Cicero on friendship

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Abstract

Few writers have exercised such an enduring influence on Western thinking about friendship as Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE). As a student of philosophy, fluent in reading Greek, Cicero was profoundly familiar with many of the debates about friendship that had occupied thinkers from the time of Plato and Aristotle in the fourth century to the age of the great Hellenistic schools of philosophy active in his own age. Yet he was also actively involved in public life, and acutely aware of the yawning divide that could separate friendship as a noble ideal from the tawdry realities of friendship in everyday life. What makes his contribution to the Western tradition so important is that he is both a theorist and a practitioner of friendship, whose writings have been studied and imitated by generations of students throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods, and, indeed, well into the modern age. In particular, his philosophical dialogue Laelius de amicitia (Laelius on friendship), written under the shadow of the political crisis of the late Roman Republic, describes an ideal of friendship as he imagined it might have been practised by the great political figures – all male – of an age that he feared was now slipping away.1 Cicero has also left us a vast body of letters addressed to friends, many to Atticus but also to a wider circle of intimates (familiares), that testify to the complex set of ideals and social norms evoked by amicitia in the Roman world.2 No comparable body of correspondence survives in Latin from classical antiquity. Directly or indirectly, these ideals and norms had a powerful effect in shaping conceptions of friendship in the Western tradition, at least until the nineteenth century. While Cicero would not be the only influence on European ideals of friendship, his contribution deserves attention, if only because the model of friendship that he presented would provide an unconscious point of departure for so much subsequent thinking about friendship as an ideal.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFriendship
Subtitle of host publicationA History
EditorsBarbara Caine
Place of PublicationLondon UK
PublisherEquinox Publishing
Pages65-72
Number of pages8
Edition1st
ISBN (Electronic)9781317545613
ISBN (Print)9781845531973
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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