On Friendship, by Marcus Tullius Cicero

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On Friendship, by Marcus Tullius Cicero

Tr. E. S. Shuckburgh; M. Tulli Ciceronis: Laelius De Amicitia (This version of the “De Amicitia” is a conflation of two texts: M. Tulli Ciceronis: Laelius De Amicitia, ed. Clifton Price, 1902; and M. Tulli Ciceronis: Scripta Quae Manserunt Omnia, Part 4, Vol. 3, ed. C.F.W. Mueller, 1890.)

[1.]. THE augur Quintus Mucius Scaevola used to recount a number of stories about his father-in-law Galus Laelius, accurately remembered and charmingly told; and whenever he talked about him always gave him the title of “the wise” without any hesitation. I had been introduced by my father to Scaevola as soon as I had assumed the robe of adulthood (toga virilis), and I took advantage of the introduction never to quit the venerable man’s side as long as I was able to stay and he was spared to us. The consequence was that I committed to memory many disquisitions of his, as well as many short pointed apophthegms, and, in short, took as much advantage of his wisdom as I could. When he died, I attached myself to Scaevola the Pontifex, whom I may venture to call quite the most distinguished of our countrymen for ability and uprightness. But of this latter I shall take other occasions to speak. To return to Scaevola the augur.

1. Q. Mucius augur multa narrare de C. Laelio socero suo memoriter et iucunde solebat nec dubitare illum in omni sermone appellare sapientem; ego autem a patre ita eram deductus ad Scaevolam sumpta virili toga, ut, quoad possem et liceret, a senis latere numquam discederem; itaque multa ab eo prudenter disputata, multa etiam breviter et commode dicta memoriae mandabam fierique studebam eius prudentia doctior. Quo mortuo me ad pontificem Scaevolam contuli, quem unum nostrae civitatis et ingenio et iustitia praestantissimum audeo dicere. Sed de hoc alias; nunc redeo ad augurem.


[2.] AMONG many other occasions I particularly remember one. He was sitting on a semicircular garden-bench, as was his custom, when I and a very few intimate friends were there, and he chanced to turn the conversation upon a subject which about that time was in many people’s mouths. You must remember, Atticus, for you were very intimate with Publius Sulpicius, what expressions of astonishment, or even indignation, were called forth by his mortal quarrel, as tribune, with the consul Quintus Pompeius, with whom he had formerly lived on terms of the closest intimacy and affection.

2. Cum saepe multa, tum memini domi in hemicyclio sedentem, ut solebat, cum et ego essem una et pauci admodum familiares, in eum sermonem illum incidere qui tum forte multis erat in ore. Meministi enim profecto, Attice, et eo magis, quod P. Sulpicio utebare multum, cum is tribunus plebis capitali odio a Q. Pompeio, qui tum erat consul, dissideret, quocum coniunctissime et amantissime vixerat, quanta esset hominum vel admiratio vel querella.  

[3.] Well, on this occasion, happening to mention this particular circumstance, Scaevola detailed to us a discourse of Laelius on friendship delivered to himself and Laelius’s other son-in-law Galus Fannius, son of Marcus Fannius, a few days after the death of Africanus. The points of that discussion I committed to memory, and have arranged them in this book at my own discretion. For I have brought the speakers, as it were, personally on to my stage to prevent the constant “said I” and “said he” of a narrative, and to give the discourse the air of being orally delivered in our hearing.

3. Itaque tum Scaevola cum in eam ipsam mentionem incidisset, exposuit nobis sermonem Laeli de amicitia habitum ab illo secum et cum altero genero, C. Fannio Marci filio, paucis diebus post mortem Africani. Eius disputationis sententias memoriae mandavi, quas hoc libro exposui arbitratu meo; quasi enim ipsos induxi loquentes, ne ‘inquam’ et ‘inquit’ saepius interponeretur, atque ut tamquam a praesentibus coram haberi sermo videretur.


[4.] You have often urged me to write something on Friendship, and I quite acknowledged that the subject seemed one worth everybody’s investigation, and specially suited to the close intimacy that has existed between you and me. Accordingly I was quite ready to benefit the public at your request.

4. Cum enim saepe mecum ageres ut de amicitia scriberem aliquid, digna mihi res cum omnium cognitione tum nostra familiaritate visa est. Itaque feci non invitus ut prodessem multis rogatu tuo.

As to the “actors”. In the treatise on Old Age, which I dedicated to you, I introduced Cato as chief speaker. No one, I thought, could with greater propriety speak on old age than one who had been an old man longer than any one else, and had been exceptionally vigorous in his old age. Similarly, having learnt from tradition that of all friendships that between Gaius Laelius and Publius Scipio was the most remarkable, I thought Laelius was just the person to support the chief part in a discussion on friendship which Scaevola remembered him to have actually taken. Moreover, a discussion of this sort gains somehow in weight from the authority of men of ancient days, especially if they happen to have been distinguished. So it comes about that in reading over what I have myself written I have a feeling at times that it is actually Cato that is speaking, not I.

Sed ut in Catone Maiore, qui est scriptus ad te de senectute, Catonem induxi senem disputantem, quia nulla videbatur aptior persona quae de illa aetate loqueretur quam eius qui et diutissime senex fuisset et in ipsa senectute praeter ceteros floruisset, sic cum accepissemus a patribus maxime memorabilem C. Laeli et P. Scipionis familiaritatem fuisse, idonea mihi Laeli persona visa est quae de amicitia ea ipsa dissereret quae disputata ab eo meminisset Scaevola. Genus autem hoc sermonum positum in hominum veterum auctoritate, et eorum inlustrium, plus nescio quo pacto videtur habere gravitatis; itaque ipse mea legens sic afficior interdum ut Catonem, non me loqui existimem.


[5.] Finally, as I sent the former essay to you as a gift from one old man to another, so I have dedicated this On Friendship as a most affectionate friend to his friend. In the former Cato spoke, who was the oldest and wisest man of his day; in this Laelius speaks on friendship-Laelius, who was at once a wise man (that was the title given him) and eminent for his famous friendship. Please forget me for a while; imagine Laelius to be speaking.

5. Sed ut tum ad senem senex de senectute, sic hoc libro ad amicum amicissimus scripsi de amicitia. Tum est Cato locutus, quo erat nemo fere senior temporibus illis, nemo prudentior; nunc Laelius et sapiens (sic enim est habitus) et amicitiae gloria excellens de amicitia loquetur. Tu velim a me animum parumper avertas, Laelium loqui ipsum putes

Gaius Fannius and Quintus Mucius come to call on their father-in-law after the death of Africanus. They start the subject; Laelius answers them. And the whole essay on friendship is his. In reading it you will recognise a picture of yourself.

. C. Fannius et Q. Mucius ad socerum veniunt post mortem Africani; ab his sermo oritur, respondet Laelius, cuius tota disputatio est de amicitia, quam legens te ipse cognosces.

[6.] 2. Fannius. You are quite right, Laelius! there never was a better or more illustrious character than Africanus. But you should consider that at the present moment all eyes are on you. Everybody calls you “the wise” par excellence, and thinks you so. The same mark of respect was lately paid Cato, and we know that in the last generation Lucius Atilius was called “the wise.” But in both cases the word was applied with a certain difference. Atilius was so called from his reputation as a jurist; Cato got the name as a kind of honorary title and in extreme old age because of his varied experience of affairs, and his reputation for foresight and firmness, and the sagacity of the opinions which he delivered in senate and forum.


6. Fannius: Sunt ista, Laeli; nec enim melior vir fuit Africano quisquam nec clarior. Sed existimare debes omnium oculos in te esse coniectos unum; te sapientem et appellant et existimant. Tribuebatur hoc modo M. Catoni; scimus L. Acilium apud patres nostros appellatum esse sapientem; sed uterque alio quodam modo, Acilius, quia prudens esse in iure civili putabatur, Cato, quia multarum rerum usum habebat; multa eius et in senatu et in foro vel provisa prudenter vel acta constanter vel responsa acute ferebantur; propterea quasi cognomen iam habebat in senectute sapientis.

[7.] You, however, are regarded as wise in a somewhat different sense not alone on account of natural ability and character, but also from your industry and learning; and not in the sense in which the vulgar, but that in which scholars, give that title. In this sense we do not read of any one being called wise in Greece except one man at Athens; and he, to be sure, had been declared by the oracle of Apollo also to be “the supremely wise man.” For those who commonly go by the name of the Seven Sages are not admitted into the category of the wise by fastidious critics. Your wisdom people believe to consist in this, that you look upon yourself as self-sufficing and regard the changes and chances of mortal life as powerless to affect your virtue. Accordingly they are always asking me, and doubtless also our Scaevola here, how you bear the death of Africanus. This curiosity has been the more excited from the fact that on the Nones of this month, when we augurs met as usual in the suburban villa of Decimus Brutus for consultation, you were not present, though it had always been your habit to keep that appointment and perform that duty with the utmost punctuality.

7. Te autem alio quodam modo non solum natura et moribus, verum etiam studio et doctrina esse sapientem, nec sicut vulgus, sed ut eruditi solent appellare sapientem, qualem in reliqua Graecia neminem (nam qui septem appellantur, eos, qui ista subtilius quaerunt, in numero sapientium non habent), Athenis unum accepimus, et eum quidem etiam Apollinis oraculo sapientissimum iudicatum; hanc esse in te sapientiam existimant, ut omnia tua in te posita esse ducas humanosque casus virtute inferiores putes. Itaque ex me quaerunt, credo ex hoc item Scaevola, quonam pacto mortem Africani feras, eoque magis quod proximis Nonis cum in hortos D. Bruti auguris commentandi causa, ut adsolet, venissemus, tu non adfuisti, qui diligentissime semper illum diem et illud munus solitus esses obire.


[8.] Scaevola. Yes, indeed, Laelius, I am often asked the question mentioned by Fannius. But I answer in accordance with what I have observed: I say that you bear in a reasonable manner the grief which you have sustained in the death of one who was at once a man of the most illustrious character and a very dear friend. That of course you could not but be affected-anything else would have been wholly unnatural in a man of your gentle nature-but that the cause of your non-attendance at our college meeting was illness, not melancholy.

8. Scaevola: Quaerunt quidem, C. Laeli, multi, ut est a Fannio dictum, sed ego id respondeo, quod animum adverti, te dolorem, quem acceperis cum summi viri tum amicissimi morte, ferre moderate nec potuisse non commoveri nec fuisse id humanitatis tuae; quod autem Nonis in collegio nostro non adfuisses, valetudinem respondeo causam, non maestitiam fuisse.

Laelius. Thanks, Scaevola! You are quite right; you spoke the exact truth. For in fact I had no right to allow myself to be withdrawn from a duty which I had regularly performed, as long as I was well, by any personal misfortune; nor do I think that anything that can happen will cause a man of principle to intermit a duty.

Laelius: Recte tu quidem, Scaevola, et vere; nec enim ab isto officio, quod semper usurpavi, cum valerem, abduci incommodo meo debui, nec ullo casu arbitror hoc constanti homini posse contingere, ut ulla intermissio fiat officii. 

[9.] As for your telling me, Fannius, of the honourable appellation given me (an appellation to which I do not recognise my title, and to which I make no claim), you doubtless act from feelings of affection; but I must say that you seem to me to do less than justice to Cato. If any one was ever “wise,”-of which I have my doubts,-he was. Putting aside everything else, consider how he bore his son’s death! I had not forgotten Paulus; I had seen with my own eyes Gallus. But they lost their sons when mere children; Cato his when he was a full-grown man with an assured reputation.


9. Tu autem, Fanni, quod mihi tantum tribui dicis quantum ego nec adgnosco nec postulo, facis amice; sed, ut mihi videris, non recte iudicas de Catone; aut enim nemo, quod quidem magis credo, aut si quisquam, ille sapiens fuit. Quo modo, ut alia omittam, mortem filii tulit! memineram Paulum, videram Galum, sed hi in pueris, Cato in perfecto et spectato viro.

[10.] Do not therefore be in a hurry to reckon as Cato’s superior even that same famous personage whom Apollo, as you say, declared to be “the wisest.” Remember the former’s reputation rests on deeds, the latter’s on words.

10. Quam ob rem cave Catoni anteponas ne istum quidem ipsum, quem Apollo, ut ais, sapientissimum iudicavit; huius enim facta, illius dicta laudantur. De me autem, ut iam cum utroque vestrum loquar, sic habetote:  

3. NOW, as far as I am concerned (I speak to both of you now), believe me the case stands thus. If I were to say that I am not affected by regret for Scipio, I must leave the philosophers to justify my conduct, but in point of fact I should be telling a lie. Affected of course I am by the loss of a friend as I think there will never be again, such as I can fearlessly say there never was before. But I stand in no need of medicine. I can find my own consolation, and it consists chiefly in my being free from the mistaken notion which generally causes pain at the departure of friends. To Scipio I am convinced no evil has befallen mine is the disaster, if disaster there be; and to be severely distressed at one’s own misfortunes does not show that you love your friend, but that you love yourself.

Ego si Scipionis desiderio me moveri negem, quam id recte faciam, viderint sapientes; sed certe mentiar. Moveor enim tali amico orbatus qualis, ut arbitror, nemo umquam erit, ut confirmare possum, nemo certe fuit; sed non egeo medicina, me ipse consolor et maxime illo solacio quod eo errore careo quo amicorum decessu plerique angi solent. Nihil mali accidisse Scipioni puto, mihi accidit, si quid accidit; suis autem incommodis graviter angi non amicum sed se ipsum amantis est.


[11.] As for him, who can say that all is not more than well? For, unless he had taken the fancy to wish for immortality, the last thing of which he ever thought, what is there for which mortal man may wish that he did not attain? In his early manhood he more than justified by extraordinary personal courage the hopes which his fellow-citizens had conceived of him as a child. He never was a candidate for the consulship, yet was elected consul twice: the first time before the legal age; the second at a time which, as far as he was concerned, was soon enough, but was near being too late for the interests of the State. By the overthrow of two cities which were the most bitter enemies of our Empire, he put an end not only to the wars then raging, but also to the possibility of others in the future. What need to mention the exquisite grace of his manners, his dutiful devotion to his mother, his generosity to his sisters, his liberality to his relations, the integrity of his conduct to every one? You know all this already. Finally, the estimation in which his fellow-citizens held him has been shown by the signs of mourning which accompanied his obsequies. What could such a man have gained by the addition of a few years? Though age need not be a burden,-as I remember Cato arguing in the presence of myself and Scipio two years before he died,-yet it cannot but take away the vigour and freshness which Scipio was still enjoying.

11. Cum illo vero quis neget actum esse praeclare? Nisi enim, quod ille minime putabat, immortalitatem optare vellet, quid non adeptus est quod homini fas esset optare? qui summam spem civium, quam de eo iam puero habuerant, continuo adulescens incredibili virtute superavit, qui consulatum petivit numquam, factus consul est bis, primum ante tempus, iterum sibi suo tempore, rei publicae paene sero, qui duabus urbibus eversis inimicissimis huic imperio non modo praesentia verum etiam futura bella delevit. Quid dicam de moribus facillimis, de pietate in matrem, liberalitate in sorores, bonitate in suos, iustitia in omnes? nota sunt vobis. Quam autem civitati carus fuerit, maerore funeris indicatum est. Quid igitur hunc paucorum annorum accessio iuvare potuisset? Senectus enim quamvis non sit gravis, ut memini Catonem anno ante quam est mortuus mecum et cum Scipione disserere, tamen aufert eam viriditatem in qua etiam nunc erat Scipio.


[12.] We may conclude therefore that his life, from the good fortune which had attended him and the glory he had obtained, was so circumstanced that it could not be bettered, while the suddenness of his death saved him the sensation of dying. As to the manner of his death it is difficult to speak; you see what people suspect. Thus much, however, I may say: Scipio in his lifetime saw many days of supreme triumph and exultation, but none more magnificent than his last, on which, upon the rising of the Senate, he was escorted by the senators and the people of Rome, by the allies, and by the Latins, to his own door. From such an elevation of popular esteem the next step seems naturally to be an ascent to the gods above, rather than a descent to Hades.

12. Quam ob rem vita quidem talis fuit vel fortuna vel gloria, ut nihil posset accedere, moriendi autem sensum celeritas abstulit; quo de genere mortis difficile dictu est; quid homines suspicentur, videtis; hoc vere tamen licet dicere, P. Scipioni ex multis diebus, quos in vita celeberrimos laetissimosque viderit, illum diem clarissimum fuisse, cum senatu dimisso domum reductus ad vesperum est a patribus conscriptis, populo Romano, sociis et Latinis, pridie quam excessit e vita, ut ex tam alto dignitatis gradu ad superos videatur deos potius quam ad inferos pervenisse.

[13.] 4. FOR I am not one of these modern philosophers who maintain that our souls perish with our bodies, and that death ends all. With me ancient opinion has more weight: whether it be that of our own ancestors, who attributed such solemn observances to the dead, as they plainly would not have done if they had believed them to be wholly annihilated; or that of the philosophers who once visited this country, and who by their maxims and doctrines educated Magna Graecia, which at that time was in a flourishing condition, though it has now been ruined; or that of the man who was declared by Apollo’s oracle to be “most wise,” and who used to teach without the variation which is to be found in most philosophers that “the souls of men are divine, and that when they have quitted the body a return to heaven is open to them, least difficult to those who have been most virtuous and just.”


13. Neque enim assentior iis qui haec nuper disserere coeperunt, cum corporibus simul animos interire atque omnia morte deleri; plus apud me antiquorum auctoritas valet, vel nostrorum maiorum, qui mortuis tam religiosa iura tribuerunt, quod non fecissent profecto si nihil ad eos pertinere arbitrarentur, vel eorum qui in hac terra fuerunt magnamque Graeciam, quae nunc quidem deleta est, tum florebat, institutis et praeceptis suis erudierunt, vel eius qui Apollinis oraculo sapientissimus est iudicatus, qui non tum hoc, tum illud, ut in plerisque, sed idem semper, animos hominum esse divinos, iisque, cum ex corpore excessissent, reditum in caelum patere, optimoque et iustissimo cuique expeditissimum.

[14.] This opinion was shared by Scipio. Only a few days before his death-as though he had a presentiment of what was coming-he discoursed for three days on the state of the republic. The company consisted of Philus and Manlius and several others, and I had brought you, Scaevola, along with me. The last part of his discourse referred principally to the immortality of the soul; for he told us what he had heard from the elder Africanus in a dream. Now if it be true that in proportion to a man’s goodness the escape from what may be called the prison and bonds of the flesh is easiest, whom can we imagine to have had an easier voyage to the gods than Scipio? I am disposed to think, therefore, that in his case mourning would be a sign of envy rather than of friendship. If, however, the truth rather is that the body and soul perish together, and that no sensation remains, then though there is nothing good in death, at least there is nothing bad. Remove sensation, and a man is exactly as though he had never been born; and yet that this man was born is a joy to me, and will be a subject of rejoicing to this State to its last hour.


14. Quod idem Scipioni videbatur, qui quidem, quasi praesagiret, perpaucis ante mortem diebus, cum et Philus et Manilius adesset et alii plures, tuque etiam, Scaevola, mecum venisses, triduum disseruit de re publica; cuius disputationis fuit extremum fere de immortalitate animorum, quae se in quiete per visum ex Africano audisse dicebat. Id si ita est, ut optimi cuiusque animus in morte facillime evolet tamquam e custodia vinclisque corporis, cui censemus cursum ad deos faciliorem fuisse quam Scipioni? Quocirca maerere hoc eius eventu vereor ne invidi magis quam amici sit. Sin autem illa veriora, ut idem interitus sit animorum et corporum nec ullus sensus maneat, ut nihil boni est in morte, sic certe nihil mali; sensu enim amisso fit idem, quasi natus non esset omnino, quem tamen esse natum et nos gaudemus et haec civitas dum erit laetabitur.

[15.] Wherefore, as I said before, all is as well as possible with him. Not so with me; for as I entered life before him, it would have been fairer for me to leave it also before him. Yet such is the pleasure I take in recalling our friendship, that I look upon my life as having been a happy one because I have spent it with Scipio. With him I was associated in public and private business; with him I lived in Rome and served abroad; and between us there was the most complete harmony in our tastes, our pursuits, and our sentiments, which is the true secret of friendship. It is not therefore in that reputation for wisdom mentioned just now by Fannius-especially as it happens to be groundless-that I find my happiness so much, as in the hope that the memory of our friendship will be lasting. What makes me care the more about this is the fact that in all history there are scarcely three or four pairs of friends on record; and it is classed with them that I cherish a hope of the friendship of Scipio and Laelius being known to posterity.


15. Quam ob rem cum illo quidem, ut supra dixi, actum optime est, mecum incommodius, quem fuerat aequius, ut prius introieram, sic prius exire de vita. Sed tamen recordatione nostrae amicitiae sic fruor ut beate vixisse videar, quia cum Scipione vixerim, quocum mihi coniuncta cura de publica re et de privata fuit, quocum et domus fuit et militia communis et, id in quo est omnis vis amicitiae, voluntatum, studiorum, sententiarum summa consensio. Itaque non tam ista me sapientiae, quam modo Fannius commemoravit, fama delectat, falsa praesertim, quam quod amicitiae nostrae memoriam spero sempiternam fore, idque eo mihi magis est cordi, quod ex omnibus saeculis vix tria aut quattuor nominantur paria amicorum; quo in genere sperare videor Scipionis et Laeli amicitiam notam posteritati fore.




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