle, must have run at the rate of fourteen miles an hour. Dion Chrysostomus speaks of a Thessalian patriarch who had followed the trade of a hemerodrome for upward of ninety years, having made his first trip on his twentieth birthday, and his last after the completion of his hundred and tenth year. During this long career, as his life might well be called, he had never been known to betray a trust, never was behind time, and never had been sick for a single hour.

Longevity was not the least of the benefits which the ancients derived from their health-giving exercises. The second census of Trajan furnishes some curious statistics on this subject, and shows that among the 28,000,000 inhabitants of Northern Italy, Greece, and Magna Græcia (Southern Italy and Sicily), there were 11,000 centenarians, 750 of whom had passed six-score years, eighty-two their one hundred and fiftieth, and twenty their one hundred and seventy-fifth year of life, while three were double centenarians and respectively two hundred and six, two hundred and eight, and two hundred and eighteen years of age. Four brothers of an Albanian family had all passed their hundred and tenth year. The same census shows that, among the indolent races of Asia Minor, Egypt, and Palestine, the proportion of centenarians to every 1,000,000 of inhabitants was considerably lower and not much above the present average.

That the Hebrew Psalmist's threescore and ten was not our original term of life will not be denied by orthodox readers of the Mosaic genealogies, and the ablest biologists agree that it would be far below the normal average even now, if our manner of life itself was not wholly abnormal. It would explain the most vexing contradictions and enigmas of our existence if we could be sure that by strict observance of the health-laws of Nature the Psalmist's maximum might be increased by thirty or forty years: it would amount to a satisfactory solution of the whole problem of life. Under the present condition of things our lives are mostly half-told tales, dramas ending in the middle of the first act; our season terminates before the tree of life has had time to ripen its fruits. That "hunger after immortality" which is often alleged as a proof of a future existence, arises most likely from an instinctive perception of the truth that our present spans of life are too short for reaching the goal of our destination; for those vague yearnings were unknown to the Semitic and Grecian patriarchs. They died in peace, "full of