Reciprocity in Ancient Greece

By Christopher Gill; Norman Postlethwaite et al. | Go to book overview

13
Reciprocity and Friendship

DAVID KONSTAN

Reciprocity is the essence of friendship ( Reohr 1991, 85)1

Reciprocity theory is not really applicable to friendship ( Hutter 1978, 18)2

A certain reciprocity is essential in friendship ( Weil 1973, 204)

The Greco-Roman model [of friendship] appears to be marked by the value of reciprocity ( Derrida 1993, 385)


I. INTRODUCTION

Friendship is a relationship that is presumed to involve reciprocity. As an elective association, friendship seems to be predicated on the voluntary exchange of benefits, underwritten by feelings that are understood to be mutual. While expectations of fair return may sustain an informal ethical code of friendship, acts of friendship are not perceived as obligatory or contractual, and are normally outside the jurisdiction of the state, both modern and ancient.

Reciprocity presupposes the ability to reciprocate. For Aristotle and many other Greeks, friendship was ideally a relationship between equals. Friendship among people of different stations was regarded as an inferior form, although a semblance of equality might be achieved if exchanges were proportional to wealth and other qualities, such as moral worth.

The emphasis on equality between friends is above all characteristic of the Athenian democracy, although comradeship obtains

____________________
1
See Lepp ( 1966), 33: 'Friendship . . . is inconceivable without reciprocity', cited by Reohr ( 1991), 85.
2
See Hutter ( 1978), 3: 'Even though some writers who focus on the concept of reciprocity attempt to transcend the purely egoistic connotations of such a view of friendship by invoking a more generalized form of reciprocity, it would seem that the concept of reciprocity cannot exhaustively explain the content of a friendship relationship.'

-279-

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