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Ought we then to make as many friends as possible? or, just as it seems a wise saying about hospitality— “ Neither with troops of guests nor yet with none

1— so also with friendship perhaps it will be fitting neither to be without friends nor yet to make friends in excessive numbers. [2] This rule would certainly seem applicable to those friends whom we choose for their utility2; for it is troublesome to have to repay the services of a large number of people, and life is not long enough for one to do it. Any more therefore than are sufficient for the requirements of one's own life will be superfluous, and a hindrance to noble living, so one is better without them. Of friends for pleasure also a few are enough, just as a small amount of sweets is enough in one's diet. [3] But should one have as many good friends as possible? or is there a limit of size for a circle of friends, as there is for the population of a state? Ten people would not make a city, and with a hundred thousand it is a city no longer; though perhaps the proper size is not one particular number, but any number between certain limits. So also the number of one's friends must be limited, and should perhaps be the largest number with whom one can constantly associate; since, as we saw,3 to live together is the chief mark of friendship, [4] but it is quite clear that it is not possible to live with and to share oneself among a large number of people. Another essential is that one's friends must also be the friends of one another, if they are all to pass the time in each other's company; but for a large number of people all to be friends is a difficult matter. [5] Again, it is difficult to share intimately in the joys and sorrows of many people; for one may very likely be called upon to rejoice with one and to mourn with another at the same time.

Perhaps therefore it is a good rule not to seek to have as many friends as possible, but only as many as are enough to form a circle of associates. Indeed it would appear to be impossible to be very friendly with many people, for the same reason as it is impossible to be in love with several people. Love means friendship in the superlative degree, and that must be with one person only; so also warm friendship is only possible with a few. [6]

This conclusion seems to be supported by experience. Friendships between comrades4 only include a few people, and the famous examples of poetry5 are pairs of friends. Persons of many friendships, who are hail-fellow-well-met with everybody, are thought to be real friends of nobody (otherwise than as fellow-citizens are friends) : I mean the sort of people we call obsequious. It is true that one may be friendly with many fellow-citizens and not be obsequious, but a model of excellence; but it is not possible to have many friends whom we love for their virtue and for themselves. We may be glad to find even a few friends of this sort.

1 Hes. WD 715

2 But cf. 8.6.3.

3 Cf. 8.5.1.

4 See note on 8.5.3.

5 Such as Achilles and Patroclus, Orestes and Pylades, Theseus and Pirithous. It is not quite clear whether they are quoted as examples of comradeship or friendship in general.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Hesiod, Works and Days, 715
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