Thus also the city-state is prior in nature to the household and to each of us individually. For the whole must necessarily be prior to the part; since when the whole body is destroyed, foot or hand will not exist except in an equivocal sense, like the sense in which one speaks of a hand sculptured in stone as a hand; because a hand in those circumstances will be a hand spoiled, and all things are defined by their function and capacity, so that when they are no longer such as to perform their function they must not be said to be the same things, but to bear their names in an equivocal sense. It is clear therefore that the state is also prior by nature to the individual; for if each individual when separate is not self-sufficient, he must be related to the whole state as other parts are to their whole, while a man who is incapable of entering into partnership, or who is so self-sufficing that he has no need to do so, is no part of a state, so that he must be either a lower animal or a god.

Politics by Aristotle, 1253a20-30. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 21, translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1944.

The quote “Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god” is found in Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Friendship”. It is a paraphrase of the very last part of Aristotle’s comment, quoted above. Francis Bacon’s essay was included in the second edition of his Essays in 1612, and rewritten for the third edition, published in 1625. Here’s the opening of the essay “Of Friendship”, were the relevant quote appears:

XXVII–Of Friendship. It has been hard for him that spake it to have put more truth and untruth together in few words than in that speech, “Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god:” for it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred and aversion towards society in any man hath somewhat of the savage beast; but it is most untrue that it should have any character at all of the divine nature, except it proceed, not out of a pleasure in solitude, but out of love and desire to sequester a man’s self for higher conversation: such as is found to have been falsely and feignedly in some of the heathen; as Epimenides the Candian, Numa the Roman, Empedocles the Sicilian, and Apollonius of Tyana; and truly and really, in divers of the ancient hermits and holy fathers of the church. But little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth. For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love. The Latin adage meeteth with it a little: Magna civitas, magna solitudo; because in a great town friends are scattered; so that there is not that fellowship, for the most part, which is in less neighborhoods. But we may go further, and affirm most truly, that it is a mere and miserable solitude to want true friends; without which the world is but a wilderness; and even in this sense also of solitude, whosoever in the frame of his nature and affections, is unfit for friendship, he taketh it of the beast, and not from humanity. (The Moral and Historical Works of Lord Bacon: Including His Essays, pp. 73-74)

The discussion we find both in Aristotle and in Francis Bacon belongs to a long and rich tradition of inquiry into the problem of human coexistence. This tradition encompasses a wide variety of themes, including –but not limited to– politics, friendship, love, sociability, life in cities, human exceptionalism, etc. From the context of the quote, it is clear that Francis Bacon is not paraphrasing Aristotle because he agrees with him: contrary to the Stagirite, he does not believe that someone content with mere solitude can be divine in nature. That being said, it is also clear from his comment that both he and Aristotle share the belief that friendship is crucially important to human beings. See previously here: “O friends, there are no friends”: on a quote attributed to Aristotle.

A final remark about the following sentence, also from the excerpt of Francis Bacon’s essay quoted above:

For a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.

The last part is a clear reference to Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV).

A reproduction of the Greek text from the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus is available online: see Quire 8, Folio 4r.

• • •

A French translation of Francis Bacon’s Essays from 1839 is available at the Hathi Trust Digital Library as well: Essais du chevalier Bacon, chancelier d’Angleterre, sur divers sujets de politique, & de morale (see p. 195: “De L’Amitié”; also available via Google Books).

See all previous posts about friendship.


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