Tragedy responded to the sophists in subtler ways, projecting the issues onto a mythical canvas, so that the connections with contemporary culture become suggestive rather than explicit. One of the greatest examples of Greek tragedy, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, seems to be a case in point. The date is not certain, but 428 or so seems likely; this would place it precisely in the eye of the sophistic storm. Sophocles has often been thought to be the most religiously-minded of the three major tragedians, but Oedipus the King paints a more complex, challenging picture than this. Oedipus is centrally about divine prophecy, and humans’ attempts to assert control over lives that have already been predestined.
Last week I met Dimitris Papadimitriou in Manchester, and much enjoyed a brief chat (along with a slice of lemon drizzle cake). My intention was to record a brief interview on my laptop, but we didn’t have time. Instead, we Skyped yesterday and I recorded the call. I’m afraid the result is technically imperfect, but … Read more
Many thanks to Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, authors of shortlisted book Prime Ministers in Greece: the Paradox of Power, who kindly agreed to this interview.
It was difficult not to get carried away with all the questions I wanted to ask them. In fact, some of my questions were impossible to answer in just one paragraph, and would have required… a whole book!
You were both involved in an ad hoc advisory committee to George Papandreou some years ago. Can you tell us more about it? What impact did the advisory committee have? Were any changes made as a result?
We interviewed George Papandreou, before he became PM, about his father, Andreas. It was a good and wide-ranging discussion. Kevin had written in ‘Kathimerini’ about the contrast between the formal powers of the Greek PM and the practical reality of a constrained and under-resourced position. Later, after George’s election victory he invited Kevin to join an ad hoc advisory committee on how to ‘modernise’ the government structure and operation. The Committee was to be composed of foreigners; Dimitris made his own bilateral input. George announced in 2010 that he would be adopting the Committee’s Report and he started to implement some of its action-points. But, of course, wider political events took over and George resigned as PM. Yet, the impact continued: the governments that followed took action to reform the government at the centre and the Troika itself pressed this same agenda. So, a focus had been defined and an agenda set.
Prime Ministers in Greece: The Paradox of Power (OUP, 2015)
Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou
The debt crisis that enveloped Greece after 2009 – shaking the international financial markets and raising doubts about the viability of the ‘euro-zone’ – drew attention to how the Greek political system was governed and its capacity to deliver reform. In that sense, the crisis served the purpose of highlighting issues that had been long-ignored, to Greece’s detriment.
The genesis of this book predates the crisis and grew out of a recognition that Greek politics exhibits a paradox: legal scholarship and much public debate assumes that the Prime Minister exercises great authority, often unchecked by others; yet, the practical reality of the PM’s post – reflected in repeated ‘under-performance’ in delivering promised reforms – is of operational weakness, sustaining a lack of control and coordination across the government machine.
Sharon Gerstel, author of Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium, kindly agreed to answer a few questions. The answers are so interesting and so evocative of village life in Greece that even a second interview wouldn’t do justice to everything there is to say.
Sharon, you have made a very comprehensive study of life in villages in the Late Byzantine period. You distinguish your approach from that of some earlier studies. How would you characterise your own approach?
As a specialist in art history, archaeology, and ritual studies, my interest was to look across traditional disciplinary boundaries at Byzantine villages. Having lived for many years in Greece and having spent twenty years walking the landscape and discussing life stories with the older residents of small villages, it was also important for me to layer their stories onto the histories of their villages. While I’m very aware of the scholarly hazards of crossing between the medieval and modern periods, the fact that the villages and buildings have been in continuous habitation and use from the Late Byzantine to the modern period argued in favor of including personal testimonies within my research. Here, I was inspired by the work of a number of ethnographers, including that of Juliet du Boulay, who was a Runciman Award winner in 2010!