Another ancient savant on a topic dear to my heart

As part of my effort to popularise ancient writers and argue their works still have great relevance in our day and age, I introduce to you to another old savant and his views on a topic quite dear to my heart. But let us proceed properly.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger) (c. 3 BC – 65 AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist of the Silver Age of Latin literature. Tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero, he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in a conspiracy to assassinate him.

A staunch adherent of the Stoic school of philosophy, Seneca remains one of the few popular Roman philosophers from the period.

His works include tragic plays like Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), Troades (The Trojan Women), Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women), Phaedra, Thyestes, Hercules Oetaeus (Hercules on Oeta)
Octavia, Agamemnon, Oedipus, Medea
 …. but we are not particularly concerned with them.

 He left some worthwhile dialogues including  Ad Marciam, De consolatione (To Marcia, On consolation) – consoling her on the death of her son, De Ira (On anger) – A study on the consequences and the control of anger, Ad Helviam matrem, De consolatione (To Helvia, On consolation) – A letter to his mother consoling her on his absence during exile, De Consolatione ad Polybium (To Polybius, On consolation) – consoling him on his missing son
De Brevitate Vitae (On the shortness of life) – Essay expounding that any length of life is sufficient if lived wisely, De Otio (On leisure), De Tranquillitate Animi (On tranquillity of mind), De Providentia (On providence), De Constantia Sapientis (On the Firmness of the Wise Person)
and De Vita Beata (On the happy life). Hmmmm… we will come to them later.

His other works include the satirical Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii (The Pumpkinification of the Divine Claudius), De Clementia (On Clemency) – written to Nero on the need for clemency as a virtue in an emperor, De Beneficiis (On Benefits), Naturales quaestiones – offering an insight into ancient theories of cosmology, meteorology, and similar subjects and Epistulae morales ad Lucilium – a collection of 124 letters dealing with moral issues written to Lucilius Junior.

I will take to introduce to you De Beneficiis – which is in seven books. Le me introduce them, and then I will cite some relevant passages.

Book I. The prevalence of ingratitude–How a benefit ought to be bestowed–The three Graces–Benefits are the chief bond of human society–What we owe in return for a benefit received–A benefit consists not of a thing but of the wish to do good–Socrates and Aeschines–What kinds of benefits should be bestowed, and in what manner–Alexander and the franchise of Corinth.

Book II. Many men give through weakness of character–We ought to give before our friends ask–Many benefits are spoiled by the manner of the giver–Marius Nepos and Tiberius–Some benefits should be given secretly–We must not give what would harm the receiver–Alexander’s gift of a city–Interchange of benefits like a game of ball–From whom ought one to receive a benefit?– Examples–How to receive a benefit–Ingratitude caused by self- love, by greed, or by jealousy–Gratitude and repayment not the same thing–Phidias and the statue

Book III. Ingratitude–Is it worse to be ungrateful for kindness or not even to remember it?–Should ingratitude be punished by law?– Can a slave bestow a benefit?–Can a son bestow a benefit upon his father?–Examples

Book IV. Whether the bestowal of benefits and the return of gratitude for them are desirable objects in themselves? Does God bestow benefits?–How to choose the man to be benefited–We ought not to look for any return–True gratitude–Of keeping one’s promise–Philip and the soldier–Zeno

Book V. Of being worsted in a contest of benefits–Socrates and Archelaus–Whether a man can be grateful to himself, or can bestow a benefit upon himself–Examples of ingratitude–Dialogue on ingratitude–Whether one should remind one’s friends of what one has done for them–Caesar and the soldier–Tiberius.

Book VI. Whether a benefit can be taken from one by force– Benefits depend upon thought–We are not grateful for the advantages which we receive from inanimate Nature, or from dumb animals–In order to lay me under an obligation you must benefit me intentionally–Cleanthes’s story of the two slaves–Of benefits given in a mercenary spirit–Physicians and teachers bestow enormous benefits, yet are sufficiently paid by a moderate fee– Plato and the ferryman–Are we under an obligation to the sun and moon?–Ought we to wish that evil may befall our benefactors, in order that we may show our gratitude by helping them?

Book VII. The cynic Demetrius–his rules of conduct–Of the truly wise man–Whether one who has done everything in his power to return a benefit has returned it–Ought one to return a benefit to a bad man?–The Pythagorean, and the shoemaker–How one ought to bear with the ungrateful.

To be continued…..


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