If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Tuesday 21 August 2012
Read gnomica 1-100 here!
Everyone calls himself a friend, but only a fool relies on it;
nothing is commoner than the name, nothing rarer than the thing.
Jean de la Fontaine (8 Jul 1621 – 13 Apr 1695)
This influential French poet was also famous for his ‘fables’ and sayings, a genre going back beyond even the fabulae of the ancient Greek Aesop (~ 620-564 BCE) and Roman Phaedrus (~15 BCE – 50 CE). Fontaine not only drew on this literary background but in his own right helped to promote it.
The particular sentiment featured here merits a closer look, structured as it is on a very common polarity (name – thing [= talk – walk, theory – practice) and likewise a very ancient polarity (λόγος logos – ἔργον ergon, verbum – factum): in effect, do you do what you say or do you just say?
In the matter of friendship, as here, the sentiment is most certainly applicable. Friendship is a rare thing indeed, and who hasn’t had fair-weather friends? But how many have foul-weather friends? In a sense, when you most need a true friend – a proverbial Pylades – there is nobody about. Hence, yes, perhaps it is only the fool who relies on a friendship, but there are in fact such arrangements that are genuine, perdurable, solid. If one is fortunate enough to have but one such understanding with another human being, one has riches beyond counting.
I venture to guess that this notion is as true today as it was some four – and many, many more – centuries ago.
The broader point, moreover, is that when one is also able to rely on any given ‘thing’ as it were as firmly and unswervingly as on its ‘name’, then one has there too something quite rare. Take some other common ‘names’ — lover, partner (in business, enterprise, investments, work …), spouse – and then, considering the comparable ‘things’, ask yourself if they are equivalently rare. If not, then, as with ‘friend’, you are a most fortunate individual.
Hang on to that.