Gift-Giving is Like Getting Drunk: Fronto with Seasonal Advice

Cornelius Fronto, To Appian from Fronto 7

“The person who sends rather weighty gifts causes no less grief than the one who throws the ball too hard to his teammate or offers a big cup to his fellow drinker in toast. For the latter seems to toast not for pleasure but for getting drunk. Just as in wise drinking parties we see that the wine is mixed with a little pure alcohol and a lot of water, so too are gifts mixed best with a lot of thought and a little expenditure.

For who should we say gets the benefit from expensive gifts? Is it the poor? They are not capable of giving them. The rich? They don’t need to get them. In addition, it is not possible to constantly give expensive gifts—there will be a failure of resources if someone should often send out immense gifts. It is possible, however, to give small gifts endlessly and without regret—since someone owes only small thanks to the one who gave a small gift.”

  1. Ὁ δὲ τὰ βαρύτερα δῶρα πέμπων οὐχ ἧττον λυπεῖ τοῦ βαρεῖαν πέμποντος ἐπὶ τὸν συσφαιρίζοντα ἢ μεγάλην κύλην προπίνοντος τῷ συμπότῃ・ εἰς γὰρ μέθην οὐκ εἰς ἡδονὴν προπίνειν ἔοικεν. ὥσπερ δὲ τὸν οἶνον ἐν τοῖς σώφροσιν συμποσίοις ὁρῶμεν κιρνάμενον ἀκράτῳ μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγῳ, πλείστῳ δὲ τῷ ὕδατι, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ δῶρα κιρνάναι προσῆκεν πολλῇ μὲν φιλοφροσύνῃ, ἐλαχίστῳ δὲ ἀναλώματι. τίσιν γὰp ἂν Φαίημεν ἁρμόττειν τὰ πολυτελῆ δῶρα; ἆρά γε τοῖς πένησιν; ἀλλὰ πέμπειν οὐ δύνανται・ ἢ τοῖς πλουσίοις; ἀλλά λαμβάνειν οὐ δέονται. τοῖς μὲν οὖν μεγάλοις δώροις τὸ συνεχὲς οὐ πρόσεστιν, ἢ ἐκπεσεῖν ἀναγκὴ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, εἴ τις μεγάλα τε πέμποι καὶ πολλάκις. τοῖς δὲ μικροῖς δώροις τό τε συνεχὲς πρόσεστιν καί τὸ ἀμεταγνωστόν, εἰ <καὶ μικρὰ δεῖ τε>λέσαι μικρὰ πέμψαντι.†

 

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Hermit at work on a manuscript, from the Estoire del Saint Graal, France

December Debates on Gifts: Some Classical Warnings

Epigonoi Fr. 4 (From Clement of Alexandria)

“Many evils come to men from gifts”

ἐκ γὰρ δώρων πολλὰ κάκ’ ἀνθρώποισι πέλονται.

Ovid, Ars Amatoria 2.275

“Poems are certainly praised, but great gifts are what is sought.”

carmina laudantur sed munera magna petuntur.

Sophocles, Ajax, 664-5

“But the old saying is true: the gifts of enemies are no gifts, and sure to yield no profit.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἀληθὴς ἡ βροτῶν παροιμία,
ἐχθρῶν ἄδωρα δῶρα κοὐκ ὀνήσιμα

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Aeschylus, fr. 279a2

“Alone of the gods, Death doesn’t long for gifts.”

μόνος θεῶν γὰρ Θάνατος οὐ δώρων ἐρᾶι·

 

Solon, 13.64

“The gifts of the gods must not be rejected”

δῶρα δ᾿ ἄφυκτα θεῶν γίγνεται ἀθανάτων

 

Nostoi, fr. 8.1

“Gifts debase the minds and actions of men”

δῶρα γὰρ ἀνθρώπων νόον ἤπαφεν ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργα

 

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.

December Debates: Should We Accept Gifts from Bad People?

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.14

“Indeed, I think that we should not look for an advantage from any person whose public esteem is low. Why? Shouldn’t what Claudius offered have been accepted? It should have been, but just as something given by chance which you know might immediately turn bad.

Why do we distinguish between these two instances just combined? A gift is not beneficial when its best part is missing—when it is given because of high esteem. A lot of money, if it is not given rightly or freely, is no more beneficial than a warehouse. There are many gifts which should be accepted but create no obligations.”

Ego vero nullius puto expetendum esse beneficium, cuius vile iudicium est. Quid ergo? Non erat accipiendum a Claudio, quod dabatur? Erat, sed sicut a fortuna, quam scires posse statim malam fieri. Quid ista inter se mixta dividimus? Non est beneficium, cui deest pars optima, datum esse iudicio: alioqui pecunia ingens, si non ratione nec recta voluntate donata est, non magis beneficium est quam thesaurus. Multa sunt autem, quae oportet accipere nec debere.

 

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Bishop Engilmar Celebrating Mass, benedictional, Regensburg, about 1030-40

Advice on Buying Gifts from Seneca

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.11-12

“Let’s imagine what might be worth the greatest pleasure after it has been given—what would greet the recipient’s eye frequently and make him think of us whenever he sees it. Each time let us be wary not to send useless gifts, such as hunting implements to a woman or an old man, books to a simpleton or fishing nets to someone dedicated to literature. However, we should be equally mindful that, although we want to send welcome gifts, we do not send things which will reprove someone for a failing, such as sending wine to a drunk or medicine to a healthy man. For something which uncovers a fault in the recipient turns out to be an insult not a gift.

If the choice of the gift is our choice, we should think especially of things which will endure, that the gift may last as long as possible. For there are truly few people so grateful that they will think about what they have received when they do not see it. But memory revives for the ungrateful with the gift itself when it is in front of them and it will not allow them to be forgetful. And we should seek gifts which endure even more for the fact that we ought not to ever remind people: let the things themselves prompt a fading memory.

I will give silver which is sculpted rather than money and I give statues more freely than clothing or things which will deteriorate after brief use. Gratitude lasts among few longer than the objects themselves. Greater is the number among whom gifts remain in mind no longer than they are in use. So I, if it is possible, do not want my gift to be used up. Let it last, let it stick fast to my friend. Let it live alongside him.”

Videamus, quid oblatum maxime voluptati futurum sit, quid frequenter occursurum habenti, ut totiens nobiscum quotiens cum illo sit. Utique cavebimus, ne munera supervacua mittamus, ut feminae aut seni arma venatoria, ut rustico libros, ut studiis ac litteris dedito retia. Aeque ex contrario circumspiciemus,ne, dum grata mittere volumus, suum cuique morbum exprobratura mittamus, sicut ebrioso vina et valetudinario medicamenta. Maledictum enim incipit esse, non munus, in quo vitium accipientis adgnoscitur.

Si arbitrium dandi penes nos est, praecipue mansura quaeremus, ut quam minime mortale munus sit. Pauci enim sunt tam grati, ut, quid acceperint, etiam si non vident, cogitent. Ingratos quoque memoria cum ipso munere incurrit, ubi ante oculos est et oblivisci sui non sinit, sed auctorem suum ingerit et inculcat. Eo quidem magis duratura quaeramus, quia numquam admonere debemus; ipsa res evanescentem memoriam excitet. Libentius donabo argentum factum quam signatum; libentius statuas quam vestem et quod usus brevis deterat. Apud paucos post rem manet gratia; plures sunt, apud quos non diutius in animo sunt donata, quam in usu. Ego, si fieri potest, consumi munus meum nolo; extet, haereat amico meo, convivat.

 

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Xenophon on Happiness and Things

From Xenophon’s Memorabilia 1.6.10

“You appear to think that happiness comes from delicacy and abundance. But I think that wanting nothing is godlike,  that wanting as little as possible is next-best, that the divine is the highest goal and next-best the closest thing.”

[10] ἔοικας, ὦ Ἀντιφῶν, τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν οἰομένῳ τρυφὴν καὶ πολυτέλειαν εἶναι: ἐγὼ δὲ νομίζω τὸ μὲν μηδενὸς δεῖσθαι θεῖον εἶναι, τὸ δ᾽ ὡς ἐλαχίστων ἐγγυτάτω τοῦ θείου, καὶ τὸ μὲν θεῖον κράτιστον, τὸ δ᾽ ἐγγυτάτω τοῦ θείου ἐγγυτάτω τοῦ κρατίστου.

 The full text.

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Seneca’s Advice on Buying Gifts

Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.11-12

“Let’s imagine what might be worth the greatest pleasure after it has been given—what would greet the recipient’s eye frequently and make him think of us whenever he sees it. Each time let us be wary not to send useless gifts, such as hunting implements to a woman or an old man, books to a simpleton or fishing nets to someone dedicated to literature. However, we should be equally mindful that, although we want to send welcome gifts, we do not send things which will reprove someone for a failing, such as sending wine to a drunk or medicine to a healthy man. For something which uncovers a fault in the recipient turns out to be an insult not a gift.

If the choice of the gift is our choice, we should think especially of things which will endure, that the gift may last as long as possible. For there are truly few people so grateful that they will think about what they have received when they do not see it. But memory revives for the ungrateful with the gift itself when it is in front of them and it will not allow them to be forgetful. And we should seek gifts which endure even more for the fact that we ought not to ever remind people: let the things themselves prompt a fading memory.

I will give silver which is sculpted rather than money and I give statues more freely than clothing or things which will deteriorate after brief use. Gratitude lasts among few longer than the objects themselves. Greater is the number among whom gifts remain in mind no longer than they are in use. So I, if it is possible, do not want my gift to be used up. Let it last, let it stick fast to my friend. Let it live alongside him.”

Videamus, quid oblatum maxime voluptati futurum sit, quid frequenter occursurum habenti, ut totiens nobiscum quotiens cum illo sit. Utique cavebimus, ne munera supervacua mittamus, ut feminae aut seni arma venatoria, ut rustico libros, ut studiis ac litteris dedito retia. Aeque ex contrario circumspiciemus,ne, dum grata mittere volumus, suum cuique morbum exprobratura mittamus, sicut ebrioso vina et valetudinario medicamenta. Maledictum enim incipit esse, non munus, in quo vitium accipientis adgnoscitur.

Si arbitrium dandi penes nos est, praecipue mansura quaeremus, ut quam minime mortale munus sit. Pauci enim sunt tam grati, ut, quid acceperint, etiam si non vident, cogitent. Ingratos quoque memoria cum ipso munere incurrit, ubi ante oculos est et oblivisci sui non sinit, sed auctorem suum ingerit et inculcat. Eo quidem magis duratura quaeramus, quia numquam admonere debemus; ipsa res evanescentem memoriam excitet. Libentius donabo argentum factum quam signatum; libentius statuas quam vestem et quod usus brevis deterat. Apud paucos post rem manet gratia; plures sunt, apud quos non diutius in animo sunt donata, quam in usu. Ego, si fieri potest, consumi munus meum nolo; extet, haereat amico meo, convivat.

 

Related image

 

How Gift-Giving is Like Getting Drunk: Fronto with Seasonal Advice

Cornelius Fronto, To Appian from Fronto 7

“The person who sends rather weighty gifts causes no less grief than the one who throws the ball too hard to his teammate or offers a big cup to his fellow drinker in toast. For the latter seems to toast not for pleasure but for getting drunk. Just as in wise drinking parties we see that the wine is mixed with a little pure alcohol and a lot of water, so too are gifts mixed best with a lot of thought and a little expenditure.

For who should we say gets the benefit from expensive gifts? Is it the poor? They are not capable of giving them. The rich? They don’t need to get them. In addition, it is not possible to constantly give expensive gifts—there will be a failure of resources if someone should often send out immense gifts. It is possible, however, to give small gifts endlessly and without regret—since someone owes only small thanks to the one who gave a small gift.”

  1. Ὁ δὲ τὰ βαρύτερα δῶρα πέμπων οὐχ ἧττον λυπεῖ τοῦ βαρεῖαν πέμποντος ἐπὶ τὸν συσφαιρίζοντα ἢ μεγάλην κύλην προπίνοντος τῷ συμπότῃ・ εἰς γὰρ μέθην οὐκ εἰς ἡδονὴν προπίνειν ἔοικεν. ὥσπερ δὲ τὸν οἶνον ἐν τοῖς σώφροσιν συμποσίοις ὁρῶμεν κιρνάμενον ἀκράτῳ μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγῳ, πλείστῳ δὲ τῷ ὕδατι, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ δῶρα κιρνάναι προσῆκεν πολλῇ μὲν φιλοφροσύνῃ, ἐλαχίστῳ δὲ ἀναλώματι. τίσιν γὰp ἂν Φαίημεν ἁρμόττειν τὰ πολυτελῆ δῶρα; ἆρά γε τοῖς πένησιν; ἀλλὰ πέμπειν οὐ δύνανται・ ἢ τοῖς πλουσίοις; ἀλλά λαμβάνειν οὐ δέονται. τοῖς μὲν οὖν μεγάλοις δώροις τὸ συνεχὲς οὐ πρόσεστιν, ἢ ἐκπεσεῖν ἀναγκὴ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, εἴ τις μεγάλα τε πέμποι καὶ πολλάκις. τοῖς δὲ μικροῖς δώροις τό τε συνεχὲς πρόσεστιν καί τὸ ἀμεταγνωστόν, εἰ <καὶ μικρὰ δεῖ τε>λέσαι μικρὰ πέμψαντι.†

 

Image result for Fronto medieval manuscript
Hermit at work on a manuscript, from the Estoire del Saint Graal, France