If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Friday 4 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo,
but what you want is someone who will
take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.
Oprah Winfrey (29 Jan 1954 – )
Back in the day when she was big on afternoon television I once watched her program because everybody said it was so wonderful. It depends on how you define that adjective. But even if her show struck me as mostly mushy, mawkish and maudlin, that doesn’t mean that she never said anything that succinctly captures a truth about people. And what she said above – dressed as it is in the contemporary vernacular of celebrity life — is timeless.
Gilgamesh had his Enkidu, Achilles had his Patroklos, Orestes had his Pylades, Aeneas had his Achates, Pooh had his Piglet, Modesty Blaise (cf. here) had her Willie Garvin (cf. here), and … even Oprah herself had her Gayle King. Much has been written about friendship, among the earliest (c. 44 BCE) thing an essay called de Amicitia (‘On Friendhsip’) by the Roman statesman and intellectual Cicero (106 – 43 BCE), and before him by around three centuries Greek Aristotle (384 – 322) touched on the subject in his Nicomachean Ethics.
Many of us – probably most if not all of us – know quite a few people, and that is of course more true the older you get. And not a few of us have over the years acquired a number of acquaintances, some of whom merely made temporary entrances on the stage of our life, and some of them occupied more enduring rôles as the years rolled on. But in all likelihood not all that many of us have a friend, or friends.
The word is pure Germanic, with (to my lnowledge) no ‘relatives’ (e.g., derivatives, cognates) in the Romance languages. It is apparently related distantly to modern Swedish fria ‘(to) woo, romance’, and, I shall venture, is anciently at home in the semantic domain of something like ‘affections’.
I believe without hesitation that it is possible for both men and women to have a best friend of the opposite sex without an ongoing romantic entanglement – maybe they were lovers once, but from there they both decide they would rather have a friend than a lover, for the simple reason that a lover, though difficult to find, is by no means as elusive as that rarest of human beings, a true friend. Not, of course, that a lover can’t be a friend, but to whom do you turn if you need to talk to your friend about your lover … and your relationship with the latter? Both are dear and close to you, but they are, in the final analysis, different species of the genus.
If you’ve ever had a real friend and been in trouble with yourself for whatever reason, there is no surcease from sorrow akin to what that person can be. When I read about the crazy loners running around killing people they don’t even know, I often wonder – their other massive problems aside — if they ever had a true friend?
Yes, you may well get upset with each other from time to time, but you know that there is an abiding core of care and love for what Horace referred to (Carmina 1.3.8) as animae dimidium meae ‘half of my soul, half of my life’ when he wrote a little propemptikon (προπεμπτικόν ‘send-off’) for Vergil, his friend, on the occasion of the latter’s setting off on a sea journey. The point is, you can still count on that one friend you have to ”take the bus with you when the limo breaks down”. And that being a treasure beyond gold, it’s no wonder Achilles went kind of out of his mind when his friend Patroklos was killed.
So, my oldest friend, this one is for you, for the many, many years!