Greek Tragedies

Archaeological site of Akrotiri Santorini
Archaeological site of Akrotiri Santorini

Whenever there is a fatal accident, whatever the cause, the media describe it a a ‘tragedy’. A recent example:

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PREHISTORIC GREEK TOWN REOPENS AFTER 2005 TRAGEDY

One of Greece’s most famous archaeological sites, the prehistoric town of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini, reopened on Wednesday …  “The archaeological site is open to the public as of this morning,” the office of local mayor Nikolaos Zorzos said in a statement. Akrotiri was closed in 2005 after a roof erected to protect antiquities collapsed, killing a British tourist and injuring others …

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A tragedy, at least as defined by Aristotle in his Poetics, is not a random accident. The sufferer must have offended the gods in some way, deliberately or unwittingly; an offence known as hubris. So can there be a scenario in which a badly constructed roof on a Greek island falling on a British tourist may be considered a ‘tragedy’?

Let’s see …

The British businessman Jabez Kittenhammer has made a fortune from his lightweight prefabricated structures, used all over the world for stadiums, markets, exhibition marquees and the like. Despite the comfortable way of life that his wealth has brought him, despite his loving wife and beautiful children, one thing eludes him: a peerage. He knows that to get one, he has to make a donation of at least £5 million to the ruling party; without hard cash, his status will gain him nothing.

The economy is in a bad state and there is less call for his products than before. In the last financial year his company made its first ever loss. The upkeep of his large house, his wife’s clothes, his children’s private education, his Bentley and his Aston Martin are already burdening him. What to do?

Cut costs, of course. He lays off all those of his workforce who are not involved in actual production, such as the quality control team. He stops buying his light alloy tubing from respected European suppliers, and gets it at half the cost from a North Korean firm. Overheads are lower, production is maintained, money
starts coming in again. Soon he has enough to slip the prime minister a brown envelope containing a cheque.

One of the quality control staff made redundant, Cassandra Stillwright, on her last day at the works, reads the shipping manifest for a container of alloy tubing that has just arrived from North Korea. She sees that the tube walls are thinner than the old specification, and the alloy is of a cheaper type. She writes to the
local newspaper. But it is publishing an advertisement for the newly launched range of Kittenhammer ‘Icarus’ patio awnings, and does not print her letter.

And, come the New Year’s Honours, there he is, the newly ennobled Baron Kittenhammer of Snoad, wearing an ermine robe hired from Ede & Ravenscroft, taking his seat in the House of Lords. It is the happiest day of his life. But, unnoticed in the gallery, a small, sharp-faced goddess is watching him.

That summer he takes the family on a Mediterranean cruise calling at several Greek islands including Santorini. As the ship docks in the harbour below Fira, he says to his wife, ‘Elfine, my love, you take the boys into town and buy some souvenirs. I’m going to look up a client of mine — made him a roof a few months ago. It’s just one of those ancient sites, you wouldn’t be interested.’ And off he goes in a taxi.

As he enters the the site, a small but heavy crow flaps in from nowhere in particular and lands on the roof. The framework groans; with a sharp crack one of the substandard alloy tubes parts; in a moment the whole structure crashes on the head of Lord Kittenhammer; and that is the end of him.

His wife remarries, to a Kazakh oil billionaire who can afford to build things properly. But that is another story.

Tachybaptus ©