Sunday, February 12, 2012

14th January 2012

Sir Paul Ruddock has revealed that he received his knighthood for none but philanthropic reasons. Every ancient would have cheered him to the roof and wondered why bankers like Sir Paul do not front up more about their beneficence.

Those who go round a classical site or museum will find themselves regularly bumping into inscriptions on statue bases, with or without statue, publicly proclaiming the benefits which the person so celebrated has bestowed on the town. Such a mark of honour was, as Aristotle said, ‘what we assign to the gods as their due and is desired by the eminent and awarded as their prize’.

Greeks and Romans alike were quite open in admitting that ‘honour’ was their motive for giving. Some even stated the precise conditions: ‘My gift is to be inscribed on three marble stones, one by my house, one in the temple, and one in the gymnasium,’ said a Greek from Gytheion. More generous donors, like the Libyan Flavius Lappianus, would even pay for the monument to be set up themselves, ‘being content with the honour alone’, as he said.

An added bonus was to be remembered down the generations. The Greeks even had a saying for it: ‘Man likens himself to a god in doing good.’ The Christian writer Tertullian pointed out to those who mocked the idea of eternal life that they themselves tried as far as they could to provide a kind of resurrection of the dead! But Christians too were not averse to thinking of charity in such terms, and being applauded in heaven as euergetai (the technical Greek term for benefactor).

So Sir Paul’s proposal that citations for honours should go into detail about what honorands have done to deserve it is to be applauded, even more so if the person so honoured is a (dread word) banker. Let those who make untold millions from financial transactions not be afraid to make clear how they have used it for the benefit of all and win the honour and gratitude that such generosity deserves. Think Carnegie, Getty, Mellon, Rockefeller, Rowntree, Gates....

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