Postmodern Greek tragedy: walking with Thucydides in Athens

Book chapter

Briggs, Daniel 2012. Postmodern Greek tragedy: walking with Thucydides in Athens. in: Briggs, D. (ed.) The English riots of 2011: a summer of discontent Hampshire Waterside Press.
AuthorsBriggs, Daniel
EditorsBriggs, D.

What Thucydides described seems very fitting to the precarious social and economic climate of contemporary Greece. Public and private debt cannot realistically be repaid in full and the effect of possible ‘disorderly default’ would exacerbate a European and worldwide financial system in chaos with slow and uncertain outcomes. However, neither the European Union (EU) nor global processes are the sole culprit of Greece’s current financial instability. After 30 years of democratic governments, both corruption and financial mismanagement have led to a never-ending austerity horizon, rising unemployment, and episodes of violence and social unrest; the impact of which have been aggravated by police treatment of the public at protests but also the militaristic policing of particular social groups. Unlike the riots in England in 2011, the episodes of public disorder and violence across Athens and other Greek cities has been more politically focussed. Compared with London, for example, the looting and targeting of retail establishments in Athens has been minimal, and instead anger, frustration and violence predominantly seems to be symbolically directed at State institutions – in particular the Constitution building in Syntagma Square.
In this chapter, I would like to contextualise these events by reverting to the Classical period in Ancient Greek history: a time when democratic and social progress in Athens and Greece were perhaps at their zenith. Though not perfect, the Classical period was a time of investment in public works, political and social reform and rights, and employment. I briefly chart how Greece arrived at this ‘golden age’, by describing the emergence of democracy, philosophy and theatre. I show that one forum through which politics and philosophy circulated was Greek tragedy, and it was through this arena the everyday public engaged with narratives of politics, conflict and social life. In contemporary Greece, however, corrupt politics have exposed the country’s current socio-economic position. In fact, politics, and any effort to usurp the government, seem to have been far removed from public ownership. Using the theoretical framework of ‘performative violence’, I suggest that the social unrest and violence in places like Syntagma Square in Athens, in effect become the stage in which the players of this real life Greek tragedy act out their respective roles and the audience observe this all through the lens of the media. I present this as though Thucydides, the doyen of ancient Greek political historians who reported politics and conflict during the Classical era of Athens, was there observing events, ‘as they happened’ when I was witness to social disorder in Athens in June 2011.

KeywordsGreece; Protest
Book titleThe English riots of 2011: a summer of discontent
PublisherWaterside Press
Publication dates
Publication process dates
Deposited22 Jun 2012
Place of publicationHampshire
Web address (URL)
Additional information

Briggs, D. (2012) ‘Postmodern Greek tragedy: walking with Thucydides in Athens’ in Briggs, D. (ed.) The English riots of 2011: a summer of discontent. Hampshire: Waterside Press, in press..

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