November 27, 2008

Neminem pecunia divitem fecit

In English: Money has never made anyone wealthy.

After yesterday's proverb about straw and gold, I thought these wise words about wealth and money would make a good follow-up. The words are found in one of Seneca's letters to Lucilius (CXIX), and there is much to be learned from Seneca's other observations in this same letter.

Seneca begins by insisting that the basic laws of nature are enough and that nature herself teaches us that a simple life is good enough: Esurio: edendum est; utrum hic panis sit plebeius an siligineus ad naturam nihil pertinet - illa ventrem non delectari vult sed impleri, "I hunger: something must be eaten; whether it coarse bread or fancy white bread makes no difference to nature - she does not want for the stomach to be delighted but for it to be filled." (That is a very nice echo of the donkey who prefers straw and gold.)

In short, if you are hungry, you eat whatever will fill your stomach: Nihil contemnit esuriens, "A hungry man scorns nothing."

Seneca then puts this question to Lucilius in general terms: Utrum mavis habere multum an satis?, "Would you prefer to have much, or to have enough?" Seneca then proceeds to show that the only logical response is to wish for satis. To wish for much is inevitably to wish for more, and so on in an endless cycle of dis-satis-faction: Qui multum habet plus cupit, quod est argumentum nondum illum satis habere; qui satis habet consecutus est quod numquam diviti contigit, finem, "He who has much desires more, which is a sign that he does not have enough yet; he who has enough has attained something that never happens to the rich man: the end." That is, someone who has enough has reached the end of wanting, while the man with much, who thinks it is not enough, keeps endlessly wanting more and more.

Seneca then invokes Alexander the Great as the emblem of the unnatural man, the one who keeps wanting and wanting without an end in sight. Alexander could never reach the limits of his quest, while nature knows how to stay within her boundaries: Quod naturae satis est homini non est, "What is enough for nature is not enough for man." The unnatural power of money then brings Seneca around to our saying for today: Neminem pecunia divitem fecit, immo contra nulli non maiorem sui cupidinem incussit, "Money has never made anyone wealthy; rather, on the contrary, money never instills other than a greater craving for itself."

If you'd like to read more (the letter is full of all kinds of wise and witty observations about getting and having), you can find the whole epistle online both in Latin and in English, too!

Meanwhile, hoping you are truly satis-fied with what you have already in your life, here is today's proverb read out loud:

3315. Neminem pecunia divitem fecit.


The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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