A passage from Macrobius which generalizes about slavery. As a friend on Macrobius draws heavily on Seneca
Seneca Moral Epistle 47.13–14
“Live mercifully with your slave, even in a friendly way. Invite him to a conversation, to share your plans and to live with you. At this suggestion the whole band of elites will shout at me: “Nothing is baser or fouler than this”. These very same men I often catch kissing on the hands of other men’s slaves.
Don’t you see this, at least, how our forebears tried to erase everything insidious and every kind of insult from slaveholding? They called the master a “father of the family” and slaves “family members”, a fact that endures today in mimes. They started a festival day one which it was custom and obligation for masters to eat with their servants. They also permitted slaves to earn honors in the home and to pronounce judgments so that the home was a microcosm of the state.”
Vive cum servo clementer, comiter quoque, et in sermonem illum admitte et in consilium et in convictum. Hoc loco adclamabit mihi tota manus delicatorum: “Nihil hac re humilius, nihil turpius.” Hos ego eosdem deprehendam alienorum servorum osculantes manum. Ne illud quidem videtis, quam omnem invidiam maiores nostri dominis, omnem contumeliam servis detraxerint? Dominum patrem familiae appellaverunt, servos, quod etiam in mimis adhuc durat, familiares. Instituerunt diem festum, non quo solo cum servis domini vescerentur, sed quo utique; honores illis in domo gerere, ius dicere permiserunt et domum pusillam rem publicam esse iudicaverunt.
Just before this passage, he writes to try to encourage people to treat slaves better. Unfortunately, Seneca seems to accept slavery as a condition of human life. This is part of the point of Macrobius’ post too, that we are all ‘slaves’ to something and therefore never truly free. Yet this certainly overlooks the very real difference in agency and liberty between those who are ‘slaves’ to desire and those who are literally enslaved to another human being (or to a state).
Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.10-12
“Please remember that the person you call your slave rose from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky and equally breathes, lives and dies! You could see him just as much as a free man as a slave. Because of the slaughter in the time of Marius, fortune struck down many born to high station, taking the trail to the senate through the army—one of these it made a shepherd, another an overseer of a cottage. Despise now the fortune of a person whose place you may take even as you look down on them!
I don’t want to get involved in a big controversy and argue about the treatment of slaves toward whom we are most arrogant, cruel, and offensive. But this is the sum of my guidance: deal with your inferior the way you wish your superior would deal with you. However many times it pops in your mind to consider how much is right for you regarding your slave, let it also occur that this is permitted to your master regarding you. “But I have no master” you say. Your age is still good. Don’t you know how old Hecuba was when she began to serve, or Croesus, or Darius’ mother, or Plato and Diogenes?”
Vis tu cogitare istum, quem servum tuum vocas, ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum. Mariana clade multos splendidissime natos, senatorium per militiam auspicantes gradum, fortuna depressit, alium ex illis pastorem, alium custodem casae fecit; contemne nunc eius fortunae hominem, in quam transire, dum contemnis, potes.
Nolo in ingentem me locum inmittere et de usu servorum disputare, in quos superbissimi, crudelissimi, contumeliosissimi sumus. Haec tamen praecepti mei summa est: sic cum inferiore vivas, quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere. Quotiens in mentem venerit, quantum tibi in servum liceat, veniat in mentem tantundem in te domino tuo licere. “At ego,” inquis, “nullum habeo dominum.” Bona aetas est; forsitan habebis. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Platon, qua Diogenes?
Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.11
“You see how much care comes from a slave to the highest of the gods. From whence comes such a great and vain loathing for slaves, as though they did not stem from and receive their nourishment from the same elements as you, and as though they did not draw the same breath from the same source? Would you think about those whom you call slaves – that they, born from the same seed, enjoy the same sky, and live and die just as you? They are slaves, you say? No, they are people! They are slaves, you say? No, they are fellow slaves, if you would but consider that Fortune may employ the same license against you as it does against them. You can see him free just as soon as he might see you a slave. Do you not know at what age Hecuba, Croesus, the mother of Darius, Diogenes, and even Plato himself all began to be slaves? Finally, why do we fear the name of slavery?
Sure, he’s a slave – but by compulsion, and perhaps he is a slave with a free soul. This will harm him, if you can show who is not a slave. One person may serve desire, another avarice, another ambition – all of us are slaves to hope, all of us are slaves to fear. And to be sure, there is no slavery more abject than slavery which we have chosen for ourselves. But here we trample underfoot a man lying under the yoke which Fortune has thrown upon him as though he were wretched and worthless, yet we do not allow the yoke which we have accepted for ourselves to be criticized.”
Vides, quanta de servo ad deorum summum cura pervenerit. Tibi autem unde in servos tantum et tam inane fastidium, quasi non ex isdem tibi et constent et alantur elementis eundemque spiritum ab eodem principio carpant? Vis tu cogitare eos quos ius tuum vocas isdem seminibus ortos eodem frui caelo, aeque vivere aeque mori? Servi sunt? immo homines. Servi sunt? immo conservi, si cogitaveris tantundem in utrosque licere fortunae. Tam tu illum videre liberum potes, quam ille te servum. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Diogenes, qua Plato ipse? Postremo quid ita nomen servitutis horremus? Servus est quidem: sed necessitate, sed fortasse libero animo servus est. Hoc illi nocebit, si ostenderis quis non sit. Alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori. Et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria. At nos iugo a fortuna inposito subiacentem tamquam miserum vilemque calcamus: quod vero nos nostris cervicibus inserimus non patimur reprehendi.