For Cicero friendship, “with the exception of wisdom,” was the most important thing in the world, as he lays out in his Treatise on Friendship. I have taken these quotes from his treatise and arranged them to make Cicero’s argument. I have much enjoyed my communion with a man dead for 2000 years.
The value of friendship
You might just as well take the sun out of the sky as friendship from life; for the immortal gods have given us nothing better or more delightful.
Now friendship may be thus defined: a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual goodwill and affection. And, with the exception of wisdom, I am inclined to think nothing better than this has been given to man by the immortal gods. There are people who give the palm to riches or to good health, or to power and office, many even to sensual pleasures. This last is the ideal of brute beasts; and of the others we may say that they are frail and uncertain and depend less on our own prudence than on the caprice of fortune. 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.
What can be more delightful than to have someone to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself?
[Many of the] things desirable in the eyes of some are regarded by very many as worthless. But of friendship all think alike to a man, whether those have devoted themselves to politics, or those who delight in science and philosophy, or those who follow a private way of life and care for nothing but their own business, or those lastly who have given themselves body and soul to sensuality—they all think, I say, that without friendship life is no life, if they want some part of it, at any rate, to be noble.
Components of friendship
[A friend] will be entirely without any make-believe or pretence of feeling; for the open display even of dislike is more becoming to an ingenuous character than a studied concealment of sentiment. Secondly, he will not only reject all accusations brought against his friend by another, but he will not be suspicious himself either, nor be always thinking that his friend has acted improperly. Besides this, there should be a certain pleasantness in word and manner which adds no little flavour to friendship. A gloomy temper and unvarying gravity may be very impressive; but friendship should be a little less unbending, more indulgent and gracious, and more inclined to all kinds of good fellowship and good nature.
Friends talk truth to each other, no matter how painful that might be
It is true that to give and receive advice—the former with freedom and yet without bitterness, the latter with patience and without irritation—is peculiarly appropriate to genuine friendship, it is no less true that there can be nothing more utterly subversive of friendship than flattery, adulation, and base compliance.
There are people who owe more to bitter enemies than to apparently pleasant friends: the former often speak the truth, the latter never.
Now, if on a stage, such as a public assembly essentially is, where there is the amplest room for fiction and half-truths, truth nevertheless prevails if it be but fairly laid open and brought into the light of day, what ought to happen in the case of friendship, which rests entirely on truthfulness?
If a man could ascend to heaven and get a clear view of the natural order of the universe, and the beauty of the heavenly bodies, that wonderful spectacle would give him small pleasure, though nothing could be conceived more delightful if he had but had someone to whom to tell what he had seen.
Virtue is an essential component of friendship
We mean then by the “good” those whose actions and lives leave no question as to their honour, purity, equity, and liberality; who are free from greed, lust, and violence; and who have the courage of their convictions…[and] to the best of human ability they follow nature as the most perfect guide to a good life.
Seeing that a belief in a man’s virtue is the original cause of friendship, friendship can hardly remain if virtue he abandoned.
Nature has given us friendship as the handmaid of virtue, not as a partner in guilt:
Cicero is generous in defining virtue, nobody can be perfect
Such men as these are good enough for everyday life; and we need not trouble ourselves about those ideal characters which are nowhere to be met with.
Fewer people are endowed with virtue than wish to be thought to be so.
Other essential components of friendship
Now, what is the quality to look out for as a warrant for the stability and permanence of friendship? It is loyalty. Nothing that lacks this can be stable.
[Also essential is] “respect”; for if respect is gone, friendship has lost its brightest jewel.
Politics and friendship don’t go well together (I think of Michael Gove stabbing Boris Johnson in the back)
It is not in human nature to be indifferent to political power; and if the price men have to pay for it is the sacrifice of friendship, they think their treason will be thrown into the shade by the magnitude of the reward. This is why true friendship is very difficult to find among those who engage in politics and the contest for office. Where can you find the man to prefer his friend’s advancement to his own? And to say nothing of that, think how grievous and almost intolerable it is to most men to share political disaster. You will scarcely find anyone who can bring himself to do that.