If only Trump had known his classics, he might not have caused such devastation, suggests Charles Handy
By a trick of fate, I was put into the classics stream at my preparatory school without my being asked. The result was I grew up learning Greek and Latin, learning all about Greek myths and gods and their naughty behaviour, which I quite enjoyed. But also the great Greek tragedies, which were performed in the wonderful theatre, Epidaurus, every year for the whole populous to watch and learn from because they were really lessons in morality.
Hubris, which we were taught translates as excessive arrogance, to the Greeks meant thinking yourself as some sort of god, behaving way above your station. Naturally this was resented by the Greek gods so they managed to make sure that anyone guilty of hubris tripped themselves up because of their arrogance. Sitting there as a child, reading these plays and watching some of them, I kept wanting to say, as one does in a pantomime, “Oh please don’t do that,” because it was obvious what would follow.
So when Oedipus, having killed his father, decides he wants to marry his mother, everything in me sort of reached out to him and said, “No, don’t! You’ll only come to ruin,” which of course he did. And so, supposedly, the population of Athens would learn that arrogance was not a good thing; hubristic behaviour leads to disaster.
Recently I, like many others around the world, saw an act of monumental hubris play out on television as President Trump reached the end of his term of office. And again, everything inside me wanted to say to the man, for whom I had no sympathy, “Please don’t do it! We can all see what’s going to happen. It won’t work out well for you.” And sure enough it didn’t. If only Trump had grown up like me, learning Greek tragedy, he might have been able to look at what he was doing and think twice before doing it.
Oedipus should never have married his mother, it was obviously going to go wrong, but nobody could reach out and tell him. Of course, Oedipus deserved what he got, but still, I just itched to warn him. And the same was true of the dear Donald. Of course he deserved what he got, but I did want to warn him at various stages, “Look behind you – it’s going to catch up on you.” Again, like a pantomime.
But it’s no good me bellowing at the television – he took no notice, of course, and the gods struck him down. Hopefully we can all learn what we’re supposed to from that, just as the ancient Greeks did from their tragedies – that hubris, thinking you’re bigger than you are, is to be avoided; it always ends in trouble.
If we learn nothing else from Donald Trump, at least we learn that Greek tragedy still works: hubris is bad and leads to disaster. So thank you, Donald, for reminding us, if we needed it. Should your children show any signs of hubristic behaviour, a touch of arrogance, thinking they’re bigger than they are, remind them of what happened to Oedipus in the Greek tragedies. Or to Donald Trump in this modern tragedy.
The gods now had to decide what punishment was fitting for Donald Trump. They decided that he
should be confined to his new home in Florida where he would be required to play a round of golf
every day, no matter the weather. He could choose his opponent and make up his own rules. But he
had to play one round every morning.
The thought was that he would then learn that life is no fun if you always win, it gets very boring.
Maybe that will force him to change his ways and, in the nature of Greek tragedies, provide a lesson
for all of us – if you always win, life is no fun.