Corpse-Wealth and the Metropolis of Greed: Some Greek and Latin Sayings about the Wealthy

Some useful words:

νεκροφάγος: “corpse-eating”

πλουτοκράτωρ: “plutocrat”

Martial, Epigram 5.81

“You will always be poor, Aemilianus, if you are poor;
nowadays wealth comes to no one but the rich”.

semper pauper eris, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
dantur opes nullis nunc nisi divitibus.

Periander, 1.7 (D.L. 97-97)

“Do nothing for money”

Μηδὲν χρημάτων ἕνεκα πράττειν

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

120 “Aristôn the philosopher used to say that wealthy people who are cheap are like mules who carry gold and silver but eat straw.”

᾿Αρίστων ὁ φιλόσοφος τοὺς πλουσίους καὶ φειδωλοὺς ὁμοίους ἔφησεν εἶναι τοῖς ἡμιόνοις, οἵτινες χρυσὸν καὶ ἄργυρον φέροντες χόρτον ἐσθίουσιν.

265 “Democritus used to say that greed is the mother-city of every wickedness”

Δημόκριτος τὴν φιλαργυρίαν ἔλεγε μητρόπολιν πάσης κακίας.

Image result for ancient greek money

Euripides, Fragment 462

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Demosthenes might do things differently

De Corona, 103

“Right now, I want to take you back through the things I did when in power in order. And you, examine them again, anew, for what was best for the state. When I saw, Athenian men, that your navy was in disarray, and that some of the wealthy citizens were essentially untaxed because of the limited expenditures while other citizens of moderate or little wealth were losing what they had, and that the city was falling behind its opportunities because of these circumstances, I made a law through which I forced the wealthy to do what was right and I prevented the poor from suffering injustice—and this was most useful to the city: I ensured that her preparations happened at the necessary time.”

Βούλομαι τοίνυν ἐπανελθεῖν ἐφ’ ἃ τούτων ἑξῆς ἐπολιτευόμην· καὶ σκοπεῖτ’ ἐν τούτοις πάλιν αὖ, τί τὸ τῇ πόλει βέλτιστον ἦν. ὁρῶν γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, τὸ ναυτικὸν ὑμῶν καταλυόμενον καὶ τοὺς μὲν πλουσίους ἀτελεῖς ἀπὸ μικρῶν ἀναλωμάτων γιγνομένους, τοὺς δὲ μέτρι’ ἢ μικρὰ κεκτημένους τῶν πολιτῶν τὰ ὄντ’ ἀπολλύοντας, ἔτι δ’ ὑστερίζουσαν ἐκ τούτων τὴν πόλιν τῶν καιρῶν, ἔθηκα νόμον καθ’ ὃν τοὺς μὲν τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖν ἠνάγκασα, τοὺς πλουσίους, τοὺς δὲ πένητας ἔπαυσ’ ἀδικουμένους, τῇ πόλει δ’ ὅπερ ἦν χρησιμώτατον, ἐν καιρῷ γίγνεσθαι τὰς παρασκευὰς ἐποίησα.

Some bullshit from Seneca

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

A question of character in Xenophon (Memorabilia 4.2.37)

Socrates: “What are poor people and rich people like?”

Euthydemos: “I think that the former, poor men, don’t have enough to spend on what they need while the latter, rich people, have more than enough.”

Socrates: “And you’ve learned then that there are some who have very little but find it not only sufficient but make more out of it, while there are some for whom even very much is never enough?”

Euthydemos: “Yes, by Zeus, you have reminded me correctly: I know some tyrants too who are compelled by want to commit injustice just as if they had nothing.”

Ποίους δὲ πένητας καὶ ποίους πλουσίους καλεῖς; Τοὺς μέν, οἶμαι, μὴ ἱκανὰ ἔχοντας εἰς ἃ δεῖ τελεῖν πένητας, τοὺς δὲ πλείω τῶν ἱκανῶν πλουσίους. Καταμεμάθηκας οὖν ὅτι ἐνίοις μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγα ἔχουσιν οὐ μόνον ἀρκεῖ ταῦτα, ἀλλὰ καὶ περιποιοῦνται ἀπ’ αὐτῶν, ἐνίοις δὲ πάνυ πολλὰ οὐχ ἱκανά ἐστι;

Καὶ νὴ Δί’, ἔφη ὁ Εὐθύδημος, ὀρθῶς γάρ με ἀναμιμνῄσκεις, οἶδα [γὰρ] καὶ τυράννους τινάς, οἳ δι’ ἔνδειαν ὥσπερ οἱ ἀπορώτατοι ἀναγκάζονται ἀδικεῖν.

Corpse-Wealth and Prisons

On the Wealth of Herodes the Athenian (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 547)

“[Herodes] used his wealth in the best way of all men. We do not, however, believe that this was the easiest thing to do, but instead that it was wholly difficult and unpleasant.  For men who are drunk with wealth usually afflict other people with insults. In addition, they make the specious claim that wealth is blind—but even if wealth appears rightly blind at other times, it looked upon Herodes: it gazed upon his friends, his cities, and whole nations since the man was able to keep a watch over them all and make a storehouse of his riches in the opinions of the men with whom he shared them.

For he used to say indeed that it was necessary for the man who would use wealth correctly to provide it to those who need it so that they may not be in need and also to those who didn’t need it, so that they might not become impoverished. He used to call wealth that was not used and was hoarded up by envy “corpse wealth” and the storehouses of those who hoarded their riches “prisons of wealth. He mocked those who believed it was right to sacrifice to their accumulated riches “Aloadae” because [Otos and Ephialtes] had sacrificed to Ares after they imprisoned him.”*

῎Αριστα δὲ ἀνθρώπων πλούτῳ ἐχρήσατο. τουτὶ δὲ μὴ τῶν εὐμεταχειρίστων ἡγώμεθα, ἀλλὰ τῶν παγχαλέπων τε καὶ δυσκόλων, οἱ γὰρ πλούτῳ μεθύοντες  ὕβριν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐπαντλοῦσιν. προσδιαβάλλουσι δὲ ὡς καὶ τυφλὸν τὸν πλοῦτον, ὃς εἰ καὶ τὸν ἄλλον χρόνον ἐδόκει τυφλός, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ ῾Ηρώδου ἀνέβλεψεν, ἔβλεψε μὲν γὰρ ἐς φίλους, ἔβλεψε δὲ ἐς πόλεις, ἔβλεψε δὲ ἐς ἔθνη, πάντων περιωπὴν ἔχοντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς καὶ θησαυρίζοντος τὸν πλοῦτον ἐν ταῖς τῶν μετεχόντων αὐτοῦ γνώμαις. ἔλεγε γὰρ δή, ὡς προσήκοι τὸν ὀρθῶς πλούτῳ χρώμενον τοῖς μὲν δεομένοις ἐπαρκεῖν, ἵνα μὴ δέωνται, τοῖς δὲ μὴ δεομένοις, ἵνα μὴ δεηθῶσιν, ἐκάλει τε τὸν μὲν ἀσύμβολον πλοῦτον καὶ φειδοῖ κεκολασμένον νεκρὸν πλοῦτον, τοὺς δὲ θησαυρούς, ἐς οὓς ἀποτίθενται τὰ χρήματαἔνιοι, πλούτου δεσμωτήρια, τοὺς δὲ καὶ θύειν ἀξιοῦντας ἀποθέτοις χρήμασιν ᾿Αλωάδας ἐπωνόμαζε θύοντας ῎Αρει μετὰ τὸ δῆσαι αὐτόν.

*This story is told in the Iliad 5.385 as part of Dione’s catalogue of mortals who caused the gods harm.  Otus and Ephialtes captured Ares and put him in a bronze jar.

Scholion to Pindar, Ol.1.1

“He was rather in the habit of praising riches, and we can say that he was a slave to his own wealth-loving nature.”

ἀλλὰ πολύς ἐστιν ἐγκωμιάζων τὸν πλοῦτον, καί φαμεν ἡττᾶσθαι αὐτὸν τῆς ἑαυτοῦ φύσεως φιλοχρημάτου τυγχανούσης.

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