Cicero On Friendship

Obviously, this is being posted much later than originally intended.  It’s been a busier week than I gave it credit for, I guess.  It’s not yet midnight though, so this will still count as a Friday post!


As suggested by my oldest brother, Joe, today I’m going to write about Cicero.  That’s right, the 1st century BC Roman of many hats, as they say: philosopher, orator, writer, translator, statesman etc.  He is described as having changed the face of literary prose more than any other writer in history.  Cicero was nothing but awesome – especially when it comes to his contributions to the Latin language and its daughter languages.

I read On the Good Life (which discusses Cicero’s philosophy of duty, friendship, politics, and religion) while at WWU for a Roman Lit class my freshman year, but never studied any of Cicero’s work in depth like I did with Greek writers.  (By my senior year I was reading/translating Euripides’ Medea in ancient Greek.  After all, I was a Greek major, not a Latin major…)  All that said, I genuinely enjoyed re-reading some of Cicero’s work in preparation for this post.

Cicero bookI marked a few pages in my copy of On the Good Life; this passage makes me think especially of Cullen:

It is the most satisfying experience in the world to have someone you can speak to as freely as your own self about any and every subject upon earth.  If things are going well, you cannot possibly enjoy your prosperity to the full unless you have another person whose pleasure equals your own.  Should things go wrong, your misfortunes will indeed be hard to bear without someone who suffers as badly as yourself, or even worse.

Cicero goes on to talk about the many purposes that friendship serves.  He explains that an authentic, truly admirable sort of relationship, not the “ordinary, commonplace friendships”, is unique “because of the bright rays of hope it projects into the future”.  Then he has this to say:

In whatever direction you turn, it still remains yours.  No barrier can shut it out.  It can never be untimely; it can never be in the way.  (…)  Even when a friend is absent, he is present all the same.  However poor he is, he is rich: however weak, he is strong.  (…)  Even when he is dead, he is still alive.  He is alive because his fiends still cherish him, and remember him, and long for him.  This means that there is happiness even in his death – he ennobles the existences of those who are left behind.

The last section of this passage was especially poignant when one of my high school friends, Teddy, passed away soon after I read this book.  He was 20 years old, I had known him for less than two years, and we didn’t spend a lot of time together, but I went to WWU with several of his close friends – some of whom received this passage from me in the months after he passed.

This next excerpt makes me think of friendships I had in high school (and college) and compare them to the ones I have now.  More specifically, it makes me think of how self-centered some teenagers can be, because I remember how difficult it was to follow Cicero’s advice sometimes…

It is an essential feature of genuine friendship both to offer advice and to receive it.  The advice should be given frankly but not harshly, and received with patience and no trace of resentment.  There can be no worse blot on a friendship than fawning sycophancy and adulation. (…)  Hypocrisy is bound to be vicious, because it saps and contaminates our standards of truthfulness.  And this makes it wholly incompatible with friendship, which must be truthful if it is to have any meaning at all.

Damn, that’s good.


Special thanks to: Joe, for suggesting the topic.  Cullen, Chap, Whit, and Dev for teaching me what true friendship is – and how wonderful it can be.


About jmmack

Full-time swim coach and pool program manager in the Seattle area. Swimmer, writer, cross-stitcher, HP fan, wife, sister, auntie of two nephews, human to a feisty Jack-Russell mix.
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