Thursday 14 December 2017

Well, just what have the Greeks ever done for us?

From the ancient philosophers to the peace process, our debts to the Greeks are many

Garret FitzGerald. Photo: SNOWDON/CAMERA PRESS
Garret FitzGerald. Photo: SNOWDON/CAMERA PRESS

John-Paul McCarthy

Greece's debts are sadly as big as the Acropolis today, but then again, we owe her plenty as well. The contemporary resonance of her great philosophers Plato and Aristotle continues to astound. Every Irish schoolchild learns about Ireland's wartime experience with reference to Plato's image of the marooned prisoners in the cave. This image was annexed by the historian Leland Lyons to stand for post-Emergency Ireland's isolation.

It is difficult then to read our Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the abortion question without being reminded of Aristotle's definition of law in his Politics as "intelligence without appetite". Irish lawyers have had little appetite for the near global critique of our eighth amendment.

Today, our Greek brothers and sisters arouse mere pity in us. Not so long ago though, they brought out our whimsical side. Garret FitzGerald liked to tell the story of being stuck in a numbing meeting of European foreign ministers when the matter of Mediterranean accession to the union was mooted. Greek accession would distort the existing internal market for various foods, so the ministers found themselves knee deep in discussions about Irish spring onions and the like.

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