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May 27, 2004

All Greek to George

george_bush_rageWith Brad Pitt's skirt making waves in cinema's around the world and news that my old classics teacher, Andrew Wilson has translated Harry Potter into Ancient Greek (or Ἅρειος Ποτήρ), it seems that the Hellenes are firmly back in the public consciousness. Maybe the Olympics in Athens has something to do with it.

Perhaps a deeper explanation may be a need for the grand narrative to explain uncertain times. It has been said before, but the Cold War gave a paradoxical comfort: we knew where we all stood - we were good and free, they were bad and unfree, and we both had the threat of mutually assured distruction to keep us from breaking that tension.

When making the case for war both Bush and Blair talked in moral and narrative terms about good and evil. There was an implicit end to the story as they told it. The story's end is currently being rewritten by others, though, and so we seek the solace of other narratives that might inform us of what may happen and assure us that we will be safe.

Thus I find the Bushiad and the Idoyssey interesting additions to the current crop of Attic-inspired culture. At first view they are glib, even cheap satires on Iraq, but as David Weinberger notes, the author, Victor Littlebear, ' is more interested in recounting the story than scoring cheap shots.

Very true. What Homer does in the Illiad is to concentrate politics, place and personality in such a way as to explain different facets of humanity - he is, as Wilson taught me, teaching his readers how to behave through showing you how not to behave. He was the textbook for Athenian young men on 'how to be men' (Wilson's phrase, if I recall correctly). To some degree, I suspect Littlebear's satire has similar intent: showing us how not to behave.

That's not to say it isn't very funny. Like David I am yet to read it all, but I have to share three excellent stanzas from 'Chapter 2 - The Rattling of Sabres' (the scene is the UN):

Each delegate gives his speech,
Arguments on one side or the other.
Promised U.S. foreign aid or
Loan guarantees on purchases of
Hardware and weapons of destruction
Secure some allegiance to the holy war.

Villepin from France draws firm applause.
He draws upon the loyalty of others who enjoy
The economic benefits of working with both sides.
Colonialism having given way to neo-liberal capital,
The French pursue a policy of “no size fits all”
And apply post-modernist financial theory.

“Iraq is not a foie-gras goose,” says he,
"To be slaughtered for its fatted liver.”
“This Iraqi pot-au-feu is not yet done,
Politics gets richer while it thickens.” They
Lick their lips, salivating at the savory philosophy
And think about reservations for lunch at 21.

May 27, 2004 in Humour, Literature, Politics | Permalink


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