On Friendship by Cicero

The question arises whether new friends should be placed higher than old friends, but this is not a serious question. Certainly, like wine, friendships only get better with time. While one cannot have too many friends, it is only with time that a friend proves himself. Therefore, value those friends who have stayed with you through thick and thin over those friendships recently attained, despite their promise. Just as one prefers the place where he grew up to somewhere new, likewise, find comfort in those friends with whom you have spent a lot of time together.

There is a rule in friendship that one must always put oneself on an equal level to a friend. Therefore Scipio, despite being superior to others in his group of friends, for example his younger brother Quintus Maximus, not only treated them as equals, but even showed deference. Scipio sought to raise everyone else up, so that they would benefit from being associated with him. This is how to be a true friend. When one possesses greater character or material wealth, it is his duty to strive to impart these things to his friends. He should help to improve their positions in society, to bring them up. In this way, a friend remains loyal to his friends in the same way that a child remains loyal to his parents, despite whoever else may enter into his life.

Likewise, a friend should not be upset if his friend achieves personal success. Too often, we find one complaining about how his friends success was the result of his efforts to help him. Such complaining is grating and uncalled for. Certainly, if you helped someone out they should be grateful and look forward to paying you back, but in the meantime you shouldn’t go on about it for this shows poor character. Therefore, if you are a true friend, look after your friends and help them to achieve success whenever possible.

Unfortunately, many friendships can be ruined when, right or wrong, someone feels they are being slighted. Therefore, it is best to always try and show your friends how much you care about them by going out of your way whenever possible to help them in their endeavors. For example, Scipio was able to get his friend Publius Rupilius to the position of consul. Nevertheless, there are limits, and he was not able to do the same for his brother Lucius. Furthermore, one must keep in mind the qualifications of one’s friends, to ensure that they will actually be able to do whatever position you are recommending for them.

It’s best to make decisions about who to be friends with once you have reached maturity. When we are young, we have boyhood friends. However, it’s only natural that over time our personalities will change, as well as our interests and ambitions. When one’s feelings about things differ from another, this naturally brings friendships to an end. Therefore, while we shouldn’t do away completely with such individuals, it is important to strive to find friendships with those who have the same interests as our mature selves. It is because of the need for agreements in opinion and character that good men are incapable of being friends with those who are bad.

Finally, do not let your friendship with someone interfere with them doing what is in their best interest. For example, in Greek mythology we are told of how Lycomedes discouraged Neoptolemus from leaving home, and if he would have listened, he would never have taken Troy. Therefore, when a friend must be separated for some reason, we must not be unreasonable in our requests of him.