The story is a reworking of Friedrich Schiller's ballad Die Bürgschaft, which tells the story of Moerus and Selinuntius (who have lent their names to Dazai's characters as well), originally Damon and Pythias. Schiller's version is based on an ancient Greek legend recorded by the Roman author Gaius Julius Hyginus.
The most prominent theme of "Run, Melos!" is unwavering friendship. Despite facing hardships, the protagonist Melos does his best to save his friend's life, and in the end his efforts are rewarded.
Melos is a naïve young shepherd with a sense of equity. The land in which he lives is ruled by Dionysius, a tyrant king who because of his distrust of people and solitude, has killed many people, including his own family members. When Melos hears about the King's deeds one day, he becomes enraged. He decides to assassinate the King, and to this end he sneaks into the castle with a knife, but is caught and arrested. Melos defiantly owns up to his plan to kill the King but pleads with the cynical tyrant to postpone his execution for three days so that he can return home to organise his younger sister's marriage. As collateral for his pledge to return, Melos offers his friend Selinuntius as hostage, to be executed in his stead should Melos not return in time. The King agrees to Melos' conditions and offers him a full pardon should he return moments too late. Indignant Melos insists that saving his own life is not his intention. Informed of the situation Selinuntius readily agrees to the role for which Melos has volunteered him without consultation.
Back in his home town Melos persuades first his eager sister and then her hesitant fiancé that there is urgent need for them to be married, without revealing his reasons. While the wedding festivities are in progress, Melos retires for some rest but oversleeps and only sets off to return to the city the next morning. Along the way he encounters many tribulations, such as a broken bridge due to the overflowing of the river and attacks by bandits. The running and all of these impediments along the way exhaust him. In his fatigue becoming indifferent to the fate of his friend and the impact Selinuntius' death will have on his own reputation, Melos slows down and nearly gives up while taking a break. After long contemplation of the consequence—for the sake of his friend's life and to prevent the King from claiming to have been justified in his cynical view of his subjects—and reinvigorated from drinking water from a clear spring, he rushes off with renewed urgency. As the now desperate Melos runs back to Syracuse, a mutual acquaintance attempts to persuade him to give up, claiming there is no rush to return since Melos is already too late. Melos persists.
At sundown Melos finally arrives at the city, just in time to save his friend Selinuntius from public execution. Melos implores Selinuntius to hit him, in penance for his treachery, and Selinuntius asks him to do the same, for having doubted Melos' return while held captive on his promise. The King, forced to reexamine his position by their display and the crowd's reaction, decides to let Melos go with impunity.
- In Dazai's hometown, Kanagi (now Goshogawara, Aomori), there is a diesel train nicknamed "Hashire Merosu," owned by the Tsugaru Railway Company.
- "Melos no Yō ni ~Lonely Way~," the opening theme song for the anime series Blue Comet SPT Layzner refers to the story both in its title, and in the line "Hashire, Melos no yō ni" (Run, just like Melos), which appears in the chorus.
- The third line in the second verse of the song Happy Birthday by The Blue Hearts is "Ame no naka o hashire, Melos" (Run, Melos, in the rain).
- The AKB48 song "Melos no Michi" (Melos's Road) references the storyline in its lyrics.
- Kashiwa Daisuke's song "Write Once, Run Melos" is program music based on the short story.
- The 161st episode of the anime "Prince of Tennis" is titled "Run, Momo!" as a tribute to the story.
- The 6th episode of the anime "Tsuki ga Kirei" is titled "Run, Melos!" as a tribute to the story.
- In the Utada Hikaru song "Bōkyaku" (Oblivion) (feat. KOHH), The line "Hashire Melos" appears in KOHH's last verse.
- The Wednesday Campanella song "Melos"
- In the second half of the anime Tweeny Witches, Arusu, the protagonist, finds herself stuck in a similar situation and even mentions the tale itself.
- Run, Melos! and Other Stories, translated by Ralph F. McCarthy. Tokyo, Kodansha International, 1988.
- Project Gutenberg's Poems of The Third Period, by Frederich Schiller, retrieved on July 21, 2008
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