Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

Master charlatans at work

To watch the Revd Paul Flowers being grilled by the Treasury Select Committee on his role in the demise of the Co-op Bank is to watch a master charlatan at work: dignified, polite and supremely self-assured, even as he is stripped to the bone by Andrew Tyrie. The ancient world boasted plenty of such, and they all exhibit identical characteristics.

Take one Peregrinus, whose story is told by the Greek satirist Lucian (ad 115-180). He was exiled for killing his father, but saw there was advantage to be gained through the new religion on the block, and became 'Christian'.

He soon turned himself into a prophet and church leader, interpreting their scriptures, inventing others, and revered as a god 'next to that man who was crucified in Palestine and started it all'. When he was thrown into prison, he played the victim card, and strenuous efforts were made to defend, help and rescue him. Money poured in to his coffers. Eventually it all ended in tears.

Or take another of Lucian's subjects, Alexander of Abonoteichos, with his 'piercing eyes, pleasant but powerful voice . …

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