Miriam T. Griffin (ed.), Seneca on Society: A Guide to De Beneficiis
(1.) 11. 1–15. After the brief discussions of 'who' (1. 9. 2) and 'to whom' (1. 10. 5), Seneca ends with an extended discussion of 'what'. He uses the division into which jurists divide impensa (expenses) on dotal property, in order to calculate what deductions could be made when it was returned in the process of divorce (Dig.25.1): necessariae, utiles, voluptariae (necessary, useful, and agreeable), though Seneca avoids the term voluptaria, preferring iucunda for the last (cf. also Ep. 116. 1). In dealing with the first two divisions, he designates categories of services and gifts that people in general will find necessary to life (1. 11. 1–4) and useful (1. 11. 5). In dealing with the third (1. 11. 5–15), however, he gradually reveals that considering 'what', when deciding on a particular act of beneficence, involves considering 'when', 'where', 'to whom', 'from whom', and finally 'how', thus making a bridge to the treatment of 'how' in Book 2, where he explicitly says (2. 16. 1) that nothing in itself makes a fitting gift: everything depends on the particular circumstances, in assessing which the donor shows his good intentions, the essential element of a beneficium (1. 6. 1). In Book 2, qualifications in individual cases appear for necessaria (2. 9. 2) and utilia (2. 14. 1).
(1.) 11. 1 iucunda utique mansura (agreeable things, particularly those that will last). Seneca singles out, in his third division (agreeable gifts), the category of enduring things, which he discusses in 1. 12. 1–2. That is because other gifts in this division are agreeable only in relation to the particular circumstances at the time (see n. above).
(1.) 11. 2 sine quibus non possumus vivere (without which we cannot live). For the jurists, the category of necessariae are those needed to preserve the value of the property (Dig. 25. 1. 14). The analogue is preserving the life of the individual, which Seneca takes in the broad sense of preserving a life worth living.
(1.) 11. 5 nec enim utilius quicquam est quam sibi utilem fieri (nothing is more useful than to be made useful to oneself). The reading sibi of the archetype N has been questioned: suggestions include civi (Préchac 1961) and ibi (Alexander 1950–2a, 7, pg 185followed by Cooper and Procopé 1995; Griffin and Inwood 2011). Shackleton Bailey 1970, 361 suggests a lacuna before this clause. However, the jurists construe the category of useful expenses as those that improve, rather than merely preserve, the property. By analogy, Seneca's utilia enable the person to be independent of others' benefits, useful to himself and hence to others, cf. Otio 3. 5, quisquis bene de se meretur hoc ipso aliis prodest quod illis profuturum parat' (whoever deserves well of himself benefits others by the very fact that he prepares what will prove beneficial to them'), though there he is speaking of self-improvement through the life of contemplation.