La foeneratio tra realtà e metafora


[Foeneratio between reality and metaphor] Cato's De agri cultura begins with a memorable praise of agricolae who are morally superior to businessmen and, above all, to the despicable foeneratores. Yet Cato, like his rich fellow citizens, invested also in trade and in loans at interest. In fact, a good paterfamilias was expected to place his money in foenora if there was no convenient occasion to buy real estates. The contrast between the archaic ideology of Roman landowners and the rational criteria they adopted in administring their properties is impressive. This phenomenon reveals itself with particular evidence in the very structure of the transaction called 'foeneratio', i.e. the loan at interest. As Seneca illustrates in his De beneficiis, a foenus is somehow the 'perversion' of a mutuum which, in legal terms, is a gratuitous contract originally meant to benefit friends and relatives. This is the reason why the foeneratio was largely used in Latin literature as a metaphor of greediness and self-interest in the disguise of generosity and kindness.

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