Ancient and modern

Why Hesiod would have gone for Grexit

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

Why do Greeks want to keep the euro, or remain in the European Union? The combative, creative, competitive, mercantile classical Greeks throve on independence.

The farmer-poet Hesiod (c. 700 BC) makes the point about competition by calling it Eris, ‘strife’, which he characterises as painful but also helpful. On the one hand, he said, it creates conflict and discord; on the other, ‘It gets the shiftless working. For when someone whose work does not come up to scratch sees someone else, a rich man, busy himself ploughing and planting and managing his household well, then there is competition between neighbours in the race to riches. This Eris is good for men: potter battles it out with potter, carpenter with carpenter, beggar with beggar and poet with poet.’


Classical Athens’ radical democracy (5th–4th century BC) offered a unique form of competition at a political level, too. In the Assembly, dominated by the poor, all Athenian males over 18 listened to the advice offered by their mainly aristocratic statesmen, such as Pericles, and then voted to accept the proposal they preferred. If statesmen wanted power, it was the people they had to satisfy in face-to-face debate, and it was to the people that they and officials were ultimately accountable.

From this literal ‘empowerment’ grew a confident people, proud of what they had achieved, ready to put their backs into their own and Athens’ best interests: for the two were, by definition, identical. This surely helps to explain the remarkable rise in living standards in Athens and other independent Greek city-states during this period, together with the brilliant flowering of Greek artistic, intellectual and literary culture. The people were the masters now, and they were going to show what they could do, individually and together. When the clunking fists of Macedon and then Rome descended, it all folded.

No Greek should fear leaving the euro, or the EU. Let Tsipras stamp himself on history, giving birth to little Grexit, a future Heracles spawning Brexit, Spexit, Frexit… the heroic liberator of all.

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Show comments
  • Jams O’Donnell

    Why do Greeks want to keep the euro, or remain in the European Union? The combative, creative, competitive, mercantile classical Greeks throve on independence.”

    Because this is not 400BC – this, in case no-one has noticed, is 2015 CE, and things have changed ever so slightly.

  • Michael James Sherman

    ‘… [R]eady to put their backs into it for Athens’ best interests: for the two were, by definition, identical.’ Haven’t you forgotten all those slaves, Mr Jones, whose competition was pushing the free poor further into poverty and making them support war, where their services would be paid – by the rich of course?

  • Ποια είναι αλήθει

    The Ancient Greeks would have been fighting amongst themselves

    • and mining silver instead of printing money, which is their sole next option…

      • haywardsward

        Well maybe a few Athenians would have been mining silver as supervisors, but the mines at Laurium used up to 20,000 slaves shipped in from all over the Athenian Empire and beyond.

  • JabbaTheCat

    In 700BC the Greeks would’ve sharpened their swords and spears before killing the invaders…

  • StevenMPagan

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  • Chamber Pot

    Yes, yes, yes ! Eleftheriaaaaaaa….

  • rtj1211

    ‘For when someone whose work does not come up to scratch sees someone else, a rich man, busy himself ploughing and planting and managing his household well, then there is competition between neighbours in the race to riches. ‘

    This is seriously delusional. Nowadays, if your work is not up to scratch, you thieve digitally from those better than you. You tell good people they are useless and steal their good work to boot.

    Those unable to accept the truth should grow up.

  • συκοφάντης

    Comrades, I hate to repeat myself but the brief history of modern Greece goes as follows:

    The Monarch of Greece was created by the London Conference of 1832 at which the First Hellenic Republic was abolished.

    In 1832 Prince Otto of Bavaria of the House of Wittelsbach was styled Otto I, King of Greece which he reigned for 30 years until he was deposed in 1862. After that the House of Glücksburg took over given the Duke of Edinburgh declined to run the shop.

    In 1973 the Greek military junta called a referendum in 1973, which abolished the Monarchy for the second time in Greek history. That was the year Britain joined the EEC. Some people just >need to be< ruled from abroad. Isn't that obvious to you by now?

  • EHGombrich

    I am all for a Grexit and Greece leaving the EU. But where will the Greeks get their money from then? After all they´ve received 500 billion euros from Europe since joining the EU in 1981. They will have to come up with some economic plan all on their own.

  • hdb

    The ancient Greeks might well have wanted Grexit. They would also have wanted a party with lithe early teenage boys but that doesn’t mean we should also.

    • TNT

      From the look of your avatar, I would say that’s precisely what you want, too.

  • jim

    Broken people.No fight left in ’em.They know they’ve f****d up and they know their elites don’t have the skill setsintegrity to put things right. Same goes for any people who endure this dog’s abuse.

  • Zed largo

    An inspiring article. I hope the Greeks can find a renewed sense of dignity that takes them into a faith in themselves and their culture that can transcend the stultifying and self defeating collectivism of the EU and the Eurozone.

  • Bonkim

    Because the Greeks have lost their marbles.

  • Newton Unthank

    Huh. The ancient Greeks had it easy – they had slaves.

    • Malus Pudor

      And rent boys …

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  • I hope they Grexit soon. My stocks have tanked nearly 10 Gs because of those Helle-leftists!

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