Morta litas et AmicitiaCicero'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 - 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 yourself than friendship could be thought of as a narcissistic partnership. He stresses that we should only want the very best for our friend; a willingness to make sacrifices to show your friend truly how much you love them. "I am now speaking of the common or modified form of it, though even that is the source of pleasure and profit, but of that true and complete friendship which existed between the select few who are known to fame. Such friendship enhances prosperity, and relives adversity of its burden by halving and sharing it." So why is it that we mourn at the passing of a friend? It is not until death that we are truly free, for death is only the passing of our bodies. The human form serves as a shell that houses the soul.
Our time on this earth is simply a means to an end, a chance for our soul to gather wisdom and advance forward towards the state of total enlightenment. It is then that we can transcend our human form and truly become free. Our other half, our friend has now moved onto a wondrous place. We may mourn the loss of what could be considered another version of ourselves but should we not also be joyful that a part of us has moved on to such a great place. Death should not be feared or mourned for if we truly loved that person then we would want only the best for them and a free soul is the very best. "To be severely distressed at one's own misfortunes does not show that you love your friend, but that you love yourself." Cicero has explained that as long as one love oneself more than ones "friend" than that person will not experience what he has called "friendship." To feel an overwhelming sadness for the loss of a friend is quite a selfish act.
"I am disposed to think, therefore, that in his case mourning would be a sign of envy rather than of friendship. If, however, the truth rather is that the body and soul perish together, and that no sensation remains, then though there is nothing good in death, at least there is nothing bad." This statement shows a certain level of jealousy for you envy the freedom your friend has now achieved in death whereas you are still encased in your human form, your soul trapped and yearning for knowledge and wisdom. Feelings of joy would wash over the surviving friend if indeed their friendship were true. Feeling joyful that this person he has loved with all his heart and soul has moved on to a beautiful place, free from the human condition. Reading Cicero's work has helped validate that which I have always felt to be true; not just of friendship but of death.
I conclude with a passage in which Cicero touches on the purpose of forming friendships; "For it is not so much what one gets by a friend that gives one pleasure, as the warmth of his feeling." One day I hope to understand through first hand experience rather than just through speculation and dissection of Cicero's writing.