More lessons from Greek Tragedy applicable to the current financial crisis:
Be careful what you try to protect, and be careful what you fear. Or, in short, excessive protectionism fails, and as does fear of others as a threat. Applied to the current financial situation, we might thus suggest that stronger Euro-zone countries, in trying to protect their own markets, their own “state,” their own interests, to the detriment of other countries, other nations (because Greek tragedy is almost always about the nation state), by inflicting strong austerity measures, are only causing greater harm.
Take, for example, Medea. Medea asks Creon (the king) what her crime is, and why she, being citiless (the equivalent of being a refugee, having no rights, no citizenship), should be sent into exile. Creon responds:
“What crime? I fear thee, woman—little need to cloak my reasons—lest though work some deed of darkness on my child.” –Creon
Medea begs for mercy from Creon, the king, and therefore, the sovereign law-giver on the land. But Creon instead fears “some wickedness deep hid within thee,” perhaps as a justification to protect his own interests, which are those of his family, and hence, the royal line, and that of the state, or his house: “’Tis mine own house that kneels to me, not thou,” to which Medea responds, “Home, my lost home, how I desire thee now!”
Home is thus the geographical homeland and also the “house” of lineage.
Creon is operating simultaneously out of fear and a desire to protect his own interests; the two emotions are linked. The result is disaster. Medea, calling Jason’s actions full of “shame” for his inability to know no remorse for betraying her, seeks revenge by murdering Creon’s daughter, their children, and her own children so that Jason will have no heirs–no succession to the “house” of Creon. Creon dies while trying to rescue his daughter.
Fear and protectionism are the primary emotions that drive Creon–and, contrariwise, Jason is driven by ambition and greed. The result is that everything that Creon and Jason strive to protect, are afraid of, and seek to achieve, are destroyed.
(Sophocles also addresses the primary role of fear in human emotions, but from a positive angle. In Antigone, Antigone’s sister asks if she should be afraid for Antigone when Antigone prepares to defy Creon’s orders against burying her brother Polynices, to which Antigone responds something to the nature of, fear not for me! In the preceding play in the trilogy, Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus, in asking Theseus’s protection as ruler of Athens when he is a wayfarer banished from his homeland, says that he is afraid of losing the king’s protection. Theseus responds that Oedipus need not be afraid, because Theseus is not afraid–meaning that he is not afraid of any potential Oedipus himself, nor the symbolic function of the curses that Oedipus might bring to the land. These two characters–Antigone and Theseus–through their lack of fear–demonstrate the opposite of Creon’s drive for action through fear).