Main Text

pg 169Part III A Map of De beneficiis pg 170

pg 171Synopses with Accompanying Notes

The Notes are meant to be used with the Synopses and are primarily designed to help readers follow Seneca's argument. They make no claim to being a full commentary. In references to other chapters of the same book, the Notes give the book number in brackets, e.g. chapter 1. 3–5 of Book 5 appears as (5.) 1. 3–5 in the Notes to Book 5, but as 5. 1. 3–5 elsewhere.

For proper names, readers should check the Biographical Notes: names marked with an asterisk in the index are included in the Biographical Notes.

Textual problems are only mentioned where I have departed from the Teubner text of Hosius (2nd edn., 1914) on a matter of importance to the sense of the passage. N is the Codex Nazarianus, the medieval archetype; N2 the hand that corrected it on the basis of conjecture; R the codex Reginensis, which incorporates the corrections by N2 (see p. 166 and n. 13).

Finally, I shall explain the reason why I normally translate the key word beneficium as 'benefit'. Brad Inwood and I decided on this translation in Griffin and Inwood 2011, aware that there is no perfect English translation. Cooper and Procopé 1995 preferred 'favour', which they defended on p. 184. Their objection to 'benefit', the traditional translation, is that the meaning of 'benefit' in current English usage is too narrow: whereas in the days of Thomas Lodge's translation of 1614 it could mean also 'a good deed' or 'a kindly deed', its ordinary meaning now is 'advantage, profit, good', according to the Oxford English Dictionary. They argue that this focus on the result of an act of generosity, that is on the service or object received, ill represents the Latin beneficium, which means, strictly, 'benefaction' or 'kindly deed'.

They go on to quote, in support, De beneficiis 2. 34. 5, where Seneca says that the term beneficium covers both 'an action that does good (actio benefica) and an object bestowed by that action'. Seneca does indeed like to insist that the real beneficium is the intentional act: both in giving and returning, intention is the most important thing. At 1. 6. 1 he has defined beneficium as 'a well-intentioned action' (benevola actio), a phrase that lays even more emphasis on attitude than does actio benefica, which reflects the role of facere in the etymology of the word and implies that the intention leads to an action that actually does the recipient good.

However, this insistence of Seneca is necessary precisely because he is deliberately going against the normal connotations of the Latin word beneficium, which, as I argue at pp. 105–10, concern the service or material thing given. Seneca's usage here is, therefore, paradoxical, because it runs counter to the pg 172ordinary meaning of a concrete service or thing; in fact, the discussion in 2. 34. 5 occurs during a discussion of the Stoic paradox eum, qui libenter accipit, beneficium reddidisse, where intention is stressed on the other side of the transaction, the return of a benefit. Since, therefore, the implication of 'result' in the English word 'benefit' is not untrue to the ordinary Latin meaning of beneficium, and since Seneca's definitions, if they are to retain their paradoxical impact, need to be given against the background of that usage, I have persisted in using 'benefit' to translate the term beneficium. 'Benefit' also retains the etymological resonance of doing real good to someone, not just acceding to a request for a favour, and it connects with 'benefaction' and 'beneficence' which have the same resonance. Seneca shows himself conscious of the etymology at Ben. 5. 10. 3, and often develops the idea that real good must be done to the recipient (e.g. 2. 14; 5. 12. 3; 5. 20. 1–4; 6. 7. 3).

As for 'favour', Cooper and Procopé themselves (ad loc.) admit that it does not quite convey the idea they want of 'kind deed' or 'act of kindness' either. Again, as in Griffin and Inwood 2011, I have preferred to use it to render gratia in its active concrete sense, 'a favour given in return', in such expressions as gratiam referre and gratiam reddere (see pp. 103–4; p. 116 n. 20).

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