Griekenland is al jaren in crisis. De recente stuiptrekkingen van premier Alexis Tsipras kunnen daar weinig aan veranderen. In een artikel van The New Yorker las ik een vergelijking met de klassieke oudheid die me wel raakte.1Daniel Mendelsohn, Block that metaphor! The right poem, The New Yorker, 27 juli 2015, p. 18.
Of the more substantive attempts to link Greece’s grandiose past to its humbled present, nearly all have focussed on a notorious incident from the Peloponnesian War — the ruinous, three-decade-long conflict between Athens and Sparta.
In 416 B.C., the Athenians brutally punished the tiny island state of Melos for trying to preserve its neutrality.
In a famous passage of Thucydides’ history of the war, known as the Melian Dialogue, the Athenian representatives blithely tell their Melian counterparts, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” before killing all the adult males of the city and enslaving the women and children.
Perceived similarities between the Athenians of the fifth century B.C. and today’s Germans have provoked a flurry of think pieces. “What Would Thucydides Say About the Crisis in Greece?” an Op-Ed in the Times asked.