Politics and ancient history

General Election: a coptologist’s opinion

As a coptologist, I am often asked for my take on contemporary events of importance. People want me to make connections between events and peoples of the past and the present. It’s hard to do. For example, is Brexit more like the Council of Chalcedon or the Diocletian reforms: does Trump more resemble Decius, at his worst, or Elagabalus, in his golden vanity? Hard to tell, with little value to either contemporary commentary or historical fact. So normally I avoid it.

But in the 2017 UK General Election the comparisons are clear and easy to make. Theresa May, an incompetent and nasty leader, most resembles Constantius II. Her constant u-turns have hidden a fanatical pursuit of the nasty party politics that belong in the past. She has turned on everyone: the old and ill, the judiciary, hardworking emergency workers and even defenceless animals.

Jeremy Corbyn resembles an Athanasius– stalwart defender of the faith, disliked and revered in equal measure by friend and foe alike. Like Athanasius he is uncowed by those in power and has survived several challenges to his rule. It remains to be seen whether Jeremy, like Athanasius, will enjoy a reign long enough to see the country he leaves behind a powerful, unified and engaged polity.