Taki Taki

Why the Greeks invented virtue

Credit: NiseriN

I had a good talk with my NBF, Owen Matthews, at The Spectator’s writers’ party, and we agreed on the two subjects we talked about: Russia and women. I won’t exaggerate the enormity of our aggregate knowledge – and the way we have deployed it in our service, especially where the fairer sex is concerned. Suffice to say that it is far beyond the comprehension of most individuals who concern themselves only with money.

Speaking of loot, I have a gent’s bet with a friend that Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX infamy – accused of having stolen billions while attempting to recover his financial blunders – will get away with a wrist slap. Bankman-Fried maintains his innocence. The question no one seems to be asking is how his parents – a pair of Stanford University part-time law profs – could afford to post a $250 million bail for their bum-clenching, unkempt son. The latter’s bail has been revoked because he contacted future witnesses, so now the proud parents fly over every week in order to hold his little mitts. The trial starts this week.

Here’s the Bankman-Fried mother – a woman who would not look out of place in a remake of the Rocky Horror Show – wailing against those Nazis out to get her son: ‘This is McCarthyism in its relentless pursuit of total destruction.’ The way I see it, a mother has every right to defend her child, but not to blindly blame the law for going after what is alleged to be one of the biggest frauds ever.

But back to higher subjects than crypto loot; to Florence’s Piazza della Signoria in around 1500 AD, where intellectuals met and debated matters of importance. My NBF Owen Matthews might have felt at home with real Renaissance men, but I’m not so sure I would have coped. I might have managed in Athens, perhaps, because in the Greek agora they argued about reason, so I could wing it. But the Italians were talking about the physical world, about galaxies and stars and planetary systems that confuse me to this day. The genius of the Greeks was that they stuck to things they knew about, like turning basic self-awareness into a philosophy of the nature of time and place. Here’s Sophocles’ Oedipus: ‘Time destroys all things; no one is safe from death except the Gods.’ Chronos is the Greek word for time, but it was also the name of the god who devoured all his children. The Greeks thought life was too short – and it certainly was back then – and happiness too fleeting, and that’s the reason they never hesitated to make whoopee or postponed gratification.

Now there is no way I would embarrass myself by saying such things while sitting in the Piazza della Signoria in around 1500 with Renaissance guys and my new friend Owen Matthews. Perhaps Owen could hold his own by describing the vastness of Russian territories, and the untold riches that hide behind and underneath the vastness. What could poor little ole me say to impress them? That democracy leads to anarchy that requires one-man rule that leads to tyranny and so on? This cycle was called anakuklosis, revolution, as in a wheel. The ancients believed that man was held in the hands of fate, fate being a spinning wheel that raised some men to be kings and heroes and brought them down again after another spin.

How did the Greeks counteract the blind circumstance of the spin? Easy. They thought up virtue, virtue being the only force to overcome lady luck – or whatever you want to call it. Not bad for people without televisions, cars, mobile telephones, or even rap music; just a few flutes and harps. The emblem of virtue was first and foremost Hercules, slayer of monsters, all-round hero and symbol of the individual’s ability to determine his own fate. Again, the Greeks did not do badly for people who had never heard of Russell Brand. Virtue originally meant courage in battle, but it came to include integrity in all spheres. After a while, virtue vs fortune became the number one game, the superbowl of life. The Greeks saw everything as a contest: the philosophers against the forces of ignorance and darkness, as in the myth of Prometheus, Plato’s struggles against the forces of opinion.

I’ve read a lot about Russian history, but mostly recent Romanov stuff. All I can add to any American disinformation put out daily by the Military-Industrial Gangster Corporation is that when Napoleon invaded he was certain the Russian serfs would follow him to bring down the Tsarists. But although they were starving, the peasant serfs, slaves in reality, burnt their own crops denying the invaders sustenance. Napo could not believe the reports, and paid for his folly with 300,000 dead.

So, next time you hear that Russia is disintegrating, pick up a history book. Otherwise, London was fun, and after the Speccie party I went to Bellamy’s for a great steak dinner, offered to me by the innkeeper Gavin Rankin. My next stop in London will be Marina Lambton’s book party. I once slept in her bed but alas she was not in it. Her father Timmy (four million acres) Hanbury had assigned me her room during the cricket weekend. Because of her absence, I was almost voted man of the match.