Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


The temple of friendship has long been known by name, but it is well known that it has been very little frequented; as the following verses pleasantly observe, Orestes, Pylades, Pirithous, Achates, and the tender Nisus, were all genuine friends and great heroes; but, alas, existent only in fable:

En vieux langage on voit sur la façade,

Les noms sacrés d’Oreste et de Pylade;

Le médaillon du bon Pirithous,

Du sage Achate et du tendre Nisus;

Tous grands héros, tous amis véritables;

Ces noms sont beaux; mais ils sont dans les fables.

Friendship commands more than love and esteem. Love your neighbor signifies assist your neighbor, but not — enjoy his conversation with pleasure, if he be tiresome; confide to him your secrets, if he be a tattler; or lend him your money, if he be a spendthrift.

Friendship is the marriage of the soul, and this marriage is liable to divorce. It is a tacit contract between two sensible and virtuous persons. I say sensible, for a monk or a hermit cannot be so, who lives without knowing friendship. I say virtuous, for the wicked only have accomplices — the voluptuous, companions — the interested, associates; politicians assemble factions — the generality of idle men have connections — princes, courtiers. Virtuous men alone possess friends.

Cethegus was the accomplice of Catiline, and Mæcenas the courtier of Octavius; but Cicero was the friend of Atticus.

What is caused by this contract between two tender, honest minds? Its obligations are stronger or weaker according to the degrees of sensibility, and the number of services rendered.

The enthusiasm of friendship has been stronger among the Greeks and Arabs than among us. The tales that these people have imagined on the subject of friendship are admirable; we have none to compare to them. We are rather dry and reserved in everything. I see no great trait of friendship in our histories, romances, or theatre.

The only friendship spoken of among the Jews, was that which existed between Jonathan and David. It is said that David loved him with a love stronger than that of women; but it is also said that David, after the death of his friend, dispossessed Mephibosheth, his son, and caused him to be put to death.

Friendship was a point of religion and legislation among the Greeks. The Thebans had a regiment of lovers — a fine regiment; some have taken it for a regiment of nonconformists. They are deceived; it is taking a shameful accident for a noble principle. Friendship, among the Greeks, was prescribed by the laws and religion. Manners countenanced abuses, but the laws did not.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01