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Gift and GainHow Money Transformed Ancient Rome$
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Neil Coffee

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190496432

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190496432.001.0001

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Seneca’s Philosophical Cure

Seneca’s Philosophical Cure

Chapter:
(p.151) 13 Seneca’s Philosophical Cure
Source:
Gift and Gain
Author(s):

Neil Coffee

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190496432.003.0014

This chapter considers Seneca’s response to the yielding of gift to gain. Seneca writes the longest Roman treatise on gift giving and identifies most precisely the process by which commercial culture appropriated gift exchange. Seneca faced alarm among the elite about rising ingratitude, the transactionalization of dinner invitations, increasing elite financialization, and the distancing of the poor from the elite-dominated sphere of gift exchange. In contrast to Augustus’s efforts, carried out through the law and personal example, Seneca chose a therapeutic philosophical approach, trying to counsel the elite to change their mentality. The key move he advocates is to content oneself with giving, without looking for a return. To do otherwise leads to treating gifts as debts, which undoes the whole concept of gift giving, along with its ability to unite Roman society in harmony. Despite analyzing the problem precisely, Seneca was unsuccessful.

Keywords:   Seneca, Roman dining, Adam Smith, Augustus, Lucan, Petronius, martial, Pliny, ingratitude, benefactions

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