If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Wednesday 31 October 2012
Read gnomica 1-150 here!
151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161
162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171
quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.
Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts.
Vergil (15 Oct 70 BCE – 21 Sep 19 BCE)
Among Monday’s (29 October) many outrages in the news is this piece of risible, fatuous flimflam: “… a country that frequently reminds its European Union partners that it is the birthplace of democracy.” (“Greek Editor Is Arrested After Publishing a List Of Swiss Bank Accounts” The New York Times 29 October 2012 p. A8).
Shall we unpack this bit of taurocopric piety.
That line above from the Roman poet Vergil’s great epic will point us in the right direction.
The scene is the final days before the fall of Troy (?1184 BCE?). The Greeks have packed a great wooden horse’s belly with their best warriors and presented it as a gift to the Trojans. To compound the deception, the Greeks then sail away. The Trojans are warned by a suspicious priest (Laocoön), who is made to utter the cautionary words above – kind of the exact opposite of our “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Indeed, that is exactly what one should do – but make that ’stomach’ rather than ’mouth’. The Trojans, delighted, or perhaps exhausted by ten years of living under siege, and believing they had finally won, ignore the warning of Laocoön, wheel the behemoth within the walls … and the rest is very bad history for Troy and the Trojans.
Vergil plays into a general sense the Romans had towards the Greeks that they were effete snobs (to use the words of another infamous Greek), collectively trickier than Odysseus himself, and certainly not to be trusted.
Now back to now: the Greek debt mess.
An investigative journalist in Greece has published a list of the two thousand plus high fliers in Greek society (starting with their deeply venal politicians) who have secreted their fortunes in Swiss bank accounts to avoid the tax man — as they impose on the rest of the folks yet again a further belt-tightening just one more notch so the ‘loans’ can go through from those miserable Germans who are getting sick and sicker of pouring their hard-earned Euros into this losing proposition that is the Greece that the utter incompetence on the part of those very same Greek politicians and their studied failure to collect taxes have caused. I’m sure the Greek government will immediately “thoroughly investigate” the matter of “the List” (so far they have arrested the reporter!!) … as they lecture everyone and her grandmother about how democracy was born in their country – the requisite inference being, I would imagine, that therefore the Nordics should somehow feel honored to be dumping Niles of money into this swampy delta from which most of it will no doubt rapidly slither its way further into those same Swiss banks vaults
What a load!
Yes, the ancient Greeks have given the world many things – grand epics, beautiful art and architecture, soaring philosophy, magnificent history writing, exquisite lyric poetry … among other things, but democracy ain’t one of them!
The word – democracy – is an English ‘lift’ from ancient Greek δημοκρατία dēmokratia, a compound of δῆμος dēmos ‘people’ and κράτος kratos ‘power’: yes, sort of like a 1960’s ‘power to the people’ thing, or, as Lincoln put it in the Gettysburg address (19 Nov 1863) with such tricolonic beauty: “… government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
So far, so good.
But, hey, the question you really gotta ask yourself in all of this is this: what δῆμος? who are they?
Thus, when the modern Greeks trumpet (as their tourism ads in particular are wont to do) that Greece “is the birthplace of democracy”, how can they keep a straight face? how can we?
Again, what δῆμος? Women were only problematically ‘people’ (and could of course not vote), and the countless slaves who were the oil and electricity of the age that kept the whole show running were very unproblematically definitely not ‘people’ (and could of course not vote). That left … take a guess: yeah, you got it: the adult male population. Now is that the kind of democracy you’d want boast about having created?
I should think not. But what the eff do I know? After all, I’m just a retired Classics professor …
Why don’t the Greeks just repatriate all that Swiss loot, collect all those taxes, and stop all that whining about the ‘insensitive’ taxpayers in Northern Europe who’ve had it up to there? (By the way, I know exactly how the latter feel — every time another ‘aid’ package [see here] made up in part from my tax dollars is bundled off by the folks in Washington to some corruptocrat thug[s] ‘running’ some s..thole [please excuse my Latin!] somewhere!)