De Beneficiis

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De Beneficiis is a first-century work by Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC – 65 AD). It forms part of a series of moral essays (or "Dialogues") composed by Seneca, whose other philosophical explorations included providence, steadfastness, the happy life, anger, leisure, tranquility, the brevity of life, gift-giving, forgiveness, and treatises on natural phenomena.[1]

Meaning of title[edit]

While the word De is invariably translated as On (the subject of), the meaning of the term Beneficiis is variously translated as; gifts and services (M.Griffin),[2] Benefits (M.Griffin in Seneca on Society A Guide to De Beneficiis),[3] the Award and Reception of Favors,[4] Favours (TK Christov) [5] and kind deeds or charity (Jean-Joseph Goux).[6] Beneficiis is translated by the Perseus Tufts online dictionary, being from the word beneficium, as meaning a favor, benefit, service, or kindness.[7]

Dating of the writing[edit]

It is considered that the work was very likely written between the years 56 and 62 AD.JM Cooper and JF Procopé provide one line of reasoning for the dating to this particular period for the writing.[8][9] Mario Lentano provides a collation of a number of sources who posit different periods, of about these years, in Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist.[10] In Epistulae and Lucilium 81:3, Seneca writes that the work was finished by 64 (c.f. Conte – p. 412).[11]

History of transmission, publications & translations[edit]


Second century Christian church fathers and apologists appreciated Seneca to an extent which significantly contributed to the proliferation of his written production during the Carolingian renaissance of the 12th century (c.f. M.l. Colish – p. 17).

The oldest extant copy of the work is of the late 8th to early 9th century (WE Trevor et al.).[12][13] After its founding, the monastery of Lorsch acquired the archetype of the work during sometime circa 850,[14] this had been written somewhere in what is now Italy (probably within the area of Milan - c.f. Lentano p. 205 in ref.) about 800, part of a text known as the codex Nazarianus,[15][16] (currently in the Palatine collection of the Vatican library [17]), and after numerous copies were made via monasteries in the Loire.[18][19] The work was subsequently disseminated throughout Western Europe.[20]


Three translations were made into English during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.[21] The first translation at all into English was made in 1569 by Nicolas Haward, of books one to three,[22] while the first full translation into English was made in 1578 by Arthur Golding, and the second in 1614 by Thomas Lodge.[23] Roger L'Estrange made a relevant work in 1678,[24][25] he had been making efforts on Seneca's works since at least 1639.[26] A partial Latin publication of books 1 to 3, being edited by M. Charpentier – F. Lemaistre, was made circa 1860, books 1 to 3 were translated into French by de Wailly, and a translation into English was made by JW. Basore circa 1928-1935.[27]

Titles chosen by different translators[edit]

Nicholas Haward[edit]

The line of liberalitie [28] duly directing the well bestowing of benefits and reprehending the common vice of ingratitude.[29]

Arthur Golding[edit]

... Concerning Benefiting, that is to say the doing receiving and requyting of good turns.[30]

Standard English after Lodge[edit]

The standard English form chosen after the Lodge translation of 1613 is On Benefits.[31]


De Beneficiis comprises seven books.[32][33] The first sentence of the work reads:

Among the many and diverse errors of those who live reckless and thoughtless lives, almost nothing that I can mention, excellent Liberalis, is more disgraceful than the fact that we do not know how either to give or to receive benefits.[34]

Seneca's aim of the work was, through a discussion of benefits (to regulate a practice):[35]

maxime humanam societatem alligat

— - 1.4.2.

which very much holds human society together, in that, the giving of beneficiis is the most important moral bind (alligat) to humans within society:[36][37][38]

For it follows that if they are ill placed, they are ill acknowledged, and, when we complain, of their not being returned, it is too late, for they were lost at the time they were given.

— 1.1-2 [39]



De Beneficiis deals with themes of an ethical nature, within a context pertaining to concerns with regards to political leadership.[40] As such, the work is concerned with the lives of aristocrats, and the nature of their relationships. This concern is of the form of and etiquette of bond-formation between persons by the giving and exchanging of gifts or services (favors), and is prescriptive [41] of the way in which the aristocrats might behave, for the good of ancient Roman society.[42][43][44][45]

Amicitia is the Latin term for friendship in the context of Ancient Roman culture. It represents an ideal. Relationships of this kind would be between elite males of fairly equal social standing.[46]

Lewis and Short lexicon shows, for amicitia:[47]

a league of friendship, an alliance between different nations

— Perseus Tufts Latin Word Study Tool


The subject of the writing in Seneca's milieu might be thought of as social ethics,[48][49][50] specifically Stoic ethics.[51] While in the contemporary mind might be early social customs.[52] The prime concern of ethics is human well-being.[53]


The work is considered as being about the nature of relative benefits to persons fulfilling the role in social exchange of either giver or receiver.[54] By the following sources it is considered to be specifically about, benefit-exchange [55] or benefactorism (S.Joubert),[56] reciprocity (B.J.Malina),[57] giving and receiving (G.W.Peterman) [58] within society.

Influence on writing[edit]

The Greek language term for giving and receiving is δόσις και λῆ(μ)ψις.[59]

Hecaton is thought to have been an earlier influence on Seneca.[60][61]

Nero was in reign during the time of writing.[62]

Impact on later thought[edit]

The ethics of Seneca's writing were readily assimilated by twelfth century Christian thinkers.[63]

Michel de Montaigne was acquainted with the work.[64][65]

The work is recognised as having been influential in the writing of the individual Marcel Mauss, specifically his work The Gift,[66] published first in 1950.[67] The subject of the gift, has become a centrally aligned factor of thinking within the discipline of anthropology since Mauss.[68]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [Retrieved 2011-12-05]
  2. ^ M. Griffin (2003). De Beneficiis and Roman Society. Journal of Roman Studies / Volume 93 /. Retrieved 2015-03-12. 
  3. ^ M.Griffin. Seneca on Society A Guide to De Beneficiis. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-924548-2. Retrieved 2015-03-12. 
  4. ^ Review by Oleg V. Bychkov, St. Bonaventure University of Seneca, On Benefits, Miriam Griffin and Brad Inwood (trs.) in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews Retrieved 2015-03-12
  5. ^ T Krassimirov Christov (2008). Leviathans Tamed: Political Theory and International Relations in Modern Political Thought. ProQuest. p. 94. ISBN 054998013X. Retrieved 2015-03-13. 
  6. ^ Jean-Joseph Goux (2002). The Enigma of Gift and Sacrifice. Fordham University Press. p. 148,149,153. ISBN 0823221660. Retrieved 2015-03-13. 
  7. ^ Latin Word Study Tool [Retrieved 2015-03-13]
  8. ^ G. W. Peterman (1997). Paul's Gift from Philippi: Conventions of Gift Exchange and Christian Giving. Cambridge University Press. p. 52. ISBN 0521572207. Retrieved 2015-03-12. 
  9. ^ J.M. Cooper; J. F. Procopé (1995). Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought – Seneca: Moral and Political Essays. Cambridge University Press. pp. 183, 184. ISBN 0521348188. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  10. ^ M Lentano (2013). Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist. BRILL. p. 201. ISBN 9004217088. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  11. ^ G.B. Conte (University of Pisa) (1999). Latin Literature: A History. JHU Press. p. 412. ISBN 0801862531. Retrieved 2015-03-19. (Translated by J Solodow)
  12. ^ WE Trevor (2009). Less than ideal? The intellectual history of male friendship and it's articulation in early modern drama (PDF). University of Birmingham. p. 40. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  13. ^ M.I. Colish (1985). The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, Volume 1. BRILL. p. 18. ISBN 9004072675. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  14. ^ M von Albrecht (1997). A History of Roman Literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius : with Special Regard to Its Influence on World Literature. BRILL (Editor GL Schmeling). p. 1192. ISBN 9004107118. Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  15. ^ L.D.Reynolds, M.T.Griffin, E.Fantham (edited by S Hornblower, A Spawforth, E Eidinow) (2012). The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 93. ISBN 0199545561. Retrieved 2015-03-14.  (ed. this text was the first source for latin term)
  16. ^ identified as the same as of – written about 800, in John M. Cooper – editors note p.ix [Retrieved 2015-03-14]
  17. ^ WM Lindsay (1925). Collectanea Varia : Palaeographia Latina. St. Andrews University publications, Georg Olms Verlag. p. 7. ISBN 3487405385. Retrieved 2015-03-16. (ed. pages also open but not used for material added were > 1,[ 2 (apart from used Vat.Pal 1547 from here in search criteria of WM Lindsay)
  18. ^ Reynolds (1983) quoted by M.Lapidge (1992). A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. p. 94. ISBN 0521429072. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  19. ^ L. D. Reynolds; N G Wilson (2013). Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0199686335. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  20. ^ P. Stacey (2007). Roman Monarchy and the Renaissance Prince. Cambridge University Pres. p. 81. ISBN 1139463063. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  21. ^ V Moul - Jonson, Horace and the Classical Tradition (page 81:footnote 63 Cambridge University Press, 1 Apr 2010 ISBN 1139485792 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  22. ^ H.H. Davis - An Unknown and Early Translation of Seneca's "De beneficiis" Huntington Library Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 2 (Feb., 1961), pp. 137–144 – Published by: University of California Press [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  23. ^ B.Y Kunze, D.D. Brautigam – Court, Country, and Culture: Essays on Early Modern British History in Honor of Perez Zagorin (page 112) Boydell & Brewer, 1 Jan 1992 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  24. ^ EG Andrew (c.2006 professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto) - Patrons of Enlightenment p.59, University of Toronto Press, 2006 ISBN 0802090648 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  25. ^ Sir Roger L'Estrange - Seneca's Morals by Way of Abstract S. Ballard, 1746 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  26. ^ Charles Antoine de La Serna Santander - Catalogue des livres de la bibliothèque de m. C. de la Serna Santander, rédigé et mis en ordre par lui-même p.1472, (Brussels) 1803[Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  27. ^ David Camden (Ph.D. candidate in Classical Philology at Harvard University) forumromanum [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  28. ^ F Heal - The Power of Gifts: Gift Exchange in Early Modern England (page 17) Oxford University Press, 23 Oct 2014 Retrieved 2015-3-13
  29. ^ Religion and Trade: Cross-Cultural Exchanges in World History, 1000–1900 (page 70:footnote 26) edited by F Trivellato, L Halevi, C Antunes – published by Oxford University Press, 2014 ISBN 019937919X [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  30. ^ M Archer - The Meaning of "Grace" and "Courtesy": Book VI of The Faerie Queene JSTOR originally published in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (Winter, 1987) [Retrieved 2015-3-15]
  31. ^ J.M. Cooper, J. F. Procopé - Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought - Seneca: Moral and Political Essays (page 184) Cambridge University Press, 22 Jun 1995 ISBN 0521348188 [Retrieved 2015-03-14]
  32. ^ Miriam T. Griffin - on Society: A Guide to De Beneficiis (Preface - page vii) ISBN 0199245487 [Retrieved 2015-3-12]
  33. ^ Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.02.10 Review by Miriam Griffin, Somerville College, Oxford University of Giusto Picone (ed.), Le regole del beneficio: commento tematico a Seneca, 'De beneficiis', libro I. Letteratura classica, 38 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  34. ^ Translated by John W. Basore courtesy of website. From the Loeb Classical Library edition London: W. Heinemann, 1928-1935 [Retrieved 2011-12-05].
  35. ^ M.Griffin in A De Vivo, E Lo Cascio - Seneca uomo politico e l'età di Claudio e di Nerone: atti del Convegno internazionale : Capri 25-27 marzo 1999 page 90, Edipuglia srl, 2003 ISBN 8872283027 [Retrieved 2015-o3-14]
  36. ^ L Fothergill-Payne - Seneca and Celestina (page 80) (Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN 052132212X [Retrieved 2015-3-15] (ed. Fothergill-Payne being the source of the Latin version of the meaning for this)
  37. ^ the giving and interchange of favours holds together the lives of men. | (english quote here taken from Miriam Griffin) [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  38. ^ De Beneficiis - 1.4.2 (John W. Basore, Ed.) at Perseus hopper - Tufts University [Retrieved 2015-3-15] (ed. for alligat c.f. Lewis & Short)
  39. ^ Book I Harvard University Press the Loeb Classical Library – DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-de_beneficiis.1935 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  40. ^ J Sellars - Stoicism p.13, (Routledge, 5 Dec 2014) ISBN 1317493915 [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  41. ^ ZA Crook - Reconceptualising Conversion: Patronage, Loyalty, and Conversion in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, Issue 130 page 62. Walter de Gruyter, 1 Jan 2004 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  42. ^ M. Griffin - De Beneficiis and Roman Society Cambridge Journals: Journal of Roman Studies ( November 2003, pp 92-113) [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  43. ^ from the Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht review of Jan Wolkenhauer's - Senecas Schrift De beneficiis und der Wandel im römischen Benefizienwesen [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  44. ^ D Harper - etymonline [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  45. ^ T Fear - Of Aristocrats and Courtesans: Seneca, "De Beneficiis" 1.14 JSTOR, originally published by: Franz Steiner Verlag [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  46. ^ Description in BASE (Bielefeld University Library) of Francois, D - Amicitia in the plays of Terence University of Texas at Austin: Digital Repository [Retrieved 2015-3-29] (ed. The following sources were viewed but not used directly P.A. Brunt (1965 - Oriel College, Oxford)- ‘Amicitia’ in the Late Roman Republic doi:10.1017/S0068673500003163 | the word amicitia firstly located at Fear, T (2007) - ISSN [// 0018-0777 (The Open University)] [both retrieved 2015-3-29]
  47. ^ Perseus Digital library (Tufts University) : Latin Word Study Tool - amicitia[Retrieved 2015-3-29]
  48. ^ term "Social Ethics" originally identified in this inquiry via [1] : A.Galloway The Making of a Social Ethic in Late-Medieval England: From Gratitudo to "Kyndenesse" JSTOR originally published in Journal of the History of Ideas (Jul., 1994)[Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  49. ^ F. Heal - The Power of Gifts: Gift Exchange in Early Modern England page 17, Oxford University Press, 23 Oct 2014 ISBN 0199542953 [Retrieved 2015-3-13
  50. ^ A Companion to Ethics edited by Peter Singer John Wiley & Sons 20 Aug 1993 ISBN 1118724968 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  51. ^ P.Dronke p.93
  52. ^ EEBO ED PROQUEST publishers description on front cover of Haward, Nicholas - The Line of Liberalitie Dulie Directinge the Wel Bestowing of Benefites and Reprehending the Comonly Vsed Vice of Ingratitude. Anno. 1569. (1569) ISBN 1171315228 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  53. ^ Kraut, Richard - Aristotle's Ethics The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  54. ^ The European Graduate School Lucius Annaeus Seneca - Biography Retrieved 2015-3-14
  55. ^ S Joubert - Paul as Benefactor: Reciprocity, Strategy and Theological Reflection in Paul's Collection page 40, ISBN 3161473469 [Retrieved 2015-3-12]
  56. ^ S.Joubert in ZA Crook - Reconceptualising Conversion: Patronage, Loyalty, and Conversion in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean page 62, Walter de Gruyter, 1 Jan 2004 ISBN 311091560X [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  57. ^ BJ Malina, JJ Pilch – Social Scientific Models for Interpreting the Bible: Essays by the Context Group in Honor of Bruce J. Malina p.51, BRILL, 2001 [Retrieved 2015-3-12]
  58. ^ G. W. Peterman - Paul's Gift from Philippi: Conventions of Gift Exchange and Christian Giving page 54, Cambridge University Press, 28 Mar 1997 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  59. ^ G. W. Peterman - Paul's Gift from Philippi: Conventions of Gift Exchange and Christian Giving p.53, Cambridge University Press, 28 March 1997 [Retrieved 2015-3-19]
  60. ^ GW Peterman - Paul's Gift from Philippi: Conventions of Gift Exchange and Christian Giving page 52, Cambridge University Press, 28 Mar 1997 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  61. ^ M Lentano - Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist page 201, edited by Andreas Heil, Gregor Damschen published by BRILL, 13 Dec 2013 Retrieved 2015-3-14
  62. ^ PG Walsh writing from translation of Cicero - On Obligation (xxxiv) Oxford University Press, 2000 ISBN 0199240183 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  63. ^ P.Dronke – p.88
  64. ^ no details of the author are provided in the google-books copy (footnote to page 11) [Retrieved 2015-3-14
  65. ^ Michel de Montaigne - The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne Chapter 21 : Note 154, Publishing, 1 Jan 2004 ISBN 1596255811 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  66. ^ SC Stroup in The Gift in Antiquity Chapter 8 - 3rd page of copy, edited by Michael Satlow , published by John Wiley & Sons, 22 Feb 2013 ISBN 1118517903 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  67. ^ Marcel Mauss - Essai Sur Le Don Psychology Press, 2002 ISBN 0415267498 Retrieved 2015-3-14
  68. ^ M Lentano - De Beneficiis p.204, in Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist BRILL, 13 December 2013 ISBN 9004217088 [Retrieved 2015-3-19]

External links[edit]



  • Fear, Trevor (2007). Of Aristocrats and Courtesans: Seneca, De Beneficiis 1.14. Hermes: Zeitschrift für klassische philologie, 135(4), pp. 460–468. Retrieved 2011-12-05
  • M Griffin – The Journal of Roman Studies Retrieved 2011-12-05
  • GB Lavery JSTOR Mnemosyne, 1987
  • André Laks, Malcolm Schofield page 242 Justice and generosity: studies in Hellenistic social and political philosophy : proceedings of the Sixth Symposium Hellenisticum (1995) Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521452937


C. Davies - Queen's collection of gifts amassed during reign to go on show the Guardian 3 April 2017