On Friendship by Cicero

Fannius: Laelius, you are truly one of the wisest men Rome has ever known, in the same ranks as Socrates who was declared to be the wisest of men by the oracle of Apollo himself. You are indeed wise, for you recognize that what is most important is to live one’s life as a good person, and this you have done. Where others have strayed from this path, you have not been deterred. You possess the most wonderful assortment of traits, not only natural talent and the desire to stay active, but character and a constant readiness to learn. I therefore desire to know how you are handling the death of your good friend Scipio Africanus.

Scaevola: I am also interested to know how you are handling the death of your friend Scipio, although I see that you have not failed to maintain your composure.

Laelius: Certainly, the death of my dear friend Scipio brings me great sorrow, which I proclaim despite what any philosopher says. Scipio and I were the closest of friends, and it is certainly sad to have lost such a great friend. Fortunately, I do not suffer from the delusions that some do when one passes away, for I know that Scipio has not suffered any misfortune. If anything, it is myself who is unfortunate, for being now deprived of his friendship. But certainly, I will not allow myself to be overcome by sorrow, for this only shows that one caresĀ  about himself, and not his friend.

Scipio lived a great life, having satisfied all the ambitions any man could desire to achieve. As a boy, he was looked at with great potential, and certainly he had a most illustrious career of public service. Without seeking the office, he was twice elected to serve as consul. He protected and guided our city, and by overcoming Carthage and Numantia in Spain, the two greatest threats to our country, he was able to remove the threat of war. In his personal life, he treated everyone with kindness and is remembered for his loyalty to his family, his devotion, and fair-dealings. He was indeed loved by all those who knew him. Death therefore did him no injustice, for he had lived a most full and glorious life.

My friend could not have lived any better. You will recall how he was escorted home after the last meeting of the Senate by his fellow senators, and indeed all the people of Rome. He was such a hero there can be no doubt that, now that he has left us, his destination is not to that which is below, but rather the most splendid heights of the gods. While some argue that upon death the soul dies along with the body, I prefer the ancient belief that the soul is immortal, as evident by the care with which they took for the dead. Indeed, even Socrates, who liked to argue about all things, maintained firmly that the soul is itself divine and that a good man will be able to find his way to the heavens above.

This was also the opinion of Scipio himself, and certainly if anyone’s soul were to have an easy time reaching that blessed destination, it would be his. To bemoan death, therefore, would only show one’s envy, and that is no way to act towards a friend. If, in truth, the soul does in fact perish along with the body, while this would deprive my friend of future happiness, it certainly will not cause him any burden. Without sensation, it will simply be as it was before he was born. Fortunately, he was born, and so we will always be blessed to have shared his presence.

And so, it is my misfortune that he has died, since he was younger than myself. Certainly, it would be more appropriately for me to have died first. But I am so happy to have had such a great friend, that I feel that my life has truly been blessed. Both in public life as well as in private, we were the best of friends. We shared the same interests, lived in the same home, and served our country as soldiers side by side. In our desires and opinions we were one, and this is indeed the essence of friendship. In so far as any claim that I am wise, I assure you this is undeserving, but what I do hope is that my friendship with Scipio will be remembered, for it was in fact one of those rare and beautiful moments of friendship which the world is blessed with only so often.