Magazine article The Spectator

High Life: Taki

Magazine article The Spectator

High Life: Taki

Article excerpt

I think back to my Greek childhood and longing for the once cosiest and most romantic of cities overwhelms me. Actually it's too painful to think back: all the blood spilled during the communist uprising, the beautiful neoclassical buildings destroyed by greed and lack of talent, the impeccable manners of the people that showed respect for the elderly, the church and the nation. They all went with the wind, that horrible sirocco from the south that has been used as an excuse for crimes of passion committed under its influence. This ache for a lost past is nothing new. Elsewhere and memory are most vivid in one's mind, as are loss and the innocence of childhood. Mind you, the distilling process of memory can play tricks and is also extremely selective. The extreme poverty, the beggars, the sick without medical insurance, all these I've tucked away, just like the extreme poverty of the miners in Yorkshire during the turn of the last century did not dampen the spirits of house parties in stately homes of the region.

Holding the world at a remove should not become a permanent state of mind. In my case, Greece has become such a mess, removing its past helps. The biggest irony is the anger of the present bunch, brought up as hard-core Marxists while sustained by EU funds, and employed in worthless jobs invented for them by an omnipotent state. This bunch that are angry and at the helm right now bring Philoctetes to mind. Philoctetes was hardly mentioned in Homer, yet Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles wrote tragedies about him. There are incomplete versions of the plays by the two former, and only Sophocles' drama, which presents Philoctetes in exile and does not have a typically tragic end -- it actually ends almost in comedy -- supplies us with what resembles our modern Greek politicians.

In brief, the demigod Heracles has himself burned on Mount Otea after being poisoned by Deianeira's dress, and persuades Philoctetes to light the pyre. He rewards him by bequeathing him the bow given to him by Apollo, one that never misses its mark. Philoctetes joins the Greek leaders in the Trojan War, but is left behind on the island of Limnos suffering from a snakebite that makes him stink like hell. The Greeks go on without him and get bogged down for ten years, while losing their greatest hero-warrior, Achilles. (Believe it or not, I knew about the smelly one at a very early age, as my great uncle, prime minister, chief justice of the Supreme Court, and a great classicist in both German and Greek, had told me about him in the context of being clean in order to get on.)

The mysterious wound never heals. …

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