Can a Friendship Last a Lifetime?

A little while ago I thought, “You could literally open a philosophical work of Cicero up at random and that chapter would very likely be the best thing you read today.” It’s funny, Cicero gets very little credit for being a philosopher, but he told his friends that he preferred to be thought of as a writer of philosophical works, that is, to be a philosopher primarily, rather than an orator. For oratory, said he, he practiced by necessity, philosophy for its own sake. Unfortunately for Cicero, he was the best lawyer that ever walked the earth, and so he will always be dismissed as a philosopher, I suppose because we have known too many lawyers…


Audite vero, optimi viri, ea quae saepissime inter me et Scipionem de amicitia disserebantur. Quamquam ille quidem nihil difficilius esse dicebat, quam amicitiam usque ad extremum vitae diem permanere. Nam vel ut non idem expediret, incidere saepe, vel ut de re publica non idem sentiretur; mutari etiam mores hominum saepe dicebat, alias adversis rebus, alias aetate ingravescente. Atque earum rerum exemplum ex similitudine capiebat ineuntis aetatis, quod summi puerorum amores saepe una cum praetexta toga ponerentur.

Sin autem ad adulescentiam perduxissent, dirimi tamen interdum contentione vel uxoriae condicionis vel commodi alicuius, quod idem adipisci uterque non posset. Quod si qui longius in amicitia provecti essent, tamen saepe labefactari, si in honoris contentionem incidissent; pestem enim nullam maiorem esse amicitiis quam in plerisque pecuniae cupiditatem, in optimis quibusque honoris certamen et gloriae; ex quo inimicitias maximas saepe inter amicissimos exstitisse.

Magna etiam discidia et plerumque iusta nasci, cum aliquid ab amicis quod rectum non esset postularetur, ut aut libidinis ministri aut adiutores essent ad iniuriam; quod qui recusarent, quamvis honeste id facerent, ius tamen amicitiae deserere arguerentur ab iis quibus obsequi nollent. Illos autem qui quidvis ab amico auderent postulare, postulatione ipsa profiteri omnia se amici causa esse facturos. Eorum querella inveterata non modo familiaritates exstingui solere sed odia etiam gigni sempiterna. Haec ita multa quasi fata impendere amicitiis ut omnia subterfugere non modo sapientiae sed etiam felicitatis diceret sibi videri. (Cicero, Laelius de Amicitia Cap. X)


But listen, most excellent men, to these things which so often were discussed on friendship between Scipio and me. Although he used to say that nothing was more difficult than that a friendship should endure all the way to the last day of a life. For, so he said, it often happened that the same thing was not profitable for both, or that they might not hold the same political opinions; even that men’s character often changes, sometimes due to difficult circumstances, sometimes as we grow older. And he would take an example of these things from a comparison with growing up, when boys greatest loves are often put aside with the toga praetexta. [*The toga praetexta was a toga worn by youths and therefore a symbol of childhood. –Philokalos]

But if they lasted to young adulthood, still sometimes because of the stress either of marital condition or some good that each might not be able to acquire, it is interrupted. But if those who are progressed rather far in friendship, still often fall, if they fall into a contest of professional advancement [honos]; for there is no greater plabue upon friendships than among most the love of money, among the best the striving for advancement [honos] and glory; from which often, he used to say, the greates enmities have arisen among the greatest friends.

Also great discords and even just ones are born, he would say, when something which was not right was being demanded by friends, that they should be either accessories to illicit lust or help one to commit an injustice; which if they refuse, though they do this in all honor, yet they are argued to be deserting the right of friendship by those whom they are unwilling to be compliant. But that they who dared to demand something from a friend, by the very demanding profess that they would do anything for the sake of friendship. Their inveterate complaints not only customarily abolish close ties, but even cause lasting hatred to be born. So many things, then, weigh upon friendships, that he said that it seemed to him that to escape from all of them required not only wisdom but also luck. (Cicero, Laelius on Friendship Chapter 10)


Interesting basis of friendship, which can only be understood if one is capable of suspending the latent Christian and altruistic assumptions, which one must—as a modern person—necessarily have about friendship.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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