• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home The Feuilleton of MilSan and MikWag Greek Tragedy: The Dash for the Metaphor

Greek Tragedy: The Dash for the Metaphor

The 2700-Year Dash for the Metaphor


A Greek Tragedy: How Oedipus Papandreou betrayed Iocasta Merkelou and Nicolass Sarkozakis

The tyrant is a child of Pride

Who drinks from his great sickening cup

Recklessness and vanity,

Until from his high crest headlong

He plummets to the dust of hope.

That strong man is not strong.

But let not fair ambition be denied;

May God protect the wrestler for the state

In government, in comely policy,

Who will fear God, and on His ordinance wait.

Ode II, Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

A plague has again crippled the Greeks.

Last time, it was a blight on the harvest, on the parturient Greek wives and the fatted herds. The God of Plague reigned and the aristocracy--sore, swollen-footed and festering--could no longer lift its head.

This time, more than two and a half millennia later, the Greeks are again visited by a vengeful pestilence. It spreads over Greek bonds. It consumes the budget. It decimates the public sector. The Prospect of Default casts his grim shadow over the country.

The Chorus (played by the markets in this modern adaptation) chants in summation, “Oh, children of the immortals, how could you have been so blind?”

And the fleet, wit-muscled journalists, widely renowned for their blogging stamina, rush to invent a new Olympic event: The 2700-Year Dash to the Metaphor--an oratorical competition to find the best metaphor with which to explain what happened to Greece.

Below following is the oration of the final contestant.

The Soliloquy of Milosphenes

I – Milosphenes – stand here before you, noble judges, to compete for the glory of the Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. But before I start, I ask you to consider whether the things that I will say are just or not. For it is the virtue of a judge to say who’s right, while that of an orator to speak the truth. And if you doubt the virtue of my request, you will be doubting the wisdom of Socrates, because these words are his.

My opponents were many. My oration will argue with the metaphors of the greatest of them as it is an honor to engage in virtuous discussion with learned men.

The champion of the venerable Times -- its best and brightest (and Greekest) -- Vassilis Vassilikos -- called the troubles of Greece "The Crisis in a Stoic Land." Vassilikos denied that the modern crisis is a crisis at all. “Greece has survived much worse,” said Vassilis the Stoic. A noble entry. But is Greece really a stoic land? Exuberance in spending is what describes modern Greece. A stoic people wouldn’t riot in the streets. Vassilis Vassilikos, why didn’t you title your speech The Crisis in a Hedonistic Land?

UPI also sent its champion of the written word -- Martinopopulus Walker. “Greek Tragedy Unfolds” was the title of his speech. His title promised us, noble judges, a Greek Tragedy--a tale with a central character with a flaw that is his undoing. Instead, Martinopopulus, you delivered a gladiatorial spectacle. You said, “The saliva will soon start dripping from the ruthless jaws of the markets. They already smell blood and soon they will taste it.” You used metaphors so bloody that even Homer would have been left aghast; Homer whose scenes of battle and revenge--of spears missing Hector and impaling his driver, of slashes beside the nipple; of a ghastly string of roped women’s necks being pulled upward so that one at a time they die a pitiful death; Homeric scenes that torment the brain and brutalize the heart.

The Independent gave the honor to Stephenakakis King. “Another Greek Tragedy Unfolds” was the title of his speech. His skill in rhetoric was strong. I heard him say that Greece was gone. He called the tragedy non-economic and hailed Greece’s empire "eurozonic." “Enough about Greece,” he said suddenly, then to California he leapt, to its financial and fiscal crises, to its defaults and bankers’ vices. Then he returned to Greece. But Stephenakakis didn’t tell us who was the tragic character and what was his flaw.

The men of King Midas’s gymnasium, The Wall Street Journal, compared Greece to a debtor of Plutus, the god of wealth, who was blinded by Zeus so that he would be impartial when granting riches to the deserving. The Wall Street Journal would have us believe, dear judges, that the Wall Street Bankers are god-like and absolutely impartial. That they grant riches to the deserving. As if Wall Street bankers grant riches to anybody other than themselves, or are even remotely god-like, or have a shred of the impartiality or wisdom of Plutus in discerning who is deserving of money. This metaphor is the anti metaphor.

CNN’s contestant — Amanpour — before consulting the oracles of DC and grilling the patricians of Athens and Brussels — announced that Greece was like Icarus, the mythological figure that burned his wings by flying too close to the sun. Greece, ran the Amanpourian metaphor, is hoping that it won't be like Icarus. But hadn’t Greece already been too close to the sun when the news about its debt first appeared? Hadn’t its wings already melted when its public debt was discovered to be deeper than the Aegean Sea? Well, perhaps Icarus simply took flight in the imagination of the soon-to-be former Queen of CNN.

I do not know how the contestants from these mighty nations have affected you, my judges. For my part, I almost forgot myself because of their words, so persuasively they spoke, and with such sophistrication. If I were not representing my glorious nation, I would not think to speak. So with apologies, I now introduce my humble metaphor.

Mr. Oedipus Papandreou is a learned man. He descends from a noble kinship. He carries laurels from the Ivy League. He has led a just and honorable life. His family solved the riddle of the Sphinx and led the Greeks to the Eurozone.

Oedipus Papandreou never defied the laws of the market and he could not singlehandedly have saved Greece from its fate. His only mistake was to choose to be a politician. This choosing was his hamartia, his tragic flaw. And he will pay for it when he falls in the next election as an ex-premier who was Greece’s leader when Greece was on the brink of disaster. He will be banished, removed from power. He will be stigmatized for that which he could not personally have predicted or avoided. That is the fate of the Oedipus... Papandreou … and Rex.

Angelista Iocasta -- also good, also betrayed by fate. This mother to a Greece that was among the first to join the Eurozone; a Greece that issued bonds denominated in Euros; a Greece that pledged to cut deficits; but in the end tried to hedge its own risk by undermining the entire European Union. Her Greece now shows itself to be under threat of imminent bust and to renege on its debt. She is enraged and despondent. “Oedipus Papandreou! Shame is all that remains for us. How dared you to defile the womb that gave you entry to the Eurozone! A Sword! A Sword! Give me a sword! I will punish you, you who cut the blood ties of the Maastricht and threatened the very existence of the Eurozonian Empire. Treason! Incest! Shame!”

But wait! Angelista Iocasta still lives? Her golden brooches and palace are intact? My Oedipus Papandreou did not gouge out his eyes? Yes, he can see 15% unemployment and people taking to the streets. He did not remove himself from power, but acts, ordering “painful, but necessary measures.” He cuts benefits for public servants, increases taxes. He did not issue an edict at the start of the crisis that those responsible will be banished. His children’s names and those of Angelista Iocasta, and their children’s children’s’ names will not be stained?

Noble judges and citizens, I fear that I, Milosphenes, am wrong. My metaphor is flawed.

The hamartia of Oedipus Rex was inadvertent error; his hamartia was to become King. But our modern leaders have truly tragic flaws. The consequences to Oedipus Rex were infinitely horrible whereas to the bankers and leaders of the modern world — practically non-existent. There are no parallels here. There is no metaphor to be found here.

I have not brought glory to my glorious nation of Kazakhstan. I may not return. I will hang myself and while hanging pull the golden brooches from my hair and put out my eyes (or perhaps I will do the modern thing and go straight to the crying part).

I have finished my oration. Now I shall receive justice at your hands. Then I must go.

JUDGES: Milosphenes! Stay thy hand! This contest was Sphinx-like in its difficulty and you have solved the riddle. There is no metaphor to ancient Greece to be found. In the golden age, we studied ethics and virtuous reasoning. The highest art was politics and the highest privilege was the honor of serving Athens. In this, the era of the Twilight of the Idols, the tragic flaw is a political process that does not attract or elect the best to office. It lies in the educational system and in the way that we raise our youth.

Milosphenes is right to allude to Oedipus Rex, the most famous of our tragedies. It contains the advice of Sophocles to those who aspire to be king:

Not so, if thou wouldst reason with thyself,

As I with myself. First, I bid thee think,

Would any mortal choose a troubled reign

Of terrors rather than secure repose,

If the same power were given him? As for me,

I have no natural craving for the name

Of king, preferring to do kingly deeds,

And so thinks every sober-minded man.

Now all my needs are satisfied through thee,

And I have naught to fear; but were I king,

My acts would oft run counter to my will.

How could a title then have charms for me

Above the sweets of boundless influence?

Speech of CREON

And so the time has come to award the prize, the prize to the contestant who has argued logically and found the truth. The fear of the truth is shame and deserves no prize. Truth must be told. Showing the truth makes tragedy attain its true nature. Milosphenes showed us the truth for which she wins and gets applause from the honorable judges.

Citizens! The ceremony is over. Return to your homes. Fear Not. Greece will endure! Our islands will not be sold to the Turks. No corporation will have a chance to buy the Parthenon at auction.


Look ye, countrymen and Thebans, this is Oedipus the great,

He who knew the Sphinx's riddle and was mightiest in our state.

Who of all our townsmen gazed not on his fame with envious eyes?

Now, in what a sea of troubles sunk and overwhelmed he lies!

Therefore wait to see life's ending ere thou count one mortal blest;

Wait till free from pain and sorrow he has gained his final rest.


[Source: Penguin version of Oedipus Rex.]