What Have the Greeks Ever Done for Us? We're Sending [Euro]1.3bn to Riot-Torn Athens, Land of Retsina and Raki. but, Apart from Civilisation and Philosophy

Daily Mail (London), May 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

What Have the Greeks Ever Done for Us? We're Sending [Euro]1.3bn to Riot-Torn Athens, Land of Retsina and Raki. but, Apart from Civilisation and Philosophy


Byline: by Philip Nolan

IT was a question asked memorably by John Cleese in Monty Python's Life Of Brian - what have the Romans ever done for us? But there is another ancient civilisation that has been just as influential on our way of life, one which gave us logic, philosophy, timeless literature and nice little dips you can serve with pitta bread before a dinner party. As Greece faces years of penny-pinching attempting to repay a [euro]100billion European Union bailout following the reclassification of its government bonds as junk, PHILIP NOLAN looks east and celebrates the gifts the Greeks bore us...

ACHILLES

The legendary hero of Homer's Iliad was invulnerable in every respect except for his heel, and died when an arrow was shot straight into it. Since then, an 'Achilles heel' has been the byword for the weak spot of an otherwise strong person. As Greece has now discovered, countries can have an Achilles heel, too - though given the bloated public service, ludicrously high pension entitlements and widespread corruption, you could probably take aim at Greece as far up as the thigh and still bring the country to its knees.

THE OLYMPIC GAMES

Founded in 776 BC, the games were originally a competition for honour between Greek city states. They took place every four years for a thousand years before lapsing into anonymity, and were revived in 1896 by the French aristocrat, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. The modern games have given the world many of its greatest sporting heroes, among them track stars Jesse Owens, the flying Finns Paavo Nurmi and Lasse Viren, and Usain Bolt, gymnast Olga Korbut, swimmer Mark Spitz, rower Sir Steve Redgrave, who won five consecutive gold medals over 16 years, and Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards, a ski-jumper in the winter games who basically couldn't ski. Fortunately, the modern games differ from their ancient counterparts in which the contestants competed completely naked; this more recent insistence on clothing spared a lot of embarrassment for 'female' Soviet bloc athletes in the Seventies and Eighties.

EUREKA!

When Archimedes hopped into his bath and saw the water level rise, he realised his body was displacing its own volume in liquid. Realising this was a simple way to measure the volume of irregular objects, he shouted 'Eureka!' - I have found it. Then he ran naked into the street to celebrate.

JENNIFER ANISTON

Now we're talking. Jen used to look more Greek (as Greek as her surname, Anastassakis, in fact) than she does now: she had to have surgery on her once fetchingly squishy nose after she developed a deviated septum. She's just one of a host of Greek actors who have gained fame in Hollywood, all of whom seem to know each other. Her aunt, Olympia Dukakis, won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress in Moonstruck, opposite Cher, while Jennifer's godfather was the late Telly Savalas. He gained worldwide fame in the Seventies cop show Kojak, in which he played a lollipop-sucking detective with the catchphrase, 'Who loves ya, baby?'. Jennifer's cousin, Mike Dukakis, was the Democratic candidate in the 1988 U.S. presidential election, but lost by a landslide to George Bush Sr. Dukakis had previously been the governor of Massachusetts.

THE TROJAN HORSE

The cautionary tale of why we should beware Greeks bearing gifts took place in the impregnable city of Troy where, after laying siege, the Greeks withdrew, leaving behind a huge wooden horse.

The deluded citizens of the city thought they had captured a trophy of war and took it inside the city. But, under cover of darkness, 30 sol-diers hidden inside emerged to open the gates and allowed the marauding Greek army in. Even today, an opportunistic virus that attacks a computer from within is called a Trojan.

CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN

The bestselling novel by Louis de Bernieres told of a romance between an occupying Italian soldier and a local beauty on the island of Kefalonia during the Second World War.

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