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L. Annaeus Seneca On Benefits by Aubrey Stewart, M. A.

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conditions remain the same as when I made it; otherwise, any change
makes me free to reconsider the entire case, and absolves me from
my promise. I may have promised to plead a cause; afterwards it
appears that this cause is designed to form a precedent for an
attack upon my father. I may have promised to leave my country, and
travel abroad; then news comes that the road is beset with robbers.
I was going to an appointment at some particular place; but my
son's illness, or my wife's confinement, prevented me. All
conditions must be the same as they were when I made the promise,
if you mean to hold me bound in honour to fulfil it. Now what
greater change can take place than that I should discover you to be
a bad and ungrateful man? I shall refuse to an unworthy man that
which I had intended to give him supposing him to be worthy, and I
shall also have reason to be angry with him for the trick which he
has put upon me.

XXXVI. I shall nevertheless look into the matter, and consider what
the value of the thing promised may be. If it be trifling, I shall
give it, not because you are worthy of it, but because I promised
it, and I shall not give it as a present, but merely in order to
make good my words and give myself a twitch of the ear. I will
punish my own rashness in promising by the loss of what I gave.
"See how grieved you are; mind you take more care what you say in
future." As the saying is, I will take tongue money from you. If
the matter be important, I will not, as Maecenas said, let ten
million sesterces reproach me. I will weigh the two sides of the
question one against the other: there is something in abiding by
what you have promised; on the other hand, there is a great deal in
not bestowing a benefit upon one who is unworthy of it. Now, how
great is this benefit? If it is a trifling one, let us wink and let
it pass; but if it will cause me much loss or much shame to give
it, I had rather excuse myself once for refusing it than have to do
so ever after for giving it. The whole point, I repeat, depends
upon how much the thing given is worth: let the terms of my promise
be appraised. Not only shall I refuse to give what I may have
promised rashly, but I shall also demand back again what I may have
wrongly bestowed: a man must be mad who keeps a promise made under
a mistake.

XXXVII. Philip, king of the Macedonians, had a hardy soldier whose
services he had found useful in many campaigns. From time to time
he made this man presents of part of the plunder as the reward of
his valour, and used to excite his greedy spirit by his frequent
gifts. This man was cast by shipwreck upon the estate of a certain
Macedonian, who as soon as he heard the news hastened to him,
restored his breath, removed him to his own farmhouse, gave up his
own bed to him, nursed him out of his weakened and half-dead
condition, took care of him at his own expense for thirty days,
restored him to health and gave him a sum of money for his journey,
as the man kept constantly saying, "If only I can see my chief, I
will repay your kindness." He told Philip of his shipwreck, said
nothing about the help which he had received, and at once demanded
that a certain man's estate should be given to him. The man was a
friend of his: it was that very man by whom he had been rescued and
restored to health. Sometimes, especially in time of war, kings
bestow many gifts with their eyes shut. One just man cannot deal
with such a mass of armed selfishness. It is not possible for any
one to be at the same time a good man and a good general. How are
so many thousands of insatiable men to be satiated? What would they
have, if every man had his own? Thus Philip reasoned with himself
while he ordered the man to be put in possession of the property
which he asked for. However, the other, when driven out of his
estate, did not, like a peasant, endure his wrongs in silence,
thankful that he himself was not given away also, but sent a sharp
and outspoken letter to Philip, who, on reading it, was so much
enraged that he straightway ordered Pausanias to restore the
property to its former owner, and to brand that wickedest of
soldiers, that most ungrateful of guests, that greediest of
shipwrecked men, with letters bearing witness to his ingratitude.
He, indeed, deserved to have the letters not merely branded but
carved in his flesh, for having reduced his host to the condition
in which he himself had been when he lay naked and shipwrecked upon
the beach; still, let us see within what limits one ought to keep
in punishing him. Of course what he had so villainously seized
ought to be taken from him. But who would be affected by the
spectacle of his punishment? The crime which he had committed would
prevent his being pitied even by any humane person.

XXXVIII. Will Philip then give you a thing because he has promised
to give it, even though he ought not to do so, even though he will
commit a wrong by doing so, nay, a crime, even though by this one
act he will make it impossible for shipwrecked men to reach the
shore? There is no inconsistency in giving up an intention which we
have discovered to be wrong and have condemned as wrong; we ought
candidly to admit, "I thought that it was something different; I
have been deceived." It is mere pride and folly to persist, "what I
once have said, be it what it may, shall remain unaltered and
settled." There is no disgrace in altering one's plans according to
circumstances. Now, if Philip had left this man in possession of
that seashore which he obtained by his shipwreck, would he not have
practically pronounced sentence of banishment against all
unfortunates for the future? "Rather," says Philip, "do thou carry
upon thy forehead of brass those letters, that they may be
impressed upon the eyes of all throughout my kingdom. Go, let men
see how sacred a thing is the table of hospitality; show them your
face, that upon it they may read the decree which prevents its
being a capital crime to give refuge to the unfortunate under one's
roof. The order will be more certainly respected by this means than
if I had inscribed it upon tablets of brass."

XXXIX. "Why then," argues our adversary, "did your Stoic
philosopher Zeno, when he had promised a loan of five hundred
denarii to some person, whom he afterwards discovered to be of
doubtful character, persist in lending it, because of his promise,
though his friends dissuaded him from doing so?" In the first place
a loan is on a different footing to a benefit. Even when we have
lent money to an undesirable person we can recall it; I can demand
payment upon a certain day, and if he becomes bankrupt, I can
obtain my share of his property; but a benefit is lost utterly and
instantly. Besides, the one is the act of a bad man, the other that
of a bad father of a family. In the next place, if the sum had been
a larger one, not even Zeno would have persisted in lending it. It
was five hundred denarii; the sort of sum of which one says, "May
he spend it in sickness," and it was worth paying so much to avoid
breaking his promise. I shall go out to supper, even though the
weather be cold, because I have promised to go; but I shall not if
snow be falling. I shall leave my bed to go to a betrothal feast,
although I may be suffering from indigestion; but I shall not do so
if I am feverish. I will become bail for you, because I promised;
but not if you wish me to become bail in some transaction of
uncertain issue, if you expose me to forfeiting my money to the
state. There runs through all these cases, I argue, an implied
exception; if I am able, provided it is right for me to do so, if
these things be so and so. Make the position the same when you ask
me to fulfil my promise, as it was when I gave it, and it will be
mere fickleness to disappoint you; but if something new has taken
place in the meanwhile, why should you wonder at my intentions
being changed when the conditions under which I gave the promise
are changed? Put everything back as it was, and I shall be the same
as I was. We enter into recognizances to appear, yet if we fail to
do so an action will not in all cases lie against us, for we are
excused for making default if forced to do so by a power which we
cannot resist.

XL. You may take the same answer to the question as to whether we
ought in all cases to show gratitude for kindness, and whether a
benefit ought in all cases to be repaid. It is my duty to show a
grateful mind, but in some cases my own poverty, in others the
prosperity of the friend to whom I owe some return, will not permit
me to give it. What, for instance, am I, a poor man, to give to a
king or a rich man in return for his kindness, especially as some
men regard it as a wrong to have their benefits repaid, and are
wont to pile one benefit upon another? In dealing with such
persons, what more can I do than wish to repay them? Yet I ought
not to refuse to receive a new benefit, because I have not repaid
the former one. I shall take it as freely as it is given, and will
offer myself to my friend as a wide field for the exercise of his
good nature: he who is unwilling to receive new benefits must be
dissatisfied with what he has already received. Do you say, "I
shall not be able to return them?" What is that to the purpose? I
am willing enough to do so if opportunity or means were given me.
He gave it to me, of course, having both opportunity and means: is
he a good man or a bad one? if he is a good man, I have a good case
against him, and I will not plead if he be a bad one. Neither do I
think it right to insist on making repayment, even though it be
against the will of those whom we repay, and to press it upon them
however reluctant they may be; it is not repayment to force an
unwilling man to resume what you were once willing to take. Some
people, if any trifling present be sent to them, afterwards send
back something else for no particular reason, and then declare that
they are under no obligation; to send something back at once, and
balance one present by another, is the next thing to refusing to
receive it. On some occasions I shall not return a benefit, even
though I be able to do so. When? When by so doing I shall myself
lose more than he will gain, or if he would not notice any
advantage to himself in receiving that which it would be a great
loss to me to return. The man who is always eager to repay under
all circumstances, has not the feeling of a grateful man, but of a
debtor; and, to put it shortly, he who is too eager to repay, is
unwilling to be in his friend's debt; he who is unwilling, and yet
is in his friend's debt, is ungrateful.



In the preceding books I seem to have accomplished the object which
I proposed to myself, since in them I have discussed how a benefit
ought to be bestowed, and how it ought to be received. These are
the limits of this action; when I dwell upon it further I am not
obeying the orders, but the caprices of my subject which ought to
be followed whither it leads, not whither it allures us to wander;
for now and then something will arise, which, although it is all
but unconnected with the subject, instead of being a necessary part
of it, still thrills the mind with a certain charm. However, since
you wish it to be so, let us go on, after having completed our
discussion of the heads of the subject itself, to investigate those
matters which, if you wish for truth, I must call adjacent to it,
not actually connected with it; to examine which carefully is not
one worth one's while, and yet is not labour in vain. No praise,
however, which I can give to benefits does justice to you, Aebutius
Liberalis, a man of excellent disposition and naturally inclined to
bestow them. Never have I seen any one esteem even the most
trifling services more kindly; indeed, your good-nature goes so far
as to regard whatever benefit is bestowed upon anyone as bestowed
upon yourself; you are prepared to pay even what is owed by the
ungrateful, that no one may regret having bestowed benefits. You
yourself are so far from any boastfulness, you are so eager at once
to free those whom you serve from any feeling of obligation to you,
that you like, when giving anything to any one, to seem not so much
to be giving a present as returning one; and therefore what you
give in this manner will all the more fully he repaid to you: for,
as a rule, benefits come to one who does not demand repayment of
them; and just as glory follows those who avoid it, so men receive
a more plentiful harvest in return for benefits bestowed upon those
who had it in their power to be ungrateful. With you there is no
reason why those who have received benefits from you should not ask
for fresh ones; nor would you refuse to bestow others, to overlook
and conceal what you have given, and to add to it more and greater
gifts, since it is the aim of all the best men and the noblest
dispositions to bear with an ungrateful man until you make him
grateful. Be not deceived in pursuing this plan; vice, if you do
not too soon begin to hate it, will yield to virtue.

II. Thus it is that you are especially pleased with what you think
the grandly-sounding phrase, "It is disgraceful to be worsted in a
contest of benefits." Whether this be true or not deserves to be
investigated, and it means something quite different from what you
imagine; for it is never disgraceful to be worsted in any
honourable contest, provided that you do not throw down your arms,
and that even when conquered you wish to conquer. All men do not
strive for a good object with the same strength, resources, and
good fortune, upon which depend at all events the issues of the
most admirable projects, though we ought to praise the will itself
which makes an effort in the right direction. Even though another
passes it by with swifter pace, yet the palm of victory does not,
as in publicly-exhibited races, declare which is the better man;
though even in the games chance frequently brings an inferior man
to the front. As far as loyalty of feeling goes, which each man
wishes to be possessed in the fullest measure on his own side, if
one of the two be the more powerful, if he have at his disposal all
the resources which he wishes to use, and be favoured by fortune in
his most ambitious efforts, while the other, although equally
willing, can only return less than he receives, or perhaps can make
no return at all, but still wishes to do so and is entirely devoted
to this object; then the latter is no more conquered than he who
dies in arms, whom the enemy found it easier to slay than to turn
back. To be conquered, which you consider disgraceful, cannot
happen to a good man; for he will never surrender, never give up
the contest, to the last day of his life he will stand prepared and
in that posture he will die, testifying that though he has received
much, yet that he had the will to repay as much as he had received.

III. The Lacedaemonians forbid their young men to contend in the
pancratium, or with the caestus, in which games the defeated party
has to acknowledge himself beaten. The winner of a race is he who
first reaches the goal; he outstrips the others in swiftness, but
not in courage. The wrestler who has been thrown three times loses
the palm of victory, but does not yield it up. Since the
Lacedaemonians thought it of great importance that their countrymen
should be invincible, they kept them away from those contests in
which victory is assigned, not by the judge, or by the issue of the
contest itself, but by the voice of the vanquished begging the
victor to spare him as he falls. This attribute of never being
conquered, which they so jealously guard among their citizens, can
be attained by all men through virtue and goodwill, because even
when all else is vanquished, the mind remains unconquered. For this
cause no one speaks of the three hundred Fabii as conquered, but
slaughtered. Regulus was taken captive by the Carthaginians, not
conquered; and so were all other men who have not yielded in spirit
when overwhelmed by the strength and weight of angry fortune.

So is it with benefits. A man may have received more than he gave,
more valuable ones, more frequently bestowed; yet is he not
vanquished. It may be that, if you compare the benefits with one
another, those which he has received will outweigh those which he
has bestowed; but if you compare the giver and the receiver, whose
intentions also ought to be considered apart, neither will prove
the victor. It often happens that even when one combatant is
pierced with many wounds, while the other is only slightly injured,
yet they are said to have fought a drawn battle, although the
former may appear to be the worse man.

IV. No one, therefore, can be conquered in a contest of benefits,
if he knows how to owe a debt, if he wishes to make a return for
what he has received, and raises himself to the same level with his
friend in spirit, though he cannot do so in material gifts. As long
as he remains in this temper of mind, as long as he has the wish to
declare by proofs that he has a grateful mind, what difference does
it make upon which side we can count the greater number of
presents? You are able to give much; I can do nothing but receive.
Fortune abides with you, goodwill alone with me; yet I am as much
on an equality with you as naked or lightly armed men are with a
large body armed to the teeth. No one, therefore, is worsted by
benefits, because each man's gratitude is to be measured by his
will. If it be disgraceful to be worsted in a contest of benefits,
you ought not to receive a benefit from very powerful men whose
kindness you cannot return, I mean such as princes and kings, whom
fortune has placed in such a station that they can give away much,
and can only receive very little and quite inadequate returns for
what they give. I have spoken of kings and princes, who alone can
cause works to be accomplished, and whose superlative power depends
upon the obedience and services of inferiors; but some there are,
free from all earthly lusts, who are scarcely affected by any human
objects of desire, upon whom fortune herself could bestow nothing.
I must be worsted in a contest of benefits with Socrates, or with
Diogenes, who walked naked through the treasures of Macedonia,
treading the king's wealth under his feet. In good sooth, he must
then rightly have seemed, both to himself and to all others whose
eyes were keen enough to perceive the real truth, to be superior
even to him at whose feet all the world lay. He was far more
powerful, far richer even than Alexander, who then possessed
everything; for there was more that Diogenes could refuse to
receive than that Alexander was able to give.

V. It is not disgraceful to be worsted by these men, for I am not
the less brave because you pit me against an invulnerable enemy,
nor does fire not burn because you throw into it something over
which flames have no power, nor does iron lose its power of
cutting, though you may wish to cut up a stone which is hard,
impervious to blows, and of such a nature that hard tools are
blunted upon it. I give you the same answer about gratitude. A man
is not disgracefully worsted in a contest of benefits if he lays
himself under an obligation to such persons as these, whose
enormous wealth or admirable virtue shut out all possibility of
their benefits being returned. As a rule we are worsted by our
parents; for while we have them with us, we regard them as severe,
and do not understand what they do for us. When our age begins to
bring us a little sense, and we gradually perceive that they
deserve our love for those very things which used to prevent our
loving them, their advice, their punishments, and the careful watch
which they used to keep over our youthful recklessness, they are
taken from us. Few live to reap any real fruit from children; most
men feel their sons only as a burden. Yet there is no disgrace in
being worsted by one's parent in bestowing benefits; how should
there be, seeing that there is no disgrace in being worsted by
anyone. We are equal to some men, and yet not equal; equal in
intention, which is all that they care for, which is all that we
promise to be, but unequal in fortune. And if fortune prevents any
one from repaying a kindness, he need not, therefore, blush, as
though he were vanquished; there is no disgrace in failing to reach
your object, provided you attempt to reach it. It often is
necessary, that before making any return for the benefits which we
have received, we should ask for new ones; yet, if so, we shall not
refrain from asking for them, nor shall we do so as though
disgraced by so doing, because, even if we do not repay the debt,
we shall owe it; because, even if something from without befalls us
to prevent our repaying it, it will not be our fault if we are not
grateful. We can neither be conquered in intention, nor can we be
disgraced by yielding to what is beyond our strength to contend

VI. Alexander, the king of the Macedonians, used to boast that he
had never been worsted by anybody in a contest of benefits. If so,
it was no reason why, in the fulness of his pride, he should
despise the Macedonians, Greeks, Carians, Persians, and other
tribes of whom his army was composed, nor need he imagine that it
was this that gave him an empire reaching from a corner of Thrace
to the shore of the unknown sea. Socrates could make the same
boast, and so could Diogenes, by whom Alexander was certainly
surpassed; for was he not surpassed on the day when, swelling as he
was beyond the limits of merely human pride, he beheld one to whom
he could give nothing, from whom he could take nothing? King
Archelaus invited Socrates to come to him. Socrates is reported to
have answered that he should be sorry to go to one who would bestow
benefits upon him, since he should not be able to make him an
adequate return for them. In the first place, Socrates was at
liberty not to receive them; next, Socrates himself would have been
the first to bestow a benefit, for he would have come when invited,
and would have given to Archelaus that for which Archelaus could
have made no return to Socrates. Even if Archelaus were to give
Socrates gold and silver, if he learned in return for them to
despise gold and silver, would not Socrates be able to repay
Archelaus? Could Socrates receive from him as much value as he
gave, in displaying to him a man skilled in the knowledge of life
and of death, comprehending the true purpose of each? Suppose that
he had found this king, as it were, groping his way in the clear
sunlight, and had taught him the secrets of nature, of which he was
so ignorant, that when there was an eclipse of the sun, he up his
palace, and shaved his son's head, [Footnote: Gertz very reasonably
conjectures that he shaved his own head which reading would require
a very trifling alteration of the text.] which men are wont to do
in times of mourning and distress. What a benefit it would have
been if he had dragged the terror-stricken king out of his hiding-
place, and bidden him be of good cheer, saying, "This is not a
disappearance of the sun, but a conjunction of two heavenly bodies;
for the moon, which proceeds along a lower path, has placed her
disk beneath the sun, and hidden it by the interposition of her own
mass. Sometimes she only hides a small portion of the sun's disk,
because she only grazes it in passing; sometimes she hides more, by
placing more of herself before it; and sometimes she shuts it out
from our sight altogether, if she passes in an exactly even course
between the sun and the earth. Soon, however, their own swift
motion will draw these two bodies apart; soon the earth will
receive back again the light of day. And this system will continue
throughout centuries, having certain days, known beforehand, upon
which the sun cannot display all rays, because of the intervention
of the moon. Wait only for a short time; he will soon emerge, he
will soon leave that seeming cloud, and freely shed abroad his
light without any hindrances." Could Socrates not have made an
adequate return to Archelaus, if he had taught him to reign? as
though Socrates would not benefit him sufficiently, merely by
enabling him to bestow a benefit upon Socrates. Why, then, did
Socrates say this? Being a joker and a speaker in parables--a man
who turned all, especially the great, into ridicule--he preferred
giving him a satirical refusal, rather than an obstinate or haughty
one, and therefore said that he did not wish to receive benefits
from one to whom he could not return as much as he received. He
feared, perhaps, that he might be forced to receive something which
he did not wish, he feared that it might be something unfit for
Socrates to receive. Some one may say, "He ought to have said that
he did not wish to go." But by so doing he would have excited
against himself the anger of an arrogant king, who wished
everything connected with himself to be highly valued. It makes no
difference to a king whether you be unwilling to give anything to
him or to accept anything from him; he is equally incensed at
either rebuff, and to be treated with disdain is more bitter to a
proud spirit than not to be feared. Do you wish to know what
Socrates really meant? He, whose freedom of speech could not be
borne even by a free state, was not willing of his own choice to
become a slave.

VII. I think that we have sufficiently discussed this part of the
subject, whether it be disgraceful to be worsted in a contest of
benefits. Whoever asks this question must know that men are not
wont to bestow benefits upon themselves, for evidently it could not
be disgraceful to be worsted by oneself. Yet some of the Stoics
debate this question, whether any one can confer a benefit upon
himself, and whether one ought to return one's own kindness to
oneself. This discussion has been raised in consequence of our
habit of saying, "I am thankful to myself," "I can complain of no
one but myself," "I am angry with myself," "I will punish myself,"
"I hate myself," and many other phrases of the same sort, in which
one speaks of oneself as one would of some other person. "If," they
argue, "I can injure myself, why should I not be able also to
bestow a benefit upon myself? Besides this, why are those things
not called benefits when I bestow them upon myself which would be
called benefits if I bestowed them upon another? If to receive a
certain thing from another would lay me under an obligation to him,
how is it that if I give it to myself, I do not contract an
obligation to myself? why should I be ungrateful to my own self,
which is no less disgraceful than it is to be mean to oneself, or
hard and cruel to oneself, or neglectful of oneself? The procurer
is equally odious whether he prostitutes others or himself. We
blame a flatterer, and one who imitates another man's mode of
speech, or is prepared to give praise whether it be deserved or
not; we ought equally to blame one who humours himself and looks up
to himself, and so to speak is his own flatterer. Vices are not
only hateful when outwardly practised, but also when they are
repressed within the mind. Whom would you admire more than he who
governs himself and has himself under command? It is easier to rule
savage nations, impatient of foreign control, than to restrain
one's own mind and keep it under one's own control. Plato, it is
argued, was grateful to Socrates for having been taught by him; why
should not Socrates be grateful to himself for having taught
himself? Marcus Cato said, "Borrow from yourself whatever you
lack;" why, then, if I can lend myself anything, should I be unable
to give myself anything? The instances in which usage divides us
into two persons are innumerable; we are wont to say, "Let me
converse with myself," and, "I will give myself a twitch of the
ear;" [Footnote: See book iv. ch. xxxvi.] and if it be true that
one can do so, then a man ought to be grateful to himself, just as
he is angry with himself; as he blames himself, SO he ought to
praise himself; since he can impoverish himself, he can also enrich
himself. Injuries and benefits are the converse of one another: if
we say of a man, 'he has done himself an injury,' we can also say
'he has bestowed upon himself a benefit?'

VIII. It is natural that a man should first incur an obligation,
and then that he should return gratitude for it; a debtor cannot
exist without a creditor, any more than a husband without a wife,
or a son without a father; someone must give in order that some one
may receive. Just as no one carries himself, although he moves his
body and transports it from place to place; as no one, though he
may have made a speech in his own defence, is said to have stood by
himself, or erects a statue to himself as his own patron; as no
sick man, when by his own care he has regained his health, asks
himself for a fee; so in no transaction, even when a man does what
is useful to himself, need he return thanks to himself, because
there is no one to whom he can return them. Though I grant that a
man can bestow a benefit upon himself, yet at the same time that he
gives it, he also receives it; though I grant that a man may
receive a benefit from himself, yet he receives it at the same time
that he gives it. The exchange takes place within doors, as they
say, and the transfer is made at once, as though the debt were a
fictitious one; for he who gives is not a different person to he
who receives, but one and the same. The word "to owe" has no
meaning except as between two persons; how then can it apply to one
man who incurs an obligation, and by the same act frees himself
from it? In a disk or a ball there is no top or bottom, no
beginning or end, because the relation of the parts is changed when
it moves, what was behind coming before, and what went down on one
side coming up on the other, so that all the parts, in whatever
direction they may move, come back to the same position. Imagine
that the same thing takes place in a man; into however many pieces
you may divide him, he remains one. If he strikes himself, he has
no one to call to account for the insult; if he binds himself and
locks himself up, he cannot demand damages; if he bestows a benefit
upon himself, he straightway returns it to the giver. It is said
that there is no waste in nature, because everything which is taken
from nature returns to her again, and nothing can perish, because
it cannot fall out of nature, but goes round again to the point
from whence it started. You ask, "What connection has this
illustration with the subject?" I will tell you. Imagine yourself
to be ungrateful, the benefit bestowed upon you is not lost, he who
gave it has it; suppose that you are unwilling to receive it, it
still belongs to you before it is returned. You cannot lose
anything, because what you take away from yourself, you
nevertheless gain yourself. The matter revolves in a circle within
yourself; by receiving you give, by giving you receive.

IX. "It is our duty," argues our adversary, "to bestow benefits
upon ourselves, therefore we ought also to be grateful to
ourselves." The original axiom, upon which the inference depends,
is untrue, for no one bestows benefits upon himself, but obeys the
dictates of his nature, which disposes him to affection for
himself, and which makes him take the greatest pains to avoid
hurtful things, and to follow after those things which are
profitable to him. Consequently, the man who gives to himself is
not generous, nor is he who pardons himself forgiving, nor is he
who is touched by his own misfortunes tender-hearted; it is natural
to do those things to oneself which when done to others become
generosity, clemency, and tenderness of heart. A benefit is a
voluntary act, but to do good to oneself is an instinctive one. The
more benefits a man bestows, the more beneficent he is, yet who
ever was praised for having been of service to himself? or for
having rescued himself from brigands? No one bestows a benefit upon
himself any more than he bestows hospitality upon himself; no one
gives himself anything, any more than he lends himself anything. If
each man bestows benefits upon himself, is always bestowing them,
and bestows them without any cessation, then it is impossible for
him to make any calculation of the number of his benefits; when
then can he show his gratitude, seeing that by the very act of
doing so he would bestow a benefit? for what distinction can you
draw between giving himself a benefit or receiving a benefit for
himself, when the whole transaction takes place in the mind of the
same man? Suppose that I have freed myself from danger, then I have
bestowed a benefit upon myself; suppose I free myself a second
time, by so doing do I bestow or repay a benefit? In the next
place, even if I grant the primary axiom, that we can bestow
benefits upon ourselves, I do not admit that which follows; for
even if we can do so, we ought not to do so. Wherefore? Because we
receive a return for them at once. It is right for me to receive a
benefit, then to lie under an obligation, then to repay it; now
here there is no time for remaining under an obligation, because we
receive the return without any delay. No one really gives except to
another, no one owes except to another, no one repays except to
another. An act which always requires two persons cannot take place
within the mind of one.

X. A benefit means the affording of something useful, and the word
AFFORDING implies other persons. Would not a man be thought mad if
he said that he had sold something to himself, because selling
means alienation, and the transferring of a thing and of one's
rights in that thing to another person? Yet giving, like selling
anything, consists in making it pass away from you, handing over
what you yourself once owned into the keeping of some one else.

If this be so, no one ever gave himself a benefit, because no one
gives to himself; if not, two opposites coalesce, so that it
becomes the same thing to give and to receive. Yet there is a great
difference between giving and receiving; how should there not be,
seeing that these words are the converse of one another? Still, if
any one can give himself a benefit, there can be no difference
between giving and receiving. I said a little before that some
words apply only to other persons, and are so constituted that
their whole meaning lies apart from ourselves; for instance, I am a
brother, but a brother of some other man, for no one is his own
brother; I am an equal, but equal to somebody else, for who is
equal to himself? A thing which is compared to another thing is
unintelligible without that other thing; a thing which is joined to
something else does not exist apart from it; so that which is given
does not exist without the other person, nor can a benefit have any
existence without another person. This is clear from the very
phrase which describes it, 'to do good,' yet no one does good to
himself, any more than he favours himself or is on his own side. I
might enlarge further upon this subject and give many examples. Why
should benefits not be included among those acts which require two
persons to perform them? Many honourable, most admirable and highly
virtuous acts cannot take place without a second person. Fidelity
is praised and held to be one of the chief blessings known among
men, yet was any one ever on that account said to have kept faith
with himself?

XI. I come now to the last part of this subject. The
man who returns a kindness ought to expend something, just as he
who repays expends money; but the man who returns a kindness to
himself expends nothing, just as he who receives a benefit from
himself gains nothing. A benefit and gratitude for it must pass to
and fro between two persons; their interchange cannot take place
within one man. He who returns a kindness does good in his turn to
him from whom he has received something; but the man who returns
his own kindness, to whom does he do good? To himself? Is there any
one who does not regard the returning of a kindness, and the
bestowal of a benefit, as distinct acts? 'He who returns a kindness
to himself does good to himself.' Was any man ever unwilling to do
this, even though he were ungrateful? nay, who ever was ungrateful
from any other motive than this? "If," it is argued, "we are right
in thanking ourselves, we ought to return our own kindness;" yet we
say, "I am thankful to myself for having refused to marry that
woman," or "for having refused to join a partnership with that
man." When we speak thus, we are really praising ourselves, and
make use of the language of those who return thanks to approve our
own acts. A benefit is something which, when given, may or may not
be returned. Now, he who gives a benefit to himself must needs
receive what he gives; therefore, this is not a benefit. A benefit
is received at one time, and is returned at another; (but when a
man bestows a benefit upon himself, he both receives it and returns
it at the same time). In a benefit, too, what we commend and admire
is, that a man has for the time being forgotten his own interests,
in order that he may do good to another; that he has deprived
himself of something, in order to bestow it upon another. Now, he
who bestows a benefit upon himself does not do this. The bestowal
of a benefit is an act of companionship--it wins some man's
friendship, and lays some man under an obligation; but to bestow it
upon oneself is no act of companionship--it wins no man's
friendship, lays no man under an obligation, raises no man's hopes,
or leads him to say, "This man must be courted; he bestowed a
benefit upon that person, perhaps he will bestow one upon me also."
A benefit is a thing which one gives not for one's own sake, but
for the sake of him to whom it is given; but he who bestows a
benefit upon himself, does so for his own sake; therefore, it is
not a benefit.

XII. Now I seem to you not to have made good what I said at the
beginning of this book. You say that I am far from doing what is
worth any one's while; nay, that in real fact I have thrown away
all my trouble. Wait, and soon you will be able to say this more
truly, for I shall lead you into covert lurking-places, from which
when you have escaped, you will have gained nothing except that you
will have freed yourself from difficulties with which you need
never have hampered yourself. What is the use of laboriously
untying knots which you yourself have tied, in order that you might
untie them? Yet, just as some knots are tied in fun and for
amusement, so that a tyro may find difficulty in untying them,
which knots he who tied them can loose without any trouble, because
he knows the joinings and the difficulties of them, and these
nevertheless afford us some pleasure, because they test the
sharpness of our wits, and engross, our attention; so also these
questions, which seem subtle and tricky, prevent our intellects
becoming careless and lazy, for they ought at one time to have a
field given them to level, in order that they may wander about it,
and at another to have some dark and rough passage thrown in their
way for them to creep through, and make their way with caution. It
is said by our opponent that no one is ungrateful; and this is
supported by the following arguments: "A benefit is that which does
good; but, as you Stoics say, no one can do good to a bad man;
therefore, a bad man does not receive a benefit. (If he does not
receive it, he need not return it; therefore, no bad man is
ungrateful.) Furthermore, a benefit is an honourable and
commendable thing. No honourable or commendable thing can find any
place with a bad man; therefore, neither can a benefit. If he
cannot receive one, he need not repay one; therefore, he does not
become ungrateful. Moreover, as you say, a good man does everything
rightly; if he does everything rightly, he cannot be ungrateful. A
good man returns a benefit, a bad man does not receive one. If this
be so, no man, good or bad, can be ungrateful. Therefore, there is
no such thing in nature as an ungrateful man: the word is
meaningless." We Stoics have only one kind of good, that which is
honourable. This cannot come to a bad man, for he would cease to be
bad if virtue entered into him; but as long as he is bad, no one
can bestow a benefit upon him, because good and bad are contraries,
and cannot exist together. Therefore, no one can do good to such a
man, because whatever he receives is corrupted by his vicious way
of using it. Just as the stomach, when disordered by disease and
secreting bile, changes all the food which it receives, and turns
every kind of sustenance into a source of pain, so whatever you
entrust to an ill-regulated mind becomes to it a burden, an
annoyance, and a source of misery. Thus the most prosperous and the
richest men have the most trouble; and the more property they have
to perplex them, the less likely they are to find out what they
really are. Nothing, therefore, can reach bad men which would do
them good; nay, nothing which would not do them harm. They change
whatever falls to their lot into their own evil nature; and things
which elsewhere would, if given to better men, be both beautiful
and profitable, are ruinous to them. They cannot, therefore, bestow
benefits, because no one can give what he does not possess, and,
therefore, they lack the pleasure of doing good to others.

XIII. But, though this be so, yet even a bad man can receive some
things which resemble benefits, and he will be ungrateful if he
does not return them. There are good things belonging to the mind,
to the body, and to fortune. A fool or a bad man is debarred from
the first--those, that is, of the mind; but he is admitted to a
share in the two latter, and, if he does not return them, he is
ungrateful. Nor does this follow from our (Stoic) system alone the
Peripatetics, also, who widely extend the boundaries of human
happiness, declare that trifling benefits reach bad men, and that
he who does not return them is ungrateful. We therefore do not
agree that things which do not tend to improve the mind should be
called benefits, yet do not deny that these things are convenient
and desirable. Such things as these a bad man may bestow upon a
good man, or may receive from him--such, for example, as money,
clothes, public office, or life; and, if he makes no return for
these, he will come under the denomination of ungrateful. "But how
can you call a man ungrateful for not returning that which you say
is not a benefit?" Some things, on account of their similarity, are
included under the same designation, although they do not really
deserve it. Thus we speak of a silver or golden box; ["The original
word is 'pyx,' which means a box made of box-wood."] thus we call a
man illiterate, although he may not be utterly ignorant, but only
not acquainted with the higher branches of literature; thus, seeing
a badly-dressed ragged man we say that we have seen a naked man.
These things of which we spoke are not benefits, but they possess
the appearance of benefits. "Then, just as they are quasi-benefits,
so your man is quasi-ungrateful, not really ungrateful." This is
untrue, because both he who gives and he who receives them speaks
of them as benefits; so he who fails to return the semblance of a
real benefit is as much an ungrateful man as he who mixes a
sleeping draught, believing it to be poison, is a poisoner.

XIV. Cleanthes speaks more impetuously than this. "Granted," says
he, "that what he received was not a benefit, yet he is ungrateful,
because he would not have returned a benefit if he had received
one." So he who carries deadly weapons and has intentions of
robbing and murdering, is a brigand even before he has dipped his
hands in blood; his wickedness consists and is shown in action, but
does not begin thereby. Men are punished for sacrilege, although no
one's hands can reach to the gods. "How," asks our opponent, "can
any one be ungrateful to a bad man, since a bad man cannot bestow a
benefit?" In the same way, I answer, because that which he received
was not a benefit, but was called one; if any one receives from a
bad man any of those things which are valued by the ignorant, and
of which bad men often possess great store, it becomes his duty to
make a return in the same kind, and to give back as though they
were truly good those things which he received as though they were
truly good. A man is said to be in debt, whether he owes gold
pieces or leather marked with a state stamp, such as the
Lacedaemonians used, which passes for coined money. Pay your debts
in that kind in which you incurred them. You have nothing to do
with the definition of benefits, or with the question whether so
great and noble a name ought to be degraded by applying it to such
vulgar and mean matters as these, nor do we seek for truth that we
may use it to the disadvantage of others; do you adjust your minds
to the semblance of truth, and while you are learning what is
really honourable, respect everything to which the name of honour
is applied.

XV. "In the same way," argues our adversary, "that your school
proves that no one is ungrateful, you afterwards prove that all men
are ungrateful. For, as you say, all fools are bad men; he who has
one vice has all vices; all men are both fools and bad men;
therefore all men are ungrateful." Well, what then? Are they not?
Is not this the universal reproach of the human race? is there not
a general complaint that benefits are thrown away, and that there
are very few men who do not requite their benefactors with the
basest ingratitude? Nor need you suppose that what we say is merely
the grumbling of men who think every act wicked and depraved which
falls short of an ideal standard of righteousness. Listen! I know
not who it is who speaks, yet the voice with which he condemns
mankind proceeds, not from the schools of philosophers, but from
the midst of the crowd:

"Host is not safe from guest;
Father-in-law from son; but seldom love
Exists 'twixt brothers; wives long to destroy
Their husbands; husbands long to slay their wives."

This goes even further: according to this, crimes take the place of
benefits, and men do not shrink from shedding the blood of those
for whom they ought to shed their own; we requite benefits by steel
and poison. We call laying violent hands upon our own country, and
putting down its resistance by the fasces of its own lictors,
gaining power and great place; every man thinks himself to be in a
mean and degraded position if he has not raised himself above the
constitution; the armies which are received from the state are
turned against her, and a general now says to his men, "Fight
against your wives, fight against your children, march in arms
against your altars, your hearths and homes!" Yes, [Footnote: I
believe, in spite of Gertz, that this is part of the speech of the
Roman general, and that the conjecture of Muretus, "without the
command of the senate," gives better sense.] you, who even when
about to triumph ought not to enter the city at the command of the
senate, and who have often, when bringing home a victorious army,
been given an audience outside the walls, you now, after
slaughtering your countrymen, stained with the blood of your
kindred, march into the city with standards erect. "Let liberty,"
say you, "be silent amidst the ensigns of war, and now that wars
are driven far away and no ground for terror remains, let that
people which conquered and civilized all nations be beleaguered
within its own walls, and shudder at the sight of its own eagles."

XVI. Coriolanus was ungrateful, and became dutiful late, and after
repenting of his crime; he did indeed lay down his arms, but only
in the midst of his unnatural warfare. Catilina was ungrateful; he
was not satisfied with taking his country captive without
overturning it, without despatching the hosts of the Allobroges
against it, without bringing an enemy from beyond the Alps to glut
his old inborn hatred, and to offer Roman generals as sacrifices
which had been long owing to the tombs of the Gaulish dead. Caius
Marius was ungrateful, when, after being raised from the ranks to
the consulship, he felt that he would not have wreaked his
vengeance upon fortune, and would sink to his original obscurity,
unless he slaughtered Romans as freely as he had slaughtered the
Cimbri, and not merely gave the signal, but was himself the signal
for civil disasters and butcheries. Lucius Sulla was ungrateful,
for he saved his country by using remedies worse than the perils
with which it was threatened, when he marched through human blood
all the way from the citadel of Praeneste to the Colline Gate,
fought more battles and caused more slaughter afterwards within the
city, and most cruelly after the victory was won, most wickedly
after quarter had been promised them, drove two legions into a
corner and put them to the sword, and, great gods! invented a
proscription by which he who slew a Roman citizen received
indemnity, a sum of money, everything but a civic crown! Cnaeus
Pompeius was ungrateful, for the return which he made to his
country for three consulships, three triumphs, and the innumerable
public offices into most of which he thrust himself when under age,
was to lead others also to lay hands upon her under the pretext of
thus rendering his own power less odious; as though what no one
ought to do became right if more than one person did it. Whilst he
was coveting extraordinary commands, arranging the provinces so as
to have his own choice of them, and dividing the whole state with a
third person, [Footnote: Crassus.] in such a manner as to leave
two-thirds of it in the possession of his own family, [Footnote:
Pompey was married to Caesar's daughter. Cf. Virg., "Aen.," vi.,
831, sq., and Lucan's beautiful verses, "Phars.," i., 114.] he
reduced the Roman people to such a condition that they could only
save themselves by submitting to slavery. The foe and conqueror
[Footnote: Seneca is careful to avoid the mention of Caesar's name,
which might have given offence to the emperors under whom he lived,
who used the name as a title.] of Pompeius was himself ungrateful;
he brought war from Gaul and Germany to Rome, and he, the friend of
the populace, the champion of the commons, pitched his camp in the
Circus Flaminus, nearer to the city than Porsena's camp had been.
He did, indeed, use the cruel privileges of victory with
moderation; as was said at the time, he protected his countrymen,
and put to death no man who was not in arms. Yet what credit is
there in this? Others used their arms more cruelly, but flung them
away when glutted with blood, while he, though he soon sheathed the
sword, never laid it aside. Antonius was ungrateful to his
dictator, who he declared was rightly slain, and whose murderers he
allowed to depart to their commands in the provinces; as for his
country, after it had been torn to pieces by so many proscriptions,
invasions, and civil wars, he intended to subject it to kings, not
even of Roman birth, and to force that very state to pay tribute to
eunuchs, [Footnote: The allusion is to Antonius's connection with
Cleopatra. Cf. Virg. "Aen.," viii., 688.] which had itself restored
sovereign rights, autonomy, and immunities, to the Achaeans, the
Rhodians, and the people of many other famous cities.

XVII. The day would not be long enough for me to enumerate those
who have pushed their ingratitude so far as to ruin their native
land. It would be as vast a task to mention how often the state has
been ungrateful to its best and most devoted lovers, although it
has done no less wrong than it has suffered. It sent Camillus and
Scipio into exile; even after the death of Catiline it exiled
Cicero, destroyed his house, plundered his property, and did
everything which Catiline would have done if victorious; Rutilius
found his virtue rewarded with a hiding-place in Asia; to Cato the
Roman people refused the praetorship, and persisted in refusing the
consulship. We are ungrateful in public matters; and if every man
asks himself, you will find that there is no one who has not some
private ingratitude to complain of. Yet it is impossible that all
men should complain, unless all were deserving of complaint,
therefore all men are ungrateful. Are they ungrateful alone? nay,
they are also all covetous, all spiteful, and all cowardly,
especially those who appear daring; and, besides this, all men fawn
upon the great, and all are impious. Yet you need not be angry with
them; pardon them, for they are all mad. I do not wish to recall
you to what is not proved, or to say, "See how ungrateful is youth!
what young man, even if of innocent life, does not long for his
father's death? even if moderate in his desires, does not look
forward to it? even if dutiful, does not think about it? How few
there are who fear the death even of the best of wives, who do not
even calculate the probabilities of it. Pray, what litigant, after
having been successfully defended, retains any remembrance of so
great a benefit for more than a few days?" All agree that no one
dies without complaining. Who on his last day dares to say,

"I've lived, I've done the task which Fortune set me."

Who does not leave the world with reluctance, and with
lamentations? Yet it is the part of an ungrateful man not to be
satisfied with the past. Your days will always be few if you count
them. Reflect that length of time is not the greatest of blessings;
make the best of your time, however short it may be; even if the
day of your death be postponed, your happiness will not be
increased, for life is merely made longer, not pleasanter, by
delay. How much better is it to be thankful for the pleasures which
one has received, not to reckon up the years of others, but to set
a high value upon one's own, and score them to one's credit,
saying, "God thought me worthy of this; I am satisfied with it; he
might have given me more, but this, too, is a benefit." Let us be
grateful towards both gods and men, grateful to those who have
given us anything, and grateful even to those who have given
anything to our relatives.

XVIII. "You render me liable to an infinite debt of gratitude,"
says our opponent, "when you say 'even to those who have given any
thing to our relations,' so fix some limit. He who bestows a
benefit upon the son, according to you, bestows it likewise upon
the father: this is the first question I wish to raise. In the next
place I should like to have a clear definition of whether a
benefit, if it be bestowed upon your friend's father as well as
upon himself, is bestowed also upon his brother? or upon his uncle?
or his grandfather? or his wife and his father-in-law? tell me
where I am to stop, how far I am to follow out the pedigree of the

SENECA. If I cultivate your land, I bestow a benefit upon you; if I
extinguish your house when burning, or prop it so as to save it
from falling, I shall bestow a benefit upon you; if I heal your
slave, I shall charge it to you; if I save your son's life, will
you not thereby receive a benefit from me?

XIX. THE ADVERSARY. Your instances are not to the purpose, for he
who cultivates my land, does not benefit the land, but me; he who
props my house so that it does not fall, does this service to me,
for the house itself is without feeling, and as it has none, it is
I who am indebted to him; and he who cultivates my land does so
because he wishes to oblige me, not to oblige the land. I should
say the same of a slave; he is a chattel owned by me; he is saved
for my advantage, therefore I am indebted for him. My son is
himself capable of receiving a benefit; so it is he who receives
it; I am gratified at a benefit which comes so near to myself, but
am not laid under any obligation.

SE. Still I should like you, who say that you are under no
obligation, to answer me this. The good health, the happiness, and
the inheritance of a son are connected with his father; his father
will be more happy if he keeps his son safe, and more unhappy if he
loses him. What follows, then? when a man is made happier by me and
is freed from the greatest danger of unhappiness, does he not
receive a benefit?

AD. No, because there are some things which are bestowed upon
others, and yet flow from them so as to reach ourselves; yet we
must ask the person upon whom it was bestowed for repayment; as for
example, money must be sought from the man to whom it was lent,
although it may, by some means, have come into my hands. There is
no benefit whose advantages do not extend to the receiver's nearest
friends, and sometimes even to those less intimately connected with
him; yet we do not enquire whither the benefit has proceeded from
him to whom it was first given, but where it was first placed. You
must demand repayment from the defendant himself personally.

SE. Well, but I pray you, do you not say, "you have preserved my
son for me; had he perished, I could not have survived him?" Do you
not owe a benefit for the life of one whose safety you value above
your own? Moreover, should I save your son's life, you would fall
down before my knees, and would pay vows to heaven as though you
yourself had been saved; you would say, "It makes no difference
whether you have saved mine or me; you have saved us both, yet me
more than him." Why do you say this, if you do not receive a

A.D. Because, if my son were to contract a loan, I should pay his
creditor, yet I should not, therefore, be indebted to him; or if my
son were taken in adultery, I should blush, yet I should not,
therefore, be an adulterer. I say that I am under an obligation to
you for saving my son, not because I really am, but because I am
willing to constitute myself your debtor of my own free will. On
the other hand I have derived from his safety the greatest possible
pleasure and advantage, and I have escaped that most dreadful blow,
the loss of my child. True, but we are not now discussing whether
you have done me any good or not, but whether you have bestowed a
benefit upon me; for animals, stones, and herbs can do one good,
but do not bestow benefits, which can only be given by one who
wishes well to the receiver. Now you do not wish well to the
father, but only to the son; and sometimes you do not even know the
father. So when you have said, "Have I not bestowed a benefit upon
the father by saving the son?" you ought to meet this with, "Have
I, then, bestowed a benefit upon a father whom I do not know, whom
I never thought of?" And what will you say when, as is sometimes the
case, you hate the father, and yet save his son? Can you be thought
to have bestowed a benefit upon one whom you hated most bitterly
while you were bestowing it?

However, if I were to lay aside the bickering of dialogue, and
answer you as a lawyer, I should say that you ought to consider the
intention of the giver, you must regard his benefit as bestowed
upon the person upon whom he meant to bestow it. If he did it in
honour of the father, then the father received the benefit; if he
thought only of the son, then the father is not laid under any
obligation: by the benefit which was conferred upon the son, even
though the father derives pleasure from it. Should he, however,
have an opportunity, he will himself wish to give you something,
yet not as though he were forced to repay a debt, but rather as if
he had grounds for beginning an exchange of favours. No return for
a benefit ought to be demanded from the father of the receiver; if
he does you any kindness in return for it, he should be regarded
as, a righteous man, but not as a grateful one. For there is no end
to it; if I bestow a benefit on the receiver's father, do I
likewise bestow it upon his mother, his grandfather, his maternal
uncle, his children, relations, friends, slaves, and country?
Where, then, does a benefit begin to stop? for there follows it
this endless chain of people, to whom it is hard to assign bounds,
because they join it by degrees, and are always creeping on towards

XX. A common question is, "Two brothers are at variance. If I save
the life of one, do I confer a benefit upon the other, who will be
sorry that his hated brother did not perish?" There can be no doubt
that it is a benefit to do good to a man, even against that man's
will, just as he, who against his own will does a man good, does
not bestow a benefit upon him. "Do you," asks our adversary, "call
that by which he is displeased and hurt a benefit?" Yes; many
benefits have a harsh and forbidding appearance, such as cutting or
burning to cure disease, or confining with chains. We must not
consider whether a man is grieved at receiving a benefit, but
whether he ought to rejoice: a coin is not bad because it is
refused by a savage who is unacquainted with its proper stamp. A
man receives a benefit even though he hates what is done, provided
that it does him good, and that the giver bestowed it in order to
do him good. It makes no difference if he receives a good thing in
a bad spirit. Consider the converse of this. Suppose that a man
hates his brother, though it is to his advantage to have a brother,
and I kill this brother, this is not a benefit, though he may say
that it is, and be glad of it. Our most artful enemies are those
whom we thank for the wrongs which they do us.

"I understand; a thing which does good is a benefit, a thing which
does harm is not a benefit. Now I will suggest to you an act which
neither does good nor harm, and yet is a benefit. Suppose that I
find the corpse of some one's father in a wilderness, and bury it,
then I certainly have done him no good, for what difference could
it make to him in what manner his body decayed? Nor have I done any
good to his son, for what advantage does he gain by my act?" I will
tell you what he gains. He has by my means performed a solemn and
necessary rite; I have performed a service for his father which he
would have wished, nay, which it would have been his duty to have
performed himself. Yet this act is not a benefit, if I merely
yielded to those feelings of pity and kindliness which would make
me bury any corpse whatever, but only if I recognized this body,
and buried it, with the thought in my mind that I was doing this
service to the son; but, by merely throwing earth over a dead
stranger, I lay no one under an obligation for an act performed on
general principles of humanity.

It may be asked, "Why are you so careful in inquiring upon whom you
bestow benefits, as though some day you meant to demand repayment
of them? Some say that repayment should never be demanded; and they
give the following reasons. An unworthy man will not repay the
benefit which he has received, even if it be demanded of him, while
a worthy man will do so of his own accord. Consequently, if you
have bestowed it upon a good man, wait; do not outrage him by
asking him for it, as though of his own accord he never would repay
it. If you have bestowed it upon a bad man, suffer for it, but do
not spoil your benefit by turning it into a loan. Moreover the law,
by not authorizing you, forbids you, by implication, to demand the
repayment of a benefit." All this is nonsense. As long as I am in
no pressing need, as long as I am not forced by poverty, I will
lose my benefits rather than ask for repayment; but if the lives of
my children were at stake, if my wife were in danger, if my regard
for the welfare of my country and for my own liberty were to force
me to adopt a course which I disliked, I should overcome my
delicacy, and openly declare that I had done all that I could to
avoid the necessity of receiving help from an ungrateful man; the
necessity of obtaining repayment of one's benefit will in the end
overcome one's delicacy about asking for it. In the next place,
when I bestow a benefit upon a good man, I do so with the intention
of never demanding repayment, except in case of absolute necessity.

XXI. "But," argues he, "by not authorizing you, the law forbids you
to exact repayment." There are many things which are not enforced
by any law or process, but which the conventions of society, which
are stronger than any law, compel us to observe. There is no law
forbidding us to divulge our friend's secrets; there is no law
which bids us keep faith even with an enemy; pray what law is there
which binds us to stand by what we have promised? There is none.
Nevertheless I should remonstrate with one who did not keep a
secret, and I should be indignant with one who pledged his word and
broke it. "But," he argues, "you are turning a benefit into a
loan." By no means, for I do not insist upon repayment, but only
demand it; nay, I do not even demand it, but remind my friend of
it. Even the direst need will not bring me to apply for help to one
with whom I should have to undergo a long struggle.

If there be any one so ungrateful that it is not sufficient to
remind him of his debt, I should pass him over, and think that he
did not deserve to be made grateful by force. A money-lender does
not demand repayment from his debtors if he knows they have become
bankrupt, and, to their shame, have nothing but shame left to lose;
and I, like him, should pass over those who are openly and
obstinately ungrateful, and would demand repayment only from those
who were likely to give it me, not from those from whom I should
have to extort it by force.

XXII. There are many who cannot deny that they have received a
benefit, yet cannot return it--men who are not good enough to be
termed grateful, nor yet bad enough to be termed ungrateful; but
who are dull and sluggish, backward debtors, though not defaulters.
Such men as these I should not ask for repayment, but forcibly
remind them of it, and, from a state of indifference, bring them
back to their duty. They would at once reply, "Forgive me; I did
not know, by Hercules, that you missed this, or I would have
offered it of my own accord, I beg that you will not think me
ungrateful; I remember your goodness to me." Why need I hesitate to
make such men as these better to themselves and to me? I would
prevent any one from doing wrong, if I were able; much more would I
prevent a friend, both lest he should do wrong, and lest he should
do wrong to me in particular. I bestow a second benefit upon him by
not permitting him to be ungrateful; and I should not reproach him
harshly with what I had done for him, but should speak as gently as
I could. In order to afford him an opportunity of returning my
kindness, I should refresh his remembrance of it, and ask for a
benefit; he would understand that I was asking for repayment.
Sometimes I would make use of somewhat severe language, if I had
any hope that by it he might be amended; though I would not
irritate a hopelessly ungrateful man, for fear that I might turn
him into an enemy. If we spare the ungrateful even the affront of
reminding them of their conduct, we shall render them' more
backward in returning benefits; and although some might be cured of
their evil ways, and be made into good men, if their consciences
were stung by remorse, yet we shall allow them to perish for want
of a word of warning, with which a father sometimes corrects his
son, a wife brings back to herself an erring husband, or a man
stimulates the wavering fidelity of his friend.

XXIII. To awaken some men, it is only necessary to stir them, not
to strike them; in like manner, with some men, the feeling of
honour about returning a benefit is not extinct, but slumbering.
Let us rouse it. "Do not," they will say, "make the kindness you
have done me into a wrong: for it is a wrong, if you do not demand
some return from me, and so make me ungrateful. What if I do not
know what sort of repayment you wish for? if I am so occupied by
business, and my attention is so much diverted to other subjects
that I have not been able to watch for an opportunity of serving
you? Point out to me what I can do for you, what you wish me to do.
Why do you despair, before making a trial of me? Why are you in
such haste to lose both your benefit and your friend? How can you
tell whether I do not wish, or whether I do not know how to repay
you: whether it be in intention or in opportunity that I am
wanting? Make a trial of me." I would therefore remind him of what
I had done, without bitterness, not in public, or in a reproachful
manner, but so that he may think that he himself has remembered it
rather than that it has been recalled to him.

XXIV. One of Julius Caesar's veterans was once pleading before him
against his neighbours, and the cause was going against him. "Do
you remember, general," said he, "that in Spain you dislocated your
ankle near the river Sucro [Footnote: Xucar]?" When Caesar said
that he remembered it, he continued, "Do you remember that when,
during the excessive heat, you wished to rest under a tree which
afforded very little shade, as the ground in which that solitary
tree grew was rough and rocky, one of your comrades spread his
cloak under you?" Caesar answered, "Of course, I remember; indeed,
I was perishing with thirst; and since was unable to walk to the
nearest spring, I would have crawled thither on my hands and knees,
had not my comrade, a brave and active man, brought me water in his
helmet." "Could you, then, my general, recognize that man or that
helmet?" Caesar replied that he could not remember the helmet, but
that he could remember the man well; and he added, I fancy in anger
at being led away to this old story in the midst of a judicial
enquiry, "At any rate, you are not he." "I do not blame you,
Caesar," answered the man, "for not recognizing me; for when this
took place, I was unwounded; but afterwards, at the battle of
Munda, my eye was struck out, and the bones of my skull crushed.
Nor would you recognize that helmet if you saw it, for it was split
by a Spanish sword." Caesar would not permit this man to be
troubled with lawsuits, and presented his old soldier with the
fields through which a village right of way had given rise to the

XXV. In this case, what ought he to have done? Because his
commander's memory was confused by a multitude of incidents, and
because his position as the leader of vast armies did not permit
him to notice individual soldiers, ought the man not to have asked
for a return for the benefit which he had conferred? To act as he
did is not so much to ask for a return as to take it when it lies
in a convenient position ready for us, although we have to stretch
out our hands in order to receive it. I shall therefore ask for the
return of a benefit, whenever I am either reduced to great straits,
or where by doing so I shall act to the advantage of him from whom
I ask it. Tiberius Caesar, when some one addressed him with the
words, "Do you remember . . . .?" answered, before the man could
mention any further proofs of former acquaintance, "I do not
remember what I was." Why should it not be forbidden to demand of
this man repayment of former favours? He had a motive for
forgetting them: he denied all knowledge of his friends and
comrades, and wished men only to see, to think, and to speak of him
as emperor. He regarded his old friend as an impertinent meddler.

We ought to be even more careful to choose a favorable opportunity
when we ask for a benefit to be repaid to us than when we ask for
one to be bestowed upon us. We must be temperate in our language,
so that the grateful may not take offence, or the ungrateful
pretend to do so. If we lived among wise men, it would be our duty
to wait in silence until our benefits were returned. Yet even to
wise men it would be better to give some hint of what our position
required. We ask for help even from the gods themselves, from whose
knowledge nothing is hid, although our prayers cannot alter their
intentions towards us, but can only recall them to their minds.
Homer's priest, [Il. i. 39 sqq.] I say, recounts even to the gods
his duteous conduct and his pious care of their altars. The second
best form of virtue is to be willing and able to take advice.[Hes.
Op. 291.] A horse who is docile and prompt to obey can be guided
hither and thither by the slightest movement of the reins. Very few
men are led by their own reason: those who come next to the best
are those who return to the right path in consequence of advice;
and these we must not deprive of their guide. When our eyes are
covered they still possess sight; but it is the light of day which,
when admitted to them, summons them to perform their duty: tools
lie idle, unless the workman uses them to take part in his work.
Similarly men's minds contain a good feeling, which, however, lies
torpid, either through luxury and disuse, or through ignorance of
its duties. This we ought to render useful, and not to get into a
passion with it, and leave it in its wrong doing, but bear with it
patiently, just as schoolmasters bear patiently with the blunders
of forgetful scholars; for as by the prompting of a word or two
their memory is often recalled to the text of the speech which they
have to repeat, so men's goodwill can be brought to return kindness
by reminding them of it.



There are some things, my most excellent Liberalis, which lie
completely outside of our actual life, and which we only inquire
into in order to exercise our intellects, while others both give us
pleasure while we are discovering them, and are of use when
discovered. I will place all these in your hands; you, at your own
discretion, may order them either to be investigated thoroughly, or
to be reserved, and be used as agreeable interludes. Something will
be gained even by those which you dismiss at once, for it is
advantageous even to know what subjects are not worth learning. I
shall be guided, therefore, by your face: according to its
expression, I shall deal with some questions at greater length, and
drive others out of court, and put an end to them at once.

II. It is a question whether a benefit can be taken away from one
by force. Some say that it cannot, because it is not a thing, but
an act. A gift is not the same as the act of giving, any more than
a sailor is the same as the act of sailing. A sick man and a
disease are not the same thing, although no one can be ill without
disease; and, similarly, a benefit itself is one thing, and what
any of us receive through a benefit is another. The benefit itself
is incorporeal, and never becomes invalid; but its subject-matter
changes owners, and passes from hand to hand. So, when you take
away from anyone what you have given him, you take away the
subject-matter only of the benefit, not the benefit itself. Nature
herself cannot recall what she has given. She may cease to bestow
benefits, but cannot take them away: a man who dies, yet has lived;
a man who becomes blind, nevertheless has seen. She can cut off her
blessings from us in the future, but she cannot prevent our having
enjoyed them in the past. We are frequently not able to enjoy a
benefit for long, but the benefit is not thereby destroyed. Let
Nature struggle as hard as she please, she cannot give herself
retrospective action. A man may lose his house, his money, his
property--everything to which the name of benefit can be given--
yet the benefit itself will remain firm and unmoved; no power can
prevent his benefactor's having bestowed them, or his having
received them.

III. I think that a fine passage in Rabirius's poem, where M.
Antonius, seeing his fortune deserting him, nothing left him except
the privilege of dying, and even that only on condition that he
used it promptly, exclaims,

"What I have given, that I now possess!"

How much he might have possessed, had he chosen! These are riches
to be depended upon, which through all the turmoil of human life
will remain steadfast; and the greater they are, the less envy they
will attract. Why are you sparing of your property, as though it
were your own? You are but the manager of it. All those treasures,
which make you swell with pride, and soar above mere mortals, till
you forget the weakness of your nature; all that which you lock up
in iron-grated treasuries, and guard in arms, which you win from
other men with their lives, and defend at the risk of your own; for
which you launch fleets to dye the sea with blood, and shake the
walls of cities, not knowing what arrows fortune may be preparing
for you behind your back; to gain which you have so often violated
all the ties of relationship, of friendship, and of colleagueship,
till the whole world lies crushed between the two combatants: all
these are not yours; they are a kind of deposit, which is on the
point of passing into other hands: your enemies, or your heirs, who
are little better, will seize upon them. "How," do you ask, "can
you make them your own?" "By giving them away." Do, then, what is
best for your own interests, and gain a sure enjoyment of them,
which cannot be taken from you, making them at once more certainly
yours, and more honorable to you. That which you esteem so highly,
that by which you think that you are made rich and powerful, owns
but the shabby title of "house," "slave," or "money;" but when you
have given it away, it becomes a benefit.

IV. "You admit," says our adversary, "that we sometimes are under
no obligation to him from whom we have received a benefit. In that
case it has been taken by force." Nay, there are many things which
would cause us to cease to feel gratitude for a benefit, not
because the benefit has been taken from me, but because it has been
spoiled. Suppose that a man has defended me in a lawsuit, but has
forcibly outraged my wife; he has not taken away the benefit which
he conferred upon me, but by balancing it with an equivalent wrong,
he has set me free from my debt; indeed, if he has injured me more
than he had previously benefited me, he not only puts an end to my
gratitude, but makes me free to revenge myself upon him, and to
complain of him, when the wrong outweighs the benefit; in such a
case the benefit is not taken away, but is overcome. Why, are not
some fathers so cruel and so wicked that it is right and proper for
their sons to turn away from them, and disown them? Yet, pray, have
they taken away the life which they gave? No, but their unnatural
conduct in later years has destroyed all the gratitude which was
due to them for their original benefit. In these cases it is not a
benefit itself, but the gratitude owing for a benefit which is
taken away, and the result is, not that one does not possess the
benefit, but that one is not laid under any obligation by it. It is
as though a man were to lend me money, and then burn my house down;
the advantage of the loan is balanced by the damage which he has
caused: I do not repay him, and yet I am not in his debt. In like
manner any one who may have acted kindly and generously to me, and
who afterwards has shown himself haughty, insulting, and cruel,
places me in just the same position as though I never had received
anything from him: he has murdered his own benefits. Though the
lease may remain in force, still a man does not continue to be a
tenant if his landlord tramples down his crops, or cuts down his
orchard; their contract is at an end, not because the landlord has
received the rent which was agreed upon, but because he has made it
impossible that he should receive it. So, too, a creditor often has
to pay money to his debtor, should he have taken more property from
him in other transactions than he claims as having lent him. The
judge does not sit merely to decide between debtor and creditor,
when he says, "You did lend the man money; but then, what followed?
You have driven away his cattle, you have murdered his slave, you
have in your possession plate which you have not paid for. After
valuing what each has received, I order you, who came to this court
as a creditor, to leave it as a debtor." In like manner a balance
is struck between benefits and injuries. In many cases, I repeat, a
benefit is not taken away from him who receives it, and yet it lays
him under no obligation, if the giver has repented of giving it,
called himself unhappy because he gave it, sighed or made a wry
face while he gave it; if he thought that he was throwing it away
rather than giving it, if he gave it to please himself, or to
please any one except me, the receiver; if he persistently makes
himself offensive by boasting of what he has done, if he brags of
his gift everywhere, and makes it a misery to me, then indeed the
benefit remains in my hands, but I owe him nothing for it, just as
sums of money to which a creditor has no legal right are owed to
him, but cannot be claimed by him;

V. Though you have bestowed a benefit upon me, yet you have since
done me a wrong; the benefit demanded gratitude, the wrong required
vengeance: the result is that I do not owe you gratitude, nor do
you owe me compensation--each is cancelled by the other. When we
say, "I returned him his benefit," we do not mean that we restored
to him the very thing which we had received, but something else in
its place. To return is to give back one thing instead of another,
because, of course, in all repayment it is not the thing itself,
but its equivalent which is returned. We are said to have returned
money even though we count out gold pieces instead of silver ones,
or even if no money passes between us, but the transaction be
effected verbally by the assignment of a debt.

I think I see you say, "You are wasting your time; of what use is
it to me to know whether what I do not owe to another still remains
in my hands or not? These are like the ingenious subtleties of the
lawyers, who declare that one cannot acquire an inheritance by
prescription, but can only acquire those things of which the
inheritance consists, as though there were any difference between
the heritage and the things of which it consists. Rather decide
this point for me, which may be of use. If the same man confers a
benefit upon me, and afterwards does me a wrong, is it my duty to
return the benefit to him, and nevertheless to avenge myself upon
him, having, as it were, two distinct accounts open with him, or to
mix them both together, and do nothing, leaving the benefit to be
wiped out by the injury, the injury by the benefit? I see that the
former course is adopted by the law of the land; you know best what
the law may be among you Stoic philosophers in such a case. I
suppose that you keep the action which I bring against another
distinct from that which he Strings against me, and the two
processes are not merged into one? For instance, if a man entrusts
me with money, and afterwards robs me, I shall bring an action
against him for theft, and he will bring one against me for
unlawfully detaining his property?"

VI. The cases which you have mentioned, my Liberalis, come under
well-established laws, which it is necessary for us to follow. One
law cannot be merged in another: each one proceeds its own way.
There is a particular action which deals with deposits just as
there is one which deals with theft. A benefit is subject to no
law; it depends upon my own arbitration. I am at liberty to
contrast the amount of good or harm which any one may have done me,
and then to decide which of us is indebted to the other. In legal
processes we ourselves have no power, we must go whither they lead
us; in the case of a benefit the supreme power is mine, I pronounce
sentence. Consequently I do not separate or distinguish between
benefits and wrongs, but send them before the same judge. Unless I
did so, you would bid me love and hate, give thanks and make
complaints at the same time, which human nature does not admit of.
I would rather compare the benefit and the injury with one another,
and see whether there were any balance in my favour. If anybody
puts lines of other writing upon my manuscript he conceals, though
he does not take away, the letters which were there before, and in
like manner a wrong coming after a benefit does not allow it to be

VII. Your face, by which I have agreed to be guided, now becomes
wrinkled with frowns, as though I were straying too widely from the
subject. You seem to say to me:

"Why steer to seaward? Hither bend thy course, Hug close the

I do hug it as close as possible. So now, if you think that we have
dwelt sufficiently upon this point, let us proceed to the
consideration of the next--that is, whether we are at all indebted
to any one who does us good without wishing to do so. I might have
expressed this more clearly, if it were not right that the question
should be somewhat obscurely stated, in order that by the
distinction immediately following it may be shown that we mean to
investigate the case both of him who does us good against his will,
and that of him who does us good without knowing it. That a man who
does us good by acting under compulsion does not thereby lay us
under any obligation, is so clear, that no words are needed to
prove it. Both this question, and any other of the like character
which may be raised, can easily be settled if in each case we bear
in mind that, for anything to be a benefit, it must reach us in the
first place through some thought, and secondly through the thought
of a friend and well-wisher. Therefore we do not feel any gratitude
towards rivers, albeit they may bear large ships, afford an ample
and unvarying stream for the conveyance of merchandise, or flow
beauteously and full of fish through fertile fields. No one
conceives himself to be indebted for a benefit to the Nile, any
more than he would owe it a grudge if its waters flooded his fields
to excess, and retired more slowly than usual; the wind does not
bestow benefits, gentle and favorable though it may be, nor does
wholesome and useful food; for he who would bestow a benefit upon
me, must not only do me good, but must wish to do so. No obligation
can therefore be incurred towards dumb animals; yet how many men
have been saved from peril by the swiftness of a horse!--nor yet
towards trees--yet how many sufferers from summer heat have been
sheltered by the thick foliage of a tree! What difference can it
make, whether I have profited by the act of one who did not know
that he was doing me good, or one who could not know it, when in
each case the will to do me good was wanting? You might as well bid
me be grateful to a ship, a carriage, or a lance for saving me from
danger, as bid me be grateful to a man who may have done me good by
chance, but with no more intention of doing me good than those
things could have.

VIII. Some men may receive benefits without knowing it, but no man
can bestow them without knowing it. Many sick persons have been
cured by chance circumstances, which do not therefore become
specific remedies; as, for instance, one man was restored to health
by falling into a river during very cold weather, as another was
set free from a quartan fever by means of a flogging, because the
sudden terror turned his attention into a new channel, so that the
dangerous hours passed unnoticed. Yet none of these are remedies,
even though they may have been successful; and in like manner some
men do us good, though they are unwilling--indeed, because they are
unwilling to do so--yet we need not feel grateful to them as though
we had received a benefit from them, because fortune has changed
the evil which they intended into good. Do you suppose that I am
indebted to a man who strikes my enemy with a blow which he aimed
at me, who would have injured me had he not missed his mark? It
often happens that by openly perjuring himself a man makes even
trustworthy witnesses disbelieved, and renders his intended victim
an object of compassion, as though he were being ruined by a
conspiracy. Some have been saved by the very power which was
exerted to crush them, and judges who would have condemned a man by
law, have refused to condemn him by favour. Yet they did not confer
a benefit upon the accused, although they rendered him a service,
because we must consider at what the dart was aimed, not what it
hits, and a benefit is distinguished from an injury not by its
result, but by the spirit in which it was meant. By contradicting
himself, by irritating the judge by his arrogance, or by rashly
allowing his whole case to depend upon the testimony of one
witness, my opponent may have saved my cause. I do not consider
whether his mistakes benefited me or not, for he wished me ill.

IX. In order that I may be grateful, I must wish to do what my
benefactor must have wished in order that he might bestow a
benefit. Can anything be more unjust than to bear a grudge against
a person who may have trodden upon one's foot in a crowd, or
splashed one, or pushed one the way which one did not wish to go?
Yet it was by his act that we were injured, and we only refrain
from complaining of him, because he did not know what he was doing.
The same reason makes it possible for men to do us good without
conferring benefits upon us, or to harm us without doing us wrong,
because it is intention which distinguishes our friends from our
enemies. How many have been saved from service in the army by
sickness! Some men have been saved from sharing the fall of their
house, by being brought up upon their recognizances to a court of
law by their enemies; some have been saved by ship-wreck from
falling into the hands of pirates; yet we do not feel grateful to
such things, because chance has no feeling of the service it
renders, nor are we grateful to our enemy, though his lawsuit,
while it harassed and detained us, still saved our lives. Nothing
can be a benefit which does not proceed from good will, and which
is not meant as such by the giver. If any one does me a service,
without knowing it, I am under no obligation to him; should he do
so, meaning to injure me, I shall imitate his conduct.

X. Let us turn our attention to the first of these. Can you desire
me to do anything to express my gratitude to a man who did nothing
in order to confer a benefit upon me? Passing on to the next, do
you wish me to show my gratitude to such a man, and of my own will
to return to him what I received from him against his will? What am
I to say of the third, he who, meaning to do an injury, blunders
into bestowing a benefit? That you should have wished to confer a
benefit upon me is not sufficient to render me grateful; but that
you should have wished not to do so is enough to set me free from
any obligation to you. A mere wish does not constitute a benefit;
and just as the best and heartiest wish is not a benefit when
fortune prevents its being carried into effect, neither is what
fortune bestows upon us a benefit, unless good wishes preceded it.
In order to lay me under an obligation, you must not merely do me a
service, but you must do so intentionally.

XI. Cleanthes makes use of the following example:--"I sent," says
he, "two slaves to look for Plato and bring him to me from the
Academy. One of them searched through the whole of the colonnade,
and every other place in which he thought that he was likely to be
found, and returned home alike weary and unsuccessful; the other
sat down among the audience of a mountebank close by, and, while
amusing himself in the society of other slaves like a careless
vagabond as he was, found Plato, without seeking for him, as he
happened to pass that way. We ought," says he, "to praise that
slave who, as far as lay in his power, did what he was ordered, and
we ought to punish the other whose laziness turned out so
fortunate." It is goodwill alone which does one real service; let
us then consider under what conditions it lays us under
obligations. It is not enough to wish a man well, without doing him
good; nor is it enough to do him good without wishing him well.
Suppose that some one wished to give me a present, but did not give
it; I have his good will, but I do not have his benefit, which
consists of subject matter and goodwill together. I owe nothing to
one who wished to lend me money but did not do so, and in like
manner I shall be the friend of one who wished but was not able to
bestow a benefit upon me, but I shall not be under any obligation
to him. I also shall wish to bestow something upon him, even as he
did upon me; but if fortune be more favorable to me than to him,
and I succeed in bestowing something upon him, my doing so will be
a benefit bestowed upon him, not a repayment out of gratitude for
what he did for me. It will become his duty to be grateful to me; I
shall have begun the interchange of benefits; the series must be
counted from my act.

XII. I already understand what you wish to ask; there is no need
for you to say anything, your countenance speaks for you. "If any
one does us good for his own sake, are we," you ask, "under an
obligation to him? I often hear you complain that there are some
things which men make use of themselves, but which they put down to
the account of others." I will tell you, my Liberalis; but first
let me distinguish between the two parts of your question, and
separate what is fair from what is unfair. It makes a great
difference whether any one bestows a benefit upon us for his own
sake, or whether he does so partly for his own sake and partly for
ours. He who looks only to his own interests, and who does us good
because he cannot otherwise make a profit for himself, seems to me
to be like the farmer who provides winter and summer fodder for his
flocks, or like the man who feeds up the captives whom he has
bought in order that they may fetch a better price in the slave
market, or who crams and curry-combs fat oxen for sale; or like the
keeper of a school of arms, who takes great pains in exercising and
equipping his gladiators. As Cleanthes says, there is a great
difference between benefits and trade.

XIII. On the other hand, I am not so unjust as to feel no gratitude
to a man, because, while helping me, he helped himself also; for I
do not insist upon his consulting my interests to the exclusion of
his own--nay, I should prefer that the benefit which I receive may
be of even greater advantage to the giver, provided that he thought
of us both when giving it, and meant to divide it between me and
himself. Even should he possess the larger portion of it, still, if
he admits me to a share, if he meant it for both of us, I am not
only unjust but ungrateful, if I do not rejoice in what has
benefited me benefiting him also. It is the essence of spitefulness
to say that nothing can be a benefit which does not cause some
inconvenience to the giver.

As for him who bestows a benefit for his own sake, I should say to
him, "You have made use of me, and how can you say that you have
bestowed a benefit upon me, rather than I upon you?" "Suppose,"
answers he, "that I cannot obtain a public office except by
ransoming ten citizens out of a great number of captives, will you
owe me nothing for setting you free from slavery and bondage? Yet I
shall do so for my own sake." To this I should answer, "You do this
partly for my sake, partly for your own. It is for your own sake
that you ransom captives, but it is for my sake that you ransom me;
for to serve your purpose it would be enough for you to ransom any
one. I am therefore your debtor, not for ransoming me but for
choosing me, since you might have attained the same result by
ransoming some one else instead of me. You divide the advantages of
the act between yourself and me, and you confer upon me a benefit
by which both of us profit. What you do entirely for my sake is,
that you choose me in preference to others. If therefore you were
to be made praetor for ransoming ten captives, and there were only
ten of us captives, none of us would be under any obligation to
you, because there is nothing for which you can ask any one of us
to give you credit apart from your own advantage. I do not regard a
benefit jealously and wish it to be given to myself alone, but I
wish to have a share in it."

XIV. "Well, then," says he, "suppose that I were to order all your
names to be put into a ballot-box, and that your name was drawn
among those who were to be ransomed, would you owe me nothing?"
Yes, I should owe you something, but very little: how little, I
will explain to you. By so doing you do something for my sake, in
that you grant me the chance of being ransomed; I owe to fortune
that my name was drawn, all I owe to you is that my name could be
drawn. You have given me the means of obtaining your benefit. For
the greater part of that benefit I am indebted to fortune; that I
could be so indebted, I owe to you.

I shall take no notice whatever of those whose benefits are
bestowed in a mercenary spirit, who do not consider to whom, but
upon what terms they give, whose benefits are entirely selfish.
Suppose that some one sells me corn; I cannot live unless I buy it;
yet I do not owe my life to him because I have bought it. I do not
consider how essential it was to me, and that I could not live
without it; but how little thanks are due for it, since I could not
have had it without paying for it, and since the merchant who
imported it did not consider how much good he would do me, but how
much he would gain for himself, I owe nothing for what I have
bought and paid for.

XV. "According to this reasoning," says my opponent, "you would say
that you owe nothing to a physician beyond his paltry fee, nor to
your teacher, because you have paid him some money; yet these
persons are all held very dear, and are very much respected." In
answer to this I should urge that some things are of greater value
than the price which we pay for them. You buy of a physician life
and good health, the value of which cannot be estimated in money;
from a teacher of the liberal sciences you buy the education of a
gentleman and mental culture; therefore you pay these persons the
price, not of what they give us, but of their trouble in giving it;
you pay them for devoting their attention to us, for disregarding
their own affairs to attend to us: they receive the price, not of
their services, but of the expenditure of their time. Yet this may
be more truly stated in another way, which I will at once lay
before you, having first pointed out how the above may be confuted.
Our adversary would say, "If some things are of greater value than
the price which we pay for them, then, though you may have bought
them, you still owe me something more for them." I answer, in the
first place, what does their real value matter, since the buyer and
seller have settled the price between them? Next, I did not buy it
at it's own price, but at yours. "It is," you say, "worth more than
its sale price." True, but it cannot be sold for more. The price of
everything varies according to circumstances; after you have well
praised your wares, they are worth only the highest price at which
you can sell them; a man who buys things cheap is not on that
account under any obligation to the seller. In the next place, even
if they are worth more, there is no generosity in your letting them
go for less, since the price is settled by custom and the rate of
the market, not by the uses and powers of the merchandise. What
would you state to be the proper payment of a man who crosses the
seas, holding a true course through the midst of the waves after
the land has sunk out of sight, who foresees coming storms, and
suddenly, when no one expects danger, orders sails to be furled,
yards to be lowered, and the crew to stand at their posts ready to
meet the fury of the unexpected gale? and yet the price of such
great skill is fully paid for by the passage money. At what sum can
you estimate the value of a lodging in a wilderness, of a shelter
in the rain, of a bath or fire in cold weather? Yet I know on what
terms I shall be supplied with these when I enter an inn. How much
the man does for us who props our house when it is about to fall,
and who, with a skill beyond belief, suspends in the air a block of
building which has begun to crack at the, foundation; yet we can
contract for underpinning at a fixed and cheap rate. The city wall
keeps us safe from our enemies, and from sudden inroads of
brigands; yet it is, well known how much a day a smith would earn
for erecting towers and scaffoldings [Footnote: See Viollet-le-
Duc's "Dictionnaire d'Architecture," articles "Architecture
Militaire" and "Hourds," for the probable meaning of
"Propugnacula."]to provide for the public safety.

XVI. I might go on for ever collecting instances to prove that
valuable things are sold at a low price. What then? why is it that
I owe something extra both to my physician and to my teacher, and
that I do not acquit myself of all obligation to them by paying
them their fee? It is because they pass from physicians and
teachers into friends, and lay us under obligations, not by the
skill which they sell to us, but by kindly and familiar good will.
If my physician does no more than feel my pulse and class me among
those whom he sees in his daily rounds, pointing out what I ought
to do or to avoid without any personal interest, then I owe him no
more than his fee, because he views me with the eye not of a
friend, but of a commander. [Footnote: I read "Nbn tamquam amicus
videt sed tamquam imperator."] Neither have I any reason for loving
my teacher, if he has regarded me merely as one of the mass of his
scholars, and has not thought me worthy of taking especial pains
with by myself, if he has never fixed his attention upon me, and if
when he discharged his knowledge on the public, I might be said
rather to have picked it up than to have learnt it from him. What
then is our reason for owing them much? It is, not that what they
have sold us is worth more than we paid for it, but that they have
given something to us personally. Suppose that my physician has
spent more consideration upon my case than was professionally
necessary; that it was for me, not for his own credit, that he
feared: that he was not satisfied with pointing out remedies, but
himself applied them, that he sat by my bedside among my anxious
friends, and came to see me at the crises of my disorder; that no
service was too troublesome or too disgusting for him to perform;
that he did not hear my groans unmoved; that among the numbers who
called for him I was his favourite case; and that he gave the
others only so much time as his care of my health permitted him: I
should feel obliged to such a man not as to a physician, but as to
a friend. Suppose again that my teacher endured labour and
weariness in instructing me; that he taught me something more than
is taught by all masters alike; that he roused my better feelings
by his encouragement, and that at one time he would raise my
spirits by praise, and at another warn me to shake off
slothfulness: that he laid his hand, as it were, upon my latent and
torpid powers of intellect and drew them out into the light of day;
that he did not stingily dole out to me what he knew, in order that
he might be wanted for a longer time, but was eager, if possible,
to pour all his learning into me; then I am ungrateful, if I do not
love him as much as I love my nearest relatives and my dearest

XVII. We give something additional even to those who teach the
meanest trades, if their efforts appear to be extraordinary; we
bestow a gratuity upon pilots, upon workmen who deal with the
commonest materials and hire themselves out by the day. In the
noblest arts, however, those which either preserve or beautify our
lives, a man would be ungrateful who thinks he owes the artist no
more than he bargained for. Besides this, the teaching of such
learning as we have spoken of blends mind with mind; now when this
takes place, both in the case of the physician and of the teacher
the price of his work is paid, but that of his mind remains owing.

XVIII. Plato once crossed a river, and as the ferryman did not ask
him for anything, he supposed that he had let him pass free out of
respect, and said that the ferryman had laid Plato under an
obligation. Shortly afterwards, seeing the ferryman take one person
after another across the river with the same pains, and without
charging anything, Plato declared that the ferryman had not laid
him under an obligation. If you wish me to be grateful for what you
give, you must not merely give it to me, but show that you mean it
specially for me; you cannot make any claim upon one for having
given him what you fling away broad-cast among the crowd. What
then? shall I owe you nothing for it? Nothing, as an individual; I
will pay, when the rest of mankind do, what I owe no more than

XIX. "Do you say," inquires my opponent, "that he who carries me
gratis in a boat across the river Po, does not bestow any benefit
upon me?" I do. He does me some good, but he does not bestow a
benefit upon me; for he does it for his own sake, or at any rate
not for mine; in short, he himself does not imagine that he is
bestowing a benefit upon me, but does it for the credit of the
State, or of the neighbourhood, or of himself, and expects some
return for doing so, different from what he would receive from
individual passengers. "Well," asks my opponent, "if the emperor
were to grant the franchise to all the Gauls, or exemption, from
taxes to all the Spaniards, would each individual of them owe him
nothing on that account?" Of course he would: but he would be
indebted to him, not as having personally received a benefit
intended for himself alone, but as a partaker in one conferred upon
his nation. He would argue, "The emperor had no thought of me at
the time when he benefited us all; he did not care to give me the
franchise separately, he did not fix his attention upon me; why
then should I be grateful to one who did not have me in his mind
when he was thinking of doing what he did? In answer to this, I say
that when he thought of doing good to all the Gauls, he thought of
doing good to me also, for I was a Gaul, and he included me under
my national, if not under my personal appellation. In like manner,
I should feel grateful to him, not as for a personal, but for a
general benefit; being only one of the people, I should regard the
debt of gratitude as incurred, not by myself, but by my country,
and should not pay it myself, but only contribute my share towards
doing so. I do not call a man my creditor because he has lent money
to my country, nor should I include that money in a schedule of my
debts were I either a candidate for a public office, or a defendant
in the courts; yet I would pay my share towards extinguishing such
a debt. Similarly, I deny that I am laid under an obligation by a
gift bestowed upon my entire nation, because although the giver
gave it to me, yet he did not do so for my sake, but gave it
without knowing whether he was giving it to me or not: nevertheless
I should feel that I owed something for the gift, because it did
reach me, though not directly. To lay me under an obligation, a
thing must be done for my sake alone.

XX. "According to this," argues our opponent, "you are under no
obligation to the sun or the moon; for they do not move for your
sake alone." No, but since they move with the object of preserving
the balance of the universe, they move for my sake also, seeing
that I am a fraction of the universe. Besides, our position and
theirs is not the same, for he who does me good in order that he
may by my means do good to himself, does not bestow a benefit upon
me, because he merely makes use of me as an instrument for his own
advantage; whereas the sun and the moon, even if they do us good
for their own sakes, still cannot do good to us in order that by
our means they may do good to themselves, for what is there which
we can bestow upon them?

XXI. "I should be sure," replies he, "that the sun and the moon
wished to do us good, if they were able to refuse to do so; but
they cannot help moving as they do. In short, let them stop and
discontinue their work."

See now, in how many ways this argument may be refuted. One who
cannot refuse to do a thing may nevertheless wish to do it; indeed
there is no greater proof of a fixed desire to do anything, than
not to be able to alter one's determination. A good man cannot
leave undone what he does: for unless he does it he will not be a
good man. Is a good man, then, not able to bestow a benefit,
because he does what he ought to do, and is not able not to do what
he ought to do? Besides this, it makes a great difference whether
you say, "He is not able not to do this, because he is forced to do
it," or "He is not able to wish not to do it;" for, if he could not
help doing it, then I am not indebted for it to him, but to the
person who forced him to do it; if he could not help wishing for it
because he had nothing better to wish for, then it is he who forces
himself to do it, and in this case the debt which as acting under
compulsion he could not claim, is due to him as compelling himself.

"Let the sun and moon cease to wish to benefit us," says our
adversary. I answer, "Remember what has been said. Who can be so
crazy as to refuse the name of free-will to that which has no
danger of ceasing to act, and of adopting the opposite course,
since, on the contrary, he whose will is fixed for ever, must be
thought to wish more earnestly than any one else. Surely if he, who
may at any moment change his mind, can be said to wish, we must not
deny the existence of will in a being whose nature does not admit
of change of mind.

XXII. "Well," says he "let them stop, if it be possible." What you
say is this:--Let all those heavenly bodies, placed as they are at
vast distances from each other, and arranged to preserve the
balance of the universe, leave their appointed posts: let sudden
confusion arise, so that constellations may collide with
constellations, that the established harmony of all things may be
destroyed and the works of God be shaken into ruin; let the whole
frame of the rapidly moving heavenly bodies abandon in mid career
those movements which we were assured would endure for ages, and
let those which now by their regular advance and retreat keep the
world at a moderate temperature, be instantly consumed by fire, so
that instead of the infinite variety of the seasons all may be
reduced to one uniform condition; let fire rage everywhere,
followed by dull night, and let the bottomless abyss swallow up all
the gods." Is it worth while to destroy all this merely in order to
refute you? Even though you do not wish it, they do you good, and
they wheel in their courses for your sake, though their motion may
be due to some earlier and more important cause.

XXIII. Besides this, the gods act under no external constraint, but
their own will is a law to them for all time. They have established
an order which is not to be changed, and consequently it is
impossible that they should appear to be likely to do anything
against their will, since they wish to continue doing whatever they
cannot cease from doing, and they never regret their original
decision, No doubt it is impossible for them to stop short, or to
desert to the other side, but it is so for no other reason than
that their own force holds them to their purpose. It is from no
weakness that they persevere; no, they have no mind to leave the
best course, and by this it is fated that they should proceed.
When, at the time of the original creation, they arranged the
entire universe, they paid attention to us as well as to the rest,
and took thought about the human race; and for this reason we
cannot suppose that it is merely for their own pleasure that they
move in their orbits and display their work since we also are a
part of that work. We are, therefore; under an obligation to the
sun and moon and the rest of the heavenly host, because, although
they may rise in order to bestow more important benefits than those
which we receive from them, yet they do bestow these upon us as
they pass on their way to greater things. Besides this, they assist
us of set purpose, and, therefore, lay us under an obligation,
because we do not in their case stumble by chance upon a benefit
bestowed by one who knew not what he was doing, but they knew that
we should receive from them the advantages which we do; so that,
though they may have some higher aim, though the result of their
movements may be something of greater importance than the
preservation of the human race, yet from the beginning thought has
been directed to our comforts, and the scheme of the world has been
arranged in a fashion which proves that our interests were neither
their least nor last concern. It is our duty to show filial love
for our parents, although many of them had no thought of children
when they married. Not so with the gods: they cannot but have known
what they were doing when they furnished mankind with food and
comforts. Those for whose advantage so much was created, could not
have been created without design. Nature conceived the idea of us
before she formed us, and, indeed, we are no such trifling piece of
work as could have fallen from her hands unheeded. See how great
privileges she has bestowed upon us, how far beyond the human race
the empire of mankind extends; consider how widely she allows us to
roam, not having restricted us to the land alone, but permitted us
to traverse every part of herself; consider, too, the audacity of
our intellect, the only one which knows of the gods or seeks for
them, and how we can raise our mind high above the earth, and
commune with those divine influences: you will perceive that man is
not a hurriedly put together, or an unstudied piece of work. Among
her noblest products nature has none of which she can boast more
than man, and assuredly no other which can comprehend her boast.
What madness is this, to call the gods in question for their
bounty? If a man declares that he has received nothing when he is
receiving all the while, and from those who will always be giving
without ever receiving anything in return, how will he be grateful
to those whose kindness cannot be returned without expense? and how
great a mistake is it not to be thankful to a giver, because he is
good even to him who disowns him, or to use the fact of his bounty
being poured upon us in an uninterrupted stream, as an argument to
prove that he cannot help bestowing it. Suppose that such men as
these say, "I do not want it," "Let him keep it to himself," "Who
asks him for it?" and so forth, with all the other speeches of
insolent minds: still, he whose bounty reaches you, although you
say that it does not, lays you under an obligation nevertheless;
indeed, perhaps the greatest part of the benefit which he bestows
is that he is ready to give even when you are complaining against

XXIV. Do you not see how parents force children during their
infancy to undergo what is useful for their health? Though the
children cry and struggle, they swathe them and bind their limbs
straight lest premature liberty should make them grow crooked,
afterwards instill into them a liberal education, threatening those
who are unwilling to learn, and finally, if spirited young men do
not conduct themselves frugally, modestly, and respectably, they
compel them to do so. Force and harsh measures are used even to
youths who have grown up and are their own masters, if they, either
from fear or from insolence, refuse to take what is good for them.
Thus the greatest benefits that we receive, we receive either
without knowing it, or against our will, from our parents.

XXV. Those persons who are ungrateful and repudiate benefits, not
because they do not wish to receive them, but in order that they
may not be laid under an obligation for them, are like those who
fall into the opposite extreme, and are over grateful, who pray
that some trouble or misfortune may befall their benefactors to
give them an opportunity of proving how gratefully they remember
the benefit which they have received. It is a question whether they
are right, and show a truly dutiful feeling; their state of mind is
morbid, like that of frantic lovers who long for their mistress to
be exiled, that they may accompany her when she leaves her country
forsaken by all her friends, or that she may be poor in order that
she may the more need what they give her, or who long that she may
be ill in order that they may sit by her bedside, and who, in
short, out of sheer love form the same wishes as her enemies would
wish for her. Thus the results of hatred and of frantic love are
very nearly the same; and these lovers are very like those who hope
that their friends may meet with difficulties which they may
remove, and who thus do a wrong that they may bestow a benefit,
whereas it would have been much better for them to do nothing, than
by a crime to gain an opportunity of doing good service. What
should we say of a pilot who prayed to the gods for dreadful storms
and tempests, in order that danger might make his skill more highly
esteemed? what of a general who should pray that a vast number of
the enemy surround his camp, fill the ditches by a sudden charge,
tear down the rampart round his panic-stricken army, and plant its
hostile standards at the very gates, in order that he might gain
more glory by restoring his broken ranks and shattered fortunes?
All such men confer their benefits upon us by odious means, for
they beg the gods to harm those whom they mean to help, and wish
them to be struck down before they raise them up; it is a cruel
feeling, brought about by a distorted sense of gratitude, to wish
evil to befall one whom one is bound in honour to succour.

XXVI. "My wish," argues our opponent, "does him no harm, because
when I wish for the danger I wish for the rescue at the same time."
What you mean by this is not that you do no wrong, but that you do
less than if you wished that the danger might befall him, without
wishing for the rescue. It is wicked to throw a man into the water
in order that you may pull him out, to throw him down that you may
raise him up, or to shut him up that you may release him. You do
not bestow a benefit upon a man by ceasing to wrong him, nor can it
ever be a piece of good service to anyone to remove from him a
burden which you yourself imposed on him. True, you may cure the
hurt which you inflict, but I had rather that you did not hurt me
at all. You may gain my gratitude by curing me because I am
wounded, but not by wounding me in order that you may cure me: no
man likes scars except as compared with wounds, which he is glad to
see thus healed, though he had rather not have received them. It
would be cruel to wish such things to befall one from whom you had
never received a kindness; how much more cruel is it to wish that
they may befall one in whose debt you are.

XXVII. "I pray," replies he, "at the same time, that I may be able
to help him." In the first place, if I stop you short in the middle
of your prayer, it shows at once that you are ungrateful: I have
not yet heard what you wish to do for him; I have heard what you
wish him to suffer. You pray that anxiety and fear and even worse
evil than this may come upon him. You desire that he may need aid:
this is to his disadvantage; you desire that he may need your aid:
this is to your advantage. You do not wish to help him, but to be
set free from your obligation to him: for when you are eager to
repay your debt in such a way as this, you merely wish to be set
free from the debt, not to repay it. So the only part of your wish
that could be thought honourable proves to be the base and
ungrateful feeling of unwillingness to lie under an obligation: for
what you wish for is, not that you may have an opportunity of
repaying his kindness, but that he may be forced to beg you to do
him a kindness. You make yourself the superior, and you wickedly
degrade beneath your feet the man who has done you good service.
How much better would it be to remain in his debt in an honourable
and friendly manner, than to seek to discharge the debt by these
evil means! You would be less to blame if you denied that you had
received it, for your benefactor would then lose nothing more than
what he gave you, whereas now you wish him to be rendered inferior
to you, and brought by the loss of his property and social position
into a condition below his own benefits. Do you think yourself
grateful? Just utter your wishes in the hearing of him to whom you
wish to do good. Do you call that a prayer for his welfare, which
can be divided between his friend and his enemy, which, if the last
part were omitted, you would not doubt was pronounced, by one who
opposed and hated him? Enemies in war have sometimes wished to
capture certain towns in order to spare them, or to conquer certain
persons in order to pardon, them, yet these were the wishes of
enemies, and what was the kindest part of them began by cruelty.
Finally, what sort of prayers do you think those can be which he,
on whose behalf they are made, hopes more earnestly than any one
else may not be granted? In hoping that the gods may injure a man,
and that you may help him, you deal most dishonourably with him,
and you do not treat the gods themselves fairly, for you give them
the odious part to play, and reserve the generous one for yourself:
the gods must do him wrong in order that you may do him a service.
If you were to suborn an informer to accuse a man, and afterwards
withdrew him, if you engaged a man in a law suit and afterwards
gave it up, no one would hesitate to call you a villain: what
difference does it make, whether you attempt to do this by

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