Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Themistocles and Athens at the peak of their careers

Themistocles, the visionary Athenian statesman and soldier, realised that despite the Athenian victory at Marathon (490 BC), Persian ambitions to conquer Greece had not abated, and that the Persians were bound to try again.

As such, Themistocles sought to persuade the Athenians that their city had to become a naval power and build a fleet in preparation for an inevitable Persian invasion. Despite much opposition and skepticism, the Athenians eventually accepted Themistocles’ advice – a fleet was built; the Persian armada was routed at Salamis (480 BC); Athens became a maritime (and imperial) force; and Athenian democracy, buoyed by its military success and the repercussions of its citizens being recast as sailors from soldiers (see this post), entered its most radical and creative phase.

Now, I normally have Themistocles on the brain because his perception of a threat from the east, and his insistence that Athens prepare to meet it, has obvious parallels for contemporary Greece. However, today, I was also reminded of the incident recorded in Plutarch, in which Xerxes’ ambassadors arrive in Athens to relay the Persian king’s demand for earth and water, i.e. the city’s subjection, only for Themistocles to have their interpreter put to death for daring to utter the barbarians’ insulting orders in Greek.

It’s a remarkable scene, which the Romanian writer EM Cioran draws this pertinent moral from:
‘A people commit such an act only at the peak of its career. It is decadent, it is dying, when it no longer believes in its language, when it stops believing that its language is the supreme form of expression.’

4 comments:

Hermes said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDtZgna814A&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Watch this video by Al Jazeera on the Turk and Israeli fallout. It's not bad. Includes some comment on Greece (Cyprus).

John Akritas said...

Funnily enough, H. I've been thinking the last couple of days that things have gone quite quiet on the Cyprus-Israel front recently and I wondered if this had anything to do with Israel and Turkey – at the behest of the USA – finding common ground over their hostility to Syria, or rather the Iran-Syrian axis.

As for the film, the first part on how the fallout between Israel and Turkey came about is pure Turkish propaganda, laying all the blame on Israel and making no mention of how neo-Ottomanism demands a weaker Israel. It was replete with that fully paid up Turkish mouthpiece, Hugh Pope, spouting off on Turkey's behalf. Note how Pope also said on the part about Cyprus, that Cyprus should send its gas through Turkey!!!! i.e. make our gas exports/economy dependent on Turkish whims, cutting out the Crete/Peloponnese option and excluding Greece from the E. Mediterranean.

John Akritas said...

The bit about Israel selling arms to Azerbaijan hoping the Azeris might use them to annex Azeri-populated northern Iran was interesting. I hadn't considered that before. Just goes to show who Israel is really worried about.

Hermes said...

John, I would not really worry about whether the documentary is innacurate or a mouthpiece for Turkish propaganda. It is produced by Al Jazeera, which is really controlled by the Qatari Royal Family. It has been very supportive of Turkey; particularly, in Syria.

I am not sure how realistic Israeli is about Azerbaijan. I am not quite sure the Russians would be pleased with this. Azeris also might suffer serious blowback ala Georgia if it did not work. Also, Azeris and Turks are quite close. It would work against our interests.