Cicero was a central figure in the story of the Roman Empire. He lived at the crossroads of history and would give voice to a Republic. He was fearless and risked his life for the ideas and individuals he believed in, which would unfortunately cost him his life. His writings survived him: “On Duties”, “A Treatises on Friendship and Old Age”, and over 900 other letters.
Cicero was born Jan 3, 106 B.C to a family of means. His family moved to Rome when Cicero was just a child. His education was focused on rhetoric, philosophy and law, and his teachers were prominent men of the age. He began his legal carrier in his mid-twenties, and before long had a reputation as a talented and courageous man. His efforts uncovered countless acts of corruption and he was seen as a savior of the people, but his efforts also earned him many enemies.
In 49 B.C. as Caesar and Pompey battled, Cicero sided with Pompey. After Caesar had control, and Pompey was killed in Egypt, Caesar showed Cicero grace, most likely in recognition of Cicero’s talent and contributions in whole.
After Caesar’s assassination, Cicero supported the cause of the conspirators against Antony. He had no regard for Antony and his behavior. He wrote against Antony in what are known as the fourteen “Philippics”. Agents of Antony would find Cicero, and to ensure the great orator and writer never spoke or wrote again, they cut off his head and hands and displayed them in Rome.
One of the world's greatest orators, Cicero address Rome
Cicero’s writings stand the test of time and live 2000 years after his death. The views of this Roman statesman are useful in practical living today as well as for current political comparison. While this statesman had enemies his service, intelligence and bravery had earned him many of friend in Rome.
One of the great lasting works of Cicero was his “Treatises on Friendship”, a dialogue between Gaius Laelius, and Laelius' two sons-in-law, Gaius Fannius, and Quintus Mucius Scaevola.
Laelius reflects on his friendship with Scipio Africanus after Scipio’s death with the two young men.
Within the work we are given much to contemplate about identifying those who may make good friends and how we should serve one another.
The first thing Cicero’s Larlius provides us is a view of the nature of the friendship, “Such is the pleasure I take in recalling our friendship that I look upon my life as having been a happy one because I spent it with Scipio. With him I was associated in public and private business, with him I lived in Rome and served abroad, and between us there was the most complete harmony in tastes, our pursuits, and our sentiments which is the true secret of friendship.”
Cicero’s view of friendship shows accord through like-mindedness. There is a “complete harmony” in what the pair enjoyed, sought, and thought. If we took this short phrase alone, we may very well limit our friends to a select few. If we use this as a measurement, I will say we use this description for those friends in our inner-most circle. One might think if you are like minded, these friendships permit us to share and say things others might take the wrong way, but I’ve also discovered likeminded people are at times not open to challenging deeply held thoughts.
Let’s define our first group of friends as our Inner Circle. It is difficult to build an inner circle of friends as it takes time and opportunities to trust before you allow someone in to such a space. I see Cicero’s definitions of friendship as descriptions of those we allow to be close to us, and of whom we want to be close too. Cicero takes it further as Laelius also states, “I must begin by laying down this principle – friendship can only exist between good men.” He then defines what he means by good, “…those whose actions and lives leave no question as to their honor, purity, equity, and liberality, who are free from greed, lust, and violence, and who have the courage of their convictions.”
With his definition of good we have certainly shrunk the field of candidates and we are left with much weighing and measuring to do of ourselves and those around us. Is he wrong?
If we are to permit people into our inner circle, we must agree with Cicero. If someone is not virtuous then there is a probability, they are untrustworthy, and the friendship may fail. If a virtuous individual offends in the relationship, then at some point they will do the honorable step and ask for forgiveness, which is a sign of goodness and can put us back in harmony.
The most important reflection from Cicero’s expectation of goodness is our self-evaluation. Do we meet his standards? If we discover through honest self-reflection we do not, then we give ourselves things to work on. Always in friendship the most important work we do is to improve ourselves to better serve others.
We now have like-mindedness and goodness, and our guide Laelius adds something more, affection. He says, “…you may eliminate affection from relationships, you cannot do so from friendship.”
Cicero, this courageous, tough, unwavering man calls us to affection in true friendship. He calls us to love one another, but note, his love one another has expectations. A Christian using Jesus as an example may become critical at this point of Cicero’s expectations before offering affection, but Jesus and the Bible provide examples of walking away from others, or not offering affection too. Some Christians have taken the example from the Book of Matthew quite literally, “ And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into a house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”
I don’t think most Christians today would see this as a pattern for use. I won’t expound on it, but I believe it was to make a point about eternity, not how we should engage with others. But let us not forget if a Christian, Jesus has expectations of your friendship with him: love God and love one another is commanded. Love, or in another word, affection “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This love spoken of by The Apostle Peter in the Bible is from an inner circle of friends, or as it is called in Christianity, a local “body of believers”.
Jesus calls Christians to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Cicero and before him, Aristotle calls us to the same action hundreds of years before Christ, however, not in the broad sense of which Jesus is speaking. As mentioned in the last chapter, Aristotle calls a friend a “second self”. Cicero uses this same term in his treatises, “In the face of a true friend a man sees a second self. So that where his friend is he is; if his friend be rich, he is not poor, though he be weak, his friend’s strength is his. Such friendship enhances prosperity and relieves adversity of its burden by halving and sharing it.”
In true friendship Cicero defines motive, and the motive is affection, “I gather that friendship springs from a natural impulse rather than a wish for help: from an inclination of the heart, combined with a certain instinctive feeling of love, rather than from a calculation of the material advantage it is likely to confer.”
This “instinctive feeling of love” comes from goodness, from virtuousness for Cicero. “Nothing conciliates affection like virtue,” he writes.
Within our inner circle we must be virtuous and those we permit into this closeness must also display goodness and this mutual goodness becomes a source of our affection.
As stated earlier, in our friendships we must spend the time to self-reflect to ensure we are bringing goodness and affection to the relationship. We must have our lives put together if we are to offer service and affection to another. In describing someone ready to develop friendships Cicero writes, “He is so fortified by virtue and wisdom as to want nothing and to feel absolutely self-dependent, it is then that he is most conspicuous for seeking out and keeping friendships.”
In Christianity we can again layer the statement of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How can you be an affectionate true friend If you are not virtuous, thoughtful, and open to affection? Self-reflection and self-correction are loving yourself and preparing yourself to be affectionate toward others. Love yourself enough to “fortify virtue and wisdom” so you might be virtuous toward another.
In doing so, we set the example of a true friend and give ourselves the potential to gain a true friend.
An unvirtuous person may have relationships, but risks never having a true friend, or an inner circle. And in friendship, unvirtuous behavior may destroy the connection. “Friendship can hardly remain if virtue be abandoned,” Laelius warns.
I realize we may have different opinions about, or definitions of virtue. The ancients may use the term as excellence, and defined the main virtues as courage, moderation, justice, and piety.
You’ll need to reflect on your definitions of virtue as this is important to you being in a relationship with a “second self”.
How we define goodness will define who you welcome into your inner circle and who will welcome you into theirs.
Our inner circle, our true friends, our “second selves” are the relationships we most crave in life. The closeness and affection of such relationships give life meaning and purpose. To serve someone is to give value to their life. To pursue someone is to give meaning to your life. To lose someone is to understand in full the value they brought to your life. Cicero’s Laelius was reflecting on a relationship he had lost and pondering the value of the friendship.
The deaths of David Rutherford and Don Staton were painful because these true friends added so much value to my life. My reflection then turns to, “If I had died first would they have felt the same pain?” These are important reflections to ensure you are bringing goodness and affection to the people in your life you consider a part of your inner circle.
The goal in any connection should be to move toward true friendship. This begins with a general concern with the welfare of others and the expanded view of Jesus in loving your neighbor. As Cicero shows us, this process begins with goodness.
We have more lessons on friendship to learn from Cicero and other ancient men to consider in later chapters as Aristotle expands our circles of friendship types.
Our inner circle is the place for a true friend as outlined by Cicero two thousand years ago. Now, let me provide you some considerations as you prepare yourself to be “fortified in virtue and wisdom”.