Thursday, 4 February 2010

The wisdom of farmers

The poor farmer.
“Once upon a time there was a very poor farmer who lived in a tiny house. The only tool he had was an axe to chop wood. On a cold day he went to the forest where he started to cut wood near a river. Suddenly he lost his grip on the axe and the axe glided into the water. The farmer was so upset that he started to cry because he had no money to buy a new axe.

In the river lived a god who took mercy upon the farmer. He crawled out of the river and asked the farmer what was the matter. The farmer answered that he had lost his only axe and that he could no longer cut wood for the coming winter. The god disappeared back into the river and returned with a golden axe. “Here is your axe”, he said to the farmer. But the farmer replied: “No, no that is not my axe”.

The god dived again into the water and reappeared this time with a silver axe. “Here is your axe”, he said to the farmer and again the farmer shook his head: “ No, that is not my axe”. So the god went into the water again and this time emerged with the farmer’s axe. The farmer was glad and cried: “Yes, yes, that is my axe!”

The god dived another time into the river and came back with all the axes: the golden, silver axe and the one the farmer had lost, and said to the farmer “all three belong to you because you are such an honest man”. The farmer was happy and returned to his house and then to the village to tell what happened at the river.

Another farmer heard this story and the next morning he ran with this axe in his hands to the forest. He threw the axe in the river and started to cry. The river god appeared and asked what was the matter. The greedy farmer answered that he lost his axe and that he now was unable to chop wood. The god dived into the river and came back with a golden axe. He asked the farmed if that was the one he lost and the farmer said: Yes, yes, that one is mine”.

The god was very angry and told the farmer that he lied. He was not a trustworthy person and the god disappeared into the river without even retrieving the farmer’s lost axe.

Greeks are very proud. Especially because of their past. Thousands of years ago Greek scientists and philosophers were world famous. There is nothing wrong with being proud, but it seems that the Greeks may have forgotten to learn the lessons of those rich centuries. Maybe they should tell this folk tale about the poor farmer more often to one another. If they did, the farmers might realise it was no use blocking roads every year (it was the same story last winter) to stop imports and to try and get bigger subsidies from the government. Certainly not in such poor economic times as now. Our neighbour Bulgaria is already claiming millions of euros in damages because their exports to Greece have been halted for three weeks at the border by farmers’ blockades of trucks and tractors. You can imagine what the damage can be done by three weeks of such actions.

The farmers might remember the work of the ancient poet Hesiod. In his poem ‘Works and Days’ he gives practical advice to farmers and tells them to do their work in an honest and economical way. Hesiod was a farmer and a poet who lived around the fourth century BC. Because of his clever suggestions to farmers some people see him as our first economist.

But Hesiod had little faith in the future. In the same work, in the part named “The five Ages of Men’ he describes how the world will perish: in the golden age the people lived like gods. Everybody was happy, they did not had to work and even though they had to die, they died very peacefully. In the Silver Age it was Zeus who ruled the world. Although it took some hundred happy years for a child to grow up, once an adult he had to work. But the mortals did not worship the gods, so after their deaths, Zeus banished them to the Underworld where they became blessed spirits.

In the Bronze Age people started wars with each other and fought with their weapons that were just like the tools they worked with made of bronze. In the Heroic Age life became a little better. Mortals lived amongst half-gods and great heroes. This was the time of the famous war at Troy where so many Greek heroes fought. Then came the Iron Age, which looks to be our own time — the time when children betray their parents, brothers fight against each other, guests are no longer treated well, babies are born with grey hair and the gods no longer care for humans. This is the age when Zeus will one day destroy the world.

So Hesiod was an interesting guy. It really is a pity that he died so long ago. He would have been a very welcome guest in all those popular talk shows on television where they try to find solutions for all problems in the world, (such as roadblocks by Greek farmers). Using the popularity of modern media Hesiod could have spread his wise lessons to many more farmers.

I guess not many farmers on Lesvos read Hesiod because many of them also live on subsidies. But they do not block the roads — although they complain enough about promised subsidies that do not come, about social security that is not paid and the general economic crisis faced by Greece. Their complaints are only heard inside the kafenions and the living rooms and they shrug their shoulders and they go into the fields to collect chorta (wild vegetables). There is no subsidy for chorta, it grows free in nature. Here on the island they know everything about the free gifts of nature. It was just a few decennia ago they were so poor that people lived partly from what nature gives. And that is a thing that the people here do not forget so easily...

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010

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