Thursday, August 24, 2006


Friends and Enemies

The notion that you should "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5.44) was largely alien to ancient Greeks before the time of Christ. They commonly thought instead that it was right and proper to help their friends and harm their enemies.

In fact, a friendship could be based on little more than a shared hatred of the same enemies. We see this in Sophocles' Philoctetes 389-390 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
That is all I have to say; and may he who loathes the sons of Atreus be dear alike to me and to the gods!

λόγος λέλεκται πᾶς· ὁ δ᾽ Ἀτρείδας στυγῶν
ἐμοί θ᾽ ὁμοίως καὶ θεοῖς εἴη φίλος.
Lloyd-Jones translates φίλος (philos) as "dear," but it could also be translated "friend" here. Cf. Thomas Francklin's translation:
I've told thee all, and him who hates the Atreidae
I hold a friend to me and to the gods.
Philoctetes utters a similar sentiment at 585-586 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I am their enemy; and this man is my great friend, because he hates the sons of Atreus.

ἐγώ εἰμ᾽ Ἀτρείδαις δυσμενής· οὗτος δέ μοι
φίλος μέγιστος, οὕνεκ᾽ Ἀτρείδας στυγεῖ.

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