Greek mythology has some serious lessons to teach us. Much as proverbs are quintessential wisdom passed on from one generation to the next, so are myths. Ovid, that great Latin story teller, gives us the story of Midas, King of Phrygia. The god Bacchus asks Midas to choose his own reward. “Cause whatsoever I shall touch to change at once to yellow gold”, Midas replies. Bacchus grants his wish. Ovid describes how things turned to gold as soon as Midas touched them. The same happened to his very food. The King could not eat gold. He could not drink gold. Ovid comments: “Confounded by his strange misfortune — rich and wretched — he was anxious to escape from his unhappy wealth. He hated all he had so lately longed for. Plenty could not lessen hunger and no remedy relieved his dry, parched throat. The hated gold tormented him no more than he deserved” (Metamorphoses Book XI).
Some developers and businessmen have Midas in mind when they gloat on the high rise projects that the Planning Authority has recently approved. I wonder whether they realize that once they ruin our landscapes and turn our cityscapes into concrete jungles they themselves and their children and grandchildren will only have their money to set their eyes on. They will have to eat and drink their gold. But at what price? The price is for all of us to pay. They lace their pockets with gold and ruin the beauty of our island which is our common heritage. They get the gold and we are left with what? With a number of 21st century versions of the Towers of Babel monstrously clamoring to scratch the blue skies while setting deep and cold shadows on the rest of us.
Shame on the Planning Authority that seems to be insensitive to the visual impact of these cement monstrosities on the soft rambling contours of our countryside and traditional townscapes. Shame on the Government authorities that chose to include Imriehel at the last moment in the list of areas earmarked for high rises without giving civil society the opportunity to voice any sort of concern. Who will defend us from those who took the solemn oath to defend the common good without fear or favour?
And yet Ovid’s story ends with redemption. Midas repents of his greed and the god Bacchus grants him redress. He tells Midas to trace the stream near Sardis to its mountain source and wash in its fresh cold waters. Midas returns home with true wisdom in his eyes. Our developers and businessmen can still save the beauty of our islands. Stretches of our vintage towns like Ħamrun are crying for redevelopment. There is much work to do. There is no need to uglify Malta in the process. A final appeal to our developers and businessmen: Why not invest in projects that respect our common heritage? Why not choose to break the bread in peace with the commonweal rather than trying to eat your gold on your own while your heart starves for the beauty you have ravaged? Irreparably. The Planning Authority has let Malta down. You may still choose to opt for restraint and save Malta. Will you still eat and drink your gold?
Mgr Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta