A Ricci Resurgence: On Friendship and Maps

RicciAs reported in yesterday’s New York Times, the Italian-born Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci, who died in 1610 is once again back in the news.

The New York Times article reviews the current exhibition at the Library of Congress of Matteo Ricci’s map of the world commissioned in 1602 by the court of Emperor Wanli. Ricci, who was the first Westerner admitted to Peking, created a map which was, according to the Times, “the first to have combined information from both eastern and western cartography. It is also the oldest surviving map to have given the Chinese a larger vision of the earth.”

In addition to the display of this historic map, Ricci’s resurgence continues with the recent publication of On Friendship: One Hundred Maxims for a Chinese Prince, translated by Timothy Billings. The book, which was a late Ming best seller and is now translated into English for the first time, distills the best ideas on friendship from Renaissance Latin texts into one hundred pure and provocative Chinese maxims.

You can browse the book but here is just a small sampling of maxims from On Friendship:

“Before making friends, we should scrutinize. After making friends, we should trust.”

“The value of a friendship lies in the intentions of those who make it. In this day and age, how many have befriended one another strictly for their virtue?”

“If we tolerate the vices of a friend, then those vices become our own vices.”

“If one has many intimate friends, then one has no intimate friends.”

“The honorable man makes friends with difficulty; the petty man makes friends with ease. What comes together with difficulty comes apart with difficulty; what comes together with ease comes apart with ease.”

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