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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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