Plato, Lysis 211e5-6: Socrates on Friendship

“I am rather tame concerning the possession of other things but nearly erotic when it comes to acquiring friends.”

ἐγὼ δὲ πρὸς μὲν ταῦτα πρᾴως ἔχω, πρὸς δὲ τὴν τῶν φίλων κτῆσιν πάνυ ἐρωτικῶς

In this dialogue Plato’s Socrates is voluble about the importance of friends (if we take him seriously)

Wisdom makes people want to be your friend:

Plato, Lysis 210d

“If you are wise, then everyone will be your family and friend.”

ἐὰν μὲν ἄρα σοφὸς γένῃ, ὦ παῖ, πάντες σοι φίλοι καὶ πάντες σοι οἰκεῖοι ἔσονται

(Because you are useful and good)

And a friend is much more important than wealth:

Plato, Lysis 211e5-6

“I would much rather acquire a friend than all of Darius’ gold.”

οἶμαι δέ…μᾶλλον ἢ τὸ Δαρείου χρυσίον κτήσασθαι δεξαίμην πολὺ πρότερον ἑταῖρον

A sweet sentiment certainly, but typically undermined by Socrates’ claims soon thereafter that he doesn’t understand how men become friends of one another. Poor Socrates, he’s like Polyphemos who loves Galatea: she’s a sea nymph and he can’t swim.

(See the full text here.)

And Socrates would probably be disappointed by the later wisdom on friendship from someone like Ovid:

Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto 2.3.7-8

“It is shameful to say, but — if truth be told — most people value their friendships on utilitarian grounds”.

Turpe quidem dictu, sed – si modo uera fatemur – 
 uulgus amicitias utilitate probat.

Tibullus, 1.1-6: Poverty is Better than Gold

“Let someone else pile up gleaming gold
And hold as many lots of well-plowed land,
Let constant labor frighten him when an enemy’s near
As war’s clarion blasts send his sleep to flight.
But may my poverty guide me through a settled life
as long as my hearth shines with a tireless light.”



Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
Et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
Quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
Me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti,               5
Dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus.

Yeah, I am still a sucker for Tibullus. But Quintilian agrees with me. And with recent fluctuations in the commodity market, who’s to say that leisure might not be worth more than gold? (It is certainly more pleasant than war…)

Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 1.3.6

“Fools, why do you watch over your gold? Why do you wear yourselves out calculating interest and adding talents to talents when you must soon go to death with only a single coin?”


τί, ὦ μάταιοι, τὸν χρυσὸν φυλάττετε; τί δὲ τιμωρεῖσθε ἑαυτοὺς λογιζόμενοι τοὺς τόκους καὶ τάλαντα ἐπὶ ταλάντοις συντιθέντες, οὓς χρὴ ἕνα ὀβολὸν ἔχοντας ἥκειν μετ’ ὀλίγον;


Some liberties with this passage: I put “go to death” for ἥκειν because it makes more sense out of context (which is Diogenes in the underworld telling Pollux to send a message to rich men).  I also translated ἕνα ὀβολὸν as “with only a single coin” because it too would make more sense to an average reader than “having only one obol” (the point being that the only money you get to take is for the boatman Charon…)