The ancient Greeks so despised selfish and egocentric rule that they fashioned a popular greeting to commemorate their status as free men circa 500 B.C.. With their wine cups hoisted high it went like this: “Curse the Meads and toast the tyrant slayers.” Cursing the “Meads” is a reference to their age-old conflict with the Persian Empire, incidentally ruled by a lone emperor who called himself the “King of Kings.” This conflict saw the eventual banding together of the Greek city-states which resulted in the memorable battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and eventual victory.
The second part of the toast, “.toast the tyrant slayers,” refers to the removal of an aristocratic ruling clan by a heroic opposition and the inception of a then-revolutionary political concept known as democracy. Thanks to the ancient historian, Herodotus, who recorded these events, we know that the Greeks valued self-determination above all else and that they were willing to die for their values – that was their legacy to us all.
Fast forward 2,600 years and one of the last remaining official tyrants, Fidel Castro, has just dictated a letter wherein he hands power over to his brother Raul. A few days later and after having undergone critical surgery, the news is out that Fidel is gravely ill and possibly dead. Speculation as to his true condition and the fate of the island nation of Cuba is tossed around like beads at Mardi Gras.
“Cubanologists,” well-credentialed and self-declared, abound with countless theories – some enlightened, some ridiculous. UM’s own experts, Doctors Jaime Suchlicki and Brian Latell, cautiously concede that for the most part, Fidel will likely not return to power, and warn that his successor/brother Raul is no great improvement.
Area politicians, both local and national, couldn’t help themselves and promises to do everything they can to speed up the introduction of a democratic system in Cuba. Popular landmark Cuban-American restaurants became agora-like centers of conjecture and reflection, but mostly revelry. If there were a Spanish version of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, they would have turned 8th Street and SW 36th Avenue. into the world’s largest unaccompanied choir.
Although I am not one for such shows of emotions, maybe the revelers, like the Greeks, are trying to tell us something. Namely, that ultimately the passing of any tyrant, whether it be by the act of a heroic assailant, or a cowardly exit with a single shot in a dark bunker by his own hand, or even stubbornly succumbing to a merciless age-onset illness, is cause for celebration. “Toast the tyrant slayers,” indeed. So in my own way, maybe I will. And when his equally vile successor passes, I’ll toast again.
Octavio Ramos is a doctoral candidate & graduate teaching assistant with the History department. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.