The land of the palinode

By Pantelis Boukalas

There are not many words in the Greek language, throughout all of its different phases, that we know the exact provenance of. We know which ones we owe to our great dramatists (Aeschylus in particular), since no one used them before or after, and which – usually the lengthy ones – we owe to Aristophanes. We also know, thanks to Stefanos Koumanoudis and his “Compilation of New Words,” which words were born in the 19th century, which were born of need for new forms of expression, and who coined them.

When it comes to the word “palinode” we are much more fortunate. Thanks to the legends that have accompanied it from the start, we know who created it and why. It was Stesichorus, a 7th-century BC epic poet who lived in Himera in Sicily and used a palinode to retract a sentiment expressed in a former poem. Though a great poet, he could never have known that this word would eventually become the best term to aptly describe the exercise of politics in Greece today. He had other things to worry about, including retracting a former statement that blamed Helen of Troy for the Trojan War and which caused the gods to punish him with blindness.

In simple language, a palinode is a retraction, going back and forth, preaching one thing and doing another, promising one thing and then sneaking something different past. Do we have such politicians? A careful study reveals that there are quite a few in government right now who said one thing before the elections (against or in support of the memorandum, for example) and another afterward. Other have passed through two or three different parties over the course of their careers, shifting loyalties, though championing the new ones with the kind of fervor exercised by those who have something to gain.

A wonderful palinode was recently composed by Infrastructure Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who is best known for two public statements: that he is anti-authoritarian and that he didn’t have time to read the memorandum before voting for it. In December, the minister refuted media reports that toll charges were to be increased and pledged that there would be no hikes in rates during 2014. Today, commuters are facing a new pricing policy that sees rates up by as much as 60 percent in parts of the country, a policy penned by Chrysochoidis.

The minister appears to have one voice to address the public and another (a mute one most likely) to address the contractors.