“We still live in a Greek age”

“We still live in a Greek age”

After exploring the Neolithic, Mesopotamia and Egypt, you feel “at home” in this volume 4 of The crossing of times.

I am like a fish in water in the heart of ancient Greece which brings together my passions for philosophy and theater. Reflection frees itself from religion, words take precedence over force. Socrates questions the world while walking, the street is his “thought”. Citizens elect their representatives. The Acropolis celebrates the gods and the Agora the conversation. Actors take to the stage to question our human condition. This house is not just mine. She is ours. We still live in this Greek age. Athens holds up a mirror to us.

Exactly, does Athenian democracy have anything to do with ours?

She was the polar opposite of our world. In Athens, the electorate only included a third of the population and left out women, metics – without Athenian citizenship – and slaves. Democracy did not aim to establish equality between men, it entrusted a group with the mission of deciding for everyone. We are more virtuous today.

It’s still a huge step forward!

A revolution. We move from the rule of the strongest to the law deliberated, voted on, amended. From Athens, governing means talking. Nothing is more prized there than argument and eloquence. We elect the strategists responsible for managing public, political and military affairs, we also practice the drawing of lots which recognizes each citizen, whoever they may be, the virtue of deciding. Our citizen conventions for the climate or on the end of life are modeled on this model.

But speech can also be instrumentalized!

Yes, because to function well, democracy requires democrats, like Pericles. This famous orator did not intercede for himself but for the city; he did not wish to respond to opinion, but to form it. But in Athens, as today, demagogues can hijack the word to benefit their individual interests. Donald Trump is an example. Despite this risk, I think, like Churchill, that we still have not found a better system. So much so that authoritarian regimes themselves adorn themselves with the appearance of democracy. Look at the mock presidential elections organized by Vladimir Putin.

Sparta, governed by an oligarchy, accuses Athens of decadence…

Authoritarian Sparta claims that democratic Athens is fragile, effeminate, corrupted by comfort and games. She believes that a prosperous people will not vote for war. Pericles convinces the Athenians to confront Sparta to preserve their values. How can we not think about what is at stake between Europe and Russia today?

Is the teaching of philosophy enough for living together?

This is Socrates' weak point. By asking the question why, he teaches his interlocutor to reason. He creates a citizen but neglects the passions that the tragedy explores. This Greek art which highlights the subtlety of thought represents the summit of intelligence. We don't play good against evil. Antigone wishes a burial for her brother which Creon refuses because he must punish the one who disobeyed the laws. Reason of the heart versus reason of State, tragedy allows us to recognize these insoluble conflicts.

How to deal with tragedy?

Our century has, like Athens, its drama sellers. Its demagogues who claim that building walls will stop migrants, its fundamentalists who, in the conflict between Palestine and Israel, want one of the two states to destroy the other. This binary vision of the world enrages him more than the search for complex solutions.

Paris is hosting the Olympic Games, what was their initial spirit?

In 776 BC, Athens decided to establish games to sublimate, in sport, the tensions between enemy cities. During a truce, we create a community larger than the warring states. In Olympia, every four years, we lay down our arms for the time to confront each other, in a noble competition that goes beyond aggression. Like the Athenians, I think that we must place man above conflicts. I wonder: is our Olympic Committee wise to exclude Russian athletes from the opening ceremony? The spirit of harmony animating the competition must transcend what opposes us.

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