On politics and divine instruction

 

 

Dr Nina Kyparissi-Apostolica is the honorary ephor at the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleology in Greece. When someone with such a magnificent name, and holding such an impressive position, tells you something, you have to believe her.

Speaking of new finds at the site of Koutroulou Magoula in Greece, Kyparissi-Apostolica said: “This is an extremely important discovery, and an indication of the technological sophistication of the Neolithic inhabitants of the site.” And we believe her.

A large Neolithic complex (underneath some other, less ancient stuff) has been found, dating from the sixth millennium BCE. The complex has huge walls, includes kilns and mini- sculptures, and appears to have been in use for centuries. “Its function remains unclear,” said greekreporter.com, with somewhat more restraint than Kyparissi-Apostolica, “but preliminary results indicate that it has been used for a long period of time and it underwent several rebuilding efforts and modifications.”

The question to be asked, while the archaeologists work out what the hell went on at Koutroulou Magoula 8 000 years ago, is: What is an ephor?

It’s a position held by someone in an ephorate, obviously, as Kyparissi-Apostolica’s, er, epithet tells us, but where does it come from?


Well, in ancient Sparta, that rigorously militaristic polity, the ephors were five elected officials who ruled the state in conjunction with two kings (yes, two) and the gerousia, a sort of senate composed of men over the age of 60. In those days, not an awful lot of men reached 60, so it probably wasn’t a very large body.

According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, this Spartan governance arrangement was set up by one Lycurgus some time in the 9th century BCE. It was believed he got the instructions for this constitution from the oracle at Delphi, the Pythia, who was presumably channelling the words of the god Apollo.

That’s the simple version, which is perhaps a bit too much like our own public protector’s view of how she is instructed by God. Herodotus also records another account, which sounds somewhat more plausible. In this version, Lycurgus was appointed regent after his brother, the original ruler, died; Lycurgus would be regent because his brother’s wife had a royal child in her womb, who would rule once he emerged. Lycurgus seems to have made a power play, taken over the state, and then promulgated his constitution in what was later called the Great Rhetra — the Great Pronouncement. “Rhetra” is the word used for the utterances of the oracle.

It gets confusing, though, just like the public protector’s pronouncements. Some say Lycurgus brought the laws from Crete, an ancestor civilisation of Greece; others, naturally, say he didn’t really exist at all.

There is a tradition that says the Spartan constitution was never written down, yet, 600 years later, Aristotle apparently quotes bits of it, and Plutarch, in the first century CE, says he researched it in the Spartan archives. Some say it was in prose, others in poetry, because the Pythia always spoke in verse.

Politics — what a muddle!

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

Related stories

Museveni isn’t worried about winning the election, but about what comes next

Uganda’s president is likely to win the next election. But Bobi Wine’s constituency poses the most serious threat yet to his continued rule

Sierra Leone’s president cracks down on his predecessor

Travel bans issued to Ernest Bai Koroma and dozens of top officials as Sierra Leonean corruption investigation gathers momentum

Editorial: Arrests expose the rot in the ANC

The ANC has used its power to create networks of patronage. And this means going after corruption will cost the party financially

‘Elusive Spring’ reveals South Africa today

Mike van Graan’s 2012 political thriller comes to life again ― and its themes are more relevant than ever

Calling South African conservatives…

We’ve tried leftism for long enough and what we have to show for it is corruption and mismanagement, when what we need is jobs and education. Is it time to try out a Mashaba-esque version of right-wing politics?

Cameroon is a ship without a captain

Ahead of planned protests, Cameroon’s main opposition leader argues that change is more urgent than ever
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Meyiwa murder case postponed amid drama in court

The murder case of Senzo Meyiwa has been postponed to next month after the appearance of the five suspects in the Boksburg magistrate’s court took an unexpected turn

Does the Expropriation Bill muddy the land question even further?

Land ownership and its equitable distribution has floundered. Changes to a section of the constitution and the expropriation act are now before parliament, but do they offer any solution?

Wheeling and dealing for a Covid-19 vaccine

A Covid-19 jab could cost hundreds of rands. Or not. It’s anyone’s guess. Could another pandemic almost a century ago hold clues for handling the coronavirus today?

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday