EROS VS EURO or the Greek crisis seen through ‘Le Dictionnaire amoureux de la Grèce’
by Jacques Lacarrière (*)
Which place will Greece occupy within the European Union?
That is the question. Jacques Lacarrière – author of ‘L’été grec’ [The Greek Summer] and forever in love with Greece and passionate about it- would probably have pleaded for this country which is facing an unprecedented crisis at the moment. This is my intention, today, on his behalf. We all know the country is in jeopardy: the Greek government is facing bankruptcy, everywhere the citizens are demonstrating against the tough and intolerable measures that are imposed onto them. Ok, the Greeks have forged their accounts, they have a low and fanciful tax system, a bottomless public deficit. In other words they are the bad pupil in Europe. So… what can be done?
Should Greece be excluded from the Euro zone?
This is what Germany is threatening to do. I’m not an ace in economics but I am told – and it seems obvious – that the consequences would be much worse for Europe as well as for Greece – the only solution, and everyone knows it, is a common economic policy of the euro zone (as well as a political vision, interdependent and caring) which should have been there long ago, not to press the point.
Today, the Greeks owe a towering 300 billion euros. It is colossal. However, have European people forgotten about what they owe Greece? They have given us Democracy, Philosophy, Geometry, Tragedy, not to mention the Mermaids, the Sirtaki, the Olympic Games, or this wonderful poet Constantin Cavafy . Our debt to Greece is not huge, it is endless ! Do we have to remind Angela Merkel and the European technocrats from Brussels about it? Europe, without Greece, would not be Europe, it’s impossible . Just like Germany without Greece would not be Germany: Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Rilke or Heidegger (who never stopped to study Germany through the myths of ancient Greece) must be turning in their graves…
Let’s forget about Orpheus and Socrates, Apollo and Dionysus, Œdipus and Pericles! (Œdipus, we could have done without, even if, whether we want to or not, Greek tragedy is at the origin of Freedom, dear to the European heart.) Let us forget about it. In this dictionary, Lacarrière makes an inventory (logical as well as emotional) of what Europe owes to Greece. I shall underline three things, only three, but they are essential:
1. To begin with, Europe owes Greece its name: Europe.
It is a beautiful story, or rather a myth – as the Greeks invented both, history with Herodotus, and mythology with Homer and Hesiodes.
It begins like this: Europe was the name of a Phoenician princess so beautiful that Zeus fell madly in love with her. To seduce her, he took the appearance of a magnificent white bull: he took the princess beyond seas to Crete, then laid her down in the shade of a tree at feet of which they united Later on, this place became a Roman city known as Gortyne. Today however, if you go to Gortyne in Crete, and take a walk, (having by-passed the ruins of a beautiful Roman odeon), you will see an arrow indicating Platanus Orientalis. A little further, you can read on a wooden panel, in Greek (if you can read Greek): “At the feet of this Platanus Orientalis, a very rare and very interesting tree for Greek mythology, Zeus, having taken the appearance of a bull, laid down princess Europe and united with her to give birth to king Minos .“ This fragment is signed not Hesiodes or Pindare (as we could expect) but: » The Forest Trust of Crete « , to whom we can be nothing else than grateful.
Indeed, what is a Platanus Orientalis? In fact, it is an evergreen maple tree. Why, will you ask me, is it the unique evergreen maple? That’s because its distant ancestor, having shaded the mating of Zeus and Europe, was granted by the grateful God the gift to keep its foliage forever. King Minus would thus be – I am afraid the technocrats from Brussels don’t know about it – the ancestor of the Europeans Later, his wife Persephone gave birth to Phaedra, origin of some beautiful racinian [from Racine] verses, and also the Minotaur, but that’s another story… In any case, Europe carries the name of a princess who became Greek in the name of love… a fact that is well worth remembering.
2. We owe to Greece a certain idea of love. Or rather three ideas (in one.) Eros: the sensual love; Philia: the friendship, the love between equals; but especially Agape: love itself, the self-sacrifice, » The love which gives and takes « , says Lacarrière. For the first Christians, it indicates the love of men for God as well as God’s love for men. Plato will describe it as the hidden face of Desire, the dark side of Eros, the one who aims at the purification of passions, becomes pure emotion and touches the essence of things. In French, we say ‘agapé’ (plural: ‘agapes’) to indicate the meal shared by the believers. It is like a banquet, the pleasure of being together, the exchange and the gift. It is when passion becomes a promise, and unity becomes communion. Isn’t it about time for the so-called European Union to get inspired by this concept?
Eros or the Euro? Europe, displeases the British, is not only a common market, nor limited to business transactions .«I want my money back!», shouted Mrs Thatcher, to the displeasure of Jacques Delors. We can -thanks to the Greeks- have a different idea of unity, a different idea of Europe.
3. Finally, Europe owes to Greece the humanities. You have heard of ‘do one’s humanities’, ie or rather: it WAS- to study languages which are of no use like dead languages, authors without any interest such as Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Cicero, Plutarch, and Virgil. Well, yes, what the use of Greek and Latin when we have Internet?
You could also reply that we can be at the same time a distinguished Hellenist and a relentless enemy of the democracy, and even a fanatical pro Nazi collaborator just like Robert Brasillach, for example, when he celebrated the « humanity » of the Greek poets, and was capable of publishing at the same time, criminal and despicable articles, against the Jews.
Well, answers Lacarrière, this is it: Greece is a school of freedom because it leaves us the choice. On one side, there is Sparta, the warrior city. On the other, there is Athens, the city where the arts (and the idea of the democracy) bloom. On one side, » Iliad « , the poem of strength, death and blood. On the other, “The Odyssey” the poem of travels, fantasia, love and initiation. Which hero do you prefer? Ulysses, the eternal seaman, master of the monsters and lover of the Nereides, or Achilles, the arrogant and cruel warrior? Indeed, Greece gives us a choice between the magical world of Eoles and the mermaids, or the brutal world of the Achaeans, with corpses dragged on the shore, their violated or captured women given as prices to the winners. And all this, Jacques Lacarrière tells us –he who remembers his childhood at the time Europe was occupied- you can learn, from an early age, from books.
You Europeans, put Greece under control, impose a reasonable tax system, fight against corruption and emoluments, yes! But do not punish its people! Do not expel Greece from Europe! Remember that too, European people, we have a big debt to this small country.
Texte traduit par Marie Cécile STREET.
This chronicle was read in the radio program entitled « Pas la peine de crier »[No need to shout] run by Marie Richeux on September 27, 2011 on France-Culture. «Le Dictionnaire amoureux de la Grèce » by Jacques Lacarrière is published by Plon.