Thursday, September 06, 2018


Bread and Water

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 25.4 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
None of our possessions is essential. Let us return to the law of nature; for then riches are laid up for us. The things which we actually need are free for all, or else cheap; nature craves only bread and water. No one is poor according to this standard; when a man has limited his desires within these bounds, he can challenge the happiness of Jove himself, as Epicurus says.

Nihil ex his, quae habemus, necessarium est. Ad legem naturae revertamur; divitiae paratae sunt. Aut gratuitum est, quo egemus, aut vile; panem et aquam natura desiderat. Nemo ad haec pauper est, intra quae quisquis desiderium suum clusit, cum ipso Iove de felicitate contendat, ut ait Epicurus.
Aelian, Historical Miscellany 4.13 (tr. N.G. Wilson, cf. Stobaeus, Anthology 17.30):
Epicurus of the deme of Gargettus proclaimed that a man who is not satisfied with a little will not be satisfied with anything. He also said that he was ready to declare himself a match for Zeus in good fortune if he had bread and water.

Ἐπίκουρος ὁ Γαργήττιος <ἐκεκράγει> λέγων· "ᾧ ὀλίγον οὐχ ἱκανόν, ἀλλὰ τούτῳ γε οὐδὲν ἱκανόν." ὁ αὐτὸς ἔλεγε ἑτοίμως ἔχειν καὶ τῷ Διὶ ὑπὲρ εὐδαιμονίας διαγωνίζεσθαι μάζαν ἔχων καὶ ὕδωρ.
Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus 131 (tr. Cyril Bailey):
Bread and water produce the highest pleasure, when one who needs them puts them to his lips.

καὶ μᾶζα καὶ ὕδωρ τὴν ἀκροτάτην ἀποδίδωσιν ἡδονήν, ἐπειδὰν ἐνδέων τις αὐτὰ προσενέγκηται.
Yes, but I would like my bread to be a freshly baked baguette and my water to be chilled San Pellegrino served in Waterford crystal, please.

Dear Mike,

Bread and water are all very well but Seneca might have acknowledged that a little money too comes in handy from time to time. After all he had enough of the stuff to buy 600 million loaves (see Emily Wilson, Seneca: A Life (London: Allen Lane, 2014) p. 127).

Best wishes,

Eric [Thomson]

From Wilson's book:
It is clear that Seneca was extremely rich. Cassius Dio tells us that under Nero, he accumulated over three hundred million sestertii, a very large sum, as well as a great deal of property, including several houses in Rome and elsewhere, and apparently large areas of land in the prime real estate area of central Rome as well as in other parts of Italy. He may well also have owned land in Egypt (Epistle 77), an important source of revenue, since Egypt was the primary grain supplier to the Empire. It is impossible to translate Roman money with any accuracy into modern currency, since the relative values of different types of object, and the value of labor, was radically different: property values were proportionately less, and, as in any preindustrialized economy, manufactured goods cost more. The ubiquity of slave labor also made the service economy very different. But we can get some idea of the scale of Seneca's wealth by knowing that a single sestertius could buy two loaves of bread or a jug of wine, and that a legionary in the Roman army, in Seneca's lifetime, earned 900 sestertii per annum. By today's standards, then, Seneca was at least a multimillionaire.

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