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Cicero and Plutarch’s Views on Friendship Essay

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Updated: Sep 8th, 2021


It is a challenging act to establish friendship in our dispensation, where people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

Talking about friendship in antiquity, it existed even at Abraham’s dispensation, where God called him a friend – “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness–and he was called a friend of God (ESV, James 2.23).”

This research paper aims to highlight the comparison and contrast between Cicero and Plutarch’s beliefs on friendship, which is considered by many, as an affectionate bond which ties men.

Comparison and Contrast

Cicero had confidence in the purity and virtue of friendship. Both Cicero and Plutarch believe that knavery, deceit, and dishonesty destroy a friendship, seeing that nobody is eviler than fooling one’s self. Therefore, practicing honesty is the noblest virtue a man can achieve.

Cicero defined friendship as an absolute agreement on all subjects human and divine, bounded with mutual goodwill and affection. He believed that befriending a man for sensual pleasures is the ideal of brute beasts; that is weak and uncertain with caprice as its foundation than wisdom. However, befriending a man through virtue is a noble doctrine.

It is his conviction that friendship can only exist between good men. Moreover, he stated that only mature adults can have genuine friendships; and assures that in the face of a true friend a man sees as it were a second self.

Cicero warns us that there is nothing that causes people to display worse carelessness, and pay graver penalties, than their selection and acquisition of friends.

We suffer from carelessness in many of our undertakings: in none more than in selecting and cultivating our friends. We put the cart before the horse, and shut the stable door when the steed is stolen, in defiance of the old proverb. For, having mutually involved ourselves in a long-standing intimacy or by actual obligations, all of a sudden some cause of offense arises and we break off our friendships in full career.

Satisfy your judgment before engaging your affections: not love first and judge afterward. It is this that makes such carelessness in a matter of supreme importance all the more worthy of blame.

Cicero also believes that true friends do things without expecting anything in return. He also believes that a friend’s vested interest is not a cause for demoralizing yourself, because he believes that ignorance is the cause of evil.

He is certain that friendship fails because one forsakes to endure faith, respect, and truth in their relationship. Irrevocably, in every broken relationship, something wrong has existed.

On the other hand, Plutarch believed that a man can gain profit from one’s enemy and is capable of converting this enmity into benevolence. He also noted that it is a peculiar mark of immoral habit to feel more ashamed of our faults before our enemies than before our friends. Moreover, fear and shame are not vital elements in developing one’s character. It is the perception of turning enemies reviling prompted by anger, greed or envy which cures some evil in a person’s soul which friend oftentimes do not recognize. Ardent enemies, through reviling, can turn a man from mistakes.

It is wise that a man must examine himself if charged by slanderous allegations and seek for the cause of such revilings, serving the purpose of the doubt, if a man unknowingly commits what an enemy is accusing of.

Plutarch’s outstanding perspective of enemies suggests that false accusations must not be despised nor disregarded just because it is false, but rather consider what word or act of yours, which of your pursuits or associations, has given color to the calumny, and then be studiously careful to avoid it. For if others by becoming involved in undesired situations thereby learn a useful lesson, thus developing a strong foundation of one’s character by taking an enemy as a teacher without fee, and profiting thereby, and thus learning, to some extent, the things of which he was unaware. For there are many things which an enemy is quicker to perceive than a friend, and inherent in hatred, along with curiosity, is the inability to hold one’s tongue.


Cicero has high respect for the value of friendship and regarding virtue as the greatest factor for an everlasting relationship. He also believed that ambition, power, and glory are major conflicts in attaining genuine friendship; however Plutarch did not regard this as hindrances but challenges in bringing the best out of one’s enemies, thus opening an avenue for love and affection to spring, though Plutarch gives serious attention in befriending a person and he thought that it is better to befriend a person at home.

However, Cicero’s belief is true to most men, especially now that we are living in perilous times where man loves himself more.

Despite this, showing compassion for an enemy in affliction or dire situation is the hardest yet honorable thing to achieve.


  1. Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero, with his treatises on friendship and old age; translated by E. S. Shuckburgh. And Letters of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, translated by William Melmoth, rev. by… New York, P. F. Collier [c1909]. Series title: The Harvard classics v.9.
  2. Cicero, Marcus Tullius: Laelius; a dialogue on friendship, by M. Tullius Cicero; ed., with notes, vocabulary, and biographical index by E. S. Shuckburgh… New ed. rev. and enl., for use in American colleges, by Henry Clark Johnson… New York,
  3. London, Macmillan and co., 1913. Series title: Elementary classics.
  4. Halsall, Paul. . 1998. Web.
  5. Thayer, Bill. . Plutarch, Moralia. v. II. Web.
  6. Gertrude Emilie. , Vol. 45, No. 8 (1950), pp. 379-383. Web.
  7. Cicero, M.T. , Translated by E. S. Shuckburgh. Web.
  8. The Bible. English Standard Version. James 2.23.
  9. The Bible. English Standard Version. II Timothy 3.1-4.
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