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THE AL GILKES COLUMN: A sword over their heads


Al Gilkes

THE AL GILKES COLUMN: A sword over their heads

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Happy New Year! But for whom?
Surely, not for the Unlucky Eleven of 2011, who must have started 2012 in a mixed state of happiness and sadness, the latter brought about by the anxiety of the grave uncertainty that hangs over each of their heads like the mythical sword of Damocles.
It was my unfortunate lot of having to study that ancient language called Latin for most of my ten years in college, including two years in the upper sixth forms sitting for the then Oxford and Cambridge Advanced Level certificates and having what, in my circumstances, would have been a remote chance at winning a Barbados Scholarship.
Among others, those studies brought me into contact with the works of the distinguished Roman philosopher Cicero.
Just thinking about it now makes me feel a chill running down my spine as I recall the initial trauma of visualising myself seated under a heavy sword suspended over my head and held in place by nothing more than a single hair from a horse’s tail. Ugh!
The reason Damocles found himself in that predicament was not too dissimilar to that of the Eleven for, according to Cicero, he desired to be able to enjoy the great power, authority, riches and everything else that his King Dionysius 11 of Syracuse was so fortunate to enjoy.
Not wanting to disappoint one of his courtiers, the king decided to give him a taste of it all first hand by switching places with him. This included letting him sit on the throne itself. In part, the English translation of Cicero’s tale goes:
“So, Damocles, since this life delights you, do you wish to taste it yourself and make trial of my fortune?”
When Damocles said that he desired this, Dionysius gave orders that the man be placed on a golden couch covered with a most beautiful woven rug, embroidered with splendid works; he adorned many sideboards with chased silver and gold; then he gave orders that chosen boys of outstanding beauty should stand by his table and that they, watching for a sign from Damocles, should attentively wait on him (my note: looks like he was left-handed); there were unguents and garlands; perfumes were burning; tables were piled up with the most select foods. Damocles seemed to himself fortunate.
In the middle of this luxury Dionysius ordered that a shining sword, fastened from the ceiling by a horse-hair, be let down so that it hung over the neck of that fortunate man.
And so he looked neither at those handsome waiters nor the wonderful silver work, nor did he stretch his hand to the table. Now the very wreaths slipped off.
Finally he begged (the King) that he should be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be fortunate.
Am I wrong, or did I not read where when he was questioned about the desires of his own 11-member band of Damocles, their ‘king’ replied: “. . . If the coup fails, the plotters and those who were trying to execute it pay for it with their necks”?

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