De Beneficiis
L Annaei Senecae philosophi 1643 page 458 De Beneficiis.png
From the 1643 edition, published by Francesco Baba
AuthorLucius Annaeus Seneca
CountryAncient Rome
Publication date
AD c. 59

De Beneficiis (English: On Benefits) is a first-century work by Seneca the Younger. It forms part of a series of moral essays (or "Dialogues") composed by Seneca. De Beneficiis concerns the award and reception of gifts and favours within society, and examines the complex nature and role of gratitude within the context of Stoic ethics.

Meaning of title

Although the title is typically translated as On Benefits,[1] the word Beneficiis is derived from the Latin word beneficium, meaning a favor, benefit, service, or kindness.[2] Other translations of the title have included: On gifts and services;[3] On the Award and Reception of Favors;[4] On Favours;[5] and On kind deeds.[6]

The work is dedicated to Aebutius Liberalis who is also the subject of Letter 91.[7]

Dating of the writing

It is considered that the work was very likely written between the years 56 and 62 AD.[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.[10] Seneca mentions the completed work in his Letters to Lucilius (81. 3) indicating that it was finished by 64.[11] Nero was emperor during the time of writing.[12]


The Greek language term for giving and receiving is δόσις και λῆ(μ)ψις.[8] The Stoic philosopher Hecato of Rhodes is quoted several times in the treatise and was a likely influence for Seneca.[8][10]


De Beneficiis comprises seven books.[13] 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.[14]

Seneca's aim of the work was, through a discussion of benefits (to regulate a practice):[15]

maxime humanam societatem alligat

which very much holds human society together[16]

— - 1.4.2.

The giving of beneficia was for Seneca the most important thing that morally bound humans in society:

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 [17]


De Beneficiis concerns the nature of relative benefits to persons fulfilling the role in social exchange of either giver or receiver.[18] This includes benefit-exchange,[19] reciprocity,[20] and giving and receiving,[8] within society. The subject of the work might be thought of as social ethics, and specifically Stoic ethics.[21]

De Beneficiis deals with ethics with regards to political leadership.[22] As such, the work is concerned with the lives of Roman aristocrats, and the nature of their relationships. This 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 [23] of the way in which the aristocrats might behave, for the good of ancient Roman society.[24][25] 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.[26]

History of transmission, publications and translations


The oldest extant copy of the work is of the late 8th to early 9th century.[27][28] After its founding, the monastery of Lorsch acquired the archetype of the work during sometime circa 850,[29] this had been written somewhere in Italy (probably within the area of Milan[30]) about 800, part of a text known as the codex Nazarianus,[31] (currently in the Palatine collection of the Vatican library[32]), and after numerous copies were made via monasteries in the Loire.[21][33] The work was subsequently disseminated throughout Western Europe.[34]


Three English translations were made during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.[35] The first translation into English was made in 1569 by Nicolas Haward, of books one to three,[36] while the first full translation into English was made in 1578 by Arthur Golding, and the second in 1614 by Thomas Lodge.[37] Roger L'Estrange made a paraphrased work in 1678,[38][39] he had been making efforts on Seneca's works since at least 1639.[40] 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 J. W. Basore circa 1928–1935.[41]

Nicholas Haward chose the title The line of liberalitie: duly directing the well bestowing of benefits and reprehending the common vice of ingratitude.[42][43] Arthur Golding called the work Concerning Benefyting, that is to say the dooing receiyving and requyting of good turnes.[44] The standard English form chosen after the Lodge translation of 1613 is On Benefits.[45]

Later reception

The ethics of Seneca's writing were readily assimilated by twelfth century Christian thinkers.[21]

Michel de Montaigne was acquainted with the work.[46][47]

The work is recognised as having been influential in the writing of the sociologist Marcel Mauss, specifically his essay The Gift,[48] first published in 1925 in French, and translated in 1954 into English.[49] The subject of the gift has become a central concept to the discipline of anthropology since Mauss.[50]


  1. ^ M.Griffin (2013). Seneca on Society A Guide to De Beneficiis. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199245482. Retrieved 2015-03-12.
  2. ^ Latin Word Study Tool [Retrieved 2015-03-13]
  3. ^ M. Griffin (2003). "De Beneficiis and Roman Society". The Journal of Roman Studies. Journal of Roman Studies / Volume 93 /. 93: 92–113. doi:10.2307/3184640. JSTOR 3184640. S2CID 162868664. 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. p. 94. ISBN 978-0549980131. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
  6. ^ Jean-Joseph Goux (2002). The Enigma of Gift and Sacrifice. Fordham University Press. pp. 148–149, 153. ISBN 0823221660. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
  7. ^ Marshall, C. W. (2013). "The works of Seneca the Younger and their dates". In Heil, Andreas; Damschen, Gregor (eds.). Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist. Brill. p. 41. ISBN 978-9004217089.
  8. ^ a b c d G. W. Peterman (1997). Paul's Gift from Philippi: Conventions of Gift Exchange and Christian Giving. Cambridge University Press. pp. 52–54. 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. ^ a b M Lentano (2013). Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist. Brill. p. 201. ISBN 978-9004217089. 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. ^ PG Walsh writing from translation of Cicero – On Obligation (xxxiv) Oxford University Press, 2000 ISBN 0199240183 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  13. ^ Miriam T. Griffin – on Society: A Guide to De Beneficiis (Preface – p. vii) ISBN 0199245487 [Retrieved 2015-3-12]
  14. ^ Translated by John W. Basore courtesy of website. From the Loeb Classical Library edition London: W. Heinemann, 1928–1935 [Retrieved 2011-12-05].
  15. ^ 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 p. 90, Edipuglia srl, 2003 ISBN 8872283027 [Retrieved 2015-o3-14]
  16. ^ Rossi Elena (1999). "Louise Fothergill-Payne (1933-1998)". Bulletin of Hispanic Studies. 76 (2): 297–302. doi:10.1080/000749099753813195.Seneca and Celestina (p. 80) (Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN 052132212X [Retrieved 2015-3-15]
  17. ^ Book I Harvard University Press the Loeb Classical Library – DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-de_beneficiis.1935 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  18. ^ The European Graduate School Lucius Annaeus Seneca – Biography Archived 2015-03-18 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2015-3-14
  19. ^ S Joubert – Paul as Benefactor: Reciprocity, Strategy and Theological Reflection in Paul's Collection p. 40, ISBN 3161473469 [Retrieved 2015-3-12]
  20. ^ 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]
  21. ^ a b c Lapidge, Michael (1992). "The Stoic Inheritance". In Dronke, Peter (ed.). A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0521429072. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  22. ^ J Sellars – Stoicism p. 13, (Routledge, 2014) ISBN 1317493915 [Retrieved 2015-3-16]
  23. ^ ZA Crook – Reconceptualising Conversion: Patronage, Loyalty, and Conversion in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, Issue 130 p. 62. Walter de Gruyter, 1 Jan 2004 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  24. ^ M. Griffin – De Beneficiis and Roman Society Cambridge Journals: Journal of Roman Studies ( November 2003, pp. 92–113) [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  25. ^ T Fear – Of Aristocrats and Courtesans: Seneca, "De Beneficiis" 1.14 JSTOR, originally published by: Franz Steiner Verlag [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  26. ^ 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]
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ M.I. Colish (1985). The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages, Volume 1. Brill. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9004072675. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ M Lentano (2013). Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist. Brill. p. 205. ISBN 978-9004217089. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  31. ^ L.D. Reynolds; M.T. Griffin; E. Fantham (2012). "Annaeus Seneca (2), Lucius". In S. Hornblower; A. Spawforth; E. Eidinow (eds.). The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0199545568. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  32. ^ WM Lindsay (1925). Collectanea Varia : Palaeographia Latina. St. Andrews University publications, Georg Olms Verlag. p. 7. ISBN 3487405385. Retrieved 2015-03-16.
  33. ^ 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 978-0199686339. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  34. ^ P. Stacey (2007). Roman Monarchy and the Renaissance Prince. Cambridge University Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-1139463065. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
  35. ^ V Moul – Jonson, Horace and the Classical Tradition (p. 81: footnote 63 Cambridge University Press, 2010 ISBN 1139485792 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  36. ^ 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]
  37. ^ B.Y Kunze, D.D. Brautigam – Court, Country, and Culture: Essays on Early Modern British History in Honor of Perez Zagorin (p. 112) Boydell & Brewer, 1992 [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  38. ^ 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]
  39. ^ Sir Roger L'Estrange – Seneca's Morals by Way of Abstract S. Ballard, 1746 [Retrieved 2015-04-02]
  40. ^ 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]
  41. ^ David Camden (Ph.D. candidate in Classical Philology at Harvard University) forumromanum [Retrieved 2015-3-13]
  42. ^ F Heal – The Power of Gifts: Gift Exchange in Early Modern England (p. 17) Oxford University Press, 2014 Retrieved 2015-3-13
  43. ^ Religion and Trade: Cross-Cultural Exchanges in World History, 1000–1900 (p. 70: fn 26) edited by F Trivellato, L Halevi, C Antunes – published by Oxford University Press, 2014 ISBN 019937919X [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  44. ^ M Archer – The Meaning of "Grace" and "Courtesy": Book VI of The Faerie Queene JSTOR originally published in SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 (Winter, 1987) [Retrieved 2015-3-15]
  45. ^ J.M. Cooper, J. F. Procopé – Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought – Seneca: Moral and Political Essays (p. 184) Cambridge University Press, 1995 ISBN 0521348188 [Retrieved 2015-03-14]
  46. ^ the literature of the french renaissance (footnote to p. 161) [Retrieved 2015-3-14
  47. ^ Michel de Montaigne – The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne Chapter 21: Note 154, Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1596255811 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  48. ^ SC Stroup in The Gift in Antiquity Chapter 8 – 3rd page of copy, edited by Michael Satlow , published by John Wiley & Sons, 2013 ISBN 1118517903 [Retrieved 2015-3-14]
  49. ^ Marcel MaussEssai Sur Le Don Psychology Press, 2002 ISBN 0415267498 Retrieved 2015-3-14
  50. ^ M Lentano – De Beneficiis p. 204, in Brill's Companion to Seneca: Philosopher and Dramatist Brill, 2013 ISBN 9004217088 [Retrieved 2015-3-19]

Further reading