Metaphor is a word whose origins are Greek, but that is no excuse for some of the metaphorical crimes committed last week by European Union luminaries.
At the conclusion of the EU summit, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, hailed the recent agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on a European patent. The agreement (which leaves out Spain and Italy) had been brokered by the Cypriot presidency of the Council, but that was no excuse for Van Rompuy's contrived congratulations.
He said: “It is the happy end to a 40-year-long Odyssey. And if you allow me to continue that image: even if we do not know for sure on which Mediterranean island the historic Odysseus lived, for Europe, in the patent case, our beloved ‘Ithaca' clearly is Cyprus!”
Dear Herman, you should never have been allowed to start on that image, never mind continue. And if there were any parallels between Odysseus's homecoming and the European patent, it was surely between the European Union and Penelope, his wife, who kept suitors at bay by undoing at night all the work that she had done during the previous day.
Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs and the euro, found echoes of Homer's Odyssey in a different piece of EU business. Welcoming the decision by eurozone finance ministers to approve the next bail-out instalment to Greece, he said: “We have been through quite an odyssey since the spring. At that time, a highly unpredictable political situation had many observers convinced that the game was up for Greece in the euro area. As we approach the end of this turbulent year, those Cassandras have been proved wrong.”
A little learning is a dangerous thing. Rehn should re-consider his metaphor. The distinguishing feature of Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, was that her prophesies were right, but nobody believed her.