Some things (literally) never change...

And oh my, what a surprise: just as the Greeks – with all their infighting – were no closer to winning the Trojan war, nine years after setting sail from Aulis… the latest polls suggest that the Nationalist Party is still roughly in the same electoral boat as it was in the 2013 election, a good seven years ago…

One of the advantages of spending a year in COVID-induced solitude, is that it allows plenty of time to catch up on a little reading. And because I have developed an interest in archetypal literature – driven, in part, by a belief that human nature has not really changed all that much, in literally thousands of years – much of that time has been spent re-discovering some of the oldest narratives known to man.

Right now, I am roughly half-way through Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ – written around 750BC, but based on events that are supposed to have occurred some 500 years earlier – and though it might have something to do with the translation, there are moments where it feels uncannily as though it might have been written just yesterday.

This, for example, is an excerpt from one of the many quarrels between Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, and his wife Hera:

HERA: Which god has been hatching plots with you this time, you arch-deceiver? How like you it is to wait till my back is turned, and then cook up some secret schemes, on your own […]

ZEUS: Remarkable! You can never stop ‘supposing’. I can keep no secrets from you, can I? But there is nothing you can do about it […] so shut up and obey me, or it will be worse for you…

And… well, there you have it, I suppose. A lot of things may have changed, in the three-thousand or so years that separate us from the classical age of Gods and Heroes; but the way husbands and wives tend to argue, it seems, is certainly not one of them…

Same goes for the things they tend to argue about. Perhaps unsurprisingly - given that the Olympian gods were invented by mortals, in their own image and likeness – this tiff happens to be a reflection of a real (and much more plausible) argument taking place among the Greek army, encamped before the walls of Troy.

Not to drag up that ancient dispute again, all these centuries later: but here, too, there is something remarkably contemporary about the tone of the exchange.

Consider, for instance, how the Greek champion Achilles reacted to King Agamemnon’s decision to relieve him of one of his (female) Trojan captors… prompting him to ‘throw a strop’, and withdraw from the fighting altogether:

“You drunkard, you, with your eyes of a dog and the heart of a doe! You never have the courage to arm yourself and go into battle with your men… you’d sooner die!”

Yikes! Once again, it has all the flavour of an angry Facebook comment, typed out in the heat of an online argument (with the difference, I suppose, that Homer didn’t have a Caps-Lock button, back then; and at least, he knew how to actually spell his insults…)

But it’s not just the tone of what is being said in those lines: it’s also the context. At this point, the Trojan war had already been dragged out for a full nine years… and the Greeks were no closer to breaching those walls, than when they had first arrived.

Today – with the benefit of roughly three millennia’s worth of hindsight – the reason seems obvious enough. They were too busy arguing among themselves (and even then, over trivialities), to remember the teenie-weenie detail of who their enemy actually was; and why they were actually at war with them in the first place.

So it fell to old, wise Nestor to diplomatically remind them (in a way that they would both, naturally, go on to ignore):

“What can I say? This is indeed enough to make Greece weep! How happy Priam and his sons would be, how all the Trojans would rejoice, if they could hear you at each other’s throats: you, the two best Greeks, when it comes to fighting and giving advice…”

OK, at this point you might have realised where all this is leading up to. I’ll admit that it might be slightly facetious – if not downright blasphemous – to draw parallels between Malta’s contemporary political situation, and an archetypal war that has literally resonated across three thousand years of Western cultural history…

… but the similarities are undeniably there; and Nestor’s advice holds just as true for today’s circumstances, as it did for the Bronze Age. Briefly put: an army cannot expect to win a war, if its generals invest all their energies in bickering among themselves. Likewise, a political party cannot expect to win an election, if… well, you can work out the rest for yourselves.

And yet, I’ll be struck by a thunder-bolt from Olympus, if that’s not exactly what’s happening among the rank and file of the Nationalist Party today. Take, for instance, the latest internal PN tiff to spill out into the open: this time, over a sectional committee election that was supposed to take place in Sliema this weekend… in other words, the sort of internal party matter that is so mundane and inconsequential, it normally doesn’t even get reported at all.

On this occasion, however, the election was overshadowed by a call – made on the PN’s official Sliema committee page, no less – for a block-vote against candidates perceived to be from the ‘pro-Adrian Delia’ (and therefore ‘anti-Bernard Grech’) faction.

“Those who are pleased at the rapid rate of progress the party is making under Bernard Grech’s leadership should elect to its sectional committees those members who were at the forefront of electing him and welcoming him with open arms,” the message read.

And in case the intention wasn’t made clear enough the first time: this was followed up by a ‘private’ WhatsApp message, which – like most private WhatsApp messages these days, it seems – ended up plastered all over the world-wide web:

“Trust you are well. I am writing to alert you that Tony Galea, John Pillow, Anton Debono etc. have cast their candidature in the Sliema committee to oust the pro-Bernard Grech committee. They are anti-Daphne etc and they still call Adrian Delia their leader…”

The upshot was that those nine ‘pro-Delia’ candidates all withdrew from the election (which, as a result, will not take place at all)… and meanwhile, over on the other side of the Grand Harbour,  the PN’s entire Bormla committee resigned en masse, in solidarity with their counterparts from Sliema.

Taking into consideration the sheer symbolic undertones of those two localities – Sliema being a traditional PN stronghold, and Bormla being the very opposite – it seems that the Nationalist Party has chosen a path that could only ever weaken itself, in the two areas it most needs to shore up support.

Much more damningly, however: it also seems that - not content with having ousted Adrian Delia himself, in an acrimonious leadership contest last October – the pro-Grech faction is now intent on weeding out the last vestiges of the former leader’s fan-base across the entire party… forgetting, in the process, that these still represent a tidy 31% of the PN’s support as a whole, according to the results of that same election.

Exactly what they were hoping to achieve, as a result of this dog-eyed, doe-hearted scheme, I something not even the wily Odysseus could possibly figure out. What they did achieve, on the other hand, is something remarkably similar to the impasse the Greek army found itself in, as a result of Agamemnon’s foolish decision to antagonise Achilles.

As one of the nine thwarted Sliema candidates put it himself, in an aggrieved Facebook post: “It is very disheartening to read personal attacks […] Such communications only send a very negative message that can only lead to individuals taking their distance even more from the Party. […] At this stage, given the level of divisiveness in the campaign, we feel that it will be impossible for us to achieve the level of unity, engagement and positive energy we wanted in order to drive the Party’s agenda forward in our locality”…

It might be a little more diplomatic than Achilles’ furious outburst, above; but the effect is still more or less the same. A not-insignificant slice of the Nationalist Party’s Sliema (and Bormla) support-base will now – just like the Greek champion, 3,000 years ago – prefer to sulk, lay down their arms, and retire to their tents by the shore: leaving their party to face certain defeat, as it tries to besiege the Labour government with only around two-thirds of its entire fighting force left…

And oh my, what a surprise: just as the Greeks – with all their infighting – were no closer to winning the Trojan war, nine years after setting sail from Aulis… the latest polls suggest that the Nationalist Party is still roughly in the same electoral boat as it was in the 2013 election, a good seven years ago…

Which brings me back to the wise words of Nestor: the only protagonist who seems to have no counterpart whatsoever, in the political drama unfolding today. You only need to watch One News (or read comments on the Internet) to appreciate how just how gleefully the Labour Party is currently ‘rejoicing’, to see those two factions ‘at each other’s throats’. And if this is so clearly visible to you, me or anyone else who bothers to take a look… how on earth can it not be just as perfectly predictable to Bernard Grech, and all his advisors within the party?

Who knows? Maybe he does understand… but, like Agamemnon before him, has allowed his pride to convince him that he can still win the war, even without the support of Achilles.

Or maybe it’s as I’ve suspected all along; that some things, quite literally, just never change at all…