Saturday 22 August 2015


Feeling glum about the prospects for democracy in either Greece/the EU or the UK Labour Party, I sought solace in visiting the location of an exciting scene from the defence of democracy in ancient Kerkyra (Corfu).

The plan was to find some tiles on the island in order to help me reimagine, if not reconstruct by nifty photo-montaging, my favourite sentence in the ancient historian Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.

During the civil war in 427 BCE, there was a street battle in Corfu’s main town between the groups supporting the oligarchs and the democrats respectively. Thucydides, whose usual policy is to ignore women, describes how not only slaves but women on the democratic side joined in the actual fighting: ‘the woman also entered the fray with great daring, hurling down tiles from the roof-tops and standing up to the din with a courage that went beyond what was natural to their sex’ (3.74).

Having identified as venue an antique central street with plenty of promising tiled roofs, we went to the island’s famous Archaeological Museum hoping to photo a tile or two from the fifth-century BCE. Guess what? The Museum is now closed indefinitely. A huge padlock and chain locks its gates. The sign lies in the dust, already rusting. 

The staff, as public servants, cannot be paid thanks to the Eurocrats who worship Kapital and despise Greek democratic processes. So the very cultural resources underpinning the tourist industry, crucial to any prospect of Greek economic recovery, are being made unavailable through Austerity. 

I tried to console myself with online images of the indomitable animal-taming Artemis, from the magnificent western pediment of the archaic local temple, which tourists like me can no longer see at the museum. I like to think it was she-god images like this which inspired the democratic women of 5th-century Corfu to put two fingers up—and throw tiles down—at the rich elite forces opposing them.  Eurocrats beware: offending Artemis is always risky. Just ask the Atridae.

1 comment:

  1. I note your comment that Thucydides' 'usual policy is to ignore women', a suggestion I have seen elsewhere. Yet surely Thucydides was writing neither an Arabian Nights-style fantasy full of scheming viziers and crafty courtesans (like part of Herodotus' work), nor a modern-style general history of 5th-century Greece (in which social and cultural aspects, as well as politics and war, would very properly be covered), but a tightly focused account of a specific conflict. Given that women neither fought (except on very rare occasions such as the one you mention), nor spoke in the assembly, I am unclear as to which aspects of their role in the Peloponnesian War you think Thucydides could reasonably have been expected to include.