Monday, 11 August 2014

Timeo Danos et dona ferentes

"I fear the Greeks, even those bearing gifts." So said the Trojan priest Laocoön, when he saw the great wooden horse built before the gates of the besieged city of Troy by the armies of Agamemnon, as related by the Roman poet Virgil in his Aeneid.

Quite why the Trojans, starving after the ten-year siege of their city by the Greeks, should have been so enamored of a large wooden horse as to raise it onto wheels and draw it through their city's gates is not explained in Virgil's Aeneid or Homer's Iliad, but there are some prosaic theories.

One of the more interesting ones is that the horse had not been constructed merely of wood, but was a wooden frame to which had been attached great quantities of provisions - amphoras of wine, baskets of fruit, loaves of bread, joints of meat and so forth. The Trojans, starving as they were, could not resist this supposed gift of the Greeks, and despite the warnings of Laocoön, they dragged the horse into their city and began to feast joyously on the food and wine that had been nailed to the Greek offering.

But within this food hoard a single Greek soldier had been hidden, whose task was to unbar the gates of Troy once the Trojan feast was over and their guards had fallen into a drunken stupor. This he did; the Greeks streamed into Troy, razed it to the ground, and the rest, as they say, is history.

According to the above theory, the Greeks brought war to Troy, and then destroyed their enemies with a feigned  humanitarian gesture. The parallels with today's offers of humanitarian aid from the Kremlin for the besieged Donetsk and Luhansk "People's Republics" are so obvious that already Trojan Horse memes are galloping across the Ukrainian part of the Internet. The Russians have been calling for humanitarian intervention - brought, of course, by Russian peacekeeping forces - since their proxy army in Donetsk and Luhansk began to be forced back from the territories they had occupied since mid April.

To allow the Russians to make such a "humanitarian gesture" in the Donbas would be a folly on a par with that committed by the people of Troy.

There was no such entity as Russia when Virgil penned his famous phrase about the Greeks, so I can't give a Latin paraphrase of his words with regard to the Russians. But my English version carries across both the meaning, and a warning that the Ukrainian government should heed when Russia proposes sending a humanitarian convoy into eastern Ukraine: "I fear the Russians, even when they bear gifts."

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