Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Saint Grillo: banishing snakes and stabbing tyrants

This post is part of the March 2013 Blog Chain at AbsoluteWrite. This month’s prompt is “What the Leprechaun Said,” your generic St. Patrick’s Day sort of thing.

Just about five hundred years separate two events heavily associated with the month of March: the Ides of March and St. Patrick's Day. The first, the Ides of March, is March 15th. Though not a holiday of any sort, those of an historical bent know happened on this day in 44 BCE: Brutus and Cassius led a large group of Senators in the assassination of Julius Caesar. He was stabbed 23 times, according to Plutarch, on the floor of the Roman Senate. The second event, St. Patrick's Day, is on March 17th. Officially the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland, it has become something of a celebration of Irish-ness in general (though not so much in Ireland, proper, where it is a more solemn thing). But the day is also that of St. Patrick's death, which occured sometime around 60 CE.

The two moments seem to have little in common, the assassination of a Roman dictator in ancient times and the death of a beloved Christian missionary in Ireland half a millennium later. But current events provide an opportunity for a metaphorical (and not wholly serious) link between the two.

March 15th, 2013 is scheduled to be the start of the new Italian Parliament's first official session, a Parliament that will feature some 163 new faces, people who have never held an elected office in the country before by and large, people who are--on average--far younger than the old guard of Italian politics. These are the faces of Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, a political party organized by its comedian-turned-politician leader.

Grillo is very much a thorn in the side of the powers-that-be in Italy right now. The surprise success of the Five Star Movement in the recent Italian elections has created a situation wherein Grillo's participation is absolutely needed to form a new government. And so far, Grillo doesn't appear willing to play, which may very well mean a new round of elections. He's also openly suggested that Italy should--and maybe will--dump the Euro and return to the Lyra.

Grillo mocks the leadership of both the left and right in Italian politics, having referred to Luigi Bersani--leader of the center-left coalition--as a "dead man talking" and Silvio Berlusconi--former prime minister and leader of the center-right--as a "psycho dwarf." And really, he has something of a point in both cases. Italy's economic woes--while not unique in the EU--are compounded by a dysfunctional, horribly corrupt government.

Grillo is something of an antidote, or at least a very different kind of voice, with regard to all of this. And the Italian people, fed up with their politicians, are listening. But don't mistake Grillo for the voice of an Italian Tea Party or an Occupy movement, much less some sort of third party like the Libertarians or the Greens; he's something different, something unexpected (though most definitely not the Kwisatz Haderach). Perhaps the best take I've seen on Grillo's nature is that of Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider:
For awhile we've tried to figure out who a US equivalent to Grillo would be. Some have compared him to a George Carlin or Bill Maher type. But actually an apt comparison would be the pseudonymous Tyler Durden, who runs the well-known Wall Street doom blog ZeroHedge.
That's about right, I think, in terms of attitude.

Today, Grillo has thrown down the gauntlet, insisting the Five Star Movement will only participate in a new government that it, itself, leads. And the movement has the votes to block any attempt to form a new government, as I noted above.

So, what will happen on the Idea of March? In 44 BCE, the assassination of Caesar did not return power back to those who had lost it (in this case, the Senators). Indeed, it resulted in Rome moving even further from a republic, in the realization of the Roman Empire, with autocratic rule far more severe than that of Caesar's. If the Five Star Movement successfully--and metaphorically--completes its own assassination program, what does that mean for Italy?

Two days later comes St. Patrick's Day, hardly a major event in Italy, but the date may itself become a critical one. And St. Patrick, as the patron saint of Ireland, is remembered most of all for what, in common tradition? Ridding Ireland of its snakes, all of them, every last one. The parallel here is just too obvious to avoid: Grillo as the Italian St. Patrick (Saint Grillo?), who drove the snakes (politicians, those who speak with forked tongues) from the land by the force of his will.

But it goes even deeper than that. St. Patrick didn't really rid Ireland of snakes; they were gone long before the time of St. Patrick. It has been suggested that what St. Patrick really got rid of were the Druids (and therefore paganism), who used the serpent as a symbol, who had exercised a great deal of authority over the land and its people for centuries, though their power was definitely waning when St. Patrick arrived.

Thus, St. Patrick more or less--in this line of thought--finished the job, chasing away what remained of the old order to make way for the new. He did this by preaching and converting others to his beliefs, his faith. And for this, he is venerated by the Catholic Church (the new order, as it were) and much of the Irish population.

Grillo, though no religious authority, stands at a similar juncture in Italy right now. Like St. Patrick, though unlike Cassius and Brutus, he stands closer to the masses, leading a far more populist kind of uprising. And like St. Patrick, his modus operandi is conversion, mostly via directly speaking to people, either in person or via his much-read blog (which of course is part of the reason for the Zerohedge comparison).

And the great irony of it all: at the same time Italy stands ready to be remade, to see the old guard unceremoniously kicked to the curb, the truly old-guard--the Papacy-- is preparing to choose a new leader. And almost no one cares.

Cheers, all.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:

orion_mk3 - http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to post)  
writingismypassion - http://charityfaye.blogspot.com/ (link to post) 
Sudo_One - http://sudoone.wordpress.com/ (link to post) 
randi.lee - http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com/ (link to post) 
pyrosama - http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to post) 
SRHowen - http://srhowen1.blogspot.com/ (link to post) 
katci13 - http://www.krystalsquared.net/ (link to post) 
MsLaylaCakes - http://taraquan.com/ (link to post) 
meowzbark - http://www.lizzylessard.com/ (link to post) 
dlclary - http://davidwclary.com (link to post) 
Angyl78 - http://jelyzabeth.wordpress.com/ (link to post) 
KitCat - http://twilightasylum.wordpress.com/ (link to post) 
Bloo - http://www.emergencyroomproductions.net/ (link to post) 
areteus - http://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com/ (link to post) 
dolores haze - http://dianedooley.wordpress.com/ (link to post) 
ConnieBDowell - http://bookechoes.com/ (link to post)
Lady Cat - http://carolsrandomness.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
Araenvo - http://www.simonpclark.com/ (link to post)
MichaelP - http://portablemagicblog.com/ (link to post)
Ralph Pines - http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ (link to post)


  1. I had no idea. I guess I should read up more on the world situations. I don't hear of Italy, so naturally I would think everything must be okay. I thought it was only the US politic that is corrupt and failing the citizens.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Italy: schooling the rest of the world in politicking since 753 BC!

    I haven't been keeping up on my Italian politics either, though I hope that this comedian-turned-politican is a bit less of a jackass than the aforementioned Maher :)

  3. Something to think about. I haven't heard about Italy, then again I am not that great at following foreign polotics. This seems to be a much quieter reconstruction than Egypt.

  4. Thanks for sharing this information. It is certainly an interesting comparison.

  5. Interesting take on the prompt. I never would have made the stretch from St. Patrick's Day to Italian politics, but it was an interesting read.

  6. Hello there! New follower popping over from Orion's blog chain. Very interesting information and an intereting take on the prompt. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I found this whole thing fascinating, and I loved your comparison between Grillo and St. Patrick.

    I'd never heard about the "snakes" in Ireland being a metaphor for the Druids before. It makes sense though. But it makes me less sympathetic to St. Patrick.

  8. Very interesting read, and an unconventional response to the prompt!

  9. Very nice job tying all the disparate threads together. Very informative!

  10. St. Grillo. LOL.

    Well, at least the trains will run on time.