<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <i>Book 1</i> <p> <p> <b>(1.1)</b> Within the wide range of mistakes made by those who live recklessly and without reflection, my excellent Liberalis, there is almost nothing, I would claim, more harmful than our ignorance of how to give and receive benefits. The result is that since benefits are bestowed badly, they are owed badly. We complain that our benefits are not returned, but it is too late, since they were ruined while being given. <b>(1.2)</b> And it is no surprise that among the large number of extremely grave vices, none is more common than those stemming from an ungrateful mind. I can see several causes for this state of affairs. The first is that we do not select worthy recipients for our gifts. By contrast, when we are going to lend money we make a thorough inquiry into the inherited assets and lifestyle of our debtor; we do not sow seed onto ground that is exhausted and infertile. But our benefits we cast off without any discrimination, rather than actually giving them. <p> <b>(1.3)</b> It would be hard to say which is more shameful: repudiating a benefit or asking for repayment. For this is the kind of loan of which you should receive back only as much as is freely offered. The reason why defaulting is so very shameful is that meeting one's obligations requires not resources, but only attitude. For the person who owes a benefit repays it. <b>(1.4)</b> Though blame falls on those who do not even claim to be grateful, it falls on us too. We encounter many ingrates; we create more. Sometimes it is because we are harsh and reproachful in our demands for repayment; sometimes we are fickle and regret our gift almost immediately; sometimes we are complainers making a fuss about trivialities. We spoil any feeling of gratitude not just after we have given the benefits, but even while we are giving them. <b>(1.5)</b> Who of us has ever been satisfied with a single passing request? Who has not frowned, turned away, and pretended to be busy when he thinks he is being asked for something? Or used long and deliberately interminable conversation to eliminate the opportunity for someone to make a request, exploiting various tactics to evade urgent needs? <b>(1.6)</b> When cornered, who has not stalled for time (that is, made a cowardly refusal) or promised to give, but reluctantly, with furrowed brows and ill-natured, grudgingly uttered words? <b>(1.7)</b> No one ever enjoys being indebted when he has not received the benefit but has extorted it. Can anyone be grateful to a person who arrogantly tosses off the benefit, angrily throws it in his face, or gives it only out of weariness, to avoid further hassle? It is a big mistake to suppose that the recipient will reciprocate when you have worn him out with delays and tortured him with uncertainty. <p> <b>(1.8)</b> A benefit is owed with the same attitude as that with which it is given; that is why it should not be given carelessly. If someone receives a benefit from an unwitting donor, he feels indebted only to himself. Giving should definitely not be delayed, for since the willingness of the donor is always important when evaluating a kind deed, the donor who acts only after a delay was for a long time unwilling. By all means do not give in an offensive manner. It is a natural fact that insults have more impact on people than services do—which is why the latter quickly fade from the mind and the former are stubbornly preserved in memory. So what should you expect if you off end a recipient while obligating him? The beneficiary would show sufficient gratitude just by forgiving the benefit! <p> <b>(1.9)</b> Nevertheless, the mass of ungrateful recipients should not make us slow to do favors. In the first place, as I have said, we ourselves are responsible for increasing their number. Second, the immortal gods themselves are not dissuaded from exercising their profuse and ceaseless generosity ii by the existence of impious people who neglect the gods. The gods act in accordance with their nature and confer benefit on everything, and this includes even people who misrepresent their gifts. Let us follow the example of the gods, as far as our human weakness allows; let us give benefits rather than lend them. Anyone who thinks about being repaid while he is giving deserves to be cheated. <p> "But suppose it has turned out badly!" <b>(1.10)</b> Children and wives have also let us down, but we still get married and raise families. We are so persistent in the face of our experiences in life that we even go back to war after a defeat and back to sea after a shipwreck. It is much more appropriate to persist in giving benefits to people. If one does not give on the grounds that one has not been repaid, then the giving was for the sake of being repaid; and that gives a good excuse to the ungrateful, who should be ashamed not to return a favor if they can. <b>(1.11)</b> So many people are unworthy of seeing the light of day; still, the sun rises. So many people complain of being born; still, nature brings forth new off spring and permits the very people who would prefer not to have existed to carry on living. <p> <b>(1.12)</b> It is a sign of a great and good mind to pursue not the returns from benefits, but the benefits themselves, and even after dealing with bad people to seek out a good person. What would be so wonderful about helping out many people if no one ever let us down? In fact, it is a virtue to give benefits that are not guaranteed to be repaid in the future, benefits whose returns are felt immediately by a donor of real excellence. <b>(1.13)</b> Ingratitude should not deter us or make us reluctant to undertake a splendid action; in fact, if I were barred from the prospect of finding a person who would be grateful, I would rather not receive benefits than not give them, because someone who declines to give simply anticipates the vice of the ingrate. I will say just what I mean: someone who fails to return a benefit makes a bigger mistake, but someone who fails to give makes an earlier mistake. <p> <b>(2.1)</b> <p> When you set out to lavish benefits on the multitude Many must be lost to make one good gift. <p> <p> Two criticisms can be made of the first line. For the multitude is not the proper recipient of generous giving and there is no respectable way to make lavish gifts of anything, least of all benefits; for if you eliminate judgment they cease to be benefits and will acquire some other label. <b>(2.2)</b> The meaning of the second line is splendid: one benefit well given compensates for the harm done by many that are wasted. Consider, I beg of you, whether it is not both truer and more fitting for the high-mindedness of a benefactor, to exhort him to give benefits even if none of them turns out to be well given. For it is false to say that "many must be lost." None is ruined, for whoever "loses" was keeping an account. <p> <b>(2.3)</b> The bookkeeping for benefits is quite simple. A certain amount is disbursed; if there is any repayment at all, then it is a profit. If there is no repayment, it is not a loss. I gave it only in order to give. No one records benefits in an account book and then, like a greedy collection agent, demands payment at a set day and time. A good man never thinks about his gifts unless he is reminded by someone wishing to repay them. Otherwise the benefits are converted into loans. Treating a benefit as an expenditure is a shameful form of loan-sharking. <b>(2.4)</b> No matter how previous benefits have turned out, carry on bestowing them on others. They will be better off in the hands of the ungrateful who might perhaps be made grateful some day by a sense of shame, a convenient opportunity, or emulation. Do not give up. Keep on with your task and fulfill the role of a good man. Assist one person with wealth, someone else with credit, another with your influence, someone else with your advice, another with sensible instructions. <b>(2.5)</b> Even beasts are aware of kindnesses, and no animal is so intractable that care and attention will not gentle it and produce affection towards his handler. Those who train them can safely handle lions' mouths; feeding makes the fiercest elephants cooperative and obedient—that is how effective persistent care and service are at winning over animals who cannot even understand and appreciate benefits. A man is ungrateful in the face of the first benefit? He won't be in the face of the second. Has he forgotten them both? The third will remind him of those he has let slip. <b>(3.1)</b> Someone who jumps to the conclusion that his benefits have been lost will in fact lose them. But someone who perseveres and heaps benefit upon benefit will squeeze gratitude even from a heart that is hard and forgetful. The recipient won't have the nerve to stare down so many benefits; wherever he turns in his efforts to avoid remembering them, let him see you there. Besiege him with your benefits. <p> <b>(3.2)</b> I will tell you what the distinctive properties of benefits are, if you will first permit me to skip over the issues that do not matter: why there are three Graces; why they are sisters; why they are portrayed holding hands with each other, smiling, youthful, virginal, and with loose and translucent clothing. <b>(3.3)</b> Some people advance the view that one of them stands for giving a benefit, one for receiving it, and one for returning it. Others hold that they represent three kinds of benefactors: those who confer benefits, those who return them, and those who accept benefits and return them at the same time. <b>(3.4)</b> But no matter which of these interpretations you decide is true, what good does this specialized knowledge do for us? And what about the fact that the group dances in a circle with intertwined hands? Is it because a benefit has an orderly sequence, passing from hand to hand and yet returning to the giver, and loses its integral character if the sequence is at any point broken, being most beautiful if the continuity of the alternation is maintained? In the dance, though, the older sister has a greater value, like those who confer benefits. <b>(3.5)</b> The Graces have joyful expressions, just as those who give and receive benefits generally do. They are youthful because the remembrance of benefits should not grow old. They are virginal because benefits are unspoiled, pure, and revered by all. Benefits should not be constrained or obligated—that is why the Graces wear loose robes. And the robes are translucent because benefits want to be in full view. <p> <b>(3.6)</b> But suppose that someone is so dedicated to the Greeks that he thinks these questions are vital. Even so, no one will think it matters what names Hesiod gave the Graces. He called the eldest Aglaea, the middle one Euphrosyne, and the youngest Thalia. Each authority twists the interpretation of these names as it suits him, trying to reduce them to some orderly plan; in fact, though, Hesiod just assigned to the girls the names that he felt like giving them. <b>(3.7)</b> So Homer changed the name of one, called her Pasiphaë and engaged her to be married—so you can tell that these are not Vestal Virgins!? I could find you another poet who portrays the Graces as tightly girded, and as going about in thick Phryxian wool garments. So Mercury stands beside them too, not because it is reason—that is, discourse?—that urges us to give benefits, but because that is what the painter felt like doing. <b>(3.8)</b> Chrysippus, who is famous for his sophisticated intellectual analysis that gets to the heart of the truth, and who only says what is needed to get the job done and never uses more words than he needs in order to be understood—Chrysippus, too, filled his entire book with this nonsense, leaving himself only a little bit of room to discuss the actual process of giving, receiving, and returning benefits. He didn't slip the myths into his discussion, but rather slipped the discussion into his myths. <b>(3.9)</b> For over and above the material that Hecaton copied out, Chrysippus also said that the three Graces are the daughters of Jupiter and Eurynome, younger than the Hours but just a bit better-looking, and consequently the devoted followers of Venus. He thinks that their mother's name is relevant: she was called Eurynome because the sharing out of benefits requires an inheritance that spreads far and wide. As though mothers are routinely named after their daughters! And as though poets get the names right anyway! <b>(3.10)</b> Just as an announcer uses bravado in place of his memory, and if he cannot report someone's real name makes one up, the poets do not think it matters if they tell the truth. Either out of necessity or because they are seduced by the aesthetic effect, they demand that each character be called whatever works out prettily in the poem. And it is not dishonest of them simply to add a new name to the list. The next poet who comes along demands that the Graces be called by the names he chooses. To be convinced, just consider Thalia, who is our particular focus. She is a Grace in Hesiod and a Muse in Homer. <p> <b>(4.1)</b> But to avoid doing what I criticize others for, I will omit all those topics that are so far off the mark that they are not even in the vicinity. Just you look out for me, if anyone takes me to task for knocking Chrysippus off his pedestal—he is a great man, of course, but still he is a Greek and his overly subtle sharpness gets blunted and even turned against him. Even when he seems to be getting something done, he delivers a pinprick rather than a piercing blow. <b>(4.2)</b> But what is sharpness on this issue? Our job is to discuss benefits and to organize the topic which more than any other binds together human society. A law of life must be laid down, so that unreflective "niceness" doesn't satisfy us under the guise of an apparent kindness, and so that this very caution doesn't impede our generosity (which must neither fall short nor go to excess) even as it moderates it. <p> <b>(4.3)</b> People must be taught to give benefits freely, receive them freely, and return them freely and to set themselves a grand challenge: not just to match in actions and attitude those to whom we are obligated, but even to outdo them, for the person who should return a favor never catches up unless he gets ahead. Donors must be taught not to keep accounts; recipients must be taught that they owe even more than they have received. <b>(4.4)</b> Chrysippus exhorts us to engage in this most honorable competition, outdoing benefits with benefits, when he says that since the Graces are Jupiter's daughters, we must regard insufficient gratitude as an act of impiety and as an injustice to such beautiful girls. <b>(4.5)</b> Teach me one of the lessons that can help me to become more beneficent and more grateful to my benefactors and which stimulate the minds of the obligers and the obliged to compete, the donors to be forgetful, and those who owe to retain a persistent memory. Let us leave those frivolities to the poets; their job is to please our ears and tell a sweet-sounding story. <b>(4.6)</b> But as for those whose ambition is to heal our minds, to maintain faithfulness as a factor in human affairs, and to fill our minds with a continued awareness of our responsibilities, let them speak seriously and act with great power—unless, perhaps, you think that frivolous fictions and arguments fit for old women might be able to prevent the most destructive possible turn of events: a universal cancellation of benefits. <p> <b>(5.1)</b> But just as I skip over superfluous topics, so I must announce that the first thing we have to learn is the following: what we owe when we have received a benefit. For one person says that what he owes is the money he received, someone else says it is the consulship, or a priestly office, or the governorship of a province. <b>(5.2)</b> But those things are the signs of the favors, not the favors themselves. A benefit cannot be touched with one's hand; the business is carried out with one's mind. There is a big difference between the raw material of a benefit and the benefit itself. Consequently, the benefit is not the gold, the silver, or any of the things which are thought to be most important; rather, the benefit is the intention of the giver. To be sure, inexperienced observers only take note of what they see, what is handed over to someone else, and what is possessed, while they <regard as trivial> the very thing that is in fact valuable and precious. <b>(5.3)</b> The things we hold in our hands, which we gaze upon, the things that are the focus of our desires, these things are vulnerable; bad luck and injustice can take them away from us. But a benefit endures even when we have lost the thing through which it was given; for the benefit is a correct deed,? and no violence can nullify it. <p> <b>(5.4)</b> I ransomed someone's friend from the pirates, but some other enemy captured this friend and threw him into prison; this enemy has deprived him of the use of my benefit, not of the benefit itself. I restored to someone his children by rescuing them from a shipwreck or from a fire, and then a disease or some other unfair accident snatched them away. Even without the children he still has what was given in connection with the children. <b>(5.5)</b> So all the things that are mistakenly labeled benefits are the means through which the good will of a friend expresses itself. The same thing happens in other matters too: the appearance of something is in one place, the thing itself is in another. <b>(5.6)</b> The general may bestow on someone the torque, the siege crown, or the civic crown. What intrinsic value is there in the crown? In the magistrate's toga? Or in the rods of office? Or in the right to speak from the magisterial platform or in the triumphal chariot? None of those things is an honor, just the sign of an honor. Similarly, what we can see is not a benefit but merely the evidence and indicator of a benefit. <p> <b>(6.1)</b> So what is a benefit? It is a well-intentioned action that confers joy and in so doing derives joy, inclined towards and willingly prepared for doing what it does. And so it matters not what is done or what is given, but with what attitude, since the benefit consists not in what is done or given but rather in the intention of the giver or agent. <b>(6.2)</b> You can see how big a difference there is between them by reflecting that a benefit is unconditionally good while what is done or given is neither good nor bad. It is the intention that exalts what is petty and brings light to what is shabby; intention humbles those things that are grand and generally regarded as valuable. But the objects of our striving do not have either character: they are neither good nor bad. The difference lies in where they are directed by the steersman who gives form to things. <b>(6.3)</b> The benefit itself is not the thing that is counted out or handed over; similarly, the honor to the gods does not consist in the sacrificial animals, no matter how fat and shining with gold they might be, but rather in the correct and pious intention of the worshippers. And so good people can be observant even with barley groats and rustic cakes, whereas bad people cannot avoid impiety even though they stain the altars with rivers of blood. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>On Benefits</b> by <b>LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA </b> Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.