Money, Wealth and Greed

These sayings come from the Gnomologium Vaticanum

29 “He [Aristippos] said it was right to learn to live with a little so that we might do nothing shameful for money”

῾Ο αὐτὸς ἔφη δεῖν ἐθίζειν ἀπὸ ὀλίγων ζῆν, ἵνα μηδὲν αἰσχρὸν χρημάτων ἕνεκεν πράττωμεν.

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.

pile of gold old coins

 

Sad About Other People’s Riches

Seneca, Moral Epistles 93.32-34

“I dare say that the soul knows  that riches are kept apart from where they are stored: the soul should be filled instead of a treasure chest. The soul should be in charge of all things and should be positioned as the owner of the nature of things so that the boundary of its realm should be the rising and the setting of the sun like the gods; that the soul may also gaze down upon the wealthy thanks to its own riches–none of them are as happy in their own possessions as they are sad about other people’s riches.

When the spirit rises to this sublime peak, it treats the body too not as a lover of a required burden but as a steward and is not subservient to the thing that it governs.. For no one is free if they are enslaved to their body. Truly,  provided you pass over the rest of the masters created by excessive concern to the body, the power it exerts is distracting yet sophisticated. From here, it leaves with an equal spirit or an exulted one, but once it has departed has no concern for the future of the flesh left behind.

But just as we neglect the clippings from our beards and hair, in the same way, when the divine spirit is about the leave the person that acted as a vessel to carry it, it cares as little as a baby just born does about afterbirth about the body, whether it is burned, or covered with stone, or interred, or fed to wild animals.”

Scit, inquam, aliubi positas esse divitias quam quo congeruntur; animum impleri debere, non arcam. Hunc inponere dominio rerum omnium licet, hunc in possessionem rerum naturae inducere, ut sua

rientis occidentisque terminis finiat1 deorumque ritu cuncta possideat, cum opibus suis divites superne despiciat, quorum nemo tam suo laetus est quam tristis alieno. Cum se in hanc sublimitatem tulit, corporis quoque ut3 oneris necessarii non amator, sed procurator est nec se illi, cui inpositus est, subicit. Nemo liber est, qui corpori servit. Nam ut alios dominos, quos nimia pro illo sollicitudo invenit, transeas, ipsius morosum imperium delicatumque 34est. Ab hoc modo aequo animo exit, modo magno prosilit, nec quis deinde relicti eius futurus sit exitus quaerit. Sed ut ex barba capilloque tonsa neglegimus, ita ille divinus animus egressurus hominem, quo receptaculum suum conferatur, ignis illud exurat an lapis includat4 an terra contegat an ferae distrahant, non magis ad se iudicat pertinere quam secundas ad editum infantem.

a pile of ancient greek coins on a black background
From Izmir, From another hoard found at Clazomenae, with coins from the 4th century BC.

Outlaw Wealth? Maybe Not

Seneca, Moral Epistle  87.41

“Let’s imagine that we are called to an assembly: a law is on offer concerning outlawing wealth. Would we be advocating for or against it based on our philosophical arguments? Could we use our disputations to persuade the Roman people to request and praise poverty, that fundamental cause of our own empire,  and also to fear their own wealth?

Could we make them see that they have discovered it among those they have conquered, to understand that from wealth  ambition, corruption, and strife have disrupted a city once the most sacred and moderate, that thanks to it we show off the spoils of other nations excessively; and that whatever one people have stolen from all others can be easily taken back from the one by everyone else?

It is enough to advocate for the law and to control our own actions rather than to write our way around them. Let us speak more bravely, if we can; if we cannot, more honestly.”

Putemus nos ad contionem vocatos; lex de abolendis divitiis fertur. His interrogationibus suasuri aut dissuasuri sumus? His effecturi, ut populus Romanus paupertatem, fundamentum et causam imperii sui, requirat ac laudet, divitias autem suas timeat, ut cogitet has se apud victos repperisse, hinc ambitum et largitiones et tumultus in urbem sanctissimam et temperantissimam inrupisse, nimis luxuriose ostentari gentium spolia, quod unus populus eripuerit omnibus, facilius ab omnibus uni eripi posse? Hanc satius est suadere et expugnare adfectus, non circumscribere. Si possumus, fortius loquamur; si minus, apertius. Vale.

bad choice good choice meme with woman disliking "outlawing wealth" and liking "be less ostentatious"

Glory and Worthless Wealth

Bacchylides, Odes 1. 159-172

“I claim and I will always claim
That excellence has the greatest glory.
Wealth will flock to worthless people
And always tends to swell a person’s thoughts.
But the one who does well for the gods
Has more glorious hopes
To settle their heart.

But if someone has health
Even if mortal
And can live through their own household
They rival the best.

Truly, all pleasure
In a person’s life
Comes apart from disease
And a poverty with no cure.

Rich people desire big things
No less than the poor something smaller,
And there’s nothing sweet for mortals
In being able to get everything at all
Because they’re always straining to catch
Whatever is getting away.”

φαμὶ καὶ φάσω μέγιστον
κῦδος ἔχειν ἀρετάν· πλοῦ-
τος δὲ καὶ δειλοῖσιν ἀνθρώπων ὁμιλεῖ,
ἐθέλει δ᾿ αὔξειν φρένας ἀνδρός·
ὁ δ᾿ εὖ ἔρδων θεούς
ἐλπίδι κυδροτέραι
σαίνει κέαρ. εἰ δ᾿ ὑγιείας
θνατὸς ἐὼν ἔλαχεν
ζώειν τ᾿ ἀπ᾿ οἰκείων ἔχει,
πρώτοις ἐρίζει· παντί τοι
τέρψις ἀνθρώπων βίωι
ἕπεται νόσφιν γε νόσων
πενίας τ᾿ ἀμαχάνου.
ἶσον ὅ τ᾿ ἀφνεὸς ἱμείρει
μεγάλων ὅ τε μείων
παυροτέρων· τὸ δὲ πάντων
εὐμαρεῖν οὐδὲν γλυκύ
θνατοῖσιν, ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ τὰ φεύγοντα
δίζηνται κιχεῖν.

Raphaelle Peale, “Melons and Morning Glories” 1813

Milk and A Blanket, A Recipe for Happiness

Seneca, Moral Epistles 20.12-13

“It is, moreover, the sign of a great mind not to rush to these kinds of things as if they are better but to be prepared for them as if they are easy. And they are easy, Lucilius, when you approach them after deep contemplation, they are pleasurable too.–there’s some safety in them and nothing is pleasant without this.

So, I think what is needed–what I wrote to you that great men often do–is to spend some days during which we practice imaginary poverty to get ready for the real thing. We need to do this even more because we have persisted on luxury and we think everything else is harsh and challenging. Instead, the spirit needs to be shaken from sleep and pinched, reminded that nature has set out little for us. No one is born wealthy. Everyone enters into the light and is told to be happy with milk and a blanket. Kingdoms don’t satisfy us after these starts! Goodbye.”

Ceterum magnae indolis est ad ista non properare tamquam meliora, sed praeparari tamquam ad facilia. Et sunt, Lucili, facilia; cum vero multo ante meditatus accesseris, iucunda quoque; inest enim illis, sine qua nihil est iucundum, securitas. Necessarium ergo iudico, id quod tibi scripsi magnos viros saepe fecisse: aliquos dies interponere, quibus nos imaginaria paupertate exerceamus ad veram. Quod eo magis faciendum est, quod deliciis permaduimus et omnia dura ac difficilia iudicamus. Potius excitandus e somno et vellicandus est animus admonendusque naturam nobis minimum constituisse. Nemo nascitur dives. Quisquis exit in lucem, iussus est lacte et panno esse contentus; ab his initiis nos regna non capiunt. Vale.

Black and white image of a woodcut showing a child sitting on floor next to a table with  a feeding cup while a woman mixes something in a bowl and looks at the child
Child with feeding bottle. Woodcut appears in “Ein Regiment … für die jungen Kinder” by Heinrich von Louffenberg.

Cosplay at Being Poor

Seneca, Moral Epistles 18.5-6

“Still, it pleases me so much to test the strength of your conviction that I will select for you a lesson from the great men: designate some days for yourself when you will be happy with the cheapest food, with hard and poorly-made clothing, and say to yourself: ‘Is this something I was afraid of?”

The mind should prepare itself for difficulties amid safety and harden itself against harm during the enjoyment of good fortune. The soldier practices in the middle of peace, builds fortifications without any enemy around, and wears himself out with meaningless work in order to to meet necessary challenges.

If you don’t want someone to hesitate in the act itself, you need to train before it happens. This is the practice of those who have approached total privation by imitating poverty every month so that they might never grow pale at something they had often studied.”

Ceterum adeo mihi placet temptare animi tui firmitatem, ut ex praecepto magnorum virorum tibi quoque praecipiam: interponas aliquot dies, quibus contentus minimo ac vilissimo cibo, dura atque horrida veste dicas tibi: “Hoc est quod timebatur?” In ipsa securitate animus ad difficilia se praeparet et contra iniurias fortunae inter beneficia firmetur. Miles in media pace decurrit, sine ullo hoste vallum iacit et supervacuo labore lassatur, ut sufficere necessario possit. Quem in ipsa re trepidare nolueris, ante rem exerceas. Hoc secuti sunt, qui omnibus mensibus paupertatem imitati prope ad inopiam accesserunt, ne umquam expavescerent quod saepe didicissent.

Picture of oil painting from the Victorian period: wealthy people in a carriage on the left on the right, poorer people clamoring for bread. It is a street scene.
William Powell, Frith, “Poverty and Wealth” 1888

Seneca Says: More Money, New Problems

Seneca, Moral Epistle  17. 11-12

“I could end my letter at this place, except that I have put you in a bad place. It is impossible to hail Parthian nobility without a gift and it is not allowed for me to say goodbye to you without thanks. What then? I’ll take something from Epicurus: “getting rich is not an end of troubles for most people, but a change in them.”

I am not surprised by this. The problem isn’t in the money but in the mind. The very thing that makes poverty weigh heavy on us also makes wealth a burden. It doesn’t matter whether you put a sick person on a wooden bed or one of gold: wherever you move them, they take their sickness too!

So, it makes no difference at all whether a sick spirit rests in riches or poverty. The disease follows the person. Goodbye!”

Poteram hoc loco epistulam claudere, nisi te male instituissem. Reges Parthorum2 non potest quisquam salutare sine munere; tibi valedicere non licet gratis. Quid istic? Ab Epicuro mutuum sumam: “Multis parasse divitias non finis miseriarum fuit, sed mutatio.” Nec hoc miror. Non est enim in rebus vitium, sed in ipso animo. Illud, quod paupertatem nobis gravem fecerat, et divitias graves fecit. Quemadmodum nihil refert, utrum aegrum in ligneo lecto an in aureo conloces,—quocumque illum transtuleris, morbum secum suum transferet,—sic nihil refert, utrum aeger animus in divitiis an in paupertate ponatur. Malum illum suum sequitur. Vale.

opper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, with a satirical macaronic poem (‘Vos Creditis, als eine Fabel, / quod scribitur vom Doctor Schnabel’) in octosyllabic rhyming couplets.
opper engraving of Doctor Schnabel [i.e Dr. Beak], a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, with a satirical macaronic poem (‘Vos Creditis, als eine Fabel, / quod scribitur vom Doctor Schnabel’) in octosyllabic rhyming couplets.

A Money Maker is Not a Money’s Master

Seneca, Moral Epistles 14.17-18

“Now you extend your hand for the daily gift! I’ll ply you with a golden one. Since we are talking about gold, take this so that its use and benefit may be more pleasing to you. “The one who enjoys riches the most is the one who least needs them.”

“Tell me who said that” you say. Well, so you’ll know how open-minded I am, this quote honors a different school. It’s from Epicurus or Metrodorus or some other of that ilk. Yet what difference does it make who said it. It speaks to everyone.

Whoever needs wealth, has anxiety about it. But no one enjoys a benefit that brings anxiety–they always want to add something more. As long as they are worried about increasing wealth, they forget how to use it. They take their profits, they wear out the forum, they keep looking to the next month.  They become wealth’s caretaker instead of its master. Goodbye.”

Nunc ad cotidianam stipem manum porrigis. Aurea te stipe implebo, et quia facta est auri mentio, accipe quemadmodum usus fructusque eius tibi esse gratior possit. “Is maxime divitiis fruitur, qui minime divitiis indiget.” “Ede,” inquis, “auctorem.” Ut scias quam benigni simus, propositum est aliena laudare; Epicuri est aut Metrodori aut alicuius ex Illa officina. Et quid interest quis dixerit? Omnibus dixit. Qui eget divitiis, timet pro illis. Nemo autem sollicito bono fruitur; adicere illis aliquid studet. Dum de incremento cogitat, oblitus est usus. Rationes accipit, forum conterit, kalendarium versat; fit ex domino procurator. Vale.

GIF of scrooge mcduck laying on a pile of gold counting money

Forget Wealth, I Know About Foxes

Aelian, Animalia Epilogue

“However much my work, thought, and toil has added to learning and as much as the progressive consensus in those matters has sketched out and uncovered while men of repute and philosophers compete with each other in these fields, I have now articulated as much as I was able. I did not leave out anything which I knew because I was lazy, as if I looked down on or dishonored some wild beast without reason or speech.

No, here too that lust for knowledge which lives deep within me and is native there has set me afire. I am not ignorant of the fact that some of those who look keenly for money and are bewitched by honors, and power, and everything which gains a reputation may attack me if I spent my free time on these projects when I could have been primping myself and frequenting courtyards and courting wealth.

Instead, I have concerned myself with foxes and lizards and bugs and snakes and lions, with what a leopard does, how affectionate storks are to their young, how the nightingale singles sweetly, how wise an elephant is, the shapes of fishes, the migrations of cranes, the natures of serpents and the rest of the things which this carefully written composition contains and preserves.

It is not at all dear to me to be numbered among these wealthy men and to be compared to them. But if, instead, I would try and desire to join that crowd among whom wise poets and men clever at seeking out and examining the secrets of nature and the writers who approach the most extensive experience think it right to join, it is clear that I am a far better judge of the difference than these other people are. Or I would prefer to excel in a single school of knowledge than to gain the praised riches and possessions of your most wealthy people. Well, that’s enough about these things for now.”

Ὅσα μὲν οὖν σπουδή τε ἐμὴ καὶ φροντὶς καὶ πόνος καὶ ἐς τὸ πλέον μαθεῖν καὶ ἐν τοῖσδε ἡ γνώμη προχωροῦσα ἀνίχνευσέ τε καὶ ἀνεῦρε, δοκίμων τε ἀνδρῶν καὶ φιλοσόφων ἀγώνισμα θεμένων τὴν ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐμπειρίαν, καὶ δὴ λέλεκταί μοι, ὡς οἷόν τε ἦν εἰπεῖν, μὴ παραλείποντι ἅπερ ἔγνων μηδὲ βλακεύοντι, ὡς ἀλόγου τε καὶ ἀφώνου ἀγέλης ὑπεριδόντι καὶ ἀτιμάσαντι, ἀλλὰ κἀνταῦθα ἔρως με σοφίας ὁ σύνοικός τε καὶ ὁ συμφυὴς ἐξέκαυσεν. οὐκ ἀγνοῶ δὲ ὅτι ἄρα καὶ τῶν ἐς χρήματα ὁρώντων ὀξὺ καὶ τεθηγμένων ἐς τιμάς τε καὶ δυνάμεις τινὲς καὶ πᾶν τὸ φιλόδοξον δι᾿ αἰτίας ἕξουσιν, εἰ τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ σχολὴν κατεθέμην ἐς ταῦτα, ἐξὸν καὶ ὠφρυῶσθαι καὶ ἐν ταῖς αὐλαῖς ἐξετάζεσθαι καὶ ἐπὶ μέγα προήκειν πλούτου. ἐγὼ δὲ ὑπέρ τε ἀλωπέκων καὶ σαυρῶν καὶ κανθάρων καὶ ὄφεων καὶ λεόντων καὶ τί δρᾷ πάρδαλις καὶ ὅπως πελαργὸς φιλόστοργον καὶ ὅτι ἀηδὼν εὔστομον καὶ πῶς φιλόσοφον ἐλέφας καὶ εἴδη ἰχθύων καὶ γεράνων ἀποδημίας καὶ δρακόντων φύσεις καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ὅσα ἥδε ἡ συγγραφὴ πεπονημένως ἔχει καὶ φυλάττει, περιέρχομαι· ἀλλὰ οὔ μοι φίλον σὺν τοῖσδε τοῖς πλουσίοις ἀρίθμεῖσθαι καὶ πρὸς ἐκείνους ἐζετάζεσθαι, εἰ δὲ ὧν καὶ ποιηταὶ σοφοὶ καὶ ἄνδρες φύσεως ἀπόρρητα ἰδεῖν τε ἅμα καὶ κατασκέψασθαι δεινοὶ καὶ συγγραφεῖς τῆς πείρας ἐς τὸ μήκιστον προελθόντες ἑαυτοὺς ἠξίωσαν, τούτων τοι καὶ ἐμαυτὸν ἁμωσγέπως ἕνα πειρῶμαι ἀριθμεῖν καὶ ἐθέλω, δῆλον ὡς ἀμείνων ἐμαυτῷ σύμβουλός εἰμι τῆς ἐξ ἐκείνων κρίσεως. βουλοίμην γὰρ ἂν μάθημα ἓν γοῦν πεπαιδευμένον περιγενέσθαι μοι ἢ τὰ ᾀδόμενα τῶν πάνυ πλουσίων χρήματά τε ἅμα καὶ κτήματα. καὶ ὑπὲρ μὲν τούτων ἱκανὰ νῦν.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 10v (from The Medieval Bestiary)

The Human Nature of Desire

Bacchylides, 1.159-175

“I claim and I will claim that
The greatest glory is virtue.

Wealth attends worthless people too
And longs to inflate any man’s thoughts.

But someone who does well by the gods
Lightens their heart with nobler hope.
Sure, they may be mortal but
If they have health and can live
On their own possessions,
They rival the most prominent.

Joy comes to any human life
that’s free of diseases and overwhelming poverty.

The desire of the rich for big things
And the poor for smaller things is
The same but there’s nothing sweet
In having access to everything.

Humans are always trying to catch
The things that escape them.”

φαμὶ καὶ φάσω μέγιστον
κῦδος ἔχειν ἀρετάν· πλοῦ-
τος δὲ καὶ δειλοῖσιν ἀνθρώπων ὁμιλεῖ,
ἐθέλει δ᾿ αὔξειν φρένας ἀνδρός·
ὁ δ᾿ εὖ ἔρδων θεούς
ἐλπίδι κυδροτέραι
σαίνει κέαρ. εἰ δ᾿ ὑγιείας
θνατὸς ἐὼν ἔλαχεν.
ζώειν τ᾿ ἀπ᾿ οἰκείων ἔχει,
πρώτοις ἐρίζει· παντί τοι
τέρψις ἀνθρώπων βίωι
ἕπεται νόσφιν γε νόσων
πενίας τ᾿ ἀμαχάνου.
ἶσον ὅ τ᾿ ἀφνεὸς ἱμείρει
μεγάλων ὅ τε μείων
παυροτέρων· τὸ δὲ πάντων
εὐμαρεῖν οὐδὲν γλυκύ
θνατοῖσιν, ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ τὰ φεύγοντα
δίζηνται κιχεῖν.

Black and white still photograph of a scene from a movie: a woman holds a child in a hospital bed
Still from the American drama film Wealth (1921) with Ethel Clayton, on page 57 of the September 1921 Photoplay. from Wikimedia Commons