Jan. 3: Cicero on Friendship

Today I decide to read out on my porch so I am also serenaded in my otium, if I’m remembering that word right, by leaf blowers and the construction from the next block. It’s Cicero, born on this date 2113 years ago.

On friendship and “the high value put upon this great human relationship by the most famous orator of Rome”. On my back porch this means Vol. 9 pp. 16-26. Here goes...

Defined: “A complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual good will and affection”. Complete? Sheesh.

2 pages in of this 10-page section he says, “I don’t think I have any more to say about friendship.” But there are 8 pages to go! Wasn’t Cicero famous for this?

…oh wait, this is a dialogue. Thanks for not setting that up, Harvard Classics!

It’s interesting that he moves from the love of parent and child to the love we have for other men – women don’t seem to enter into it. Like so:

But of course it is more evident in the case of man: first, in the natural affection between children and their parents, an affection which only shocking wickedness can sunder: and next, when the passion of love has attained to a like strength—on our finding, that is, some one person with whose character and nature we are in full sympathy, because we think that we perceive in him what I may call the beacon-light of virtue. For nothing inspires love, nothing conciliates affection, like virtue. Why, in a certain sense we may be said to feel affection even for men we have never seen, owing to their honesty and virtue.

p. 21 “…but perhaps you would not like to hear any more.” Fannius. “Nay, pray go on!” Our modern ironies are not equipped to deal with exchanges like this anymore, unless we’re watching “The Princess Bride” or something like that.

para 11. on p. 22 becomes interesting – “How far ought personal feeling to go in friendship?” It turns out it must defer to virtue, because our friends cannot be perfect….”The plea ‘for friendship’s sake’ is a discreditable one…especially as it involves disloyalty to the republic.”

Take that, Forster!

Then he sort of veers off into denouncing “freedom from care”: Nay, if we wish to avoid anxiety we must avoid virtue itself, which necessarily involves some anxious thoughts in showing its loathing and abhorrence for the qualities which are opposite to itself—as kindness for ill nature, self-control for licentiousness, courage for cowardice. Thus you may notice that it is the just who are most pained at injustice, the brave at cowardly actions, the temperate at depravity. It is then characteristic of a rightly ordered mind to be pleased at what is good and grieved at the reverse. Seeing then that the wise are not exempt from the heart-ache (which must be the case unless we suppose all human nature rooted out of their hearts), why should we banish friendship from our lives, for fear of being involved by it in some amount of distress? If you take away emotion, what difference remains I don’t say between a man and a beast, but between a man and a stone or a log of wood, or anything else of that kind?

Again, a good reading for the beginning of the year, when the heat of resolution starts to fade.

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