11 July 2015

Solidarity with Greeks (3):
returning to the Classics

Returning to the classics … the foundation of European literature (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

While the present Greek crisis continues, I have decided each morning to suggest Tiny, Tickable, Achievable Targets as ways of expressing support for Greece and Greeks in the present crisis.

Earlier this week, I reposted on my Facebok page a link to Alex Andreou’s feature in the G2 supplement in the Guardian G2 supplement on Wednesday [8 July 2015], “Want to help Greece? Go there on holiday.”

On Thursday [9 July 2015], I posted a photograph on Facebook of my breakfast, with real Greek yoghurt – not Greek-style yoghurt – and Greek honey. I captioned the photograph: “Breakfast with Greek honey and Greek yoghurt, not Greek-style yoghurt. Buying Greek products helps Greek exports, puts money from euro economies back into Greece, keeps Greek workers in jobs. A small but simple start to the day. Good Morning.”

Then on Friday morning [10 July 2015] I suggested picking a Greek football team to support as a gesture of solidarity.

These gestures may not change the agenda in Brussels, but you can make yourself and your family and friends feel more positive about Greece, and show solidarity in a humane way.

Classical Greece laid the foundations for European civilisation ... artefacts on display in the Fortezza in Rethymnon on the island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning, as a weekend pleasure, I am suggesting returning to the classics and reading or re-reading some of the great foundational works of European civilisation.

Thomas Gaisford (1779-1855), the English classical scholar and Anglican theologian who was Dean of Christ Church, Oxford (1831-1855), said in a Christmas sermon: “Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument.”

But returning to the Classics is not about personal profit or promotion. It is about returning to the very roots of European civilisation, which some politicians and bankers in northern European seem to have forgotten.

Classical Greece gave us democracy, theatre, drama, tragedy, the foundations of our poetry and literature, the chorus and the muses. The Greeks gave us the wisdom, philosophy and logic of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. They gave use Euclidean and Pythagorean mathematics, Hippocratic medicine, and the principles of architecture. And they gave us the Olympic games and the gymnasium.

Twenty years ago, in Greek as a Treat: An Introduction to the Classics (BBC/Penguin, 1995), Peter France rediscovered the people who for centuries were regarded as knowing best how to live.

The title of his book comes from Sir Winston Churchill, who once said: “I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat.”

In art, science, medicine, politics, philosophy, sport, drama and history, the Greeks invented new ideas and set standards of beauty and excellence that have influenced and inspired the world and that in many cases have never been surpassed.

It seems, however, that some of bankers and politicians in northern Europe today know only how to exercise autocracy or plutocracy or are aware only of their own concepts of Spartan lifestyles that they seem to want to impose on the people of Greece today.

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