The Greek people face serious austerity. How can their corrupt politicians (ask any Greek) possibly win them round?

In 431 bc, the ‘Peloponnesian’ war broke out between the marine super-power Athens and the almost invincible land-based Sparta. Athens knew it could survive a siege (thanks to its encircling ‘Long Walls’ down to its harbour Peiraeus, built in 457 bc) but would not be able to prevent the Spartans ravaging its territory of Attica.

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So Athens’ leader Pericles set about persuading the citizen assembly (which took all decisions) that the only course of action was for those in Attica to abandon their homes and farms and take up residence within the city walls. His argument was that they should think of themselves as islanders, ready to abandon homes and land, but keeping close guard on sea and city. ‘Property is the product, not the producer, of men. If I thought I could persuade you, I would tell you to destroy your property now and show the Spartans you will never surrender on that score.’

And to make the point, he promised that if his guest-friend the Spartan general Archidamus did not ravage his country property as well as everyone else’s, he would hand it over to the state. Pericles won the argument, and the country-dwellers, ‘distressed and resentful at having to leave their age-old homes and shrines, tantamount to exile’, relocated in the city. Talk about austerity!

Pericles, master of persuasion, always ‘knew what needed to be done’ (Thucydides) — in this case, sharing the burden. And what sacrifices will his ‘give us the money’ successors make, desperate to cling to the feather-bedded comfort of the eurozone? Not to mention the Eurocrats, determined that everyone else but they shall pay the price of their irresponsible fantasy?

ERRATA: In my piece about classics last week, the YouGov sample was taken from a cohort of 10,000 who had done something classical, out of a total of 80,000; and the figure for those who had benefited or greatly benefited from their classics, having studied it up to age 16 and no further, was 77 per cent. See www.friends-classics.demon.co.uk for the full survey report.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated