Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

WHATEVER happens to General Pinochet, we clearly need a category of political entrant to our shores that will cover `visiting tyrant/dictator/mass murderer' and indicate whether he is to be protected by us or not. The ancient Greek proxenos, Latin hospes publicus, should do it - `political/public/official friend'.

The concept of the `official friend' arose from the personal friendships that forged such powerful bonds between aristocrats from different states throughout the ancient world. Such friendships were ritually sealed ('I take you to be my personal friend'), and, thus sanctified, were considered indissoluble. They involved a commitment to each other's well-being that included, for example, virtual co-parent status in relation to their children. Thus, when Cicero sensed his children were in danger, he relates that he sent them to his hospes Deiotarus, king of Galatia (in modern Turkey). Exchange of goods and services were the root of the matter. These could include money, troops, food and various forms of social and political intervention. Such friendship could cause problems. When the socalled Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta broke out in 431 BC, Pericles had to take action to avoid accusations of collaboration with his personal friend, the Spartan general Archidamus. …

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