Cicero’s Laelius de Amicitia ("Laelius on Friendship")

A Summary

1–5 Dedication to Atticus

Cicero explains how he heard this dialogue, introduces its participants, and celebrates his friendship with Atticus. He also compares this dialogue to his earlier work De Senectute ("On Old Age").

6–104 The Dialogue

6–7 Fannius tells Laelius that people are wondering how Laelius is dealing with the death of Scipio because Laelius was absent from an important meeting shortly after Scipio’s death. Fannius compares Laelius’ wisdom to that of Cato.

8 Scaevola says that he was telling people that Laelius missed this meeting due to sickness, not grief.

8 Laelius responds by confirming his illness

9 Laelius discusses wisdom and suggests that Cato was wiser than either himself or even Socrates.

10 Laelius describes his feelings about the death of Scipio.

11 Scipio’s life was so successful that he had no regrets at the end.

12 Scipio’s death was so quick that he did not suffer.

13 The immortality of the soul

14 A few days before his death Scipio spoke on the soul’s immortality.

15 Laelius is happy to have had Scipio’s friendship

16 Fannius and Scaevola ask Laelius to speak about friendship

17–24 Laelius’ definition of friendship

17 Laelius agrees to speak about friendship but suggests that he is not qualified to do so since he is not a philosopher.

18 Friendship can only exist between good men.

19 A definition of "good men." Companionship is part of human nature.

20 True friendship is rare. A definition of friendship: complete sympathy in all matters of importance, plus goodwill and affection. Without virtue friendship cannot exist.

21 A definition of virtue in terms of real, virtuous men.

22 No life is worth living without the mutual love of friends.

23 Friendship provides hope for the future.

24 Empedocles’ theory of union of the elements (friendship) and discord. Laelius tries to conclude his discourse by speaking about the friendship of Orestes and Pylades.

25 Fannius and Scaevola ask Laelius to continue by speaking more personally about his friendship with Scipio.

26–32 Laelius speaks on the origin of friendship

26 Laelius rejects the suggestion that people seek friendship because of a sense of personal inadequacy.

27 He argues instead that friendship comes from human nature itself.

28 Love of virtue

29 Admiration for virtue must be accompanied by shared kindnesses in order to become friendship.

30 Scipio and Laelius became friends not because of perceived advantages but because of their admiration of each other’s virtues.

31 Generosity is also part of human nature.

32 Laelius argues against the epicurean belief in the goal of life as pleasure and supports the Stoic view that the goal of life is virtue. Laelius tries to conclude here.

33 Fannius and Scaevola ask Laelius to continue and Laelius agrees to share some conversations he had had with Scipio about friendship.

33–104 Laelius’ friendship with Scipio

33 The difficulty of maintaining a life-long friendship

34 Some reasons that childhood friendships often do not last.

35 Friendships also end when a friend asks for something immoral.

36 How far should a friend go to help a friend? Should Coriolanus’ friends have helped him fight against their own country?

37 Tiberius Gracchus’ friends did not support him in causing civil unrest. Wrongdoing is not excused if it is committed for the sake of a friend.

38 What about examples of friends who rightly do whatever their friends wish?

39 Examples of good and loyal friends.

40 A law of friendship: Never ask a wrongful thing of a friend.

41 Tiberius Gracchus made such a demand on his friends.

42 Necessity of teaching friends not to act wrongly for friends.

43 The friendships of evil men must be suppressed.

44 Only ask friends to do what is honorable.

45 On Greek thinkers who believe that friendships should be avoided.

46 Other Greek thinkers (Epicurean philosophers) believe friendship is desirable for the sake of assistance and protection.

47 The flaws of Epicurean emphasis on "freedom from care" (ataraxia). Pain does not touch the heart of a wise man.

48 The pains friendship may cause are not a reason to avoid friendships.

49 The pleasure of enjoying the friendship of a living soul endowed with virtue.

50 Good men are attracted to good men.

51 Friendships made for ulterior motives sacrifice the joy of friendships made out of pure affection.

52 Those weakened by luxurious living are not good models for friendship.

53 We cannot be friends with people we fear, like tyrants.

54 Tarquin the last king of Rome could not have real friends.

55 Friendship cannot be bought.

56 The false limits of friendship

57 The first view: we should feel towards our friends as we feel towards ourselves. Laelius says we should stand ready to do more for our friends than for ourselves.

58 The second view: That we should do for our friends exactly what they do for us. Laelius says this places too much of a restriction on friendship.

59 The third view: That a man values himself to the extent that he is valued by his friends. This is the least desirable view. Scipio argued against the view that one ought to love in the expectation of someday hating.

60 Such a view only destroys friendships. Rather we should never love someone whom we might someday expect to hate.

61 The true limits of friendship: friends should be without character blemish; friends should share all concerns and plans with friends.

62 Scipio always complained how careless men were in choosing friends.

63 Friendships should be made carefully, cautiously and slowly.

64 Politics is not a good area for friendship.

65 Trust as the foundation of lasting friendship.

66 Graciousness of speech and manners is also important to friendship.

67 Should new friends ever be put before old friends?

68 Old friendships should always come first.

69 Friends should never feel superior to friends.

70 We should share our distinctions and status with our friends.

71 Friends should never be jealous of the success and status of friends.

72 It is important to keep people from thinking they are inferior.

73 How far should we go in aiding friends? Only so much that is within our powers and only so much as the friend can bear.

74 Youthful friendships must be reevaluated in maturity. People change.

75 Friendship should no keep us from doing what we have to do. The example of Neoptolemus and Lycomedes.

76 The demands of friends must be watched carefully. Sometimes friendships must be broken.

77 Sometimes this happens do to a gradual change in character.

78 When friendships end, enmity should be avoided.

79 The best friends are those who have something lovable within their nature.

80 The best friendship is the one desirable for its own sake.

81 Love of another is what distinguishes humans from animals.

82 The need for mutual respect in friendship.

83 Friendship should aid virtue, not vice.

84 Unvirtuous men do not really have friends.

85 One must constantly test and observe one’s friends.

86 Friendship is something which nearly everyone agrees is worthwhile in life.

87 Friendship is part of nearly everyone’s life.

88 No one likes being alone. Hypersensitivity should be avoided in friendship.

89 Flattery should be avoided in friendship.

90 Friends need to be frank with each other.

91 Friends need to accept criticism from friends.

92 Hypocrisy makes friendship impossible.

93–94 One cannot change to please a friend.

95 The sycophant is not a true friend.

96 One can distinguish between a real and fake friend just as one can distinguish a demagogue from a true patriot and citizen. An example from the career of Laelius and Scipio.

97 If truth can be seen even in politics, true friends can also be recognized.

98 The really virtuous are willing to hear the truth from their friends.

99 The dangerous of yielding to flattery.

100 Laelius acknowledges that he is drifting from the topic of the friendships of the wise and virtuous. Virtue initiates and preserves friendship.

101 Laelius’ friendships with those older and younger than himself.

102 Scipio is still alive in Laelius’ heart.

103 Laelius’ friendship with Scipio was one of his most cherished possessions.

104 Memories of this friendship are his consolation.

Cicero Homepage / Cicero's "On Friendship" / Some Study Questions / Background

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