Ancient Greek Fennel and Marathons: One and the Same?
As a way to welcome the colder autumn weather, I spent this past weekend harvesting fennel seeds from our garden. Since my yard is full of this aromatic plant, I delighted in my harvest and quickly began researching ways to incorporate the flavor into a recipe. With an enchanting licorice smell that adds layers of complexity to any dish, I soon learned that fennel has an equally complex history!
As a classicist, I was thrilled to learn that fennel's history is rooted in Ancient Greece. The word for fennel in Ancient Greek is "Μαραθών" (marathon) and is named for the city of Marathon, Greece that is south of Athens. While fennel grows in abundance throughout most of the country, the spice got this name back in 490 BC when the Persians first invaded Greece. The Greeks had previously aided in an invasion of the Persians and promptly sparked this counterattack that ended with the infamous Battle of Marathon. This battle took place in the fennel fields of Marathon and yielding a Greek victory. It was after this battle that Athen's greatest runner Pheidippides became famous for running 42 km (or 26 miles) to Athens to announce the victory. Not only did his journey inspire the modern marathon, but also helped with the popularization of Μαραθών throughout Greece!
Who knew such a small seed and a long run could share such a rich history! Stay tuned to see how I will use this Greek story to inspire my next culinary adventure!