Saturday, September 14, 2013


Sour grapes have their origins in the works of Aesop. You know the one, the slave who, according to the earliest Greek sources, including Aristotle, indicate that he  was born around 620 BC in Thrace at a site on the Black Sea coast which would later become the city Mesembria. A number of later writers from the Roman imperial period, including Phaedrus, who adapted the fables into Latin, claim that he was born in Phrygia in Asia Minor. This Asia Minor connection is corroborated by the third century poet Callimachus, who called him "Aesop of Sardis," and the later writer Maximus of Tyre, who called him "the sage of Lydia."
Call his country what you will, there can be no doubt of the fact that if it wasn’t for Samos, there would have been no fables to speak of. Both Aristotle and Herodotus reveal that Aesop was a slave in Samos and that his masters were first a man named Xanthus and then a man named Iadmon. They claim that he must eventually have been freed, because he argued as an advocate for a wealthy Samian and that he met his end in the city of Delphi. According to Plutarch, Aesop had come to Delphi on a diplomatic mission from King Croesus of Lydia. Apparently, he  insulted the Delphians, was sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, and was thrown from a cliff. To add insult to ignominy, the fable writer narrowly missed out on being included in the list of Greece’s Seven Great Sages. This is no matter now, when everyone knows the fable of the fox, who unable to reach the grapes of his desire, called them sour, whereas most of his shy clear away from snuggling into bed with a copy of Thales the Milesian’s latest.
Turkey has also recently missed out being included on a list, that list being the list of countries that have hosted the Olympic Games. Instead of being granted to Istanbul, the old Constantinople, Tokyo has snitched the 2020 Games from under their very noses. Regularly readers of this column will recall the sense of entitlement prevailing within Turkey in the wake of its bid, including the bizarre claim that since a Mount Olympus exists in Turkey, the Olympic Games should permanently be held there. Try convincing impassioned advocates of this view that the Olympian Gods have long since sold their mountain top freehold and relocated to the loftier climes of Mount Fuji instead.
I can’t help thinking that a few immarbled Byzantine emperors had a word in the IOC’s collective ears. After all, Byzantine Emperors were not big on the perpetuation of pagan pastimes and would certainly not countenance the hosting of a Games designed to honour the gods they extirpated in their city. The only sport aesthetically permissible to the Byzantines was chariot racing and this only because it was laden with political overtones, the two sides, being the Greens and the Blues forming effectively, political pressure groups.  Perhaps this is something the Turkish bidders should have considered. When it was announced that Turkey lost out to Tokyo on hosting the 2020 Olympics, Ankara’s mayor took to Twitter to blast anti-government protestors as “traitors” who cost Turkey its bid.  What he should have realised is that a bid for the Melbourne Cup would have been more effective.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, in fine incendiary form blasted the International Olympic Committee’s as “unfair”, saying it was turning its back on the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims. This is a fascinating statement. The last  Turkish leader to purport to represent the totality of the Muslim population of the world was the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Mejid, who was the caliph, or spiritual leader of Islam. His title was abolished by the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal. Are we to understand that a new caliphate is now in existence? And how pray does the non-granting of the Olympic Games to Turkey impact upon the religious sensitivities of the faithful in such diverse places of the world as Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, or Mindanao in the Philippines? If the games were indeed granted to the Queen of Cities, how would the newly appointed caliph protect members of the IOC from the wrath of enraged samurais wielding their well-tempered blades, incensed at the insult not just to a spiritual leader, but to the Son of Heaven, in the form of the Japanese Emperor, a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and to the entire Shinto religion as well and seeking revenge? Oh dear. The fact that the Summer Olympics have never been held in a Muslim country is noteworthy but not worthy of dismay. After all, it took the IOC 104 years to re-grant the Games to their birthplace.
When asserting one’s spiritual authority gets you nowhere, the next best tactic is to through a tantrum, reminiscent of a child complaining as to why his elder siblings have been allowed to east lollies while he is not. Erdogan exemplifies this approach in his plaintive cry to the Turkish media: “Both Tokyo and Madrid have hosted the games before; Istanbul hasn’t. It hasn’t been fair.” Don’t stress sonny. You can host the games when you are older, seems to be one’s instinctive method of consoling the poor child and stopping him from banging his hands and feet upon the floorboards of our credulity. After all, we have just had them polished.
If kicking and stamping one’s feet fails to procure results, how about blaming one’s own people. After all, there was opposition to the Istanbul bid from a significant portion of its own citizenry and government officials are now calling these citizens traitors. When the IOC announcement was made, some of these celebrated in Turkey’s streets. So powerful  were the emotions surrounding the City’s Olympic bid, that supporters and opponents of the Olympics gathered at separate sites. After Istanbul failed in its fifth Olympic bid, some cried and others embraced in the ancient square of Sultanahmet. Most just stood still, lowering their Turkish flags. In Taksim Square, on the other hand, those who had opposed the bid celebrated late into the night. Obviously, this seems rather strange when it is considered that when making the case for Turkey before the IOC, Prime Minister Erdogan categorically stated that his country’s bid was one of “tolerance” and “peace.”
Way to state the obvious. Being impressed at the fact that a nation that wants to host Games revived upon the values of friendly competition and peaceful co-existence, proclaims peace and tolerance is proportional to a candidate in a beauty contest also wishing for world peace. It is mere convention.
The traitors, sorry, I mean the protestors, don’t see tolerance and peace in the manner in which the recent Gezi Park protests were broken up by the Turkish authorities and this more than any lack of progress on issues of human rights or religious freedom, seems to have blighted the Istanbul bid. After all, a country whose government brands alternative views as traitorous, where water cannons and beatings are deployed with such ease against peaceful protestors, does not exactly inspire confidence. The celebrations in Taksim Square may have been an appreciation of the belief that the IOC did not reward the Turkish government for its oppressive behavior. For my own part, I find this difficult to believe. Other cities languishing under authoritarian regimes have been granted the Olympic Games before, equally notorious for their lack of respect for their citizens, Nazi Germany being the most obvious example, without the treatment of these citizens serving as any impediment whatsoever.
I lament the failure of the Istanbul bid. To witness the Games being held in the most beautiful city of the world would be  marvellous. To have the host nation showcase and celebrate one thousand years of Byzantine tradition and history would be absolutely spell-binding. Yet herein lies the dilemma. It was from Constantinople that Emperor Theodosius decreed in 394 the abolition of all pagan games, including the original Olympic Games, leading to their terminal decline. To host the games in the city that caused their demise seems paradoxical and counter-intuitive. Far from factors pertaining to internal traitors, religious discrimination, racism or political instability, perhaps it is the old imperial legacy, one that saw fit to dispense with the old gods and bring in the new, that mitigates against Constantinople. For if our Aesopian caliph looks up at the grapes of his desire, and having had these rendered unreachable by the IOC, calls them sour, let him consider the Aesopian Emperor-Woodcutter, begged the trees to give him a handle made of the hardest wood. The other trees selected the wood of the wild olive. He  took the handle and fitted it to his axe. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he began to chop down the trees' mighty branches and trunks, taking whatever he wanted. The oak tree then said to the ash, 'It serves us right, since we gave our enemy the handle he asked for!’ Let the Games begin.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 September 2013