Sunday, April 12, 2009

Phryne and A Lame Beggar, Disinherited

A Lame Begger
I am unable, yon begger cries,
To stand, or move; if he say true, hee lies.

John Donne, A Lame Begger, in The Works of John Donne: The Complete Poems 88 (Rosslyn, NY: Black's Readers Service Co., 1932) (before 1617).

And thus our banks, so eager to suck at the public teat, cried to all within earshot of their difficulty standing or moving. And thus they lie. For quickly sated, they more quickly still abandon those who fed them, to free themselves to feed others. Paul Kiel, Four Banks Return Bailout Cash, Pro Publica, March 31, 2009.

Or among the newly respectable class of middle brow banks, a rush to preserve their reputations from having spent time with that disreputable, though beautiful and useful national harlot, whose wealth exceeds her reputation.

Thy flattering picture, Phryne, is like thee,
Only in this, that you both painted be.

Donne, supra, at 89. "'The TARP money is tainted and we don't want it," said Jason Korstange, a spokesman for Minnesota-based TCF Financial Corp., which received $361 million and announced this month that it wanted to pay it back. "The perception is that any bank that took this money is weak. Well, that isn't our case. We were asked to take this money.'" Ralph Vartabedian, Banks Scramble to Return Bailout Cash, The Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2009.

Thus the picture of Phryne, a famous Greek harlot of classical Greece, so rich she could finance the rebuilding of the walls of Thebes after their destruction by Alexander; so conscious of her position that she would command the impossible--an acknowledgement of both wealth and deed ("She acquired so much wealth by her extraordinary beauty that she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes, which had been destroyed by Alexander the Great (336 BC), on condition that the words destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan, were inscribed upon them. The authorities turned down her offer." Phryne). Her image, like her profession. . . .bought. But flattering all the same.

And thus back in the company of wives and daughters--the respectable society of global finance in the banking sector of the United States--they find themselves among scoundrels and bad company. "But not long after the program began, it became clear that the bulk of early funding was going to a handful of financially crippled giants such as Bank of America Corp., Merrill Lynch & Co., American International Group Inc. and Citigroup Corp." Ralph Vartabedian, supra

To good effect?

Thy father all from thee, by his last Will,
Gave to the poore; thou hast good title still.

Donne, supra, at 89.

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