All four writers, Aristotle, Cicero, Montaigne, and Emerson discuss the importance of male friendship, and all four characters make statements about the superiority of friendship above other associations. However, the tone, the interpretation of friendship, and manner of rhetoric is influenced by the translation of the individual writer’s culture.
Aristotle uses a rather categorical approach to friendship. By making strict delineations and then using examples, he establishes a rather strict definition of friendship that is created along lines of social class. He argues, among other things, that friendship must be between similarly virtuous men of equal standing. In addition, the purest form of friendship, and the one that Aristotle considers the only genuine friendship, involves that of two men and that is free from outside reciprocation.
The writer who most directly addresses Aristotle’s assessment on friendship is Cicero in his Laelius: on Friendship. Quite bitingly, he begins with Laelius remarking that he does not claim to be like the Greeks “who claim the ability to deal with any subject you care to set before them, without the slightest preparation.” In fact, the whole presentation is in contrast with the didactic manner that Aristotle uses. Laelius, throughout the work, claims his lack of expertise in the subject, which is in stark contrast of Aristotle who assumed knowledge in the subject.
So while Cicero intentionally diverges from the style of Aristotle, he nevertheless adopts many of Aristotle’s maxims. Like Aristotle, Cicero argues that one must “place friendship above every other human concern” and that “friendship is only possible between good men” who are similar and equal to each other. Furthermore, in claiming that there was no finer man than the recently deceased Scipio, Cicero tacitly concurs with another one of Aristotle’s beliefs that one can only have one true friend. Although he elaborates on the importance of virtue in friendship – that good men do not need friendship but are edified by it through their friendship with other good men, and it is a lack of will that places bad men in the greater need for friendship, particularly with good men – it is nevertheless an elaboration, or at least a concurrence, of Aristotle’s ideas.
However, where Cicero disagrees from Aristotle, and quite significantly, is his interpretation of the benefits that a friendship entails. While Aristotle was quite stringent on the assertion that outside benefits diluted the purity of a friendship, Cicero was more willing to accept these as valuable, at least in secondary nature to friendship itself. However, Cicero makes the caveat that while “giving and receiving” is a valuable feature of friendship, it is “merely one feature and consequence of friendship.” In addition, he asserts that the primary basis of friendship must still be founded upon without “any calculation of profit.” Part of this, I believe, stems from the realpolitik of Roman...