Saturday, December 15, 2012


The Bank of Cyprus Australia, a fixture on our community banking scene is no more, at least in that form. Now it is the Delphi Bank, a name which to my mind, is far more inclusive and representative of the Greek people as a whole, than the far flung island of Cyprus. After all, the ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the centre of the earth. Legend has it that when Zeus unleashed two eagles from opposite ends of the earth in order to locate its centre, the two eagles met over Delphi, where they dropped a big stone, much like a modern day bank would drop its interest rates today.

Whether or not Delphi Bank will follow suit and become the epicentre of the banking world is something that only Chronos will tell. In the meantime, there is something magical about passing through the columned portals of any branch (for if the Bank seeks to capitalise upon its name, it might as well theme its décor accordingly), accosting one of the chlamys or himation clad caryatid-like tellers and asking whether it would be possible to obtain a loan. “It is not for me to make such pronouncements,” the caryatid will intone, without inflexion. “Let us consult the Oracle.”

It is then that you will be ushered past the tellers into a back room, where a shrouded figure sits on an ergonomic management chair in the shape of a tripod, over a fissure in the floor that looks deceptively like a heating duct. This is Pythia, your Oracle, (which is Delphi-bank-speak for branch manager), who is out to ensure that you are in receipt of ten out of ten service, every conceivable time. Pythia doesn’t notice your entering the room as she is too busy inhaling mist from the warm spring beneath the bank, which also doubles as a Temple of Apollo. For this reason, you run the risk of her entering an exalted state of mind and giving you financial advice as if in a trance, before you have even asked her for financial accommodation tailored to your own personal needs at sensible interest rates that will not impinge painfully upon your lifestyle, and thus assist you to realise your dreams.

If you catch her on a good day though, her prophetic powers will be at their peak. Blowing smoke rings out of the holy mist issuing from the heating vent, she will pronounce: “Come hither stranger, for I can see what is in the innermost recesses of thy heart. Thou sleekest a loan of the god.” You are actually lucky that you have managed to obtain an appointment with her. The Oracle is invariably closed in the winter months, when the chief executive officer, Apollo, is conducting performance reviews among the Hyperboreans.

Borrowing from the gods was considered prudent practice in times ancient and their most prominent branches, the temples to Artemis in Ephesus (in which no less a personage than Mark Antony indulged in a little embezzlement), the temple of Hera in Samos and of course the temple to Apollo in Delphi as well as later private banking institutions in classical Athens, made a killing, offering loans at an interest rate of 12%. This made sense, for as well as being places of worship of the gods, they also accumulated a large amount of treasures from devotees and it would not make sense for this amount of capital to remain idle, gathering dust. For the Greek then, engaging in capitalist economics, was a legitimate form of worship.

Some banks and their ancillary temples were built in order to cover up sordid crimes. For it was at Delphi that Apollo, the founder of the Bank at Delphi, shot an arrow that killed the dread serpent Python, guardian of the Castalian Spring. As he was underage at the time, he was able to escape prosecution, though he was required to undergo eight years of community service. It is directly over the Castalian Spring, that the head office of the bank at Delphi was constructed, obscuring the place of the crime for all time.

As you gaze at Pythia, still peering into your soul while at the same time taking sniffs from the heating duct, punctuated by an excessive blowing of her nose, your eyes are drawn to three inscriptions, carved in the wall above her: «Γνῶθι σεαυτόν,» which means “know thyself,” «μηδέν άγαν,» meaning “nothing in excess,” and «Ἑγγύα πάρα δ'ἄτη,» which means “make a pledge and mischief is nigh.”

“I see you have read our product charter,” Pythia snorts, in elegant hexameters. “By the way, this meeting is monitored for the purposes of quality review, so if you are at all unsatisfied, you may be randomly contacted by an Olympian to whom you can state why, in your opinion, you were not provided with a ten out of ten oracular banking experience today. These are the principles by which we provide solutions to your everyday banking needs. Know thyself and your capacity to borrow and make repayments, borrow and spend nothing in excess and make no pledge without meaning it, for here at the bank, we demand a good deal of security for our loans and if you renege on your pledges, we are in a position to do you a good deal of mischief. She is not joking. It augurs ill for anyone who should anger Pythia. Not only will she consider this a breach of the loan terms and issue a notice of default of mortgage, she will also make pronouncements such as that which she made to the financially unsound Nero, after he failed to make his monthly repayments: “Your presence here outrages the god you seek. Go back, matricide! The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!” Yet Pythias are generally an unpredictable lot. A predecessor, influenced by Marxist economics, secretly joined a people’s community banking co-operative and made such ridiculous determinations for loan applicants as: “Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta.” During her tenure, loans were granted without proper scrutiny of audited financials and in the aftermath of a credit squeeze, she had to be disciplined, sent for re-evaluation and finally, retrenched.

In the ensuing silence, Pythia begins to writhe and wiggle, waving her hands over the principal and interest loan calculator like a talentless street artist. Then, she begins to make utterances of gibberish before picking up a pen and ticking some boxes.

“So do, I get the loan?” you ask, before she plunges into hysterics, heaving and shivering as she throws memoranda of common provisions and epitome of mortgage documents into the chasm of the heating event, sniffing the moist air deeply as she does so.

“The omens are not favourable,” she screeches. “The god tells me that your heart is clean. He also tells me your credit file is as black as the screams of the damned in Tartarus. You will get what you want, once you know what that truly is” As you back away from her half in reverence, half in fear, someone catches your arm. You look up to see the kindly face of a priestly loans officer. “The Oracle has spoken,” he confides. “It is up to us, its priests to interpret.” In his hand he holds a handful of coloured beans. “Toss them and the will of the god will be revealed,” he encourages. “White for yes, red for no.” You close your fist around the beans and let them fall to the ground. As you walk towards the automatic marble doors, still too nervous to open your eyes, you hear a voice. “Brilliant. You will receive your tablet of approval in the mail in the next two to three weeks. Thank you for banking at Delphi.”

With or without ethylene inhalers, we wish our newly branded oracular bank every success.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 15 December 2012