It was Socrates who said ὁ φθόνος ἕλκος τῆς ψυχῆς* and as with so many ideas gifted us by that great thinker, his words are as pertinent today as when he first uttered them beneath the olive trees of Athens some two and a half thousand years ago.
In the last twenty four hours 'Bono', the front-man of pop music group The U2 (pictured above) has been accused of everything from hypocrisy to rapacity for having the effrontery to make himself an honest billion from a day's work.
Having taken a stake of 2.3% in the 'social networking' site Facebook in 2009, Mr Bono's private equity fund Elevation now stands to make a decent sized return on that initial capital investment. Estimates have put the figure at anything between one and two billion pounds, which is by any reckoning a significant gain on a clever and savvy financial venture.
Mr Bono has done nothing illegal, nobody has been hurt, no horses have been scared and yet his accomplishment has been broadly lambasted and ridiculed, raked over and assailed.
The poor chap has even been driven to deny his good fortune telling the Belfast Telegraph: 'Contrary to reports, I'm not a billionaire or going to be any richer than any Beatle (sic).' Leaving Mr Bono's tenuous grip on even the rudimentary elements of grammar aside for one moment, this sentence says much about the modern insistence on 'debasing' success. Instead of celebrating his company's performance he has felt obliged to talk it down. Why?
The general sentiment seems to be that as this well-meaning beatnik has a history of wandering about the place, telling the great and good that they should save impecunious 'Third Worlders' from poverty, he ought to now put his money where his mouth is and jolly well rescue them himself. To which one feels the urge to respond as follows: Balderdash.
'Pop sensations' rarely wish to have MP's riding to their salvation and I very much hope that Mr Bono shall not object to me weighing in on his behalf. However, having perused the facts of this storm in a sherry glass, it is quite clear to me that this brouhaha has little to do with genuine indignation on the part of the 'mob' and quite a lot more to do with 'envy'. Those lambasting this 'windfall' clearly have little understanding of how an investment company works. It is not a 'piggy bank' into which one can dip at whim. It is a business, employing people, creating jobs, boosting the global market economy. Sadly, such arguments rarely wash with those most in need of a bath. One wonders how many of those dread-locked, vegetable eating, 'anti-capitalists' decrying this singer his success, would do what they implore of him were the contents of their bank accounts to amount to much more than the sum earned from their 'weekly giros'.
Of course these British Isles (and I very much include 'Eire' in this) have a habit of decrying success. For Mr Bono to have been able to rise from the sort of abject poverty where his parents clearly could not afford the expense of a second name, or even elocution lessons, should be a cause for celebration. It frequently feels that those left behind in the 'pit of pauperism' are too busy throwing potatoes at the chaps who have clambered up a step to bother lauding their achievements, or better still set out to achieve the same for themselves.
Perhaps I am being unfair. It is of course not only the bottom rank who envy success. Most of us could, with the help of a few friends, quite easily have rustled up the initial £150 million investment made by Elevation and popped it into Facebook for ourselves. The fact that we did not is the real agent of this unseemly onslaught of covetousness. We are all too often prey to the unsettling sensation that 'every time another succeeds, a little part of one dies'. Let us strive to rise like Rome against this 'Alaric' of jealousy and slay it before it crosses the Triumphal arch of our reason.
I bid you all good cheer.
* 'envy is the ulcer of the soul'