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Classical Home School Lesson: What Can the Romans Teach us about Friendship

AMICUS – Friend

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This week’s word of the week is Amicus (Ah-mi-koos), meaning Friend. Amicus is first declension and nominative case. It is singular and masculine. We get English words such as Amicable (friendly) from Amicus, but you may recognize it is similar to Spanish’s word for friend “Amigo” or French’s “Ami”.

Romans and Friendship

Many Roman Intellectuals were fascinated with Greek Philosophy. They leaned heavily on the ideals of Greek philosophers like Socrates and Epicurus to build their own cultures and beliefs. Values of friendship were no exception. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I have friends?” or “Why do humans have friends?” The Greek Philosopher Socrates asked this questioned and came to the conclusion there are three different reasons or rather three types of friendships (philia – in greek). The three categories of friendship are:

1. Friendship for utility. This means we have friends for a practical reason, like, they let us borrow things we need or support us in some way.

2. Friendship for pleasure. This means we have friends because they entertain us and we feel better after seeing them.

3. Friendship for virtue. This means we have friends because we genuinely love that person and care about them even if they don’t let us borrow things or make us laugh.

The last one, friendship for virtue was considered the best reason to have friends because it is based off of absolute love and not a self-interest like the first two. This was just Socrates’ idea though. Another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, argued that “All philia is a virtue in itself but draws its origin from assistance”. Epicurus recognized that there is an innate human need for fellowship and friendship and that fulfilling that need for others was virtuous.

Fast forward to the time of Roman intellectuals. They fell on either side of these two views of friendship. Either friendship arose from expected assistance from others, or it arose from the perception of virtue. Cicero, a Roman Philosopher, in his essay “Laelius de amicitial”, defined friendship as an “agreement (consensio) with goodwill (benevolentia) and affection (caritas) on all things divine and human.” He argued that the root of goodwill was love (amor) – which is where the word Amicus or Amicitia (friendship) comes from.

I bet you haven’t ever thought that hard about what it means to be a friend, or why we have friends, or even how we have friends. But that’s ok – Socrates, Epicurus and Cicero did that for us!

Source: The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World (2012)

English words from Amicus:
Amicable – Adjective. Meaning: characterized by friendly goodwill, peaceable.
Amicability – Noun.
Amity – Noun. Meaning: Friendship, especially friendship between nations.
Amiable – Adjective. Meaning: Friendly, sociable, congenial. Generally agreeable.
Amiability– Noun
Amiableness – Noun
Amiably – Adverb
Amicus Curiae – A person or entity that is not party to a particular litigation but that is permitted by the court to advise it in respect to some matter of law that directly affects the case in question. Direct translation, “Friend of the Court”

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