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Cicero's De Amicitia

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Mortalitas et Amicitia

Cicero's De Amicitia brings a unique perspective to the topic of friendship and how it relates to death. The word amicitia comes from the Latin root word amor which is translated to mean "love". In this day and age the word friendship has taken on a slightly different meaning from the ancient meaning. Cicero's De Amicitia seeks to define what friendship is, its characteristics and principles. He has challenged us to reconsider what constitutes a true friend.

Upon observing a typical friendship it becomes clear to us that this relationship is actually devoid of true love; the love in which Cicero speaks of. A genuine friendship is a rare and beautiful thing; a mutual relationship formed between two virtuous people of the same sex in which both individuals love the other as much if not more than themselves. "In the face of a true friend a man sees as it were a second self." To love another person as much as you love yourself, to give without the expectation of receiving something in return is indeed an amazing concept. It is sometimes hard to comprehend its existence in this world where friendship is more for utility; "serve for particular ends - riches for use, power for securing homage, office for reputation, pleasure for enjoyment, health for freedom from pain and the full use of the functions of the body. But friendship embraces innumerable advantages."

The structural foundation upon which a friendship is built is a key determining factor concerning the quality, life and longevity of a friendship. When this foundation is weak and built on the selfish desires of those individuals, that friendship is ultimately put to the test. A utility based friendship is impermanent; giving way to the changing circumstances it faces over time as Cicero stated "For if it were true that its material advantages cemented friendship, it would be equally true that any change in them would dissolve it." It does not have the qualities to endure and will fail to thrive in the face of such trials and tribulations as "conflicting interest; differences of opinion in politics; frequent changes in character, owing sometimes to misfortunes, sometimes to advancing years." In this type of friendship the individual takes pleasure in each other's company only in so far they have hopes of gaining an advantage from it.

For Cicero, true friendship can only be achieved between two men. "But I must at the very beginning lay down this principle Ð'- friendship can only exist between good men." He dismisses the possibility of a friendship between a man and a woman because physical attraction and sexual desire will always be an underlying motivation. Pleasure based friendships are regulated by feelings. It is the opportunity of the moment to satisfy ones own desires for pleasure which inhibits a man and a women from truly loving the other person as though they were a second self. A Friendship based on affection is still not a true friendship because it satisfies personal pleasure before it takes into account the well-being of the other individual. "Friendship excels relationship in this, that whereas you may eliminate affection from relationship, you cannot do so from friendship. Without it relationship still exists in name, friendship does not."

For Cicero only the friendship of those who are good, and similar in their goodness, is perfect. It is based on virtue and goodness, both absolutely and for his friend. A true friendship lasts only as long as such men remain good. "For, seeing that a belief in a man's virtue is the original cause of friendship, friendship can hardly remain if virtue be abandoned." Virtue is the keystone which both creates and preserves this friendship; "Then there are those who find the "chief good" in virtue. Well, that is a noble doctrine. But the very virtue they talk of is the parent and preserver of friendship, and without it friendship cannot possibly exist." It is only natural that these friendships are such rarities fore these kinds of men are few and far between. The wish for friendship develops rapidly, but friendship does not.

"In the face of a true friend a man sees as it were a second self." If a friend is merely your second self and you love this friend as much as you love



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