On Friendship by Cicero

Now, when Scipio was still alive, he used to maintain that it is very difficult for a friendship to remain in tact throughout one’s life. He believed that such difficulties would arise when it was no longer advantageous to remain friends, or when one’s political opinions would change such that they found themselves at odds with one another. Likewise, he pointed out that people’s character changes as they age, both as they experience more misfortunes, as well as from the sheer burden of old age itself. For example, he pointed out that as boys people have many friends, but once they mature into adulthood, it is only natural that they will give up many of these associations and begin to form others. Even if they are able to stay friends, they may soon find themselves at odds, either because they are competing for the same wife, or because of something else which they desire which can only go to one of them and not the other. Yet still, even if the friendship remains, it will be destroyed by competition for public office. More so, Scipio emphasized how greed would destroy friendships left and right, in particular causing ruin to those competing for the most desirable jobs, even if before they were the most intimate of friends.

Scipio also pointed out that many friendships will end immediately, when the one friend asks the other to help him in doing something that is wrong. When rejected, he will try and make his friend feel guilty for not helping out. He will claim that his friend should help him, and insist that their friendship depends on it. These situations put an end to many friendships, even creating enemies out of former friends. Indeed, it requires a great deal of wisdom, as well as luck, to avoid such perils.

The question is therefore raised, how far should one go to help a friend? Should one commit an injustice out of loyalty to their friend? When Coriolanus took up arms against his own country, should others have followed suit in the name of friendship? When Spurius Cassius and Maelius sought to become dictators, should their friends have come to their assistance? Of course not. No true friend would ask you to commit an injustice on their behalf. When I was serving as an adviser to the consuls Laenas and Rupilius, Gaius Blossius requested leniency for having been involved in the atrocities committed by Gracchus, whom he not only followed but in fact took the lead. But such acts must receive no leniency, for injustice in the name of friendship is no friendship at all.

A friendship must be based on goodness. If one friend stops being good, then how can the friendship continue? To follow someone away from goodness benefits nobody. To allow one’s friends to do whatever they want would only be good if they were perfectly wise beings. But we are all human, and so must live within our reality as such. As for those great men who lived with integrity, who can imagine them requesting of a friend that they commit injustice? Likewise, it is beyond comprehension that they would agree to such a request if asked of themselves.

It therefore must be accepted as a rule between friends to never ask for anything that is wrong, and if one is asked to immediately reject any such request. Committing an injustice for the sake of a friend is inexcusable, it is better to allow the friendship to fall, with the hopes that the other will still turn back to what is good. Especially at present, where our country’s safety is threatened by its own rulers, we must be careful to guard ourselves against any such promptings. Remember how Tiberius Gracchus tried to become king, in fact for a time acted as if he was king, something which we have never seen before. And who knows what things will be like when Gaius Gracchus comes to power! The deterioration which Rome is experiencing will only get worse and worse as this disaster gains momentum. We already see how the Assembly has almost completely separated itself from the Senate, such that major policy issues are being decided by the masses. Unfortunately, we will soon find that people have become better at causing commotion than they are on preventing it.

With all this going on, there are many men going around now a days looking for others to associate with them in their unjust acts. You must beware of associating with anyone who is planning on treachery. Even if they are your friend, if they want to get you caught up in something like this, you must end the friendship. Wrongdoing will be punished, both to those who started the initiative as well as any who followed in their path.

Let us look to Greece to find an example of what happens when one goes against one’s country. Themistocles was a famous and powerful man who led his fellow country-men in their victory against the Persians. Unfortunately, he then became unpopular and was exiled from Athens. While this should never have happened, nevertheless he should have accepted this decision. Instead, however, he chose to join up with the Persians and wage war against his own country. Likewise, our own Coriolanus had done the same thing twenty years earlier. But, we see that both of these men ultimately found themselves without any friends, and were forced to take their own lives. Therefore, we see that no man can be friends with someone who goes to war against his own country. Unfortunately, I fear that this same thing might happen to Rome in the near future, and the present state of the Republic fills me with great anxiety.

Therefore, in your friendships make sure to never do what is not right. Further, insist on doing what is right, even if you haven’t been asked. Go out of your way to help your friends when it is a just cause, offer them advise, and speak with sincere concern. Likewise, when a friend gives you advice, accept it and do not be stubborn.