The Offices

Author: Marcus Tullius Cicero  | Date: 44 BC

XX. - In conferring favours merit rather than fortune ought to be observed- We should never do an injury to one for the sake of obliging another.

Now whenever we do a kindness or friendly office to another, we usually regard one of these two things, viz. either the honesty or the greatness of the person. It is easily said, and every one is ready enough to profess, that in placing their favours, they have much more respect to the merits of the person, than to his fortune in the world. This is very fairly and honestly spoken; but yet I would be glad to be shown that man who is more willing to help one that is honest and poor than to get the favour of one that is wealthy and powerful: for who is not readiest to be serviceable to those from whom he expects the most speedy requital? but people would do well to consider more thoroughly the natures of things; for though a poor man, it is true, cannot make a requital; yet, if he is honest, he will acknowledge the obligation: and it was no unhandsome saying, whoever was the author of it, "That in case of a debt, the man who acknowledges it, doth not thereby pay it; and the man who pays it, does no longer acknowledge it; but in case of an obligation, both he who returns it still continues to acknowledge it, and he who acknowledges it thereby sufficiently returns it." But now those, on the contrary, who value themselves on their riches, honours, and flourishing condition, will scorn to acknowledge they are obliged for any kindness; nay, will think they vouch-safe you a signal favour, even whilst you are doing them some considerable service; and will always be jealous and suspicious over you, as though you demanded and expected something from them: but to have it ever said they were defended by you, or to be numbered among your dependents or clients, is as insupportable to them as even death itself; whereas your mean person, when any one does him a friendly office, considers it was done out of respect to himself, and not out of regard to his fortune or condition; and endeavours to show himself sensible of the obligation, not to him only who has done him the kindness, but, as standing in need of some other men’s assistance, to those others also, from whom he hopes for the like: and, if he should chance to do another any service, he does not endeavour to cry up and magnify it, but rather to lessen it as much as he is able. Another thing worth the considering is this; that if you defend one that is wealthy and powerful, the obligation reaches only to the person himself, or perhaps just his children; but if you protect one that is needy and forsaken, provided withal he be virtuous and modest, all the lower sort of people immediately, that are not wicked, which is no inconsiderable part of the multitude, will look on you as their safeguard and protection. On all which accounts I am wholly of opinion that a kindness is better bestowed on an honest than it is on a wealthy and fortunate person. We should endeavour, it is true, to the utmost of our power, to be serviceable to all men of whatsoever condition; but if there should happen a competition between them, I am clearly for following Themistocles’ advice, who being once asked, how he would marry his daughter, whether to one that was poor but honest, or to one that was rich but of an ill reputation; made answer, "I had rather have a man without an estate, than have an estate without a man." But the mighty respect which is paid to riches has wholly depraved and corrupted our manners; and yet what does it signify to any one of us, that such or such a person has got a plentiful fortune? Perhaps it may be useful to him that has it, though not so neither always; but allowing it to be so; suppose he has got the world more at his command; yet how, I would fain know, is he ever the honester for it? But if a man be honest as well as wealthy, though I would not have him helped for the sake of his riches, yet I would not have him hindered on their account neither; but in every case have it fairly considered, not how wealthy and great, but how good and deserving a person he is. I shall conclude this head with only one rule more; which is, never, for the sake of doing any one a kindness, to venture on that which is unjust in itself, or injurious to a third person: for no credit can be solid and durable unless built on the foundations of justice and honesty; without which nothing can be virtuous or commendable.


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Chicago: Marcus Tullius Cicero, "XX. - In Conferring Favours Merit Rather Than Fortune Ought to Be Observed- We Should Never Do an Injury to One for the Sake of Obliging Another.," The Offices, trans. Thomas Cockman Original Sources, accessed December 4, 2022,

MLA: Cicero, Marcus Tullius. "XX. - In Conferring Favours Merit Rather Than Fortune Ought to Be Observed- We Should Never Do an Injury to One for the Sake of Obliging Another." The Offices, translted by Thomas Cockman, Original Sources. 4 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Cicero, MT, 'XX. - In Conferring Favours Merit Rather Than Fortune Ought to Be Observed- We Should Never Do an Injury to One for the Sake of Obliging Another.' in The Offices, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 4 December 2022, from