Leo Varadkar uses Greek mythology to aim sly dig at Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speak to the media ahead of their meeting at Government Buildings on September 9, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland. The meeting...

Leo Varadkar said he wants to act as Athena while Boris Johnson is Hercules.

In a public speech, Leo Varadkar - the Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of the Republic of Ireland - described Boris Johnson's Brexit plan as "Herculean". He then added that he wanted Ireland to act as Athena to Hercules (the UK).

Mr Johnson nodded along during the media address but he will have since been made aware of the underhanded dig by the Taoiseach. Mr Varadkar was, of course, alluding to the fact that Hercules was reliant on Athena from stopping him completing a path of self-destruction.

Mr Varadkar said: "Negotiating FTAs with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a herculean task for you. We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so."

But this reference to Greek mythology was not as innocent as Mr Johnson may have thought. After all, Athena was the one who knocked Hercules out to prevent more murderous mayhem after he had killed his wife and kids.

Hercules and Athena analogy in practice

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to sign the visitor's book as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomes him to the Government Buildings during his visit on September 9, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland....

In Greek mythology, Hercules and Athena were half-siblings. The same could also be said of the UK and Ireland's relationship - given the border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland.

The role that Athena played in Hercules' life is crucial as it prevents him from causing further damage. She knocked her half-brother unconscious after he had become overcome with madness and killed his wife and children. This prevented Hercules from also killing Amphitryon (his mortal father).

Mr Varadkar's analogy suggests that the UK is on a course to self-destruction. By voting for Brexit, triggering Article 50 and proroguing parliament, some irreversible damage has been done. But before completing the chaos (presumably by crashing out of the EU without a deal), the UK can be saved by its ally.

After Hercules was rescued from his trance of madness, he was made to complete 12 labours to repay his sins. During this time, Athena - who is best known for her beauty - helped Hercules complete these 12 tasks.

Athena played a part in helping Hercules complete three of his 12 tasks. She gave him Krotala (noise-making clappers) to fend off the Stymphalian Birds, she returned the Golden Apples of the Hesperides after Hercules lifted the world to allow Atlas to collect them and she helped Hercules return from the underworld in the final Labour.

Mr Johnson and the UK may have 12 Herculean-style Labours ahead of them as Brexit rumbles on. With some help and co-operation from Mr Varadkar and Ireland, these tasks might re-enter the realm of possibility.

Have something to tell us about this article?