Seneca the Younger, De Beneficiis

LCL 310: 82-83

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Seneca

Adspicienda ergo non minus sua cuique persona est quam eius, de quo iuvando quis cogitat.

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Volo Chrysippi nostri uti similitudine de pilae lusu, quam cadere non est dubium aut mittentis vitio aut excipientis; tum cursum suum servat, ubi inter manus utriusque apte ab utroque et iactata et excepta versatur. Necesse est autem lusor bonus aliter illam conlusori longo, aliter brevi mittat. Eadem beneficii ratio est. Nisi utrique personae, dantis et accipientis, aptatur, nec ab hoc exibit nec ad illum perveniet, ut 4 debet. Si cum exercitato et docto negotium est, audacius pilam mittemus; utcumque enim venerit, manus illam expedita et agilis repercutiet; si cum tirone et indocto, non tam rigide nec tam excusse sed languidius et in ipsam eius derigentes manum remisse occurremus. Idem faciendum est in beneficiis; quosdam doceamus et satis iudicemus, si conantur, si 5 audent, si volunt. Facimus autem plerumque ingratos et, ut sint, favemus, tamquam ita demum magna sint beneficia nostra, si gratia illis referri non potuit; ut malignis lusoribus propositum est conlusorem traducere, cum damno scilicet ipsius lusus, qui non potest,

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On Benefits, II

boasts of poverty. It is, then, every man’s duty to consider not less his own character than the character of the man to whom he is planning to give assistance.

I wish to make use of an illustration that our Chrysippus once drew from the playing of ball. If the ball falls to the ground, it is undoubtedly the fault either of the thrower or the catcher; it maintains its course only so long as it does not escape from the hands of the two players by reason of their skill in catching and throwing it. The good player, however, must of necessity use one method of hurling the ball to a partner who is a long way off, and another to one who is near at hand. The same condition applies to a benefit. Unless this is suited to the character of both, the one who gives and the one who receives, it will neither leave the hands of the one, nor reach the hands of the other in the proper manner. If we are playing with a practised and skilled partner, we shall be bolder in throwing the ball, for no matter how it comes his ready and quick hand will promptly drive it back; if with an unskilled novice, we shall not throw it with so much tension and so much violence, but play more gently, and run slowly forward guiding the ball into his very hand. The same course must be followed in the case of benefits; some men need to be taught, and we should show that we are satisfied if they try, if they dare, if they are willing. But we ourselves are most often the cause of ingratitude in others, and we encourage them to be ungrateful, just as if our benefits could be great only when it was impossible to return gratitude for them! It is as if some spiteful player should purposely try to discomfit his fellow-player, to the detriment of the game, of course, which can be carried on only in a

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-de_beneficiis.1935