It’s All Greek to Him

Former legislative consultant brings Ancient Greece to life

By Jessica Laskey
April 2020

When people ask Jay Greenwood how long it took him to write his new historical fiction novel “Race to Marathon,” his answer is simple: a little over half a century.

The Oregon native credits his “fantastic English teachers” in high school with first piquing his interest in Ancient Greek literature and history. As a freshman, Greenwood recounts that he was assigned “The Odyssey” in class—which he calls “a very heavy lift for a country boy from Oregon.” But when he managed to finish the book and realized he’d just read one of the greatest works ever written, he was hooked—so much so that it changed the course of his career

Always “red hot” in math, Jay Greenwood enrolled at Oregon State as an engineering major but retained his interest in humanities. When he was told by the dean of engineering to stop taking “foo-foo classes” (meaning English), Greenwood realized that not only did he enjoy those classes more, he was doing better in them—as in, straight-As better. He shifted his major to English and philosophy, and never looked back.

Jay Greenwood’s deft ability to “string my words together” led to a graduate degree in political science at UC Davis after serving two tours of duty in Vietnam as an officer. He then went onto an impressive career writing about political issues and working for the Fair Political Practices Commission, as well as serving as chief of staff for members of both the state Assembly and Senate, and as a chief consultant in the California Legislature for many years.

But the call of Ancient Greece was still strong for the Sierra Oaks resident, who was inspired to finally channel his love of history into a manuscript when he discovered his protagonist: Themistocles. Greenwood describes the real-life Themistocles as “the Winston Churchill” of the Greeks—namely for his heroic efforts to save his people from the invading Persians.

“Themistocles was the heart of salvation of Greece and Western civilization,” Greenwood says. “It was like he had a crystal ball—he was a genius of human nature and knew what was coming from the Persians and then outfoxed them all. When I first read about him, I was impressed to the point of being flabbergasted.”

Thus began months of research and writing for what became “Race to Marathon,” a page-turning historical fiction book that Jay Greenwood says is intended to get people interested in the subject of Ancient Greece and inspire readers to learn about this critical part of our shared history.

“When Americans think of the ancient Greeks, we tend to think of Classical Greece, which was around 460 BC—the time of the famous philosophers like Socrates and the great playwrights,” Greenwood explains. “We don’t think of the era that preceded it, known as Archaic Greece. It was a fascinating period of time in which strange things are happening—Greece is figuring out how they see themselves as a culture and how to rule themselves.”

The book’s focus on the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC is due to its role as a turning point in history. Had the tiny Greek city-states not managed to stop the invading Persians—who far outnumbered and out-armored the Greeks—it’s likely the Persians would have pushed all the way to Portugal and England, changing the face of history as we know it.

But lest you think this book is all about war and “ugly, guy kind of stuff,” as Greenwood puts it, don’t be deterred. To balance the story, Greenwood purposefully implemented a “strong women’s theme” surrounding Themistocles’s wife and other female characters who historically helped the fight by keeping Athens strong while its men were away at war.

“There were two driving forces in Greece at this time: valor and glory,” Greenwood says. “And valor was attributed to both men and women—it wasn’t limited to the battlefield. It’s uplifting for our society to know a little bit more about where they come from. As the Ancient Greek adage goes, ‘Know thyself.’”

For more information, visit “Race to Marathon” is available on

Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.



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