Amicitia

The Young Cicero Reading, 1464 fresco, now at ...

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Amicitia translates literally as friendship. In Roman times it meant something a bit more subtle and political than what we consider friendship– the casual, social relations that we have with people who we enjoy associating with. We see some very good examples of amicitia in HBO Rome, between Atia of the Julii and Servilia of the Junii. These women don’t at all like each other in any sense that we understand and are in fact constantly plotting against each other, but officially they are “friends”. The benefits of the association outweigh their personal distaste.

In modern society we decry this sort of behavior, and indeed I’ve no desire to be nice to people in public while carving up defixiones for them at night. But being cordial to people and being friendly with people because we share common goals and worldviews is not a bad thing, even if I don’t especially want to invite them over for dinner. Not so much the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”, more “the friend of my worldview is my friend”.

Of course Romans did have different, deeper thoughts on friendship. Cicero wrote a whole dialogue on the subject “Laelius de Amicitia“, much of which would sound quite familiar by modern standards of what makes a good and “true” friend. Most interesting to me is his exploration of what friends should not ask of each other, such as to commit or cover for immoral acts.  Also interesting are his notions of the “false limits of friendship”, which goes along with a very Pagan statement that Cicero makes, that generosity is a natural condition of human nature. If we act as though we believe this is true, or if we really do believe this is true, then it makes the entire notion of friendship and close friendship possible. Without this philosophy, where would we ever find Cicero’s “good person” to be friends with?

 

 

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