Seneca the Younger, De Beneficiis

LCL 310: 24-25

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beneficium utique bonum est, id autem, quod fit aut datur, nec bonum nec malum est. Animus est, qui parva extollit, sordida illustrat, magna et in pretio habita dehonestat; ipsa, quae appetuntur, neutram naturam habent, nec boni nec mali; refert, quo illa 3 rector impellat, a quo forma rebus datur. Non est beneficium ipsum, quod numeratur aut traditur, sicut ne in victimis quidem, licet opimae sint auroque praefulgeant, deorum est honor sed recta ac pia voluntate venerantium. Itaque boni etiam farre ac fitilla religiosi sunt; mali rursus non effugiunt impietatem, quamvis aras sanguine multo cruentaverint.


7. Si beneficia in rebus, non in ipsa benefaciendi voluntate consisterent, eo maiora essent. quo maiora sunt, quae accipimus. Id autem falsum est; non numquam enim magis nos obligat, qui dedit parva magnifice, qui “regum aequavit opes animo,” qui exiguum tribuit sed libenter, qui paupertatis suae oblitus est, dum meam respicit, qui non voluntatem tantum iuvandi habuit sed cupiditatem, qui accipere se putavit beneficium, cum daret, qui dedit tamquam numquam1 recepturus, recepit, tamquam non dedisset, qui occasionem, qua prodesset, et occupavit et 2 quaesiit. Contra ingrata sunt, ut dixi, licet re ac


On Benefits, I

a good, while what is done or given is neither a good nor an evil. It is the intention that exalts small gifts, gives lustre to those that are mean, and discredits those that are great and considered of value; the things themselves that men desire have a neutral nature, which is neither good nor evila; all depends upon the end toward which these are directed by the Ruling Principleb that gives to things their form. The benefit itself is not something that is counted out and handed over, just as, likewise, the honour that is paid to the gods lies, not in the victims for sacrifice, though they be fat and glitter with gold, but in the upright and holy desire of the worshippers. Good men, therefore, are pleasing to the gods with an offering of meal and gruel; the bad, on the other hand, do not escape impiety although they dye the altars with streams of blood.

If benefits consisted, not in the very desire to benefit, but in things, then the greater the gifts are which we have received, the greater would be the benefits. But this is not true; for sometimes we feel under greater obligations to one who has given small gifts out of a great heart, who “by his spirit matched the wealth of kings,”c who bestowed his little, but gave it gladly, who beholding my poverty forgot his own, who had, not merely the willingness, but a desire to help, who counted a benefit given as a benefit received, who gave it with no thought of having it returned, who, when it was returned, had no thought of having given it, who not only sought, but seized, the opportunity of being useful. On the other hand, as I have said before, those benefits win no thanks, which, though they seem great

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-de_beneficiis.1935