Friendship. Cicero’s ‘De Amicitia.’

1. 15th c. manuscript containing Cicero’s De Amicitia. Palatinus lat. 1523, fol. 1r. Image: wikimedia.

2. Cicero, De Amicitia (1). Translated by W. A. Falconer (1923):

Quintus Mucius Scaevola (d. 88 BCE), the augur, used to relate with an accurate memory and in a pleasing way many incidents about his father-in-law, Gaius Laelius, and, in every mention of him, did not hesitate to call him ‘the Wise.’ Now, I, upon assuming the toga virilis, had been introduced by my father to Scaevola with the understanding that, so far as I could and he would permit, I should never leave the old man’s side. And so it came to pass that, in my desire to gain greater profit from his legal skill, I made it a practice to commit to memory many of his learned opinions and many, too, of his brief and pointed sayings. After his death I betook myself to the pontiff, Scaevola, who, both in intellect and integrity, was, I venture to assert, quite the most distinguished man of our state. But of him I shall speak at another time; now I return to the augur.

3. Cicero, De Amicitia (19-20). Translated by W. A. Falconer (1923):

For it seems clear to me that we were so created that between us all there exists a certain tie which strengthens with our proximity to each other. Therefore, fellow countrymen are preferred to foreigners and relatives strangers, for with them Nature herself engenders friendship, but it is one that is lacking in constancy. For friendship excels relationship in this, that goodwill may be eliminated from relationship while from friendship it cannot; since, if you remove goodwill from friendship the very name of friendship is gone; if you remove it from relationship, the name of relationship still remains. Moreover, how great the power of friendship is may most clearly be recognized from the fact that, in comparison with the infinite ties uniting the human race and fashioned by Nature herself, this thing called friendship has been so narrowed that the bonds of affection always united two persons only, or, at most, a few. For friendship is nothing else than an accord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutual goodwill and affection, and I am inclined to think that, with the exception of wisdom, no better thing has been given to man by the immortal gods.

4. Cicero, De Amicitia (63). Translated by W. A. Falconer (1923):

Some men often give proof in a petty money transaction how unstable they are; while others, who could not have been influenced by a trivial sum, are discovered in one that is large. But if any shall be found who think it base to prefer money to friendship, where shall we find those who do not put office, civil and military rank, high place and power, above friendship, so that when the former advantages are placed before them on one side and the latter on the other they will not much prefer the former? For feeble is the struggle of human nature against power, and when men have attained it even by the disregard of friendship they imagine the sin will be forgotten because friendship was not disregarded without a weighty cause. Therefore, true friendships are very hard to find among those whose time is spent in office or in business of a public kind. For where can you find a man so high-minded as to prefer his friend’s advancement to his own? And, passing by material considerations, pray consider this : how grievous and how hard to most persons does association in another’s misfortunes appear! Nor is it easy to find men who will go down to calamity’s depths for a friend.

5. Cicero, De Amicitia (67-68). Translated by W. A. Falconer (1923):

But at this point there arises a certain question of some little difficulty. Are new friends who are worthy of friendship, at any time to be preferred to old friends, as we are wont to prefer young horses to old ones? The doubt is unworthy of a human being, for there should be no surfeit of friendships as there is of other things; and, as in the case of wines that improve with age, the oldest friendships ought to be the most delightful; moreover, the well-known adage is true: “Men must eat many a peck of salt together before the claims of friendship are fulfilled.” But new friendships are not to be scorned if they offer hope of bearing fruit, like green shoots of corn that do not disappoint us at harvest-time; yet the old friendships must preserve their own place, for the force of age and habit is very great. Nay, even in the case of the horse just now referred to, everybody, nothing preventing, would rather use one to which he has grown accustomed than one that is untrained and new. And habit is strong in the case not only of animate, but also of inanimate things, since we delight even in places, though rugged and wild, in which we have lived for a fairly long time.

6. Cicero, De Amicitia (69-70). Translated by W. A. Falconer (1923):

But it is of the utmost importance in friendship that superior and inferior should stand on an equality. For oftentimes a certain pre-eminence does exist, as was that of Scipio in what I may call “our set.” But he never affected any superiority over Philus, or Rupilius, or Mummius, or over his other friends of a lower rank. For example, his brother Quintus Maximus, a distinguished man, no doubt, though by no means his equal, was treated by him as a superior, because he was older than himself. Indeed Scipio desired that he might be the cause of enhancing the dignity of all his friends. And this course every man should adopt and imitate, so that if he is endowed with any superiority in virtue, intellect, or fortune he may impart it to his relatives and share it with his next of kin; or if, for example, his parents are of a lowly station and his relatives are less favoured in mind or estate than himself, he may increase the means of the one and be the source of honour and influence to the other; as in legends, men who have for a long time lived the life of menials, because their lineage and family were unknown, although discovered and found to be the sons of gods or of kings, nevertheless retain affection for the shepherds whom for many years they regarded as their parents. And surely such a feeling ought to be much stronger in the case of real and undoubted parents. For the fruit of genius, of virtue, and, indeed, of every excellence, imparts its sweetest flavour when bestowed on those who are nearest and dearest to us.

7. Cicero, De Amicitia (77-78). Translated by W. A. Falconer (1923):

But if, on the other hand, as usually happens, a mere change of disposition and of tastes should occur, or if a difference in political views should arise (for I am talking now, as I said a moment ago, not of friendships existing between wise men, but of those of the ordinary kind), care must be taken lest it appear, not only that friendship has been put aside, but that open hostility has been aroused. For nothing is more discreditable than to be at war with one with whom you have lived on intimate terms. Scipio, as you both know, had severed his friendship with Quintus Pompeius on my account; and, moreover, because of a disagreement in politics, was estranged from my colleague, Metellus; he acted with deliberation and moderation in each instance, and without any bitter feeling of resentment. Wherefore, in the first place, pains must be taken that, if possible, no discord should arise between friends, but in case it does, then our care should be that the friendships appear to have burned out rather than to have been stamped out. And you must indeed be on your guard lest friendships be changed into serious enmities, which are the source of disputes, abuse, and invective. Yet even these, if endurable, are to be borne, and such respect is to be paid to the old-time friendship that he may be in the wrong who committed the offence and not he who suffered it.

8. P. A. Brunt, “Amicitia in the late Roman Republic,” PCPS (1965), p13:

‘Formally denounced and formally composed, inimicitiae arose in the first place (although they might also be inherited) in various ways. Men were well justified in declaring their hatred of an inimicus patriae (supra). There might be private quarrels, such as partly explained the animosity of Bibulus and Caesar. Political contentions did not suffice in themselves, unless there was personal abuse or unless a man’s status and dignity were injured, as was that of Metellus Nepos in his conflict with Cicero in 62.’