Ancient and modern

Syriza could have learned from Aristophanes. Instead it's headed for Greek tragedy

Come on, Tsipras, remember your ancient birthright. Set an example for us all

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

The German chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her desire for Greece to remain part of the European ‘story’. Since Greeks — together with the Romans and Jews — actually created that story over the past 2,500 years, it is hard to see how they could not.

With help from the Romans, they laid the foundations of western history, philosophy, politics, education, architecture and literature, this last including epic, tragedy, lyric, pastoral and, especially, comedy.


In facing up to Europe, Syriza has the potential to keep that comic tradition alive. Aristophanes’ comedies envisage the little man or woman heroically taking on the big boys and winning through against all the odds, celebrating victory with marriage, drinking and sex.

In the context of the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta, Trygaeus flies up to heaven on a dung beetle to bring down Peace, but finds she is not there, being buried deep in a cave on earth. He triumphantly excavates her. Dicaeopolis, a small farmer, makes a personal peace with Sparta, drives off the warmongers and proceeds to enjoy the benefits. Lysistrata agrees a sex strike with the women of Sparta, cuts off the money supply and forces the men to make a treaty.

The problem is that the Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras actually wants to keep Greece in the EU — the very organisation that has destroyed its economy. What is heroic about that? He claims he is restoring Greek ‘dignity’. What? By returning Greeks to tyranny, on slightly less onerous terms? Where is the ancient Greek love of independence in that? He must tell the EU to get stuffed and take Greece out. Europe will be shaken to the core and the Greeks will be free again — and if Greece stands for anything, it is freedom. Come on, Tsipras, remember your ancient birthright. Set an example for us all.

Alas, Tsipras will yield to the tyrant; the rag-bag collection of lefties making up his party will, as ever, shatter in internecine conflict; and the chance for glory will be gone. Equally comic, but tragically so.

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  • Augustus

    “With help from the Romans, they laid the foundations of western history, philosophy, politics, education, architecture and literature….”

    And recent history has now quietly returned, via Marx and Lenin, whispering its never-ending credo: Capitalism, with its specific form of liberal democracy, should be abolished. Because apparently, for most Greeks, the basic principle of ‘pacta sunt servanda’ (agreements must be kept) doesn’t apply. Admittedly, this was a Roman not a Greek principle, but it did apply in Greece until recently. As for Greece remaining ‘part of the European story’, they’ll just Be given a separate status, and the ‘rich’ countries will pay what it takes for the umpteenth time. Anyone who doesn’t see this must be blind considering what’s been happening in recent years.

    • ohforheavensake

      There’s no automatic connection between liberal democracy and capitalism.

      • global city

        seeing as all other ‘systems’ inevitably end up in squeezing out liberalism and democracy in order to keep them on course, it usually does.

  • oresme2

    The birthplace of modern philosofie (Descartes and Spinoza), international capitalism, pluralist society, optics and microbiology was seventeenth century Netherlands. That’s where it all happened.

    For me it is difficult to look back further than that.

  • Ivan Ewan

    I completely agree with the author on every point. Why is Greece rebelling, only to return begging to its abusive partner?

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