Greek Tragedies Ancient and Modern

By Gil Roth, Editor | October 11, 2012

Of talking cows and missing antidepressants

I spent some of my summer reading the classic Romans and pining for my old days studying the Attic Greeks. As I mentioned in last issue’s What I’m Reading sidebar, you can learn plenty about our modern state of affairs from Livy’s history of early Rome. At several points, I found myself laughing over some of the odder plagues and auguries that struck the Romans. In Book 3 of Livy, we find:

The year was marked with ominous signs: fires blazed in the sky, there was a violent earthquake, and a cow talked — there was a rumor that a cow had talked the previous year, but nobody believed it: this year they did. Nor was this all: it rained lumps of meat. Thousands of birds (we are told) seized and devoured the pieces in mid-air, while what fell to the ground lay scattered about for several days without going putrid.

Beware the talking cow! Of course, that led me to wonder if we’re so much smarter about the world nowadays. Just think about the irrationality of our times. We hold plenty myths that spring up without basis in fact. And what about the notion that our lives are governed by unseen forces? Are the workings of fiscal policymakers, financiers and macroeconomists really so different than the idea that the Olympian gods make playthings out of us? Maybe antiquity and modernity aren’t so different after all.

In Shrinking an economy is depressing business for Greek psychiatrists (http://qz.com/4636), writer/reporter A. Craig Copetas examines the plague of depression that has swept the fiscal wasteland of Greece. He points out that Greece has the fastest growing suicide rate in the EU, and quotes psychiatrist Dr. Konstantinos Kanellakis, who said, “People are living in anticipation of great catastrophe. It’s reached the point where the anticipation of catastrophe continues to grow worse than the catastrophe to come. Unless we hit bottom, this will continue.”

The mental turmoil wrought by Greece’s finances is compounded by the impracticality of its drug coverage, Mr. Copetas tells us:

Greece’s state-administered healthcare system operates only 10 pharmacies that dispense pre-paid mood stabilizers and other medications. The country’s approximately 9,000 privately owned pharmacies demand cash that customers can recoup from the government insurance fund. Neither scheme works. The reason, of course, is money. There is none. According to the Pharmacies’ Association in Athens, major drug makers are no longer keen to trade with Greece . . . The whereabouts of stockpiled anti-depressants are mostly a mystery and independent pharmacists gripe that the government currently owes them some €540 million. . . . “It makes it difficult for the government to provide people with medication,” Kanellakis says.

In ancient Greek tragedy, the theme is (generally) that a great man is brought low by hamartia, his fatal flaw. Thebes is struck by a plague, but Oedipus’ discovery of his lineage and his self-sacrifice alleviate the Thebans pain. In modern Greece’s tragedy, the populace has been laid low by a multitude of factors, not the least of which was man’s belief he could outwit risk. I don’t think there’s any sacrifice that’s going to turn things around in a hurry.

What I’m Reading
Bad to the bone: A medical horror story
Mina Kimes, Fortune – bit.ly/Qsq3KN
Comment: Sure, there are terrible stories about off-label marketing and questionable clinical trial practices in pharma, but this tale about the illegal behavior by medical device company Synthes raises (lowers?) the bar on awful practices in the healthcare field.
Vital Signs: The Woman Who Needed to Be Upside-Down
Louis F. Janeira, Discover – bit.ly/NKhh7y
Comment: “So a giant walks into a bar (okay, a hospital) carrying a lady by her ankles . . .” You must read this tale of House-worthy ER detective work to relieve the gloom brought on from the previous article.
The Good Soldier
Ford Madox Ford – amzn.to/Qssih3
Comment: “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” announces the narrator at the start of this 1915 novel. I read this during a break from my Roman/Latin readings; it’s an intriguing prototype of a novel with an unreliable narrator who can’t keep his story straight in tone or in time.
What are you reading?
Let me know — at gil@rodpub.com, www.goodreads.com/groth, www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1775433 or www.facebook.com/contractpharma — and the first respondent wins a prize!
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