Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ancient Greek complaints of financial problems

When one reads ancient Greek texts, some parts of them seem strikingly actual.

"Strepsiades: Huge, huge debts! They’re all eating me up inside!... I get torn apart with worry as I watch the months go by, the interest mounting up and the payments getting ever closer!.. Bring me my accounts books. I want to see what I owe and to whom. Tally up all the interest... Now, here I am, I’ve got a whole lot of lawsuits and the creditors want to seize all the collaterals! Bloody interest!...

Come down, my dear friend, Socrates!  Come down now, Socrates and teach me what I’ve come to learn from you!

Socrates: You’ve come here to learn what, exactly?

Strepsiades: Oh, Socrates!  If only you knew how anxious I am to learn… to learn all I can about rhetoric.  How to argue convincingly… against all sorts of dreadful creditors who are after my very blood! I want to remove all my painful debts… they’re after all my possessions, all my money – I am… Collaterally Damaged!

Socrates: And how could this ever happen to you without your knowing about it?

Strepsiades: It was a fast thing. Like a horse race!  Such an awful thing, it damned near killed me!  Come, Socrates, mate, teach me one of those two arguments you know. The one that lets you escape debt. Come on, tell me your fees and I’ll… I’ll pay them in full. I swear by all the gods!"

(Aristophanes, Clouds, 423 BC, translated by George Theodoridis.)

"Zeus: Good, Hermes; that is an excellent proclamation: see, here they come pell-mell; now receive and place them in correct precedence, according to their material or workmanship; gold in the front row, silver next, then the ivory ones, then those of stone or bronze...

Hermes: I see; property qualification, comparative wealth, is the test, not merit. - Gold to the front row, please. - Zeus, the front row will be exclusively barbarian, I observe. You see the peculiarity of the Greek contingent: they have grace and beauty and artistic workmanship, but they are all marble or bronze - the most costly of them only ivory with just an occasional gleam of gold, the merest surface-plating; and even those are wood inside, harbouring whole colonies of mice. Whereas Bendis here, Anubis there, Attis next door, and Mithras and Men, are all of solid gold, heavy and intrinsically precious.

Poseidon: Hermes, is it in order that this dog-faced Egyptian person should sit in front of me, Poseidon?

Hermes: Certainly. You see, Earth-shaker, the Corinthians had no gold at the time, so Lysippus made you of paltry bronze; Dog-face is a whole gold-mine richer than you. You must put up with being moved back, and not object to the owner of such a golden snout being preferred."

(Lucian, 2nd century AD, Zeus the Tragedian, translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler.)

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