Some thoughts on Philia…

15) Help friends (Φιλοις βοηθει)

20) Love friendship (Φιλιαν αγαπα)

28) Be kind to friends (Θιλοις ευνοει)


These Laws show a very deep idea of friendship that is plainly expressed by two very common Hellenic sayings: “philous opheleîn kaì echthroùs aniân”, be useful/good (help) to friends and damage the enemies, and “estin ho philos allos autós”, the friend is another yourself. As I’ve said, here is involved the concept of philia, friendship, that is a very important one in the Hellenic Tradition. One of the best definitions of philia is given by Aristotle in his Rhetoric:wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him”. Also, philia includes many kinds of relationships, such as: young lovers, lifelong friends, cities with one another, political contacts, parents and children, fellow-voyagers and fellow-soldiers, members of the same religious society, or of the same tribe and so on.

Properly,  “philia is to love, rather than to be loved”, it is a completely selfless disposition or inclination of the soul. Pythagoras was the first to employ the word philia: it stands for the union among all those who exercise the virtues on the path of self-realization (i.e. knowledge of the self). Also Plato, in the Lysis, discusses about the deeper meaning of philia: the Principle of Good is the basic condition of all kinds of friendships, as the Good is the “first friend”, because of whom all others are loved. The philia thus is that power that, both on a cosmic and human level, creates unity and harmony among all beings (elements, men etc,), pulling them to leave aside what is contrary to them (the like likes the like) and to search for the Good itself (the base of their communion) that is their true goal.

Philia/Philotes is the personification of friendship (or also love among lovers), daughter of Nyx according to Hesiod. This Idea expresses a very high ethical value: the completely selfless disposition or inclination of the soul in doing good. We see the Sun kindling the Moon, and the Moon giving freely Her light, and thus can see therein a lesson of the right behavior and true philia, as They shine impartially and with extreme benevolence on all living beings. The Pythagoreans described their master as a kind of beneficent power, supreme in his love for mankind and took from him the teaching that men must themselves practice philia and thus love their fellows. In fact, Empedocles and the Pythagoreans held there is a fellowship between the Gods, men, animals, in that all exist by breathing air: philia is the philotes that is also Empedocles’ principle of union among all things. So, philia is a very important aspect of love itself, because love is also caring, taking care for and helping others with a pure sense of joy, and not as a burden.

In philosophical texts, philia is under discussion mostly in connection with the relations in a good polis: it is the ethical cornerstone which determines the way how the relations between the members of a society function- not the written law and official orders but rather the customs and the unwritten laws are important. There must be unity of feelings and sentiments among the member of any association, and their spirits must be stirred harmoniously and to everybody’s profit; this transforms everybody’s nature/attitude in something more mild, compassionate and gentle, all divine qualities. Clearly Aristotle says: “It is virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living”.

The verb eunoeo has the only meaning of “to be kind, to be favorably inclined toward  someone/something”, as tò eunoun is the benevolence. At the fifteen law we have found “help friends” and at the twentieth “love friendship”; then, we have a deepening of the same idea expressed in the two previous laws, as we have an another facet of the sentiment of philia, the selfless kindness, “to love rather than to be loved”.

Philia has to be a nurturing and nourishing relationship; relationships with people are not really reliable in most cases. Most relationships are just games and a honest, open, sincere, genuine, non-manipulative, non-domineering relationship, where there is mutual respect and trust, this is the kind of relationship that we ought to have in mind when we think at the laws concerning friendship and friends in the Tradition. All persons need a good relationship for their psychological development and spiritual growth: a true good friendship is a necessity in a person’s life. People are becoming more and more inhuman because they don’t have anymore the value of philia in their lives, they don’t know these laws now examined. Friendship is the soil in which we grow, and if the soil is of poor quality we don’t grow well or we have stunted growth; if the soil is good we grow well, strong and mature.

Relationships shouldn’t be used as a means; philia should end in love, understanding, respect and appreciation. People should relate to each other just because they love, respect and appreciate (admire) each other, otherwise there is no genuine friendship. The union of hearts — deep and intuitive understanding of each other; non-verbal communication; mystical, transcending all reasons; a knowing in the guts that the two are meant to be together on this round of rebirth, loving, caring, and helping each other; knowing that the understanding between the two will grow and grow until the two minds become totally transparent; no fears, no secrets and complete trust; no games or role playing: this is philia, this is helping each other in a deeper sense, that kind of kindness and benevolence that can be possible only when arête also is present- that is why philia has always been considered an ‘aristocratic’ sentiment. A friendship for the good comes into being when two people engage in common activities solely for the sake of developing the overall goodness of the other. Here, neither pleasure nor utility are relevant, but the Good is.

29) Ward off enemies (Εχθρους αμυνου)

Plato in the Lysis, discussing about philia, gives us a definition also of who is the enemy: it is given as established that the object of friendship is always good and that the object of its opposite, i.e. echthra, is always bad- the two pairs good-bad and philon-echthron are inter- substitutable. The good and only the good is a friend, all the others are enemies.

This concept is extended also to states, so Plato says in the Republic: “The Hellenic race is kindred to itself and related, but strange and alien to the barbarians…so when Greeks wage war against barbarians and barbarians against Greeks, we will say that they are by nature enemies and this enmity is to be called war. But when Greeks fight Greeks, they are by nature friends; Hellas is sick with faction (stasis) in such circumstances, and this kind of enmity should be called faction.” This enmity is just like an illness, a pathology resulting from injustice: this enmity can befall on friends, within the human body, in an army camp, and even in the human soul. The things to which enmity refers have a work to perform to which all members contribute- the kindred relationship between the parts is natural, and enmity is a disease that involves “disagreement in the naturally related.”. “For factions are the outcome of injustice, and hatreds and interne conflicts, but justice brings oneness of mind (homonoia) and love (philia)”.

As we were told to love and help friends, here we are told to acknowledge that there are evil persons “If, by reason of any contaminations, they are debarred from being with immaculate spirits, they become allied with wicked spirits, and are filled by them with the most pernicious inspiration. They become evil and profane, full of unbridled desires after pleasure, replete with badness, and likewise eager admirers of modes of life that are foreign to the nature of the Gods; and, to speak briefly, they become like the evil daemons with whom they are now joined in their nature”.

We ought to ward off these dangerous people and, in the case of an attack by their part (because “undoubtedly they take the lead in fighting against theurgists themselves” just like the barbarians against the Greeks) we must defend ourselves and avenge their crimes, just as Alexander did when he destroyed the Persian empire.


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