Saturday, September 18, 2004


Avarice and Dropsy

Many ancient Greek and Roman writers remarked on the insatiable nature of greed. Other desires can be satisfied, but no matter how much the greedy man acquires, it is never enough.

Theognis 227-229 = Solon, fragment 13.71-73 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
And as for wealth, there's no end set clearly down; for such as have to-day the greatest riches among us, these have twice the eagerness that others have, and who can satisfy all?
Theognis 1157-1160 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
Riches and skill are ever the most irresistible of things to man; for thou canst not surfeit thy heart with riches, and in like manner he that is most skilled shunneth not skill, but desireth it and cannot have his fill.
Aristotle, Politics 2.4.11 (1267b, tr. H. Rackham):
The baseness of human beings is a thing insatiable, and though at the first a dole of two obols is enough, yet when this has now become an established custom, they always want more, until they get to an unlimited amount; for appetite is in its nature unlimited, and the majority of mankind live for the satisfaction of appetite.
Theocritus 16.64-65:
Farewell, whoever is such, and may his supply of money be endless, and may desire for more ever take hold of him.
Cicero, Paradoxes of the Stoics 1.6:
For the thirst of desire is never filled or satisfied, but those who have these luxuries are tortured not only by the wish to get more but also by the fear of losing what they already have.

neque enim umquam expletur nec satiatur cupiditatis sitis, neque solum ea qui habent libidine augendi cruciantur sed etiam amittendi metu.
Sallust, On the Conspiracy of Catiline 11.3:
Greed involves the pursuit of money, which no wise man has desired. As if dipped in evil poisons it weakens the body and the manly soul. It is always without limit, insatiable, and it is diminished neither by excess or deficit.

avaritia pecuniae studium habet, quam nemo sapiens concupivit: ea quasi venenis malis inbuta corpus animumque virilem effeminat, semper infinita, insatiabilis est, neque copia neque inopia minuitur.
Horace, Odes 3.16.17-18:
Worry and hunger for greater things accompany money as it grows.

crescentem sequitur cura pecuniam / maiorumque fames.
Horace, Epistles 2.2.147-148:
The more you've amassed, the more you desire.

quanto plura parasti, / tanto plura cupis.
Seneca, On Benefits 2.27.3 (tr. John Basore):
Nor does greed suffer any man to be grateful; for incontinent hope is never satisfied with what is given and, the more we get, the more we covet; and just as the greater the conflagration from which the flame springs, the more fiercer and more unbounded is its fury, so greed becomes much more active when it is employeed in accumulating great riches.

non patitur aviditas quemquam esse gratum; nunquam enim improbae spei, quod datur, satis est. et maiora cupimus, quo maiora venerunt, multoque concitatior est avaritia in magnarum opum congestu collocata, ut flammae infinito acrior vis est, quo ex maiore incendio emicuit.
Juvenal 14.139:
The love of money grows in proportion as one's income.

crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecunia crevit.

The English word dropsy comes from Greek hydrops, itself from hydor = water. The medical term edema is more commonly used nowadays for this affliction, which consists of swelling due to accumulation of excess fluid. Jesus cured a man suffering from dropsy, according to Luke 14.1-6:
And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.
The view was prevalent in ancient medicine that sufferers from dropsy were always thirsty, and that drinking did nothing to alleviate their thirst and in fact made their condition worse. Naturally this led to a comparison between avarice (a disease of the soul) and dropsy (a disease of the body). In both cases, what the sufferer wanted (more water or more possessions) only aggravated the problem.

Aristippus, quoted by Plutarch, On Love of Wealth 524b (tr. Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson):
If a man eats and drinks a great deal, but is never filled, he sees a physician, inquires what ails him, what is wrong with his system, and how to rid himself of the disorder; but if the owner of five couches goes looking for ten, and the owner of ten tables buys up as many again, and though he has lands and money in plenty is not satisfied but is bent on more, losing sleep and never sated by any amount, does he imagine that he does not need someone who will prescribe for him and point out the cause of his distress?
Stobaeus 3.10.45 (on Diogenes the Cynic):
He used to liken greedy men to those suffering from dropsy. For the latter, although filled with liquid, still desired to drink.
Teles, On Poverty and Wealth (p. 39 Hense):
If anyone wishes to free himself or another from want and poverty, let him not seek possessions for himself. For, as Bion says, it is as if someone wishing to stop a dropsy patient's thirst, were not to cure the dropsy but furnish the patient with fountains and rivers.
Polybius 13.2.2 (concerning Scopas the Aetolian, tr. W.R. Paton):
He was unaware that as in the case of a dropsy the thirst of the sufferer never ceases and is never allayed by the administration of liquids from without, unless we cure the morbid condition of the body itself, so it is impossible to satiate the greed for gain, unless we correct by reasoning the vice inherent in the soul.
Horace, Odes 2.2.13-16:
Who curbs a greedy soul may boast
More power than if his broad-based throne
Bridged Libya's sea, and either coast
  Were all his own.

Indulgence bids the dropsy grow;
Who fain would quench the palate's flame
Must rescue from the watery foe
  The pale weak frame.

latius regnes avidum domando
spiritum quam si Libyam remotis
Gadibus iungas et uterque Poenus
  serviat uni.

crescit indulgens sibi dirus hydrops
nec sitim pellit, nisi causa morbi
fugerit venis et aquosus albo
  corpore languor.
Ovid, Fasti 1.211-216 (tr. J.G. Frazer):
Riches have grown and with them the frantic lust for wealth, and they who have the most possessions still crave for more. They strive to gain that they may waste, and then to repair their wasted fortunes, and thus they feed their vices by ringing the changes on them. So he whose belly swells with dropsy, the more he drinks, the thirstier he grows.

creverunt et opes et opum furiosa cupido,
  et, cum possideant plurima, plura petunt.
quaerere ut absumant, absumpta requirere certant,
  atque ipsae vitiis sunt alimenta vices:
sic quibus intumuit suffusa venter ab unda,
  quo plus sunt potae, plus sitiuntur aquae.
Seneca, Consolation to His Mother Helvia 11.3:
But the exiled man desires a table setting gleaming with golden bowls, silver famous for being crafted by ancient smiths, bronze that is precious in the crazed imagination of a few people, a crowd of slaves that would bankrupt even a wealthy establishment, bloated livestock forced to grow even fatter, and precious stones from all over the world. Even if all these things are heaped up, they will never fill a soul incapable of being filled, no more than any amount of liquid will be enough to satisfy him whose desire arises not from any lack but from the heat of his blazing innards. For that is not thirst but rather a disease.

sed desiderat aureis fulgentem vasis supellectilem et antiquis nominibus artificum argentum nobile, aes paucorum insania pretiosum et servorum turbam quae quamvis magnam domum angustet, iumentorum corpora differta et coacta pinguescere et nationum omnium lapides: ista congerantur licet, numquam explebunt inexplebilem animum, non magis quam ullus sufficiet umor ad satiandum eum cuius desiderium non ex inopia sed ex aestu ardentium viscerum oritur; non enim sitis illa sed morbus est.

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