Thursday, September 13, 2018
Greek Economic Recovery Has Nothing to Do With Odysseus
September 13, 2018
In 2010, at a picturesque port on the island of Kastelorizo, then Prime Minister George Papandreou announced the start of “a new Odyssey for Greeks”: entry into an austerity-focused International Monetary Fund-European Union bailout agreement to help finance the country’s debt. “We know the route to Ithaca,” Papandreou said, “and we’ve got a map.” Eight years and $360 billion later, last month Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced the end of the third such bailout program. Speaking from a peaceful cove on the island of Ithaca itself—Odysseus’s home and final destination—Tsipras took full advantage of the symbolism to declare the long voyage over.
The analogy was designed to appeal to the country’s love of associating with the grandeur of Ancient Greece, and to flatter its citizens, comparing their troubles with the story of one of literature’s archetypal heroes, whom they study in school. In Homer’s epic poem, it took Odysseus ten years to return to his home island after the end of the Trojan war, making eight years of contemporary austerity a slight improvement. Greek citizens had to face pension cuts and tax hikes, and infrastructure privatization. Odysseus had to fight a Cyclops, survive storms at sea conjured up by the god Poseidon himself, navigate his ship between Scylla and Charybdis, resist the enchanting song of the Sirens, and even pay a visit to the underworld.
But beneath the superficial lure of a mythic analogy, the comparison suggests a worrying degree of confusion in Greek political discourse about what the past eight years have meant, and the lessons the country should draw from them.