Of beasts and men

When Diogenes was asked what beast inflicts the worst bite, he said, «Of wild beasts the slanderer, and of tame animals the flatterer.» Greece’s election campaign, a time when tongues tend to be loose, is suitable ground for verifying Diogenes aphorism. Flattery is expressed in many ways, from top down (as leaders praise voters every four years) and from bottom up (as minor party candidates butter up their superiors). Flatterers have never ceased to press historians into praising as «necessary,» «unique» and «big» (to use the sarcastic words of Cavafy) individuals that have achieved very little because they lacked a clear vision and the political and intellectual equipment that would enable them to transcend the management of day-to-day affairs. The rate at which those most-suited-for-premier tables change is the same at which the much-hyped messiahs slide into their former, ordinary status. And that sobering fact should make even the keenest of flatterers water down their idolatrous enthusiasm. It is useful to recall at this point that some people went as far as to draw parallels between the charter drawn up by former prime minister Costas Simitis some years ago and the famous Charter written by Greek pro-revolutionary intellectual Rigas Feraios. Other officials, no less imaginative, said that the new PASOK leader George Papandreou had resurrected the ancient Athenian concept of «direct democracy,» while conservative government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos once said that Costas Karamanlis «personifies civilized politics.» Are we to believe that the current premier accomplished something that remained elusive even for New Democracy founder, the late Constantine Karamanlis? Not really. It seems more plausible to consider Xenophon, who once pondered: «What is more pleasant than flattering people for money?»

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