[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


 p103  Introduction to the

Date of Composition

Enough has been said in the introduction to the Cato Maior to show the amazing fecundity of Cicero's genius in the years 45 and 44 B.C., during which time this treatise was written. The date of its composition belongs within the year 44, but the month cannot be fixed with absolute certainty. It was written after the Cato Maior and after the completion of Divination, in which (Div. II.3) Cicero gives the names of his philosophic books so far written and does not mention this work. It is referred to in the second volume of De officiis (II.9.31), which was written in November. In a letter to Atticus (ad Att. XVI.13c) Cicero, on November 5, 44, asks when "Fannius, son of Marcus" (one of the interlocutors), was tribune. This inquiry suggests that he was then writing or revising the Laelius and tends to fix the date of composition in the autumn of 44 B.C.

2. Occasion of writing the Laelius

It was in the year 90 B.C. that Cicero, then just sixteen, was introduced by his father to Quintus  p104 Mucius Scaevola the augur, to receive instruction in Roman law. While he was in constant attendance on the lectures of this learned man occurred the war of the Samnites and other Italian tribes against Rome for a larger share of Roman suffrage and in the government of the Empire. This revolution was still smouldering when in 88 B.C. Publius Sulpicius, the most powerful orator of his day, became tribune of the plebs, and proposed certain reforms which resulted in the civil war between Marius and Sulla and his own break with Pompeius Strabo. It was at this exciting time that Cicero, sitting at the feet of the aged Roman lawyer Scaevola, heard him repeat, as he tells us, the discourse of Laelius on friendship. This discourse Laelius in turn had heard from his bosom friend, Scipio Africanus the Younger.

3. Time of the Dialogue and its Interlocutors

The time of the present dialogue is 129 B.C., just a few days after the mysterious death of Scipio Minor. The interlocutors are Laelius (who was also one of the interlocutors in the Cato Maior), and his two sons-in‑law, Quintus Mucius Scaevola and Gaius Fannius.

Gaius Laelius, born in 186 B.C., was the son of a distinguished father of the same name who was the friend and companion of the elder Scipio Africanus. The younger Laelius became praetor in 145 B.C., and consul in 140, after his defeat in the previous year by Quintus Pompeius. He gained great credit as commander in the war against the Spanish chieftain, Viriathus. Next to Scipio, he  p105 was regarded as the foremost orator of his day in eloquence and purity of style. But it was as a student and man of letters that he was chiefly distinguished. His title of "the Wise" was due to his great learning and to his knowledge of philosophy. He was a pupil of Diogenes the Stoic and later, in company with Scipio, studied under Panaetius, who made his home with Scipio. Laelius was such a master of elegant diction that the plays of his poet-friend Terence, which were so much admired for the purity of their Latinity, were by many attributed in whole or in part to him.​a In his culture, wisdom, evenness of temper, integrity of life, keen sense of justice, and nobility of thought and speech we find ample justification for the unstinted praise accorded him by all the writers of antiquity.

To the younger group of the Scipionic circle belong the other interlocutors of this essay, Quintus Mucius Scaevola the augur, and Gaius Fannius, son of Marcus, both sons-in‑law of Laelius. Scaevola, himself a distinguished lawyer, belonged to a family of lawyers, of whom the most illustrious was his namesake and junior, the pontifex maximus. The augur was born about 157 B.C., became praetor in 121 B.C., later governor of Asia Minor, and was elected consul in 117. He lived until 88, after the overthrow of Sulpicius by Sulla. When called upon at that time to join in the decree of proscription against Marius he declared that for the sake of the few poor drops of blood in his old frame he would not consent to outlaw the man who had saved Rome and all Italy from Gauls. He was celebrated for his wit, learning, and amiability.

 p106  Gaius Fannius Strabo, who was somewhat older than his brother-in‑law, Scaevola, married the younger daughter of Laelius. He was, it is thought by Cicero (ad Att. XVI.13c), tribune of the plebs, 142 B.C., while Publius Africanus and Lucius Mummius were censors and Lucius Caecilius Metellus and Quintus Fabius Maximus Servilianus were consuls. He was a writer of a Roman history, highly praised by Sallust for its accuracy, but criticized by Cicero in his Brutus as rough in style.

4. Greek Sources of the Laelius

The earliest known treatise in Greek on the subject of friendship is found in the Lysis of Plato, whose influence is strongly reflected in the eighth and ninth books of the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. Many of the thoughts of this work are observed in Cicero's essay, but are not necessarily borrowed from Aristotle. In section 62 of the Laelius he draws upon Xenophon's Memorabilia, by taking the words there attributed to Socrates and placing them in the mouth of Scipio. According to Diogenes Laertius and Aulus Gellius, the chief Greek source of the present essay is a lost treatise on friendship in three volumes by Theophrastus. But in the main Cicero probably was not greatly indebted to Greek writers in the composition of this book. The arrangement, plan, style and illustrations are his own. Certainly no other author of ancient or modern times has discussed the subject of friendship with so much completeness and charm as Cicero discusses it in his Laelius.

 p107  5. Manuscripts and Editions

There are nine MSS. on which the printed texts of the Laelius are chiefly based: G (Gudianus), at Wolfenbüttel, 10th century; E (Erfurtensis), once at Erfurt, now in Berlin, 12th century; B (Benedictoburanus), in Munich, 12th century; S (Salisburgensis), in Munich, 11th century; M (Monacensis), in Munich; and P (Parisinus), formerly in Paris, now in Berlin, 9th or 10th century; two MSS., DV (Vindobonensis), in Vienna; and H (Harleianus), in the British Museum, London. Of these Halm regards G as best and C. F. W. Müller prefers P.

The text of the present edition, like that of Cato Maior, is eclectic, following most closely, perhaps, the edition of J. S. Reid, but with readings adopted from Müller, Bennett and others. For a good bibliography of the Laelius reference is made to E. W. Bowen's Laelius.

The translator is indebted to Prof. Henry Strauss and Dr. J. L. Hancock, of the University of Arkansas, for a careful reading of the manuscript and for many valuable suggestions in interpretation and phrasing.

[In the Budé series we now have the edition and French translation by L. Aurand, Paris, 1928.]​b

Thayer's Notes:

a Details are given by Suetonius, Life of TerenceIII.

b This sentence, bracketed in the print edition in front of me, was not written by Falconer, and is properly still under copyright. It is so brief as surely to fall under fair use.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 25 Feb 18