Plutarch (45-50, Geroneia, Achaea, Roman Empire, 119-125) was a Roman-era Greek writer and philosopher. He grew up in the Boeotian town of Cheronesia and lived most of his life in that area, socialized with influential Roman politicians and intellectuals, and served as a priest in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Most of his writings were written at a mature age, after the overthrow of the emperor Domitian.
“The Comparative Biographies, Plutarch”s largest and best-known work with a pronounced moralizing tendency, includes 22 carefully compiled biographies of 46 prominent Greek and Roman politicians and is a valuable historical source. The versatile and varied works on philosophical, pedagogical, and literary subjects for different audiences are grouped under the conventional name of Moralia. The largest work within the Moralia is the partly autobiographical Table Talks with philosophical discussion of various problems. The views of the erudite Plutarch are characterized by an affinity to middle Platonism, an increased attention to ethical questions, the originality of many judgments and some influence of Peripatetic and Pythagorean doctrines.
Less than half of Plutarch”s works have survived. In ancient times his works were highly valued, but at the beginning of the Middle Ages they were almost forgotten. From the ninth century Plutarch again became a popular author in Byzantium, and from the end of the fourteenth century – in Western Europe. In modern times, thanks to his translations into Latin and New European languages, he became one of the most read ancient writers, and his Comparative Biographies had a great influence on the development of the biographical genre, making the author a household name.
The details of Plutarch”s biography are not well known. His date of birth is not known, but is usually taken for the middle to second half of the 40s AD. He was born and grew up in Cheronese, a small town with an ancient history in the region of Boeotia, about 100 km northeast of Athens. Plutarch came from a wealthy family, which, however, did not belong to the ancient aristocracy. The earliest known ancestor of the Greek author was his great-grandfather Nicarchus, a contemporary of Mark Antony. Plutarch mentions several members of the family – his grandfather Lamprius, his father Autobulus, his brothers Lamprius and Timon. It is noted that the family members, in addition to being well-to-do, were also well educated.
Plutarch was well educated, familiar with the classical works of Greek literature. At the age of about 20 he went to Athens to study with the Alexandrian Platonist philosopher (Academician) Ammonius. He mentions that while studying with Ammonius he became friends with a descendant of Themistocles. In 66-67 or 67-68, the Roman emperor Nero visited Greece, and Plutarch saw him at Delphi. After the civil war of 68-69 (“the year of the four emperors”), an embassy was sent to Alexandria to the new emperor Vespasian, and Plutarch may have been part of it.
Some time after his graduation, Plutarch returned to his native Cheronia. This fact distinguished him from most Greek intellectuals who preferred to live and work in large cultural centers. At Cheronia he held the position of eponymous archonte and other local magistracies. Plutarch was very attached to his native Cheronese and Boeotia. One manifestation of his special interest in local history is his detailed description of the activities of Lucius Licinius Lucullus in Boeotia: the episode was of great importance to Cheronese with little role in world perspective. At Plutarch”s house the youth gathered, whom he instructed in philosophy and other sciences. Around his fiftieth year (late nineties) he was elected one of the two lifelong priests of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Because of his occupation of the honorary post at Delphi, Plutarch was engaged in the popularization of this sanctuary in his writings. He was also initiated into the mysteries of Dionysus and possibly of Isis.
Plutarch traveled extensively, especially in Greece. He visited many historical sites, including Thermopylae and Sparta, sites of many significant battles. His observations are especially evident in his detailed description of the battle of Sulla and Archelaus at Cheronea in 86 B.C. He also traveled outside the Roman province of Achaea, visiting Macedonia, Crete, Italy, Egypt, Asia Minor. Plutarch was in Rome more than once: it is often reconstructed that he stayed in the capital twice (in the late 70”s and early 90”s) reconstructs three trips – in the early 70”s, about 89 and about 92. The occasion for his first trip to Rome was a court case involving the Boeotians or Delphians, although he must have taken the opportunity to make connections in the capital. In addition to Rome, he visited other parts of Italy – notably the site of the Battle of Bedriac. In Italy he gave several public lectures on philosophy in ancient Greek. It is possible that Plutarch may have interrupted his last visit to Italy because of Domitian”s expulsion of philosophers.
It is assumed that Plutarch met Lucius Mestrius Florus, an associate of Vespasian, as part of an embassy to the new emperor, although they may have met in Greece. Florus became Plutarch”s patron, and through him the Greek author was granted Roman citizenship under the name Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus. His other Roman friends and acquaintances were also very influential people – Quintus Sosius Senezion (twice consul), Titus Avidius Quietus (consul-sufficient, proconsul of Achaea), Gaius Avidius Nigrinus, a certain Saturninus (he is identified with consul-sufficient Lucius Gerentius Saturninus), Gaius Minicius Fundanus (consul-sufficient, corresponded with Pliny the Younger), Sextius Sulla of Carthage. His Roman acquaintances also included people directly connected with literature and the arts – Quintus Junius Arulenius Rusticus (consul-effect and writer, executed by Domitian (a major orator of the late first century and mentor to Tacitus), Terentius Priscus, identified with the patron of the poet Marcial, Aufidius Modestus (probable compiler of commentaries on Virgil”s Georgics). Among his acquaintances was a descendant of the dynasty of the Commagene kings, Philopappus, who in 109 became consul-supreme of the Roman Empire. To influential Roman friends Plutarch dedicated a number of philosophical treatises, to Quintus Sosius Senecion his Comparative Biographies, and to Emperor Trajan probably his Sayings of Kings and Commanders.
Plutarch was fluent in Latin, but by his own admission began to read books in that language only at a mature age. He admitted that he lacked linguistic practice when he traveled in Italy. As a result, there is a widespread view of his mediocre mastery of Latin. There are, however, alternative views on the matter. Thus, it is noted that an apology to readers about insufficient knowledge of Latin can be a polite self-deprecation and does not reflect the actual level of language skills. Having analyzed the peculiarities of the use of fragments of Gaius Sallustius Crispus in the Comparative Biographies, Maria Teresa Schettino came to the conclusion that Plutarch had sufficient (“far from superficial”) knowledge of Latin, which allowed him to correctly interpret the ethical ideas of the Roman author and adequately convey the content of his works in ancient Greek.
The last years of Plutarch”s life are known only from unreliable late sources. In a brief article in the Byzantine encyclopedia Suda it is reported that Trajan granted him consular dignity (ornamenta consularia) and gave him a kind of analogous veto power over all the actions of the governor of Illyrica. Eusebius of Caesarea adds that in 119 Plutarch became “procurator” of Achaea (Greece). Despite possible inaccuracies in these reports, they are considered to reflect the considerable opportunities given to Plutarch to intervene in the administration of Greece by the Romans, or some kind of non-administrative oversight of the province. The absence of mention of these high honors in Plutarch”s own writings may be due both to his earlier writing of the major treatises and to the greater importance of his place within the framework of traditional Greek politics.
Plutarch died after 119; his date of death is usually attributed to the 120s. According to Artemidorus, he was seriously ill at the end of his life. Researchers who doubt the accuracy of Eusebius of Caesarea”s report date his death to the time after the lifetime inscription on the statue at Delphi, made shortly after 117, when Hadrian first came to power suggest that another statue at Delphi, erected in 125 by the high priest Titus Flavius Aristotimus, probably indicates Plutarch (the former high priest) died by this time. Jones” argumentation is accepted in modern historiography.
In about 70 Plutarch married Timoxena; they had five children, but three of them, including his only daughter, died in childhood. His relative (nephew or grandson) Sextus of Cheronia was one of the tutors of the future emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The works of Plutarch are divided into two groups – biographical and philosophical-publicistic works. At the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Byzantine scholar Maximus Planud, who collected scattered manuscripts of his works, conditionally divided the works of the Greek author into “Biographies” and “Moralia”. The name “Moralia” caught on, although it is considered inaccurate and does not reflect the breadth of Plutarch”s interests.
Plutarch wrote about 80 separate works (about 130, if we count each biography as a separate work), the authenticity of several other works is doubtful. However, a late antique list of Plutarch”s works has survived, the Lamprius Catalogue, which consists of more than 200 titles in a volume of about 300 scroll books. It was compiled in 3rd-4th centuries in one of antique libraries. The volume of the lost works is estimated at more than half or almost two-thirds of their total original volume.
Most of Plutarch”s writings were written in adulthood and old age, but their exact dating is unclear. A few works are classified as early works of the Greek author on the basis of stylistic peculiarities, but a confident dating of most works is impossible. The main chronological point of reference is the death of the emperor Domitian in 96: during his repressive reign authors, including probably Plutarch, preferred not to publish. Christopher Jones attributed the pre-96 period to Consolation for a Wife and a small cycle of biographies of emperors, of which two biographies survive. After ”96 he wrote his major works, Comparative Biographies, and at least 15 of the works included in the Moralia (see also the subsection “Chronology” below). Among the most recent works Jones includes “Should an Old Man Participate in the Affairs of State?” (after 110), “On Isis and Osiris” and “On the Valor of Women” (around 115), and “On Those Who Succeed in Virtue” (no later than 116).
“Moralia” (Greek Ἠθικά , Latin Moralia) is a shorthand for several dozen works covering a wide range of topics – philosophy, pedagogy, politics, hygiene, animal psychology, literature, and rhetoric. The Moralia traditionally includes 78 works. The authorship of some of them has subsequently been questioned. Unknown authors of works erroneously attributed to Plutarch are conventionally called Pseudo-Plutarch. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, opinions about the attribution of some works to Plutarch changed repeatedly. At the time of the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, for example, the “Pyre des Seven Sages” was thought to be a forgery, but today the opposite point of view dominates. The view that Plutarch wrote the treatise “On the Education of Children” is often considered erroneous, although the ideas of the treatise resonate with the pedagogical concept of the Greek author. The treatise “On Music” is now commonly attributed to the pseudo-Plutarchian works.
A major work in the Moralia is the Table Talks (Greek Συμποσιακά Προβλήματα , literally, Symposia Problems Questionnaires) in nine books. Judging by the preface addressed to Sosius Senecion, this work is based on real encounters at various times. The historicity of the Table Talks was questioned in the early twentieth century, and there were opinions in support of a verbatim record of real conversations, but later the view has spread that the conversations described by Plutarch were not entirely fictional, although they contained elements of reworking. The feasts involving Ammonius and Plutarch”s grandfather Lamprius are attributed to the author”s younger years, while the feast at the wedding of his son Autobulus took place much later. The work was written between 99 and 116. It consists of 95 sections, each of which deals with one issue. The issues touched upon in the Table Talks are divided into two groups – those related to ethical aspects of the organization of the feast and other issues spontaneously discussed during the meeting (translated by Jacob Borowski as “table” and “table” issues, respectively). After discussing the organization of the meal (e.g., whether the host should indicate the place at the meal and whether each guest should be served a separate portion), the audience moves on to ethical issues arising from the original topic of conversation and to abstract philosophical questions (e.g., the chicken and egg problem). Those gathered discuss literature, philosophy, science, society, and etiquette. The question posed at the beginning of the section does not always get an unambiguous answer, and the inconsistency of the discussion makes one speak of its disorderliness, which may have been carefully planned by the author. There are some similarities between “Table Talks” and several works of Greek philosophers discussing the issues of the table, Plato”s dialogues, as well as Xenophon”s “Memories of Socrates” and the collections of poorly ordered notes on various topics, common in the era of the early Roman Empire, but the work of Plutarch is not only original in content, but also innovative for its time in terms of genre. As a result, Table Talks is considered an important monument to the culture of scholarly conversation in the early Roman Empire. The work is also considered important for the study of the author”s biography.
The problem-oriented approach of the “Table Talks” allows us to combine them with the “Greek Questions”, “Roman Questions”, “Natural Science Questions” and “Platonic Questions” into a conventional group of works (Lat. Quaestiones), of which only the “Table Talks” underwent a thorough literary treatment. Thus, “Greek Questions” and “Roman Questions” are distinguished by the thesis character of the answers to the questions posed. In the last two works there is a pronounced antiquarian character. In addition to the Table Talks, Plutarch wrote The Feast of the Seven Wise Men (a fictional conversation of seven wise men who lived in the 6th century B.C.), a work which in some features is close to similar works by Plato and Xenophon, but which also has features of similarity to the later fictional dialogues of Lucian of Samosata.
Plutarch often spoke out on various issues related to religion. In addition to seven works in which religious issues are a central theme (“On Superstition”, “On Isis and Osiris”, “On “E” in Delphi”, “On the fact that Pythia no longer divines in verse”, “On the Decline of Oracles”, “Why the deity is slow to retaliate”, “On the Demon of Socrates”), the Greek author repeatedly considered various problems connected with religion, both in the Moralia and in the Comparative Biographies.
In Plutarch”s oeuvre there are about 25 works addressed to the general public in a genre not easy to classify, which various researchers characterize as practical ethics or popular philosophy, and some of them the German philologist Heinz-Gerd Ingenkamp considers as psychotherapeutic. The allocation of these works to a separate group, however, is not universally recognized: for example, Alexander Boldyrev, in his article on Plutarch in his History of Greek Literature, did not single out these works as a separate group. The surviving works of this group deal with a wide range of issues: from advice to newlyweds (“Instruction to spouses”) and comforting people in difficult situations (“A word of comfort to a wife”) to practical applications of rhetoric (“On how to praise yourself without arousing envy”) and medical and hygienic advice (“Instruction on preserving health”). Belgian researcher Liwe van Hof notes the genre and niche affinity of these publicistic essays with contemporary tabloid literature on self-development, meditation, spiritual health, yoga, psychotherapy and with the advice of celebrities. The proximity of these essays to the genre of philosophical diatribes is noted. It is assumed that it was these popular-publicistic works that made Plutarch”s name.
Plutarch”s biographical works are divided into three groups: the most famous “Comparative Biographies” (Greek Βίοι Παράλληλοι ), in which major figures of ancient Greek history are compared with the great Romans, a cycle of biographies of the first Roman emperors (conditionally called “Biographies of Caesars”) and individual biographies, not included in any cycle (see “Other Biographical Works”). Twenty-two pairs of “Comparative Biographies” have survived, including one “tetrad” – a comparison of the Greeks Agides and Cleomenes with the Romans, the Gracchus brothers – a total of 46 biographies. Two works (biographies of Galba, Othon, Aratus of Sicyon and Artaxerxes II) have survived from the “Life of the Caesars” and separate biographies. The total number of surviving biographies is 50.
“The Comparative Biographies is a major ancient collection of biographies and a valuable historical source, the significance of which is very great because of the fragmentary preservation of many of its primary sources. Each paired biography of the Comparative Biographies consists of a prologue, biographies of Greek and Roman characters, and their comparisons, although the prologues and comparisons were not made or preserved for all pairs of biographies.
“The Comparative Hagiographies have survived almost entirely. In addition to the 22 surviving pairs (the total number of characters in this cycle was thus originally 48), it is traditionally believed that the biographies were published in pairs from the beginning. It is traditionally believed that the biographies were published in pairs from the beginning, but the discovery of papyrus scrolls containing fragments of the Comparative Biographies has put this theory into question (see “Manuscripts”). There are also references (including in the Moralia) to unpreserved biographies. It is possible that some of the works mentioned by Plutarch may have been planned but not written, or written but lost before Lamprey”s catalog was compiled. Examples of works not written include the biography of King Leonidas of Sparta, which Plutarch says he hoped to write. The desire to write a biography of Metellus of Numidia, voiced in the biography of Gaius Marius, probably remained unfulfilled due to the death of the author.
Most of the Greeks chosen by Plutarch represent the classical period of Greek history with figures of later times close in spirit. Emphasis is placed on biographies of politicians and military men; the multifaceted Demosthenes and Cicero are considered in the same context. The absence of figures of art and philosophy is also noted, as is the refusal to include Philip II of Macedon, a popular hero of Hellenistic biographies, in the canon.
Despite the currently widespread perception of the Comparative Biographies as exemplary antique biographies, in the eyes of his contemporaries Plutarch”s work did not quite fit into the canons of this rather young genre. There were two types of biographies in Greek literature in the Hellenistic era:
“Comparative Biographies” belonged to neither of the two types of biographies. Plutarch criticizes the careful collection of biographical details in hypomnematic biographies and does not share the overt bias of rhetorical biographies. He does not hide the individual shortcomings of idealized characters and does not demonize negative characters, Demetrius and Antony, using occasions to praise them on private matters. The setting of rhetorical biographies for the same intonation is also alien to him, instead of which the author freely alternates between neutral and dramatic episodes. It is possible that Plutarch may have transferred some of the settings of philosophical dialogues and diatribes to the biographical genre. The influence of Cornelius Nepot”s partially extant collection of biographies on Plutarch is assessed as potentially significant in the selection of characters, but important innovations by Plutarch are also emphasized.
Plutarch unequivocally distanced himself from the historiographical genre as well. His views on the distinction between biography and historiography are illustrated by the mission statement in the prologue to the biography of Alexander the Great:
Another significant indication of Plutarch”s distinction between historiography and biography is found in his treatise On the Malignity of Herodotus, in which the author criticized the “father of history” for his lack of attention to noble deeds and sayings.
The biographical nature of the Comparative Biographies is considered important for understanding the aims and objectives of the work. In general, Plutarch views biographies as a way of self-improvement. The moral focus of the collection dominated over secondary objectives – informational, aesthetic and others. Biographies were seen within Plutarch”s pedagogical concept, as a practical illustration of moral principles and a way of transmitting experience, with not only positive examples to emulate, but also negative ones (Antony, Demetrius, Alcibiades, Coriolanus) to avoid. Since Comparative Biographies had a biographical rather than a historical character, the author often deliberately omitted many important facts from the historical point of view which were of little importance for didactic purposes and the disclosure of a character”s personality. He provided a detailed explanation of his position in the prologue to the biography of Nicene. The result of the biographical approach was also that Plutarch in his biographies pays much attention to “minor facts” – personal life, habits, and anecdotal situations, considering them more important for the better characterization of the character being described. Therefore, there are deviations from the chronological sequence of presentation. The absence of rubrics and strict chronology does not make the narration haphazard: there are regularities in the sequence of biographical episodes.
Attempts to consider the Comparative Biographies as a cycle of works with a global ideological orientation – for example, as a reconciliation of the defeated Greeks with the victorious Romans or as the inclusion of ancient Roman history within Greek history – are not supported by scholars, and such a dimension is considered of little importance against the background of Plutarch”s pedagogical goals. Another of the aims of the cycle – perhaps auxiliary – may have been to create a collection of examples of historical acts (lat. exempla) for social and political figures.
Reconstructing the absolute and relative chronology of the biographies is problematic. The Comparative Biographies repeatedly cross-references to other, previously written biographies of this cycle, but they often contradict each other. In an attempt to resolve this problem in 1907, Johannes Mevaldt suggested that at least some of the biographies were published in small groups. In spite of criticisms of parts of Mewaldt”s theory, it has generally been accepted by researchers. For example, based on Mewaldt”s conclusions and the inner workings of the biographies, Christopher Pelling defended the position that the biographies of six figures of the late Roman Republic – Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Brutus and Mark Antony – were written simultaneously, which is supported by contemporary scholars.
For some biographies a relative chronology can be established in relation to other biographies. Thus, the first pair of biographies is considered to be the unpreserved Epaminondus-Cipio pair, and thanks to direct indications by Plutarch it is known that the Demosthenes-Cicero pair was the fifth, Pericles-Fabius Maximus was the tenth, Dion-Brutus was the twelfth. In a number of biographies there are indications of the absolute chronology of the publication of works: in particular, in the biography of Numa the death of Domitian is mentioned, and the nature of references to this emperor in the biographies of Publicola (see box) and Aemilius Paulus points to the writing of works after his death. Several other indications are found which allow us to date the individual biographies between 96 and the mid-110s with varying degrees of certainty.
A great deal of literature is devoted to the sources of the Comparative Biographies. Since the biographies dealt with figures of various historical periods, Plutarch used many works of various authors. The total number of authors cited in the Comparative Biographies is estimated at 135, most of whom were Greeks. According to ancient tradition, writers far from always cited sources of information and often limited themselves to simply mentioning the name of the originator of the primary source. Plutarch was no exception, and the peculiarities of his references and quotations do not always give a clear indication of the nature of his acquaintance with the works quoted. Due to the incomplete preservation of the works of his predecessors, it is often impossible to ascertain whether he read them or was limited to acquaintance in another writer”s account. Among nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars there was a view of writing biographies with reliance on a single source (German Einquellentheorie), from which the Greek author was assumed to have borrowed even quotations. A more thorough study of Plutarch”s sources led to a complete rejection of this theory, and by the 1980s it was already rejected.
The main sources of Plutarch”s Greek biographies were the works of the authors-attidographers (mainly in the biographies of the most ancient characters), as well as the following authors: Herodotus (Plutarch refers to him only 6 times, but researchers count about fifty fragments in the biographies of Solon, Themistocles, and Aristides, set out precisely according to Herodotus), Phanius of Lesbos (5 references in Themistocles, 2 in other biographies), Stesimbrotus of Thessos (12 references in the biographies of Themistocles, Kimon and Pericles), Thucydides (29 references, mostly in biographies of the Athenians), Xenophonte (18 references, mostly in biographies of the Spartans), Isocrates” disciples Ephorus of Cyprus and Theopompus of Chios with many references, Hermippus of Smyrna (4 quotations in biography of Demosthenes), Ctesias of Cnidus and Dinon of Colophon (both important sources of data on Persia, especially in a separate biography of Artaxerxes), Philistus of Syracuse and Timaeus of Tauromenes (both sources of information on Sicilian characters and on the Sicilian expedition of Nicaea), a group of historians of Alexander the Great (Aristobulus, Callisthenes, Chares, Onesicritus, Nearchus, the Ephemerides), Duridus of Samos, Philarchus, Jerome of Cardias (all three are sources of information about the Hellenistic era), Polybius (source of information on the history of Hellenism and Greco-Roman relations), Aristotle (perhaps not directly, but through Didymus). Of the primary sources, the Spartan documents, the poems of Solon, the speeches of Demosthenes, the letters of Alexander, and others stand out. Plutarch was thorough in his choice of sources, and in his biographies of Greek characters he cited seven of the eight authors included in the classical Alexandrian canon of Greek historians. In the biography of Demosthenes Plutarch refers to 18 different historians and orators; in the biography of Lycurgus, to 16.
The main sources of Roman biographies were, in addition to the mentioned Polybius, the works of Posidonius of Apamea (12 references), Dionysius of Halicarnassus (in the “Comparative Biographies” – four references to his work, including attributed to the Greeks Pyrrhus, but several dozen fragments in the biographies of Numa, Publicola, Coriolanus and Camillus are probably drawn precisely from Dionysius), Juba II of Mauretania (six references to Juba as a historian and another three to Juba as a character), Titus Livius (14 references, although it is assumed that Plutarch also used material from the unpreserved books of his Histories). Gaius Sallustius Crispus was probably used to describe some events. The primary sources are various autobiographical works of Roman figures, among which the Memoirs of Sulla (12 references) and the works of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus stand out.
Plutarch”s methods of working with sources were determined by the need to reveal the personalities of the heroes, rather than by purely historical objectives. The historiography often condemns the author”s uncritical attitude to the sources used. At the same time, he is also very far from the mechanical reproduction of sources. Even in cases where he is forced to rely on a single source, his narrative often differs greatly from the original text, which is caused by the processing of the material – in particular, the reduction of insignificant and expansion of important fragments, as well as their rearrangement. Sometimes Plutarch shows erudition and skill in analyzing contradictory accounts: for example, the writings of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus and the anti-Graxan accounts of Gaius Phannius, the “Memoirs” of Sulla (an opponent of Gaius Maria) and the work of an unknown author who sympathized with Maria. Plutarch was not afraid to point out the existence of an alternative point of view on an issue and often supplemented the narrative with details important for revealing the character”s identity. It is noted that the methods of the Greek author”s work with sources reflect an interest in research, which is associated with a good knowledge of Greek philosophy, which paid great attention to the theory of knowledge and the definition of truth. It is suggested that the abundance of cited sources is associated with his writing notes while reading (Greek ὑπομνήματα ): temporary – on wax tablets, long – on papyrus scrolls on topics), which were later used to write various works. Such notes may have been kept by Plutarch for many years, since some of the facts mentioned in his early works were later used by him in his biographies. Already in the first biographies, the Greek author did not limit himself to the mechanical amalgamation of extracts from various sources. Later, in using one notebook note in several biographies, he adapted the material, putting it into the context of the narrative and drawing the reader”s attention to various details important to understanding the character. Christopher Pelling emphasizes that because Plutarch had no pre-made notebooks of Latin works, his methods of working with sources to write biographies of Romans differed somewhat from his work with sources for biographies of Greeks. Pelling emphasizes that in the Greek biographies the range of sources is extremely wide and reflects the range of the well-read Plutarch (from poetry and drama to historical and philosophical works), and his not so close familiarity with Latin culture was particularly reflected in the absence of references to poetry – particularly Ennius, Catullus, and Virgil. It is emphasized that Plutarch was not without irony in his attempts to reconstruct the biographies of semi-legendary heroes.
Thirteen of the 22 pairs of biographies begin with a brief prologue (it is assumed that the Themistocles-Camillus pair, the beginning of which is damaged, could also have a prologue. The other biographies do not have a prologue. Two main elements of the prologues are distinguished, the general and the special. In the general part, Plutarch usually comments on the aims and genre specificity of the biographies and reflects on ethical themes; in the special (usually shorter) part, he states the reason for the choice of characters for comparison, notes their similarities and provides comments which set the tone for the entire pair of biographies.
18 of the 22 pairs of biographies conclude with comparisons (Greek σύγκρισις ) of the characters described, indicating the differences and, to a lesser extent, the similarities between them. The comparisons are usually longer than the prologues. For a long time comparisons between pairs of biographies were seen as purely auxiliary elements, until in 1956 Gartmut Erbse offered an alternative view of comparisons, arguing for their importance in revealing the themes Plutarch used to select material in the biographies. Erbse”s ideas were developed in 1972 by Donald Russell, who, while agreeing with the low aesthetic merit and low informative value of comparisons, recognized them as an essential element of the Greek author”s comparative and biographical conception. Admittedly, Plutarch may have elaborated on his vision of the aims and purposes of comparisons in the first pair of biographies that have not been preserved. The Greek author used a comparative approach in other works as well – for example, in his essay “On the Valor of Women” he drew parallels between the virtues of the great Greek and Roman women and men.
The Lamprius catalog mentions eight biographies written by Plutarch of the first Roman emperors from Octavian Augustus to Vitellius, of which only the biographies of Galba and Aoton have survived. It is assumed that these works were written as part of a single project, to a certain extent close to the Comparative Biographies and preceding them chronologically. This cycle is conventionally called the “Lives (Lives) of the Caesars”; their original title is not known. There are significant differences between the two collections of Plutarch”s biographies. Thus, the biographies of Galba and Othon are constructed according to a different compositional principle than the Comparative Biographies: the narrative in them is less human-oriented and they themselves present rather fragments of a continuous history of imperial power, although some elements of juxtaposition are found. Perhaps the Lives of Caesars was intended to be read consecutively, just as the Comparative Biographies were intended to be read in pairs. Because of their peculiarities, the Lives of Caesars is considered closer to the historiographical genre than the Comparative Biographies.
The date on which the Lives of the Caesars was written is unclear. Since 1901, when the German philologist Friedrich Leo considered the peculiarities of these biographies a sign of Plutarch”s lack of experience, the Lives of the Caesars is considered an earlier series of biographies than the Comparative Biographies. According to various versions, the collection was written in the reign of Vespasian (70s) or in the reign of Nerva or even Trajan (97-100), but the consensus among scholars is that the writing of biographies of emperors preceded the compilation of paired biographies.
It is noted the proximity of the Life of the Caesars to the Life of the Twelve Caesars by the Roman writer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, including the description of individual events, which suggests the use of common sources or even the direct use of Plutarch. What distinguishes Plutarch from Suetonius is his refusal to include the biography of Gaius Julius Caesar in his selection of emperors. There is a distinct similarity in the content of some fragments of the biographies of Galba and Aoton with the History of Tacitus, which can probably be explained by their use of one common source, while the use of one author by the other is considered less likely. Some fragments of the “Comparative Biographies” in the biographies of Cicero, Brutus, and Marc Antony, as well as the “Sayings of Kings and Commanders,” may be close to the content of the unpreserved biography of Octavian Augustus. It is possible that Josephus Flavius may have been familiar with the Lives of the Caesars: he once mentioned that many Greek and Roman authors wrote about the events of 68-69.
In addition to the Comparative Biographies and the Lives of the Caesars, Plutarch wrote a number of separate biographies, which are difficult to assign to any clearly delineated cycle; only a few biographies of the famous Beothians, Plutarch”s fellow countrymen, stand out. Only the biographies of Aratus of Sicyon and Artaxerxes have survived, while Lampriusa”s catalog lists eight more biographies – Scipio of Africa, Heracles, Hesiod, Pindar, Cratetes, Daiphantes, Aristomenes, Aratus (possibly the poet of the same name). The small biographies of Aratus and Artaxerxes are not connected in any way, other than proximity in alphabetical order, but in the Late Antique era they began to circulate together. It is believed that the individual biographies of Aratus and Artaxerxes were written between the two biographical series, and the others may have been written even earlier, before the “Lives of the Caesars”.
Plutarch”s sentences are notable for their length (often 10 or more printed lines) and the abundance of insertion constructions (sometimes there are more than 10 verbs in different forms and 10 participles in one sentence). This feature, as well as a number of grammatical peculiarities, make the sentences difficult to read and require careful reading The Comparative Biographies is considered heavy and is often interrupted by insertions, although there are clear preferences and antipathies, indicating, according to Philip Stadter, the sophistication of the author”s literary tastes. Often Plutarch”s sentences are grammatically inconsistent. Plutarch himself criticized both the excessive stylization of historical texts and the fashion for imitating classical Athenian literary models (atticism): in his view, his atticist contemporaries often paid attention only to form rather than content. In the Comparative Biographies the author does not disguise his presence and regularly interacts with the reader through various digressions, first-person remarks, aphoristic (gnomic) statements, rhetorical appeals (apostrophes) interrupting the main narrative, comparisons with similar situations, historical anecdotes, quotations of famous people and poets, comparisons, comparisons.
In spite of some shortcomings, Plutarch”s compositional prowess is noted. The Greek author is praised for his descriptions, and his ability to make his narrative interesting for the reader and to successfully compose stories about tragic situations is emphasized.
Plutarch is now regarded as an independent philosopher, and the earlier view that his philosophical ideas were unoriginal has been rejected. The opinion that Plutarch”s philosophical views were eclectic has also been debunked.
Through his philosophical training in Athens under Ammonius, Plutarch embraced Platonic ideas, and he is unanimously regarded as a follower of Platonism, although doubts have been raised about the orthodoxy of his views. The peculiarities of Plutarch”s work, previously treated as manifestations of eclecticism, are now regarded as an auxiliary tool for illustrating the Platonic views of the Greek author.
Plutarch”s writings show a good acquaintance with Plato”s treatises, and he paid the greatest attention to the dialogue “Timaeus”. It is emphasized that his views were based not so much on Plato”s original treatises as on the philosophy of a heterogeneous middle Platonism, in which there was both a syncretic current which sought to incorporate into Platonic discourse the work of other philosophical schools and a dogmatic direction which sought to return to Plato. The influential figures of Middle Platonism during this period were Antiochus of Ascalon and Eudorus of Alexandria. It is especially noted that Plutarch”s mentor Ammonius was probably not a fully orthodox Platonist: according to the hypothesis that circulated in the mid-twentieth century (Henry Durry, John Dillon, John Whitaker), he may have had a strong Pythagorean influence. Plutarch did not fully adhere to any of the named currents, and his views are seen as an attempt to synthesize the ideas of middle Platonism and academic skepticism with the newer dogmatic tradition. The treatises in which Plutarch spoke extensively on the history of the Platonic schools of philosophy are lost. Nor have the well-known works on the central cosmological, ontological, and psychological issues of Platonism survived by their titles. The emphasis on the ethical component of philosophy brings Plutarch closer to Antiochus, but the increased interest in metaphysical questions is attributed to the influence of Eudorus and the non-Pythagorean Platonists (Moderatus and other philosophers). Plutarch often made use of the writings of other philosophical schools, which were in accord with the fundamental Platonic positions. The presence of responses of ideas of different philosophical schools in his works is connected with his acceptance of philosophical-methodological settings of modern Platonism, oriented to the occupation of the middle position between extreme doctrines.
Despite Plutarch”s proximity to Middle Platonism, clarification of his views is difficult in some cases. For example, according to ancient tradition, many philosophical works are written in the form of polemical dialogues, which makes it difficult to establish the position of the author himself. Moreover, many theorists of Middle Platonism tended to enrich their philosophy with the work of other philosophical schools. In Plutarch”s works, there are many indications that he was well acquainted with the teachings of Pythagoras, Aristotle and their followers. The most significant influence of Peripatetic philosophy is found in ethics and logic, although Plutarch regarded Aristotle”s logical doctrine as a development of Plato, and the teachings of the middle Platonists on logic in general were characterized by a significant influence of Aristotle and his Peripatetic students. In controversial cases he gave priority to Plato and criticized Aristotle for contradictions with him.
In some particular matters the influence of the Pythagorean tradition on Plutarch is found. For example, the Irish historian of philosophy John Miles Dillon considers such ideas as numerology and vegetarianism to be the result of Pythagorean influence. In addition, the origin of Plutarch”s cosmological dualism is often associated with Pythagoreanism, which is, however, not generally accepted: the possibility of borrowing the central elements of this doctrine from other sources – in particular, from Plato – is admitted. Possible echoes of Pythagoreanism can also be detected in ethical teachings. Plutarch”s acquaintance with Pythagoreanism was quite thorough, and he sometimes shows a profound knowledge of this doctrine on particular issues. Despite some disagreements with Pythagorean teaching, Plutarch was extremely sympathetic to Pythagoras as a man and philosopher.
In the 19th and 20th centuries there was a widespread view of Plutarch”s affinity to Stoicism, which resulted from the Greek author”s good knowledge of their philosophy, high appreciation of many authorities of this school and mentions of friendly relations with certain followers of Stoicism. In the 20th century, the role of Stoicism in shaping Plutarch”s worldview was reconsidered in the light of new approaches in the study of the history of ancient philosophical thought. A great contribution to the study of Plutarch”s attitude to Stoicism was made by the French Hellenist Daniel Babus, who defended the viewpoint of his good knowledge of Stoic philosophy while seriously criticizing their positions. One of the lines of criticism of the hypothesis of Plutarch”s Stoicism by Babu was to justify the integration of many supposedly Stoic elements into Platonic-Peripetatic discourse. In explaining the rather warm declared attitude of the Greek author to Stoicism, Babi assumed that he combined respect for Stoicism and the Stoics with a rather harsh criticism of the fundamentals of their views. Nevertheless, the proximity of Plutarch”s views on some particular issues to Stoic philosophy – particularly in his consideration of certain aspects of physical doctrine – continues to be admitted, and Maria Solopova suggests an adaptation of Stoic teaching in the field of logic. It is suggested that signs of Plutarch”s affinity with Stoicism may be related to Plato”s strong influence on the founders of Stoic philosophy. His critique of Stoicism is most serious in the religious sphere and touches on many fundamental provisions of Stoic theological doctrine. For example, he raises the problem of theodicy and criticizes the Stoics” proposed justifications for the existence of evil, observing that the Stoic deity that fills the universe is forced to mix and contaminate matter. He also criticizes the Stoic idea of the presence of the divine in “rains and stones” (inanimate matter). However, Plutarch is very positive about the Stoics” method of allegorical interpretations of mythological elements, although he does not agree with their specific interpretations. It is admitted that his arguments against the Stoics may not have been his own, but derived from the work of the Platonic philosophers. Aleksei Losev finds Plutarch”s criticism of Stoic teaching in the extant treatises insufficiently thorough and not very skillful.
Plutarch”s attitude to Epicurean philosophy is characterized as unequivocally negative. It is emphasized that he was well acquainted with it and closely communicated with at least two of its followers. The criticism of Epicurean teaching covers various issues, from theology to ethics. One of the most significant divergences between Plutarch and the Epicureans was their denial of the divine nature and their materialistic view of the essence of the soul. He was also an active critic of the hedonistic ethics of the Epicureans. In addition to the surviving works which clearly criticize the Epicurean doctrine, the catalog of Lampriusa preserves the titles of several unpreserved treatises clearly directed against Epicurus and his followers.
Plutarch”s Platonic views also manifested themselves in the religious sphere. He did not create complete religious and cosmological doctrines, confining himself to the consideration of private questions, and the interpretation of some fundamental problems – for example, the circumstances of the creation of the world (Greek κόσμος) – varies in different works. Plutarch”s religious views have undergone some changes over time: the work On Superstition, written in his youth, is characterized by skepticism, while later works are marked by greater religious depth and a tendency toward mysticism.
According to Plutarch, all existing religions are different views of a single truth. His interest is not limited to the traditional polytheism of the Greco-Roman cultural area: he is familiar with the religions of Egypt and India, with Zoroastrianism and Judaism, with Chaldean astrology and other cults. As a result, the works of the erudite Plutarch are considered an important source on the history of ancient religions. The Greek author”s interest in ancient Egyptian religion is especially great, and the descriptions of cult practices, iconography, symbolism, and other matters in the work “On Isis and Osiris” are very valuable to researchers. It has been suggested that his sources of information on this subject included not only Greek descriptions of Egyptian customs, but also personal interactions with Egyptian priests during his visits to Egypt. He knew quite a bit about the religious practices of Judaism. The German historian of religion Rainer Hirsch-Luipold emphasizes that Plutarch apparently was not familiar with the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) and knew nothing about the figure of Moses. A common view is that Plutarch”s descriptions of Judaism are inaccurate, but Hirsch-Luipold concedes that the Greek author may have been guided by the Greek interpretation of Jewish customs. There is no mention of Christianity in Plutarch”s writings. Rainer Hirsch-Luipold is careful to suggest that Christianity may not have seemed to the author a topic worth discussing. Sergei Averintsev cautiously concedes that the vague phrase in the Exhortations to Spouses may be a warning against conversion to Christianity.
Plutarch distinguished between the supreme deity (Greek θεός ) and the gods of the pantheon, although there is a lack of clarity in the question of their clear distinction: several times he identified the supreme deity with one of the gods of the pantheon. In this matter Plutarch”s views are close to Plato”s concept in the Timaeus and the State. The supreme deity, according to Plutarch, is transcendent and not directly present in our world, although he is its creator; some of his functions are delegated to the world soul. In addition to the supreme deity and the gods of the pantheon, he singled out a group of daimons (some translations use the term “demon”), which are the link between the gods and humans. Daimons, according to Plutarch, are divided into good and evil, their functions ranging from supporting people in trouble, organizing prophecies, taking care of sanctuaries to punishing people”s bad deeds. His concept of daimons draws not only on Plato, but also on Empedocles and Xenocrates.
Plutarch”s cosmology is influenced by ideas of asymmetrical dualism of antagonistic good and evil principles, an example of personification of which he names the Zoroastrian deities Ahuramazda (Oromazda) and Ahriman. The most detailed description of this concept is given in the treatise “On Isis and Osiris”. The origin of Plutarch”s dualistic doctrine is not entirely clear, and his concept is recognized as original. In Greek philosophy the dualistic doctrine was traditionally associated with Pythagoreanism, but some traces of it can also be found in Plato; Zoroastrian theology may have been an additional source of such ideas. Plutarch recognizes two existing beginnings as an orderly and rational monad, which he perceived in the Platonic spirit and usually calls the One, the Good, the True Being, and a dyad, the bearer of a formless chaotic beginning. Both beginnings are eternal and are in irreconcilable struggle, but the monad is usually stronger, although the danger of victory of the destructive evil beginning is still real. Both beginnings manifest themselves through their respective parts of the world soul, and the result of their interaction is the human world. Plutarch, like many of his contemporaries, was interested in the problem of theodicy. In his view, the frequent lack of immediate retribution is due to the fact that the deities are not characterized by anger and impulsiveness, so they act reasonably and do not make mistakes. In his treatise Why the deity hesitates to retaliate, Plutarch suggested that the lack of immediate suppression of bad deeds may be related to the possibility of retribution in the afterlife. He also insisted that a person who does bad things destroys his own life. He polemicized with the Stoics and defended the concept of creation over a period of time, which helped explain the origin of evil and not attribute its appearance to an all-good deity.
Plutarch viewed religious practice by contrasting faith and superstition. Plutarch”s idea of faith (Greek πίστις ), by which he meant a tradition of reverence for the gods based on ancestral beliefs, myths, laws, and philosophical explanations, is in part close to a similar Christian concept. In contrast to faith, which he considered important and defended against the attacks of the Stoics, he sharply criticized many common superstitions and religious prejudices-especially in his early treatise On Superstition. Plutarch supported organized worship in the form of religious rituals and festivals. The Greek author strongly rejected human sacrifice.
Plutarch saw the meaning of human life in resembling the gods through the development of virtue, which was a common idea among many middle Platonists. Plutarch”s ethical views were strongly influenced by Aristotle. The key ethical concepts for the Greek author were valor or virtue (Greek ἀρετή ), education (Greek παιδεία ), and humanity (Greek φιλανθρωπία ). His ethical teaching was influenced by the idea of the duality of the soul, divided into rational-logical and irrational-sensual components. According to Plutarch, the rational part (Dr. Greek νοερόν ) is stable and the irrational part (Dr. Greek παθητικόν ) is not, and the optimum is to achieve a balance between them under the overall control of the rational part. The doctrine of the duality of the soul is considered a manifestation of Plutarch”s dualistic conception of the universe. Like many ancient authors, he clearly distinguished between the human body and the soul. At the same time the Greek author distinguished between the human mind and his soul and insisted on the “double death”: in his opinion, on Earth the body dies, after which the soul ascends to the Moon, where the mind separates from the soul.
Plutarch”s pedagogical views are reconstructed on the basis of the statements in the Moralia and Comparative Biographies. A very significant work on pedagogical themes is “How a Young Man Should Listen to Poetic Works”. In the Comparative Biographies, Plutarch mentioned ethical improvement as one of the aims of the work. Similar ideas are contained in the treatise On the Education of Children, the authorship of which, however, is usually regarded as unknown.
For Plutarch, education is primarily concerned with ethics rather than cognitive skills, but in general his ideal is a harmoniously developed person. The formation of character and the cultivation of ethical virtue (Greek ἠθική ἀρετή ), according to Plutarch, enables one to live a good and happy life. He also stressed the political importance of education: thus, in his opinion, the reason for the unviable constitution of Numa was the lack of attention to the education of the young. The philosophical foundation of his pedagogical views is the doctrine of the duality of the soul. He believed that the subordination of the irrational part of the soul to the rational can be achieved through training. From Plato Plutarch borrowed ideas that it is education that is responsible for future actions, and that the presence of positive dispositions without proper training does not guarantee their development. The process of education, according to Plutarch, should not stop at a young age.
Plutarch considered poetry to be a particularly important element of education. On this point Plutarch diverges from Plato, who had a low regard for poetry. How a Young Man Should Listen to Poetic Works” is equally far from the technical manual of Quintilian or the thorough Poetics of Aristotle, and is characterized as a moralizing essay. He used the example of poetic works to give advice on the critical appreciation of texts. Plutarch also recognized the great importance of training in rhetoric, illustrating this idea not only with successful examples, but also with the negative experience of Coriolanus, who had not received sufficient rhetorical training.
About 25 works on practical ethics addressed to the general public (see section “Moralia”) were long considered minor and unimportant, but in the late 20th and early 21st centuries they began to be seen as a significant example of the practical adaptation of philosophy to the demands of the Greco-Roman elite of the early Roman Empire. The audience of these writings was the elite, the educated and wealthy, active in social and political life, but not philosophers. It is the focus on non-specialists that is considered the main feature of this group of essays. The reason for the low evaluation of these works by Plutarch for a long time was their perception through the prism of technical (strict) philosophy, rather than as independent works with different tasks and audience. With some reservations the proximity of Plutarch”s chosen problems to the works of Seneca and other contemporaries is noted.
Plutarch”s attention to animals and advocacy of vegetarianism is rare in the ancient world. He is one of only two surviving antique authors who purposefully considered vegetarianism from a philosophical and ethical standpoint (the other was the late antique Platonist Porphyry). His views on these issues may have been influenced by Pythagoreanism. Two treatises, On the Intelligence of Animals and On the Intelligence of Animals, are devoted to questions of animal psychology. Plutarch”s conclusions and observations on the main theme of these works are recognized as not entirely accurate. He argued that animals are intelligent and criticized the Stoics who argued otherwise. In his partially extant treatise On Meat Eating, he defended the rejection of eating animal meat with hygienic, medical, and ethical arguments. One of Plutarch”s key arguments against the gastronomic objectification of animals is considered to be the hypothesis of animals” understanding of the concept of justice. He argued that animals can speak and cry out for mercy at the moment of slaughter. The Greek author”s high opinion of animals is also evident in the religious sphere: unlike most of his contemporaries, he praised the veneration of animals in Egypt and placed it above the veneration of statues of inanimate materials among the Greeks. Echoes of vegetarianism can also be found in the Table Talks. In this treatise, in particular, several philosophers addressed the question of the refusal to eat fish among the followers of Pythagoreanism in the absence of a similar restriction on eating the meat of land animals. Their arguments boiled down, according to Plutarch, to ecological considerations: marine fish occupy an entirely different ecological niche and do not interfere with humans, and eating “chickens or rabbits” is associated with the forced need to limit their numbers, lest they devour all human crops. It is known that one of Plutarch”s Heronian friends, Owl, was a vegetarian.
Plutarch”s political views, as expressed in his Comparative Biographies and, to a lesser extent, his Moralia, are in line with classical Greek philosophy, in which political theory was usually seen as part of ethics. As in other cases, his views are closest to Plato”s. One of the main direct borrowings from Plato is considered to be his repeatedly expressed idea of the need to entrust the administration of the state to philosophers. At the same time, he also noticed the mistakes of politicians with philosophical thinking – for example, Cato the Younger. A large number of Platonic ideas are scattered throughout the biographies of Lycurgus and, to a lesser extent, Numa Pompilius. Despite his great interest in political theory, the author was more impressed by the practical approach of Lycurgus, whom he ranked above Plato and the other theoretical philosophers: “But after them all that was left were mere writings and speeches, while Lycurgus, not in writings and speeches, but in deeds, created a state, whose equal was not, and never was”. Of great interest to him as a model ruler-philosopher was Dion, a disciple of Plato. On some particular issues Plutarch diverged from Plato”s ideas. He actively criticized the early Stoic idea of non-interference in politics and the Epicurean approach to politics.
Plutarch repeatedly emphasized the great importance of politics, by which he meant active involvement in political life, and he criticized the widespread idea that one should wait until old age to engage in politics. As part of his ethical interpretation of politics, Plutarch pointed out the importance of political valor (Greek ἀρετή). Another ethical element of his political conception was his condemnation of intra-Greek and all fratricidal wars.
Plutarch had no explicit political ideal. Despite his explicit idealization of Sparta in the time of Lycurgus, he also finds good things in the various forms of organization of other states. The idealization of Sparta was rather unusual against the background of the critical perception of this polis by his ideological predecessors – above all Plato and Aristotle. It is assumed that the source of inspiration for the idealization of Lycurgian Sparta was classical Greek literature. Factors in Sparta”s success were seen by the author as the abandonment of gold and silver money, communal living, and equal allotments of land. All the negative phenomena in Sparta he was inclined to regard as later layers on the original Lycurgian constitution. The only aspects of the Spartan system which Plutarch criticized from an ethical standpoint were the cryptias and the deliberate drinking of the ilots. At the same time he recognized the importance of these customs in the education of Spartan youth. He attributed the decline of Sparta to the spread of gold and the growth of inequality.
The Dutch anticollector Gerhard Alders emphasizes a feature of Plutarch”s political philosophy which distinguishes him from many Greek authors who were interested in politics: his lack of interest in the typology of forms of government. By implication Alders suggests that Plutarch basically followed the six-part typology widely used in Greek political thought since the fourth century B.C. – conditionally-right and conditionally-bad forms of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, respectively. An important feature of Plutarch”s critique is his ethical interpretation of forms of government: he considers the moral qualities of rulers, rather than constitutional features, to be the main criterion for distinguishing between “good” and “bad” forms of government. As a result, the object of Plutarch”s criticism is not so much the forms of government as individual demagogues and tyrants.
The most acceptable to Plutarch, according to Alders, was a liberal and moderate government, close to Aristotle”s political ideals. Regarding specific forms of government he was cautious, indicating only a preference for moderate forms. Plutarch was not an opponent of democracy, often using the term in a positive context, but he criticized the costs of radical democracy as manifested in the dependence of leaders on the volatile moods of the crowd. He was good about the aristocratic form of government, of which he considered Lycurgus” Sparta to be one example, but he was negative about oligarchy, a degenerated form of aristocracy. The monarchy, if governed by a wise ruler, was highly praised by Plutarch, who stressed that a righteous monarch had to lead a hard life and exert all his strength to fulfill governmental tasks. The model monarch for the Greek author is the semi-legendary Roman reforming king Numa Pompilius. Plutarch considered tyranny (degenerate monarchy) the worst form of government, showed in every way the worthlessness of tyrants and approved of their murder.
Plutarch”s political views, despite their reference to the past, also demonstrated an awareness of contemporary political trends. The little attention to the idea of a “mixed constitution” popular in his day (Polybius and Cicero), according to Alders, is due to the understanding that such a system is not feasible in the author”s contemporary era. It is also emphasized that modern Roman emperors are not used as a model for the ideal ruler. It is noted that Plutarch”s admiration of the past was not seen by his contemporaries as a call for the overthrow of imperial power, nor as a play on imperial ideology, which does not exclude the possibility of more subtle allusions. Part of the criticism of the various states can be applied both to Hellenism and to the orders of the modern Roman imperial court. That said, Plutarch speaks positively of a world power ruled by a wise, humane, and gifted absolute monarch. Plutarch saw no problem in the political and military decline of Greece because he considered moral leadership to be more important.
Plutarch was well known in the second century in the Roman Empire, and not only among the Greek-speaking heritage, but also in the Latin-speaking capital. It is believed that the rhetorician Marcus Cornelius Phronton (sometimes erroneously thought to be Plutarch”s nephew), mentor to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, contributed greatly to the spread of his works. Phronton and Marcus Aurelius do not mention Plutarch in their writings, but the emperor mentioned Plutarch”s nephew Sextus as one of his important mentors. In addition, among the biographies of famous personalities with whom the future emperor was acquainted, he mentioned among others “Dion and Brutus”, and their joint mention makes one assume familiarity with the “Comparative Biographies”. The Moralia was also well known in the second century. The brief mention of Plutarch in Apuleius” Metamorphoses was, in the opinion of the Danish researcher Marianne Pade, a tribute to the writer and a manifestation of the prominence of his works among the Latin-speaking public. The works of Apuleius show traces of the influence of certain philosophical works of Plutarch. The Roman antiquarian writer, Avlus Gellius, not only quoted Plutarch, but also praised his scholarship and wisdom. The Greek-speaking historian Appian of Alexandria was influenced by Plutarch”s language and three times in his Roman History drew comparisons between those Greek and Roman figures about whom his predecessor had written. The comparative biographies of various figures in Greek and Roman history written by the third-century historian Amintianus (the work has not survived) are considered to have been influenced by Plutarch. It has been suggested that the works of Plutarch may have had some influence on the satirical dialogues of Lucian of Samosata. The genre affiliation of Athenaeus” Feast of the Wise is inspired by the Table Talks; it is assumed that Athenaeus expressed gratitude to his model by naming one of the characters in the work Plutarch. “Comparative biographies” were regarded by late Antique Greek authors as an important source of information, and were used by Polyinus, Pausanias, Dion Cassius, and Diogenes Laertius. Flavius Philostratus, in one of his extant letters, referred to Plutarch as an authority on literary style. Some second sophisticates, however, criticized the moderate Atticist Plutarch for his poor choice of words.
The theorists of ancient Christianity regarded Plutarch as an intermediary between classical Greek philosophy and emerging Christian theology. Eusebius of Caesarea referred to him repeatedly in his “Preparation for the Gospel” and in his “Chronicle,” and for Eusebius he was one of the most highly regarded pagan authors and a prominent authority on pagan cults. Plutarch”s lack of attack by early Christian thinkers distinguished him from many Greek pagan writers. His works were read by Clement of Alexandria and Basil of Caesarea; the possibility of his influence on Hilary of Pictavia is admitted.
In the late antique era Plutarch”s fame began to decline. In the fourth and sixth centuries he was held in high esteem by Greek-speaking authors such as Hymerius, Eunapius, Agathius of Myra. Among Latin writers only Macrobius was well acquainted with Plutarch”s work, while most authors did not know about him or limited themselves to isolated mentions.
Plutarch”s prominence varied considerably in Western Europe and Byzantium. In the Early and High Middle Ages he was little known in Western Europe. His works written in Greek were unknown, and only in bilingual Southern Italy could manuscripts of several of his works be found. Yet Plutarch”s name had not been forgotten: Hieronymus of Stridon mentioned him as a major philosopher in the Chronicle, well known to medieval readers. The only significant new mention of Plutarch in the High Middle Ages was associated with a treatise erroneously attributed to him, “Instruction to Trajan” (Latin: Institutio Traiani): John of Salisbury used it in his work “Polycraticus,” which drew some additional attention to Plutarch”s personality. The twelfth-century Sicilian translator of Plato into Latin, Heinrich Artistippus, may have been familiar with the Moralia. From the twelfth century onward, manuscripts with several works included in the Moralia began to circulate more actively in Western Europe. It was not until the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries that Plutarch became an extremely popular and influential author in Western Europe (see below).
Although Plutarch was better known in Byzantium than in Western Europe, there was a decline in his prominence as an independent author in the seventh and eighth centuries. Often information from his works was known from texts of ancient compilers. As a result of the evolution of literary tastes in Byzantine society in the ninth and tenth centuries, the Comparative Biographies became a much more sought-after and popular work. The erudite patriarch Photius quoted excerpts from the Comparative Biographies in the Myriobibliion. In the first part of the Myriobiblion, Photius summarized the contents of Sopatra of Apamea, a Late Antique selection in which Plutarch was abundantly quoted. In the second part of the work he recounted some Roman and Greek biographies, noting that he used a kind of “summary.” Photius repeatedly used Plutarch”s historical accounts in his correspondence – for example, in a letter to the Bulgarian king Boris I (Michael). The “comparative biographies” were also known to Emperor Leo VI, who repeatedly referred to the Greek author in his homilies.
In the IX-X centuries Plutarch turned from a source of information on various issues into one of the models for historiography. At the behest of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, certain excerpts from the works of several ancient authors were included in 53 subject headings (Excerpta Constantiniana), but Plutarch, for some reason, was not among the writers selected for this compilation. Andras Nemeth, curator of Greek manuscripts at the Vatican Library, suggested that the reason might have been that Plutarch”s writings were sufficiently well known among the Byzantine elite that the ancient author did not need additional publicity. In the 970s, the Comparative Biographies may have been used to organize the triumph of Emperor John I Tzimiskes: the description of this event reveals an affinity to Plutarch”s description of the triumph of Marcus Furius Camillus. Plutarch was referred to several times in the Byzantine encyclopedia Suda, but the volume of the article about him itself is small.
In the eleventh century, under Constantine IX Monomachus, the works of Plutarch were very popular with the reading public. In addition to being a historical source, Plutarch was seen as a model of literary creation and a model of language and style. His popularity was consistent with the general tendency of Byzantine literature to rely on ancient models. He had a great influence on the historiographical work of Michael Psellus (in particular his Chronographia) and on his philosophical views. Psellus himself counted Plutarch among his “muses” along with Demosthenes, Isocrates, Aristides, Thucydides and Plato. John Zonara made extensive use of the materials of his biographies in the Chronicle as a source of information on Roman history. Traces of Plutarch”s considerable influence are found in various genres of Byzantine literature (Michael and Nikita Choniata, Nicephorus Vriennius the Younger, Eumatius Macremvolitus). In the last years of the thirteenth century Maximus Planudus collected and arranged Plutarch”s writings, contributing greatly to the preservation of his works (see “Manuscripts”). Plutarch”s considerable influence persisted in Byzantium until the fall of Constantinople, and Pliphon formulated his concept of the ideal state under Plutarch”s influence.
A surge of interest in the works of Plutarch in Western Europe began at the end of the fourteenth century. The increased interest of humanists in his works is associated with their adoration of Greco-Roman antiquity and its prominent representatives. They began to translate the writings of the rediscovered Plutarch from the rather exotic Ancient Greek into Latin, which all the educated people of Western Europe knew, as well as into the popular New European languages. In the 1370s the humanist of Byzantine origin, Simon Atumanis, translated into Latin his treatise On the Suppression of Anger. Francesco Petrarch, who was interested in Greek culture, repeatedly referred to Plutarch, but usually in the context of his fictional teaching of the Emperor Trajan. Petrarch”s correspondent Giovanni Colonna included a brief biography of Plutarch in his work De viris illustribus (On Famous Men). The distribution of Plutarch”s manuscripts was promoted by collectors of Greek manuscripts, such as Giovanni Aurispa, who brought back from Byzantium hundreds of manuscripts of classical authors, including Plutarch. Later, after the fall of Constantinople, Vissarion of Nicaea transported his large library of manuscripts of Plutarch to Italy.
In the 1380s the Aragonese Juan Fernandez de Heredia translated the Comparative Biographies from Greek dimotica into Aragonese. The Florentine chancellor-humanist Coluccio Salutati learned of Heredia”s translation, and he conceived the idea of translating Plutarch into Latin. In 1393 Salutati asked his friend Jacopo d”Angelo, on his way to Constantinople with an embassy, to bring back manuscripts of Greek historians and poets, especially noting Homer, Plato, and Plutarch. The Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysolor, invited by Salutati to Florence to teach ancient Greek, played a major role in the popularization of Plutarch in Italy. Chrysolorus used Plutarch”s writings to teach ancient Greek to Italian humanists, while he himself tried to solve diplomatic problems with his Comparative Biographies: emphasizing the close connection between the ancestors of the Italians and the Byzantines, he tried to find support in the Italian states for the struggle of his homeland against the Ottoman Turks. Subsequently several of Chrysolor”s disciples translated individual Comparative Biographies into Latin, Guarino da Verona (his Venetian disciples Francesco Barbaro and Leonardo Giustinian translated into Latin several more biographies of Plutarch and others. Bruni was not satisfied with the translated biography of Cicero and compiled a new biography of the great orator, Cicero novus, which was quite different from Plutarch”s version. Bruni”s biography became extremely popular and was even printed instead of Plutarch”s biography in some Latin periodicals. Bruni later used the Plutarchian model of biographies to write a paired biography of Dante Alighieri and Petrarch (Italian Vite di Dante e del Petrarca) in Italian. Translators of the Comparative Biographies often dedicated their work to influential people (Lorenzo de” Medici, Nicolo Albergati, Giordano Orsini, Prospero Colonna), often with direct references to the relevance of these biographies to the current political situation. By the middle of the fifteenth century the Latin translation of the Comparative Biographies was largely complete, and the manuscript with these translations, commissioned by Piero de Medici, formed the basis of the first printed edition published in Rome in 1470. The influence of Plutarch was particularly strong in the biographical genre: in addition to Leonardo Bruni, the Comparative Biographies was used as a model by Titus Livius Frulovesi, Gianozzo Manetti, and Donato Acciaioli. Niccolò Machiavelli also used historical examples drawn from Plutarch.
In addition to Chrysolorus, other Greek scholars who migrated to Western Europe made extensive use of Plutarch”s writings to teach the ancient Greek language. The reason for using this author for teaching purposes was not only the stylistic peculiarities of his texts, but also the successful reflection in his writings of the spirit of ancient Greece. In addition, it was believed that reading his writings helped to cultivate high moral qualities. In addition to Greek scholars, he was studied in the humanistic “School of Joy” of Vittorino da Feltre.
New and Modern Times
The spread of translations of Plutarch”s writings into New European languages helped to increase his popularity among the broader population. “Plutarch”s Comparative Biographies became the main source for several of William Shakespeare”s plays – Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and in part the fourth, Timon of Athens. A number of other works by Shakespeare also show the influence of Plutarch. He was one of Shakespeare”s three favorite ancient authors, along with Ovid and Seneca. It is noted that Shakespeare, who knew Latin, preferred to be guided by Thomas North”s translation, who used a French edition by Jacques Amiot (see “Translations into New European Languages”). A century later, in 1713, another popular play based on Plutarch”s biography, Joseph Addison”s Cato, was written in England.
Plutarch had a great influence on the development of the New European biographical genre, surpassing Suetonius” Life of the Twelve Caesars as an ancient model. In modern times Plutarch”s name became symbolic, and from the 18th century collections of biographies with his name in the title, often aimed at a children”s audience, began to be published. Many fictional images, individual stories and historical anecdotes are firmly embedded in New Age culture.
Plutarch was appreciated by François Rabelais, Michel Montaigne, and Molière. John Milton appreciated Plutarch”s pedagogical ideas. In the eighteenth century Voltaire criticized Plutarch, accusing him of moralistic anti-historicism and urging his contemporaries to refrain from imitating him. Soon, however, Jean D”Alambert and especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau partially rehabilitated him. Rousseau, in particular, argued in favor of Plutarch”s use of historical anecdotes, which was particularly criticized by Voltaire. Rousseau referred to him as his favorite writer in his youth and noted the Greek author”s influence in shaping his social and political views. The Marquis Condorcet modeled his biographies of Turgot and Voltaire on Plutarch, and he supported the application of his writings to the education of youth, emphasizing the importance of using useful moral examples. Many figures of the French Revolution were inspired by ancient ideals of liberty by Plutarch”s biographies. He was extensively quoted in revolutionary periodicals, he was often used in public speeches, and plays were staged about Plutarch”s heroes. After the coup of 18 Brumaire, imperial propaganda often compared Napoleon, a Plutarch-lover, to the great conquerors Alexander the Great and Gaius Julius Caesar. Napoleon”s individual actions and letters are seen as direct references to Plutarch”s plots.
Imbued with a condemnation of tyranny, Comparative Biographies strongly influenced some of the “founding fathers” of the United States, among whom Alexander Hamilton and John and Samuel Adams stand out. In Plutarch they were interested in historical examples – particularly the biography of Themistocles, demonstrating the possibility of a union of small republics winning over a centralized empire in a war for survival, and Plutarch”s consistent message about the importance of high moral character of politicians resonated with them. It is believed that Plutarch and Thucydides” description of the shortcomings of Athenian democracy influenced the decision of the “founding fathers” to reflect in the U.S. Constitution a mixed type of polity rather than democracy in the classical antique sense. During the Continental Army”s arduous wintering at Valley Forge in 1777-1778, Hamilton reread Comparative Biographies, taking notes on the creation of new states, the dangers of tyranny and the tools to avoid it, and other topics, and George Washington ordered a play, Cato, by Addison, based on Plutarch, to be performed for the soldiers.
Plutarch was highly regarded by Johann Goethe and Ludwig van Beethoven. The hero of Friedrich Schiller”s The Outlaws exclaims: “Oh, how I am disgusted with this age of untalented scribblers, if only I should read in my dear Plutarch of the great men of antiquity.” In Italy, the playwright Vittorio Alfieri was influenced by Plutarch. Plutarch was also well known in England, where many famous people mentioned knowledge of his works in memoirs and fiction, and in the United States (in particular, admirers of his work were Nathaniel Gothorn, Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson)and Plutarch”s ”Life Descriptions” brought up a generation of Decembrists.” Vissarion Belinsky was greatly impressed by Plutarch”s portrayal of the implacable fighter for freedom from the tyranny of Timoleon and wrote that through him he was able to better understand the Great French Revolution. Plutarch had a significant influence on Alexis de Tocqueville and Friedrich Nietzsche. In the second half of the nineteenth century he was recognized as the best-known classical (ancient) author, although there was some decline in his popularity. In 1933, the American botanist Albert Charles Smith named a genus of plants of the Vereskova family, whose representatives grow in Ecuador (Plutarchia), after Plutarch. In 1935, the International Astronomical Union named a crater on the visible side of the moon after Plutarch. The asteroid (6615) Plutarch is named after Plutarch.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, at the instigation of German philologists, opinion about Plutarch began to be revised: he was blamed for historical inaccuracies, unoriginality and insufficiently Attic style; the meticulous Thucydides was declared the new model of Greek historical literature. One line of criticism of Plutarch was a distrust of the accuracy of the numerous quotations he gave: 19th-century scholars did not believe that Plutarch had read all the works cited, and accepted the hypothesis that he had borrowed information from some abstracts. In the 20th century scholars gradually moved away from the hypercritical approach of skeptical philologists, proving, in particular, that the quotations he used were the result of reading the works in the original, not in an outline. A great contribution to the development of Plutarchology was made by Konrath Ziegler, who not only participated in the publication of the texts of his works (see “Editions in Ancient Greek”), but also published a monograph about him. In the winter of 194243 Ziegler prepared for the encyclopedia Pauly-Wissowa a manuscript of an article about Plutarch, in November 1943 his rich library was destroyed during the bombing of Berlin, and in 1949, without waiting for the publication of the volume of the encyclopedia with his article, he published the manuscript of the article as a separate monograph. Ziegler”s monograph was hailed as a comprehensive and reliable guide to Plutarch, dealing with all aspects of his work and biography.
An active revision of Plutarch”s work began in the 1960s. One of the greatest scholars of the Greek author”s work in the mid-twentieth century was Christopher Jones. In 1966, Jones published an article on the chronology of Plutarch”s writings, which, as of the beginning of the twenty-first century, is recognized as important for the study of this question. In 1971 Jones published a monograph, Plutarch and Rome, which covered various aspects of his biography, his connections with Rome and the Roman elite, and his Comparative Biographies. The monograph received high marks, although reviewers made many remarks on private matters: Lionel Pearson noted the lack of explanations for the conclusions about a number of events in the Greek author”s biography; Martin Hubert found Jones” conclusions about Plutarch”s poor knowledge of Latin unconvincing; Oswin Murray found Jones” hypothesis of Tacitus borrowing information directly from Plutarch”s writings weak; and John Briscoe found the author”s attention to the sources and methods of the Comparative Biographies and Plutarch”s relation to Roman history to be clearly insufficient. In 1967 a small review monograph, Plutarch and His Time, was published by the British anticologist Reginald Barrow. The book received many subdued reviews, with some positive ones as well. In 1973, a small monograph on Plutarch was published by the British philologist Donald Russell, which was controversially regarded by various reviewers, both as a valuable overview of Plutarch”s work (A. J. Gossage) and as a brief and superficial work that added nothing to existing general reviews of the Greek author”s work (L. J. Simms). Christopher Jones described Russell”s work as unsatisfactory, but still relatively the best introductory work available in English, compared to the weaker monographs by Reginald Barrow and Constantine Gianakaris. Martin Hubert similarly rated Russell”s work as better than Barrow”s and Gianakaris”s. In 1966, Sergei Averintsev defended his doctoral thesis on Plutarch, which was awarded the Lenin Komsomol Prize and published as a separate monograph (Plutarch and Ancient Biography) in 1973.
The British historian Christopher Pelling has written extensively on Plutarch; many of his articles were published as a separate volume in 2002. A small monograph by Robert Lamberton, published in 2001, has been assessed as a short introductory guide. The International Plutarch Society has been organized by Plutarch scholars, with sections in 14 countries.
The study of Plutarch”s philosophical views developed separately, and the twentieth century brought clarity to their definition. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Plutarch was generally regarded as an unoriginal and eclectic philosopher who did not rely on the teachings of any school. This perception of the Greek author was influenced by Hegel”s ideas about 1st century AD philosophy. Plutarch”s writings, rich in references and quotations, contributed to his being perceived as eclectic, since 19th – early 20th century scholars considered textual overlaps, even if they were trivial, to be the main sign of external influence. In the 20th century, there was a move away from identifying Plutarch as an eclectic philosopher: in the words of the Belgian philosophical historian Jan Opsomer, the indication of eclecticism led to the erroneous assumption that he freely incorporated heterogeneous, often incompatible elements into his system of views. A crucial step in the clarification of his views was the proof of his adherence to Platonic ideas. In 1916, Roger Miller Jones, an American anticollector, published a study of Plutarch”s Platonism in which he proved the Platonic basis of the Greek author”s views. In 1969 the French historian of philosophy Daniel Babus dealt a great blow to the hypothesis of the strong influence of Stoicism on Plutarch, proving that he was a consistent opponent of Stoicism.
Because of its large volume, Plutarch”s works were usually transcribed piecemeal. “The Comparative Biographies are preserved in more than 100 medieval manuscripts, but only 12 of them (not counting later manuscripts) include all the biographies. A key attribute of the grouping of the manuscripts of Comparative Biographies is their belonging to two-volume (two-part) and three-volume (three-part) families. In the less common but older two-part family of manuscripts, the biographies are arranged strictly chronologically based on the lifespan of Greek characters: from Theseus, Lycurgus and Solon to Agides, Cleomenes and Philopemene. The best manuscript of the two-part family is Codex Seitenstettensis 34 (“S”), done, according to various versions, in late X. The biographies in the manuscripts of the much more common three-part family are divided into Athenians, Spartans, and other Greeks, and a chronological principle was used within each group. The grouping of biographies into three parts probably originated in the ninth or early tenth century. Among the oldest manuscripts in this group are the high-quality 32-line codices made for Constantine the Porphyrogenitus (recensio Constantiniana). Almost simultaneously the works of Plutarch were copied by the scribes of Archbishop Aretha of Caesarea.
In the last years of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the most complete copies of the Comparative Biographies and Moral Writings at that time were made under the editorship of Maximus Planudea (recensio Planudea). Planud”s work had a great influence on the preservation of Plutarch”s corpus of works. Under Planud”s editorship, the text of the Greek author underwent some linguistic and stylistic revision for the use of his writings for educational purposes. Planud had access to the major libraries of Byzantium and may have used an assignment on an embassy to Italy to study the manuscripts there. In the early fourteenth century, independently of Planudus, Byzantine philologists made an alternative attempt to assemble Plutarch”s entire legacy with an attempt to reconstruct the original text.
The works included in the Moralia were copied in several works and singly during the Middle Ages. Only one manuscript, edited by Maximus Planudus, includes an almost complete corpus of surviving works, the Codex Parisinus graecus 1672 (textual designation “E”), written after 1302 and preserved in the National Library of France (the manuscript is also one of the most important sources for the text of the Comparative Biographies). In 1773, two significant fragments that were missing from the manuscript E were identified. The 11 manuscripts preserved in Paris (nos. 1672, 1675, 1955, 1956, 1957), Rome (Urbinas 97), Milan (Ambros. 82), Venice (Marc. Gr. 249, 250, 427), and Vienna (Vindob. 148 = Phil. Gr. 72) are considered most important for reconstruction of the text of the Moralia.
The small but very ancient papyri and one parchment manuscript with fragments of Plutarch”s works are of certain value. According to the calculations of the papyrologist Thomas Schmidt, 17 ancient manuscripts are known (mainly scrolls, but there are also two codices): five manuscripts contain “Comparative Biographies” (biographies of Alexander, Lycurgus, Pelopidas, Caesar), 12 contain the works included in the Moralia. The earliest manuscripts were created in the first half of the second century and may have been copied during Plutarch”s lifetime, the most recent are from the fifth century, but most are from the second or third centuries. Five more papyri found have been attributed to Plutarch at various times, probably erroneously. The study of the papyri has challenged the well-established tradition suggesting that the Comparative Biographies were rewritten in pairs from the beginning. For example, Helen Cockle calculates that a scroll with a biography of Lycurgus would have been 7.5m long, making a single scroll with a pair of biographies of Lycurgus and Numa very long (15m). Thomas Schmidt calculated that the paired biographies of Pelopidas with Marcellus and Caesar with Alexander, judging from the surviving fragments, would have been abnormally long – 22-29 meters. These observations are seen as an argument in support of the individual distribution of paired biographies in the ancient era.
Editions in Ancient Greek
The works of Plutarch, which were gaining in popularity, began to be published soon after the invention of printing. Initially the Comparative Biographies were published in a Latin translation by various Italian humanists in 1470 in Rome by Giovanni Antonio Campano (according to other information, the Roman edition was printed by Ulrich Hahn. The Editio princeps in its original language was published in 1517 by the Florentine publisher Filippo Giunti, edited by Eufrosino Bonino, based on two manuscripts preserved in Florence. Giunti”s edition is considered of poor quality and contains many errors; in addition, Plutarch was erroneously attributed a biography of Evagoras by Isocrates. Giunti and Bonino gave little weight to Plutarch”s comparativist approach and titled the work as Lives, that is, biographies (Greek Βιοῖ . In 1519 Francesco Azolano (Gian Francesco d”Azola), the successor of Alda Manucius, published in Venice a better text of the Comparative Biographies, and in the preface he criticized Giunti”s edition. Like Giunti, d”Azola made no attempt to reconstruct the original order of biographies conceived by Plutarch. “The Moralia” was first published in its original language before the “Comparative Biographies”: it was published in 1509 by Ald Manucius in Venice. The editor of the first edition of the Moralia was the Greek humanist Demetrius Duca, assisted by Erasmus of Rotterdam and Girolamo Aleandro.
The Venetian editions of the Comparative Biographies and Morals were considered standard for several decades, although many emendations (corrections) were revised based on the study of other manuscripts. Thus, in 1533 Andrew Kratander and Johannes Bebel published the Comparative Biographies at Basel, based on the text of d”Azola with slight corrections, and in 1542 a similarly corrected text of the Morals was printed there. In 1572 Henri Etienne published in Geneva a complete Greek edition of Plutarch”s writings with the pagination of the Moralities into folios and paragraphs, which became generally accepted. Etienne also made many emendations and listed the main readings based on his own study of the manuscripts. Etienne”s edition proved very successful and was repeatedly reprinted. It was not until the late 18th century that some progress was made in reconstructing Plutarch”s text by the philologists Augustine Briand, Johann Jakob Reiske, and Daniel Albert Wittenbach, whose editions were still based on Etienne”s text.
Peter Burke estimates that between 1450 and 1700 Comparative Biographies was published 62 times in Europe (27 editions in ancient languages and 35 in modern languages), making his work the 13th most popular among historical works by ancient authors.
At the end of the nineteenth century the results of centuries of philological work led to the publication of Plutarch”s texts with scholarly and critical apparatuses, which are commonly used by modern scholars and translators, replacing direct work with manuscripts. In 1888-1896 the Greek philologist Gregorios Bernardakis published the Moralia in the German series Bibliotheca Teubneriana. In the American Loeb Classical Library series, the text of the first volumes of the Moralia was prepared by Frank Cole Babbitt, who drew on the work of Bernardakis, but discarded many of his emendations and added some new ones; from the 5th volume onward several different scholars worked on the text of the Moralia. The text of the Comparative Biographies for Bibliotheca Teubneriana was prepared in the early 20th century by Klas Lindskog (the first edition was published in 1914-1935, subsequently reprinted). In the middle of the twentieth century, the Comparative Biographies were published in the French Collection Budé series edited by Robert Flacelaire and Marcel Junod. The French edition and the third Teubner edition slightly differed in some emendations and in the reconstruction of the genealogical tree of the manuscripts, the French edition noted a strong criticism of the “theory of a single source” in the preface and valuable notes on the text. The second half of the twentieth century saw the publication of a new edition of the Morals in Bibliotheca Teubneriana, with many philologists working on the various works.
Translations into New European Languages
Among the first translations of Plutarch into New European languages was the manuscript translation of de Heredia into Aragonese (see above). After the invention of printing, translations of Plutarch”s works into major European languages began to appear. Between 1450 and 1700, 10 French translations of the Comparative Biographies were published, 9 into Italian, and 7 into English. Peter Burke noted that in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries Plutarch belonged to the category of ancient authors, who were more often published in translations into modern vernacular languages than in the original language and in Latin translation.
Jacques Amiot”s translation of the works of Plutarch into French from the Greek original was very popular in France. In the 1540s Amiot translated several works of ancient Greek authors, and his handwritten translation of selected biographies of Plutarch was read with pleasure by Francis I, who invited Amiot to translate the entire Comparative Biographies. Amio soon became tutor to the children of the new King Henry II, the future kings Charles IX and Henry III, and it was for the needs of educating the dauphins that Amio completed his translation of the Comparative Biographies in 1559. In 1572 Amio also translated the Morals. Amio”s translations were notable for their literary value in their own right and influenced the development of the French language. New translations into French did not appear until the eighteenth century, and until then Amio”s translation was very popular and highly regarded; only in the seventeenth century was Amio sometimes criticized for a somewhat archaic style.
In 1579 the Englishman Thomas North published an English translation of the Comparative Biographies under the title Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. North knew almost no Ancient Greek or Latin, and his translation was from a French translation by Jacques Amiot. Following the fashion of his day, North in some cases creatively reworked the translated text and even invented brief insertions, giving Plutarch additional drama. He dedicated his translation to Queen Elizabeth. One of the many readers of North”s translation was William Shakespeare (see “Modern Times” section). Unlike the French and English editions, the Italian translations were not very influential in New Age Italy
Plutarch was repeatedly translated into Russian. The first translations of individual works date back to the 18th century (Stepan Pisarev): “Plutarch”s Instructions on Childhood” (“The Moral and Philosophical Works of Plutarch” (St. Petersburg, 1807). In the 19th century translations of Spyridon Destunis” “Comparative Biographies” were published (“Biographies of Plutarch” ed. Guerrier (biographies of Plutarch in a cheap edition by A. Suvorin (translated by V. Alekseev, vols. I-VII) and under the title “Lives and Deeds of Famous Men of Antiquity” (M., 1889, I-II). Partial translation in 1941, edited by Solomon Lurie (“Selected Biographies”) was estimated by reviewer Sofia Protasova as very successful, despite some shortcomings. In 1961-1964, in the series “Literary Monuments” was published a three-volume translation (“Comparative Biographies” edited by Simon Markish, Sergei Sobolevsky and Maria Grabar-Passek). In a review in Vestnik drevneye istorii, plutarchologist Sergei Averintsev praised the quality of this translation. Averintsev particularly praised the numerous (31 out of 50) biographies translated by Markisch: according to him, “the desire for open intonation, for a vital, unpretentious and even ”domestic” diction, typical of Markisch”s writing temperament, coincided with the entire structure of the original”.