A Friend in need is a friend indeed
A Friend in need is a friend indeed : Phrases
It is sometimes suggested that this phrase means 'someone who needs your help becomes friendly in order to obtain it'. That isn't supported by the derivation (below). Most people understand it to mean, 'someone who helps you when you are in need is a true friend'.
A version of this proverb was known by the 3rd century BC. Quintus Ennius wrote: 'Amicu certus in re incerta cernitur'. This translates from the Latin as 'a sure friend is known when in difficulty'.
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists it as existing in English from the 11th century. The earliest version I can find is from Caxton's Sonnes of Aymon, 1489:
"It is sayd, that at the nede the frende is knowen."
The morality play Everyman also contains similar lines. The play's date is uncertain and scholars place it as 'late 15th century', which could be before Caxton's work:
Fellowship: Sir, I say as I will do in deed.
Everyman: Then be you a good friend at need;
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