Monday, 11 June 2012

The way we are: The two countries (Οι δυο χώρες)

The BBC recently published a post about how the Ancient Greeks might have viewed the crisis and tried to solve it. One of the ideas that was discussed was how the Delphi oracle would have handled things:
In response to, say, "Should Greece leave the euro?" the oracle might have responded: "Greece should abandon the euro if the euro has abandoned Greece," leaving proponents and opponents of "Grexit" to squabble over what exactly that meant. It must have been something like listening to modern economists.
Aesop's Fables and Jokes by Ierocles coverI often wonder what my ancestors would thoguht about things the way they are now. While at the supermarket, I came across a book title that caught my attention: Aesop's Fables. The supermarket is a locally-based, non-international chain, located near the beach in a tourist area. This book was intended for tourists, and this supermarket, although frequented by both tourists and locals alike, only sells books for tourists (other supermarkets also sell Greek titles). I picked up a copy to refresh my memory; I have always been quite fond of Aesop's stories as they relate to the simple honest life and they are based in Greek antiquity.  

In the election run-up, Aesop's stories seem to be quite valid even today. The ancient Greek story teller's whose mythical fables always have a moral conclusion. Aesop was said to be a simple man, starting his life as a slave, who was eventually freed. He obviously had the chance to experience life from many aspects. His freedom gave him the chance to be politically active; Greece may have invented democracy, but life was never really very democratic for most of her citizens. As Aesop had seen life as both a slave and a free man, he had an inner vision which he began to express through his stories, which describe the simple facts of life, sometimes stating the obvious, but always weighted with instructive truths.

Aesop's villains and victims, as well as his heroes, were often based not just on ordinary people, but on animals that took on human feelings and attributes, as well as the ancient gods who were also known for particular attributes. Zeus was the boss, but sometimes his vices got the better of him; Hera was a cunning jealous wife; Athina was revered for her wisdom, and so on.

Although Aesop's fables have survived through the ages, they were never written down by him, so we only have later scholars' writings which were probably based on Aesop's original stories; they were most likely altered by the time they were handed down to us. If Aesop were alive today, I wonder what he would make of the global economic crisis, in which his own country plays the starring role. Instead of The Two Dogs, he might have written "The Two Countries":
The EU€ continent had two countries, one of which was generally rich, while the other was generally poor. The rich one got richer by working all year round, rain or shine, producing high technology products and selling them expensively all over the world; even though it was a rich country, it still needed to borrow money, but it would do so with cheap interest rates because it was a rich country. The poor country produced olive oil and only in season; it sold it cheaply to the rich country instead of marketing it herself to the rest of the world, and then it would wait until the following year for the next season's olive harvest. It would borrow money from the EU€ which always arranged for it to be lent to her, but with an expensive interest rate, because it was a poor country and no one was really sure how likely it was that they would get it back. The money was never enough to tide the poor country through to the next season's harvest, accentuated by the fact that olive trees bear only in alternate years, so its debts kept growing and it needed to borrow even more money more regularly. Eventually, this made the rich country angry, accusing the poor country of doing nothing but enjoying the earnings of the rich country's labours as it slaved away in factories, while the poor country sat on her verandah, soaking up the sunshine and bathing her food in the olive oil it didn't sell for reasons of self-sufficiency. "Don't blame me," the poor country said. "Blame the EU€, who is the one that lets me sit at home all day and live off the work of others. If there were factories here too, I'd be working in them instead of sitting on the verandah all day squatting flies."
The moral of this fable is that we shouldn't blame children for being lazy when it's their parents who've taught them to be that way.
Even though I try to teach my own children not to be lazy, I realise that I am often fighting a losing battle because of what they see happening around them. Sometimes, there seems to be no point in working hard, because at the moment in Greece, the hard workers are not being rewarded for such pious behaviour. 

Every single story in the book (there are close to 200 little tales of this kind) by SIGMA Publications has a direct parallel with the present consumption culture which is related to the global crisis. They are both funny and sad at the same time, even if they sometimes sound cruel. The book is available for purchase online (at the same price that I bought it for at the supermarket).

Life in Greece is like a long novel which doesn't have an ending; at any rate, you don't want it to end, because it's such a good story, even if the events are very predictable. But there isn't enough time to write down all the stories. If Aesop were alive today, I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote a blog, furiously trying to keep up with the daily developments.

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