Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Where is the queen?!
Photo Vespa orientalis: Robin Edwards
The first heat wave of summer has started. That means that all kinds of insects are looking for a home inside our house. Spiders, ants and other creepy things will invade, looking for water and sweet things. It means we have to clean extremely carefully: leave no bread crumbs behind, tightly close the sugar pot and don’t leave out tea cups or coffee cups with sugar or sweetener in them. My house soon will be a Walhalla for entomologists, just like the modern Greek political world will be a Walhalla for Aristophanes…
Aristophanes was a Greek poet and playwriter who lived from 446 BC – 386 BC. He is known because eleven of his plays have survived. They were usually only once performed at a festival visited by the ‘jet set’ of ancient Athens. Its administrators knew no shame, and Aristophanes had no qualms about making fools of his high tone audience, the hot shots in the front row.
And now it’s the turn of the Greek administrators of today to once more be made fools of. The reason? Because nearly half the population of Greece failed to turn up and vote in last Sunday’s European parliamentary elections. Most Greeks thought it was more important to visit the beach than going to the polls. Sadly, the ruling Neo Demokratia party has proved that it is just as corrupt as its main rival Pasok, and so Greeks are fed up with politics.
The fact that the Pasok won the most votes was shaded by the low turn out. You can see it as an act of massive civil disobedience, because voting in Greece is compulsory — although nobody is ever punished for breaking the law.
If Aristophanes were alive now, he would have a lot of fun making fools of our contemporary politicians. If you read him you will see that in his day politics were also a mess. In his play ‘The Wasps’ he satirizes old Athenian men that played the role judge for money, but never delivered justice in a fair way. The man who governed Athens in Airstophanes’ time was Cleon, and the playwright certainly made a fool of him.
In this political comedy the old men who are the judges, come to help a colleague, but are shown to be a swarm of wasps with nasty stings. You can say the same today; our politicians are just the same dangerous swarm of wasps, and although the insects are essential to the cycle of life in nature, they can also threaten your life. It is very dangerous to try and destroy a nest of wasps because they get angry and attack, and that could be fatal.
The results of the voting for Europe in Greece was just like an attack on the nest of the Neo Demokratia. The leader and Greek premier Karamanlis will have to respond, but most people think he will just shuffle a few of his ministers. He is not a real ‘queen’ wasp, because it is the opponents of our political system that really might deliver the fatal sting: think of anarchistic youth and students who have not stopped their rebellion since the riots of last December. They are angry enough to keep on fighting, attacking banks and luxury shops with fire bombs and rocks.
So the wasp (Sfika in Greek) is very much alive in Greek life. Research on our neighboring island of Chios (by Mike Taylor of the Liverpool Museum in the UK) has found a big variety of wasp species, like the so-called spider wasp (Pompilidae), that hunts pseudo-tarantula’s (woaw, I can’t believe those creeps might be here as well…) and other big spiders on Chios.
I myself recently encountered a queen wasp in my house. She was at least 5 centimeters long and belonged to the hornet family, a Vespa orientalis (or was it a Scolia flavifrons?). Anyhow, these hornet wasps are huge, and just like some politicians they like to eat the bread (well, in case of a wasp it is meat or fish) off your plate (Dutch expression).
I am happy that I am not too afraid of this gigantic wasp species, because they are so big and noisy, you usually see or hear them coming first. So I gently put our royal flying monster out of the house. However, the next day she was back again, exploring our living room. I decided to evict her for a second time, but the next day again she got in through her own secret entrance and this time there was no way I could catch her.
I spent two days wasp-catching and on the third day it was too much, so I decided to ignore her. That wasn’t easy: try to concentrate while such a missile is flying around your head. But I managed; so well that I lost all trace of her. And now I am worried. I have no idea how wasps live, and so I can only hope that this great queen is not so sneaky as to brood (and breed) in complete silent seclusion in a secret hidden nest somewhere inside the house. Imagine if in a few weeks I enter my living room and am attacked by a swarm of colossal stinging beasts! Just like a lot of politicians, not all wasps are to be trusted…
(With thanks to Tony Barrell)
@ Smitaki 2009