“De Amicitia” (on friendship) was a dialogue written by a stoic philosopher known as Cicero during Julius Caesar’s most successful time as an emperor around 45 B. C. The dialogue focused on what Cicero felt aside from wisdom was the “[best thing that has ever] been given to man by the immortal gods. ” Throughout the dialogue there are signs of contradiction about the friendship Cicero discusses. Normally friendship is not seen as a way of mutual profit but to Cicero this was one of the main reasons to befriend certain men. In the dialogue he expresses his views on friendship by using Scipio and Laelius’ friendship.
Cicero conceived friendship as a high-order relationship that was more meaningful and intense than any other relationship. In the “De Amicitia” he states that “…goodwill may be eliminated from relationship while from friendship it cannot…” suggesting that the friendship will cease to exist if benevolence is removed. He firmly believes that a friendship is the truest bond that two people, particularly men, can have. The friendship that Scipio leaves behind with Laelius after his death was said to give him a type of immortality sent from the heavens.
Cicero’s idea of friendship closely resembles the patron-client relationship among Romans during this time period. In ancient Rome many people followed Stoicism, which gave Romans the idea that they should all accept their “natural role” in order to obtain happiness. Some natural roles for people were better than others- equality was basically a nonexistent term during these times. This is where the patron-client relationship took place; patrons provided for clients as long as the client supported their patron. Elections were a common place to see the patron-client relationship in effect.
The patron provided his client with protection and gifts in return for the client’s commitment to vote whenever the patron or his associate was up for election. The relationship between the two was always a trade mode of exchange for mutual profit or benefit. Cicero mentions “good men” in the dialogue, these men (Gaius Fabricius, Manius Curius, and Tiberius Coruncanius) are all part members of the Roman consul. This means that all of these men had a high level of political power. Each man provided a benefit to those who befriended them; men who were friends with them would have a better chance of being involved in the politics.
In ancient Rome a friend was not someone to just get along and have the same interests with; they needed to be able to offer something that the friend does not already have. The whole point is to benefit one another and gain what one might lack. Cicero states that the men mentioned above “…follow Nature, who is the best guide to good living. ” This statement means that these men had accepted their natural role in Roman society and have found happiness in doing so. Stoicism is blatantly responsible for Cicero’s views towards the three consuls.
Philosophy greatly impacted the minds of almost all Romans; Stoicism was the path in which they followed willingly but blindly. Cicero urges that people put friendship before everything else, but this is where the contradiction in his words and thoughts lie. If friendship was said to be the greatest gift given aside from wisdom, then why did men only befriend those who benefit him? By befriending someone who subsidizes the friend, money, wealth, power and status is being put before friendship. Greed seems to be the common theme in each view on what a friendship should be. Although Cicero has good intentions in this dialogue, there are hidden elf-absorbed messages. Suggesting not to befriend a man unless he is a “good man” is simply saying if he has no money, power or any sort of status, then do not bother adding the man to your list of “friends” or beneficiaries. Cicero generally did not have the best judgment of character and for him to speak of a perfect friendship is a contradiction in itself. Being an optimates, or in the ruling classes, automatically gives an upper hand compared to the power held by the populares. The strength in numbers is what gave the populares any power at all, seeing as they were just the average man.
The only real reason an optimates would befriend a man of the populares is so that they do not have a reason to revolt against the optimates. As the years kept adding on, more and more homeless people emerged in Rome; a gap was opening between the people, which made it harder to keep control of leadership and government. Soldiers became hard to come by and class tensions broke down social harmony. The decline of the Roman Republic happened for many reasons- political violence, civil wars, deterioration of civic apathy and the rise of vice versus the decline of virtue.
The decline in virtue affects friendships deeply; without morally good men, there is no substance in a patron-client relationship or any friendship for that matter. Cicero is unaware of his own failings as a philosopher and human being. “For it seems clear to me that we were so created that between us all there exists a certain tie in which strengthens with our proximity to each other. ” He does not recognize his own contradictions and believes that a friendship based on power and support will strengthen the relationship between people when in reality it was the demise of Rome itself.
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