In De Amicitia, Cicero claims to be reconstructing the thoughts of Laelius on the topic of friendship, and Peabody, at least, thinks that Cicero was honest to his source: “Laelius is here made to say not a word which he, being the man that he was, and at the date assumed for this dialouge, might not have said himself.” (vi) Still, over 80 years have passed between the actual composition of De Amicitia and the time of the dialogue when takes place, and despite the direct line of mentorship that binds Cicero to Laelius (through Scaevola, who has a place in the dialogue), it seems an unusual choice to make. Certainly the Republic had seen changes that must have seemed significant to Cicero, especially since he was at the political heart of some of them as consul.
But Cicero feels himself, in his address to Atticus, that he has successfully faded into the background: “this method of treatment, resting on the authority of men of an earlier generation, and illustrious in their time, seems somehow to be of specially commanding influence […] I want you for the while to turn your mind away from me, and to imagine that it is Laelius who is speaking.” (4)
Two avenues of inquiry to pursue come to my mind: the first is the interesting parallel of boyhood friendship that runs between Cicero and Laelius. Laelius claims that “the older a friendship is, the more precious should it be” (50), but also reminisces about Scipio’s claims of “the most ardent loves of boyhood being often laid aside with its robe” (28), and says too that “friendships that are properly so called are formed between persons of mature years and established character” (53). Yet Laelius and Scipio Africanus were friends since boyhood, as were Cicero and Atticus whom he is corresponding with: in a manuscript full of philosophies on friendship that seem today almost common-sense or platitudinous, the gap there is interesting. Perhaps Laelius considered himself particularly lucky (or particularly virtuous?) to maintain the longstanding friendship he had with Scipio — and it is interesting too that he’s quoting Scipio when he talks about how friendships are hard to maintain.
The second thing I’m thinking about in relation to Cicero and Laelius is the image of Socrates and plato that we’ve been seeing on the cover of Derrida. We’ve discussed, a bit, the potential gap between the scriptor vs. the author of a particular text, and how the person writing down the dialogue can, in some ways, exert final control over the thoughts of the mentor figure they’re recording. Cicero draws attention to this in a way that Plato (or at least Derrida’s p/Plato) never does; I’d be interested in hearing (in comments or in class) whether this rhetorical move makes us feel more or less concerned/aware of the gap between the speaker and the writer. I suppose in a way this question is at the heart of most epistolary literature.
I also like how Cicero talks about his Cato Major, written around the same time, and talks about how he chose “the old man Cato” because “there seemed to be no other person better fitted to talk about old age than one who had been an aged man so long” (3) — even though at this point Cicero himself is getting up there in years, so that “I then wrote as an old man to an old man about old age” (4). Since both Cicero and Atticus are aging, it feels particularly poignant when Laelius discusses his loss of Scipio: “I can miss his society but for a brief season, and all sorrows, however heavy, if they can last but a little while, ought to be endured.” (71)
It lends an interesting twist too, I suppose to Laelius’s aside to Fannius and Scaevola on their own friendship: “With this affection I in my youth loved those old men, […]in my turn, as an old man, I find repose in the attachment of young men, as in yours” (70). There’s a nice feeling of continuity there, and maybe that sense of continuity is something Cicero is particularly encouraging in order to justify his own use of previous generations in epistolary literature.