Greek friendship

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The principal terms customarily translated as ‘friendship’ have a semantic range wider than this translation suggests. Philia and oikeiotēs could both be used of kinship ties, while hetaireia could also denote confraternities and political associations. The scarcity in the Greek world of institutions for the provision of vital services may partly explain this semantic difference. Friends provided ‘services analogous to those provided by bankers, lawyers, hotel owners, insurers and others today’. Hence the great importance that the Greeks attached to their most intimate circles of friends. Friends, like kin, could be called upon in any emergency; they could be expected to display solidarity, lend general support, and procure co‐operation. The obligations of friendship were less rigidly defined than those of kinship or ritualized friendship. One's circle of friends, however, probably exerted an even more pervasive influence on one's behaviour and outlook than one's kin or ritualized friends. Friends were therefore supposed to be alike: a friend was ideally conceived of as one's ‘other self’.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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