Some Roman Morals for a Season of Gifts

Cicero, De Officiis 3.118

“For goodness, generosity and kindness cannot exist any more than friendship if they are not pursued for themselves but are nurtured for the sake of pleasure or advantage.”

Neque enim bonitas nec liberalitas nec comitas esse potest, non plus quam amicitia, si haec non per se expetantur, sed ad voluptatem utilitatemve referantur.

Publilius Syrus, 78

“Generosity even devises an excuse for giving”

Benignus etiam causam dandi cogitat.

Seneca, De Beneficiis 4

“All generosity hurries—it is characteristic of one who does something willingly to do it quickly. If someone comes to help slowly or drags it out day by day, he does not do it sincerely. And he has thus lost the two most important things: time and a sign of his willing friendship. To be slowly willing is a sign of being unwilling.”

Omnis benignitas properat, et proprium est libenter facientis cito facere; qui tarde et diem de die extrahens profuit, non ex animo fecit. Ita duas res maximas perdidit, et tempus et argumentum amicae voluntatis; tarde velle nolentis est.

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze
Aeneas Panel from the Ara Pacis

Cicero on Judicious Generosity

Cicero, De officiis 2.62-63

“The case of the person who is hard-pressed by disaster is different from that of the one who seeks improved affairs when nothing adverse stands in the way. Charity will be obligated to favor those in misfortune unless there is some way they have earned their misfortune. Even for these, still, we should not refuse those who desire to be helped not only that they are suffering misfortune but that they may rise to a higher station. But we should guide our judgment and care in selecting those who are worthy. For, as Ennius famously says: “I believe that good deeds poorly placed are poorly done.”

In addition, when some benefit is given to a good and grateful man, it is useful both in his response and in others’ reactions too. For, generosity is most gratefully received it is not random and people praise it more heartily because it it is represents the goodness of a man in a high station and common refuge for all. Hence, efforts much be made to provide as many people as possible with benefits so that the memory of our generosity will be handed down to their children and grandchildren so that even they may not be ungrateful. For all people hand forgetfulness of a favor and consider it as an injury which has been committed against them because generosity is discouraged and those who do this are a common enemy of the poor.”

Alia causa est eius, qui calamitate premitur, et eius, qui res meliores quaerit nullis suis rebus adversis. Propensior benignitas esse debebit in calamitosos, nisi forte erunt digni calamitate. In iis tamen, qui se adiuvari volent, non ne affligantur, sed ut altiorem gradum ascendant, restricti omnino esse nullo modo debemus, sed in deligendis idoneis iudicium et diligentiam adhibere. Nam praeclare Ennius:

Bene fácta male locáta male facta árbitror.

Quod autem tributum est bono viro et grato, in eo cum ex ipso fructus est, tum etiam ex ceteris. Temeritate enim remota gratissima est liberalitas, eoque eam studiosius plerique laudant, quod summi cuiusque bonitas commune perfugium est omnium. Danda igitur opera est, ut iis beneficiis quam plurimos afficiamus, quorum memoria liberis posterisque prodatur, ut iis ingratis esse non liceat. Omnes enim immemorem beneficii oderunt eamque iniuriam in deterrenda liberalitate sibi etiam fieri eumque, qui faciat, communem hostem tenuiorum putant.

Image result for medieval manuscript generosity
from the Roman de la Rose, Royal MS 20 A XVII, f. 9r

Some Roman Morals for a Season of Gifts

Cicero, De Officiis 3.118

“For goodness, generosity and kindness cannot exist any more than friendship if they are not pursued for themselves but are nurtured for the sake of pleasure or advantage.”

Neque enim bonitas nec liberalitas nec comitas esse potest, non plus quam amicitia, si haec non per se expetantur, sed ad voluptatem utilitatemve referantur.

Publilius Syrus, 78

“Generosity even devises an excuse for giving”

Benignus etiam causam dandi cogitat.

Seneca, De Beneficiis 4

“All generosity hurries—it is characteristic of one who does something willingly to do it quickly. If someone comes to help slowly or drags it out day by day, he does not do it sincerely. And he has thus lost the two most important things: time and a sign of his willing friendship. To be slowly willing is a sign of being unwilling.”

Omnis benignitas properat, et proprium est libenter facientis cito facere; qui tarde et diem de die extrahens profuit, non ex animo fecit. Ita duas res maximas perdidit, et tempus et argumentum amicae voluntatis; tarde velle nolentis est.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman friendship frieze
Aeneas Panel from the Ara Pacis