Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Alter Ego

Editor's "Afterword: Remembering Guy Davenport," in Erik Reece, ed., The Guy Davenport Reader (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2013), pp. 405-423 (at 416):
Friendship is really the dominant theme winding throughout his fiction. Heraclitus said that a friend is another self, and I think Guy was always looking for that elusive true friend, that other self.
But Heraclitus didn't say that a friend is another self, as least so far as I can tell. The expression doesn't occur in Davenport's own translation of the fragments of Heraclitus, in 7 Greeks (New York: New Directions, 1995), pp. 158-171. It seems to occur first in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 9.4.5 (1066 a 32):
ἔστι γὰρ ὁ φίλος ἄλλος αὐτός.
See Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), #471, pp. 382-384 (Alter ego).

Update from a learned reader:
That a friend is another self is a dictum Guy Davenport attributed to Pythagoras, a traditional attribution — Erasmus repeats it in Adages 1.1.2 — that suited his purposes in fiction. He translated it first in a list of Pythagorean dicta in "The Dawn in Erewhon" (Tatlin, p. 209). It turns up in other stories too (in "Badger" and "Wo es war, soll ich werden," The Drummer of the Eleventh North Devonshire Fusiliers, pp. 23 and 136), and as a theme it organizes many more. He mentions it in his criticism once that I recall (The Geography of the Imagination, p. 71).

I'd never thought to trace the citation before your post. There's at least one ancient source that makes the attribution: Porphyry's Life of Pythagoras 33. Porphyry writes that Pythagoras loved his friends to excess and that he was the first to declare that a friend is another self (τοὺς δὲ φίλους ὑπερηγάπα, κοινὰ μὲν τὰ τῶν φίλων εἶναι πρῶτος ἀποφηνάμενος, τὸν δὲ φίλον ἄλλον ἑαυτόν.) On the other hand, Diogenes Laertius attributes it to Zeno (ἐρωτηθεὶς τίς ἐστι φίλος, "ἄλλος," ἔφη, "ἐγώ" 7.23), and Aristotle seems to derive it from a proverb (Eudemian Ethics 1245a). Plutarch, On Having Many Friends 2 [93e] quotes the phrase but doesn't attribute it to anyone.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson, best friend and alter ego.


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