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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 8 April 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 8 APRIL 2017 25 NEWS not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." Caricaturing philosophy is one thing. To do so in a breathtakingly interesting way is quite another. Lucian's space adventure features a group of travelers who leave Earth when their ship is thrown into the sky by a ferocious whirlwind. Eventually they arrive on the Moon, only to learn that its inhabitants, the Selenites, are at war with the people of the Sun for the most Lucasian of reasons: both are vying for control of a colony on the Morning Star. As Endymion, King of the Moon relates, in pure science fiction fashion: "The king of the inhabitants of the Sun, Phaethon,… has been at war with us for a long time now. Once upon a time I gathered together the poorest people in my kingdom and undertook to plant a colony on the Morning Star which was empty and uninhabited. Phaethon out of jealousy thwarted the colonisation, meeting us halfway at the head of his dragoons. At that time we were beaten, for we were not a match for them in strength, and we retreated. Now, however, I desire to make war again and plant the colony." The warriors of the two celestial orbs travel through space on winged acorns, with gigantic turnips as ammunition. Anticipating the mass slaughters brought about by colonialism, by almost two millennia, blood "[falls] upon the clouds, which made them look of a red colour; as sometimes they appear to us about sun-setting." Of course, the mood is lightened someone by the fact that Lucian casts one class of killers as the Garlic Warriors ῾Σκορδομάχοι,᾽ another as the Millet Throwers, 'Κεγχροβόλοι' and yet another as the Ostrich Slingers 'Στρουθοβάλανοι,' while the imperial battleships of George Lucas, take the form of the Lettuce Wings 'Λαχανόπτεροι.' In lampooning Aristotelian views of the natural world, Lucian makes some novel imaginings that would arrest the attention of gender scholars of the modern age. In particular, he envisages upon the Moon a society in which women are completely absent and men are by necessity, self-procreating. Thus babies are born from men's swollen calves, delivered dead but brought to life "by putting it in the wind with its mouth open". Another people known as the Arboreals employ a different method of propagation: a man's right genital gland is cut off, planted, and from it "grows a very large tree of flesh, resembling the emblem of Priapus", and from its fruit of enormous acorns men are 'shelled.' Lucian's imagination even embraces technological ad- vances, in particular, conceiving of a telescopic microphone: "There is a large mirror suspended over a well of no great depth; any one going down the well can hear every word spoken on our Earth; and if he looks at the mirror, he sees every city and nation as plainly as though he were standing close above each. The time I was there, I surveyed my own people and the whole of my native country; whether they saw me also, I cannot say for certain." Eventually, Lucian's protagonists return to Earth, and become trapped in a giant whale. Inside the 200-mile-long animal, there live many groups of people, including, Robinson Crusoe-like, a self-sufficient father and son team that farm the fish entering the whale's stomach. They also reach a sea of milk, an island of cheese and the isle of Elysium. There Lucian meets the heroes of the Trojan War, and other key characters of Greek mythology, and literature, including Homer. The god Rhadamanthys arbitrates disputes between Alexander the Great and Hannibal, Theseus and Menelaus and certain philosophers are also to be found there: "I heard that Rhadamanthys was dissatisfied with Socrates, and had several times threatened him with expulsion, if he insisted on talking nonsense, and would not drop his irony and enjoy himself. Plato was the only one I missed, but I was told that he was living in his own Utopia, working the constitution and laws which he had drawn up." Tellingly, we learn there that Herodotus is being eternally punished for the "lies" he published in his own Histories, which is amusing, considering that Lucian ends his story abruptly, promising to con- tinue it in later books, and never does so. In combining science fiction and parody in equal proportions, Lucian's remarkable work, also notable for the fact that it is constitutes an early expression of the idea of crossing the Atlantic and exploring lands which might lie on its other side, some 1400 years before Columbus, anticipates the French philosopher Voltaire's Micromegas and the writings of Douglas Adams. Significantly, astronomer Johannes Kepler's 1634 novel Somnium which describes a trip to the moon and the view of Earth seen from far away, was partially inspired by Lucian. He picked up True History in the original Greek to master the language. English critic Kingsley Amis has remarked "that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History makes it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940." In producing a tale concerning itself with exceeding the margins of the possible and the plausible, Lucian manages to lampoon the hallowed tradition of his world, while imagining the infinite permutations of others. If there is any regret, in reading his remarkable work, it is that he did not prove immortal, in order to have seen and satirised, George Lucas' puerile Rogue One. Had he done so, arguably, he would have given him a slightly more abrasive treatment than that which he gave Pythagoras, in the aftermath of an Elysian war victory: "From this Pythagoras alone held aloof, fasting and sitting far off, in sign of his abhorrence of bean-eating." To the man that taught us to reach for the stars, and take the mickey out of them, we are eternally grateful. Playing the maids of honour My Big Fat Greek Week NIKOS FOTAKIS • As someone with some professional experience as an interpreter, I'd like to publicly express my sympathy towards the poor, unlucky soul who had to translate one of the most Greek expressions that came out of Alexis Tsipras' mouth. • "We won't be playing the maids of honour". Anyone not familiar with Greece will struggle to understand this metaphor for 'stop playing games'. - We can only hope that president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, was spared the phrase, or maybe that he was treated a little cultural lesson, regarding small young girls playing with dolls and setting up tea. • In the Greek PM's defence, it was Mr Tusk that had mouthed the ominous phrase "Game over", during the now legendary negotiations, almost two years ago, that led to a spectacular failure and the complete about-face of the Greek government and Tsipras himself. • Who can forget that time, when Tsipras went to Brussels as a defiant leftist leader, fighting against austerity, only to return a moderate centreleft PM, surrendering to the will of the country's lenders and applying the austerity measures he was once fighting against? • Tsipras himself might not. So maybe this phrase was a chance for him to return the insult, thus responding to the delaying tactic of the lenders, once again threatening to stop the bailout review talks and deprive Greece from the funds it desperately needs. • Maids of honour aside, it's yet unclear which side is playing games. Tsipras called for an emergency EU summit meeting if the Eurogroup failed to reach an agreement on the bailout review, but later that night, he stepped back on his 'threat', apparently because he is simply not in a position to call an EU summit meeting. • According to some pundits and analysts, this is all an act. Alexis Tsipras once again plays the role of the roaring lion, taking a hard stance against the country's creditors, while having already agreed to the bailout terms which, according to what we know so far, to slashing social security spending by one per cent of GDP in 2019 as well as further reforms in worker rights legislation. • This will allow him to save face as someone who stood up to the creditors, told them off for delaying and came back victorious, bearing funds, to the country. • But what if he's not playing this game? What if he's playing the other game, the game of chicken that seems to have been part of negotiations for the past couple of years? What if he wants to threaten Europe? What if he wants to threaten with elections (and political instability)? What if he actually wants elections and what if he secretly wants to lose elections? What if he simply just doesn't want to be the centre-right Papandreou parody he is at the moment and goes back to being a carefree leftist, marching against globalisation and singing protest songs by the campfire? • Under this light, the motion of 38 Syriza MPs to call for the legalisation of free camping takes on another meaning. • Because this is the most Syriza thing the Syriza MPs have called for. • Nothing says 'young eco-friendly leftist' than setting up a tent on a remote place by the seaside and spending a week, a month, all summer there. It is in these campsites, around these campfires, singing Manu Chao songs (and that Che Guevarra anthem) that Tsipras and co emerged as leaders. • He may want to return to this. • With Greek summer approaching, who can blame him?
1 April 2017
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