Seneca Admits: Giving Gifts Ain’t Easy

Seneca De Vita Beata 24

“Whoever thinks that giving presents is an easy matter is wrong. This is a subject of extreme difficulty, if the gifts are made carefully and not just cast about randomly and impulsively. To one person I do a favor; to another I return one; to one I help; another I show pity.

I give to someone else because they shouldn’t be overcome by poverty and obsessed by it; to some I will give nothing even though they need it because they would still be in need whatever I give; to others I offer aid and some people I force to take it. I cannot be negligent in this effort and I am never more certain to write down names than when I am making a gift.”

Errat, si quis existimat facilem rem esse donare; plurimum ista res habet difficultatis, si modo consilio tribuitur, non casu et impetu spargitur. Hunc promereor, illi reddo; huic succurro, huius misereor; illum instruo dignum quem non deducat paupertas nec occupatum teneat; quibusdam non dabo, quamvis desit, quia, etiam si dedero, erit defuturum; quibusdam offeram, quibusdam etiam inculcabo. Non possum in hac re esse neglegens; numquam magis nomina facio quam cum dono.

Hands holding a gift box isolated on black background

Demosthenes On Gift-Giving and Silence

Demosthenes, On the Crown 268-9

“This was my behavior in my actions for the city. In private matters, if any of you do not know that I have been generous and kind and solicitous of those in need, I am silent and I say nothing and present no witness of these things, not the war prisoners I have ransomed, nor the money I have provided for daughters, nor anything like that at all.

This is a rule I live by. I believe that the person who receives a favor should remember it for the rest of time but that the person who does it should forget it immediately for the former to act rightly and the latter not to play the part of a cheap-minded person. To remind someone of a favor you have provided in private and to speak so cheaply is just like reproaching them. I will not do anything like this but however I am considered about these things will be enough for me.”

Ἐν μὲν τοίνυν τοῖς πρὸς τὴν πόλιν τοιοῦτος· ἐν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις εἰ μὴ πάντες ἴσθ᾿ ὅτι κοινὸς καὶ φιλάνθρωπος καὶ τοῖς δεομένοις ἐπαρκῶν, σιωπῶ καὶ οὐδὲν ἂν εἴποιμ᾿ οὐδὲ παρασχοίμην περὶ τούτων οὐδεμίαν μαρτυρίαν, οὔτ᾿ εἴ τινας ἐκ τῶν πολεμίων ἐλυσάμην, οὔτ᾿ εἴ τισιν θυγατέρας συνεξέδωκα, οὔτε τῶν τοιούτων οὐδέν. καὶ γὰρ οὕτω πως ὑπείληφα ἐγὼ νομίζω τὸν μὲν εὖ παθόντα δεῖν μεμνῆσθαι πάντα τὸν χρόνον, τὸν δὲ ποιήσαντ᾿ εὐθὺς ἐπιλελῆσθαι, εἰ δεῖ τὸν μὲν χρηστοῦ, τὸν δὲ μὴ μικροψύχου ποιεῖν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου. τὸ δὲ τὰς ἰδίας εὐεργεσίας ὑπομιμνῄσκειν καὶ λέγειν μικροῦ δεῖν ὅμοιόν ἐστιν τῷ ὀνειδίζειν. οὐ δὴ ποιήσω τοιοῦτον οὐδέν, οὐδὲ προαχθήσομαι, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ποθ᾿ ὑπείλημμαι περὶ τούτων, ἀρκεῖ μοι.

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Profligacy Might Be a Better Starting Point: Aristotle Says Cheapness is Incurable

Nichomachean Ethics, 1121b

“Cheapness is incurable—for old age and every type of weakness seems to make men cheap—and it is more natural to people than unselfishness [usually “profligacy”]. For most people are greedy rather than giving. And cheapness is extensive too, with many forms. For there are many manifestations of cheapness, but they all come from two sources: the lack of giving and the surplus of getting. They don’t overlap in all cases, but they often enough occur separately as some men excel at getting and others failing to give.”

ἡ δ’ ἀνελευθερία ἀνίατός τ’ ἐστίν (δοκεῖ γὰρ τὸ γῆρας καὶ πᾶσα ἀδυναμία ἀνελευθέρους ποιεῖν), καὶ συμφυέστερον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τῆς ἀσωτίας· οἱ γὰρ πολλοὶ φιλοχρήματοι μᾶλλον ἢ δοτικοί. καὶ διατείνει δ’ ἐπὶ πολύ, καὶ πολυειδές ἐστιν· πολλοὶ γὰρ τρόποι δοκοῦσι τῆς ἀνελευθερίας εἶναι. πολλοὶ γὰρ τρόποι δοκοῦσι τῆς ἀνελευθερίας εἶναι. ἐν δυσὶ γὰρ οὖσα, τῇ τ’ ἐλλείψει τῆς δόσεως καὶ τῇ ὑπερβολῇ τῆς λήψεως, οὐ πᾶσιν ὁλόκληρος παραγίνεται