About Plutarch, (Plutarchus Πλούταρχος)
Plutarch, born Plutarchos (Greek: Πλούταρχος) then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus (Μέστριος Πλούταρχος), c. 46 – 120 CE, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia. He was born to a prominent family in Chaeronea, Boeotia, a town about twenty miles east of Delphi.
Plutarch was born in 46 CE in the small town of Chaeronea, in the Greek region known as Boeotia. His family was wealthy. The name of Plutarch's father has not been preserved, but it was probably Nikarchus, from the common habit of Greek families to repeat a name in alternate generations. The name of Plutarch's grandfather was Lamprias, as he attested in Moralia and in his Life of Antony. His brothers, Timon and Lamprias, are frequently mentioned in his essays and dialogues, where Timon is spoken of in the most affectionate terms. Rualdus, in his 1624 work Life of Plutarchus, recovered the name of Plutarch's wife, Timoxena, from internal evidence afforded by his writings. A letter is still extant, addressed by Plutarch to his wife, bidding her not give way to excessive grief at the death of their two year old daughter, who was named Timoxena after her mother. Interestingly, he hinted at a belief in reincarnation in that letter of consolation.
The exact number of his sons is not certain, although two of them, Autobulus and second Plutarch, are often mentioned. Plutarch's treatise on the Timaeus of Plato is dedicated to them, and the marriage of his son Autobulus is the occasion of one of the dinner-parties recorded in the 'Table Talk.' Another person, Soklarus, is spoken of in terms which seem to imply that he was Plutarch's son, but this is nowhere definitely stated. His treatise on marriage questions, addressed to Eurydice and Pollianus, seems to speak of her as having been recently an inmate of his house, but without enabling us to form an opinion whether she was his daughter or not.
Plutarch studied mathematics and philosophy at the Academy of Athens under Ammonius from 66 to 67. He had a number of influential friends, including Quintus Sosius Senecio and Fundanus, both important senators, to whom some of his later writings were dedicated. Plutarch travelled widely in the Mediterranean world, including central Greece, Sparta, Corinth, Patrae (Patras), Sardes, Alexandria, and two trips to Rome[b].
At some point, Plutarch took up Roman citizenship. As evinced by his new name, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, his sponsor for citizenship was Lucius Mestrius Florus, a Roman of consular status whom Plutarch also used as an historical source for his Life of Otho.
He lived most of his life at Chaeronea, and was initiated into the mysteries of the Greek god Apollo. However, his duties as the senior of the two priests of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi (where he was responsible for interpreting the auguries of the Pythia) apparently occupied little of his time. He led an active social and civic life while producing an extensive body of writing, much of which is still extant.
For many years Plutarch served as one of the two priests at the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the site of the famous Delphic Oracle, twenty miles from his home. By his writings and lectures Plutarch became a celebrity in the Roman empire, yet he continued to reside where he was born, and actively participated in local affairs, even serving as mayor. At his country estate, guests from all over the empire congregated for serious conversation, presided over by Plutarch in his marble chair. Many of these dialogues were recorded and published, and the 78 essays and other works which have survived are now known collectively as the Moralia.
Work as magistrate and ambassador
In addition to his duties as a priest of the Delphic temple, Plutarch was also a magistrate in Chaeronea and he represented his home on various missions to foreign countries during his early adult years. Plutarch held the office of archon in his native municipality, probably only an annual one which he likely served more than once. He busied himself with all the little matters of the town and undertook the humblest of duties.
According to the 10th century historian George Syncellus, late in Plutarch's life, emperor Hadrian appointed him nominal procurator of Achaea – a position that entitled him to wear the vestments and ornaments of a consul himself.
Plutarch died between the years 119 and 127.
Lives of the Roman emperors
The first biographical works to be written by Plutarch were the Lives of the Roman Emperors from Augustus to Vitellius. Of these, only the Lives of Galba and Otho survive. The Lives of Tiberius and Nero are extant only as fragments, provided by Dasmascius (Life of Tiberius, cf. his Life of Isidore) and Plutarch himself (Life of Nero, cf. Galba 2.1), respectively. These early emperors’ biographies were probably published under the Flavian dynasty or during the reign of Nerva (CE 96-98).
Parallel Lives - Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans
Plutarch's best-known work is the Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged in pairs to illuminate their common moral virtues and vices. The surviving Lives contain 23 pairs, each with one Greek Life and one Roman Life, as well as four unpaired single Lives.
Criticism of Parallel Lives
"It is not histories I am writing, but lives; and in the most glorious deeds there is not always an indication of virtue or vice, indeed a small thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of a character than battles where thousands die." Plutarch (Life of Alexander/Life of Julius Caesar, Parallel Lives, [tr. E.L. Bowie])
Plutarch stretches and occasionally fabricates the similarities between famous Greeks and Romans in order to be able to write their biographies as parallel. The lives of Nicias and Crassus, for example, have nothing in common except that both were rich and both suffered great military defeats at the ends of their lives.
Life of Alexander
Plutarch's Life of Alexander, written as a parallel to that of Julius Caesar, is one of only five extant tertiary sources on the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great. It includes anecdotes and descriptions of events that appear in no other source, just as Plutarch's portrait of Numa Pompilius, the putative second king of Rome, holds much that is unique on the early Roman calendar.
Life of Pyrrhus
Plutarch's Life of Pyrrhus is a key text because it is the main historical account on Roman history for the period from 293 to 264 BC, for which neither Dionysius nor Livy have surviving texts.
The remainder of Plutarch's surviving work is collected under the title of the Moralia (loosely translated as Customs and Mores). It is an eclectic collection of seventy-eight essays and transcribed speeches, which includes On Fraternal Affection—a discourse on honour and affection of siblings toward each other, On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great—an important adjunct to his Life of the great king, On the Worship of Isis and Osiris (a crucial source of information on Egyptian religious rites), along with more philosophical treatises, such as On the Decline of the Oracles, On the Delays of the Divine Vengeance, On Peace of Mind and lighter fare, such as Odysseus and Gryllus, a humorous dialogue between Homer's Odysseus and one of Circe's enchanted pigs. The Moralia was composed first, while writing the Lives occupied much of the last two decades of Plutarch's own life.
On the Malice of Herodotus
In On the Malice of Herodotus Plutarch criticizes the historian Herodotus for all manner of prejudice and misrepresentation. It has been called the “first instance in literature of the slashing review.” The 19th century English historian George Grote considered this essay a serious attack upon the works of Herodotus, and speaks of the "honourable frankness which Plutarch calls his malignity."
Book IV of the Moralia contains the Roman and Greek Questions. The customs of Romans and Greeks are illuminated in little essays that pose questions such as 'Why were patricians not permitted to live on the Capitoline?' (no. 91) and then suggests answers to them, often several mutually exclusive.
Pseudo-Plutarch is the conventional name given to the unknown authors of a number of pseudepigrapha attributed to Plutarch. Some editions of the Moralia include several works now known to be pseudepigrapha: among these are the Lives of the Ten Orators (biographies of the Ten Orators of ancient Athens, based on Caecilius of Calacte), The Doctrines of the Philosophers, and On Music. One "pseudo-Plutarch" is held responsible for all of these works, though their authorship is of course unknown. The thoughts and opinions recorded are not Plutarch's and come from a slightly later era, though they are all classical in origin.
The Romans loved the Lives, and enough copies were written out over the centuries so that a copy of most of the lives managed to survive to the present day. Some scholars, however, believe that only a third to one-half of Plutarch’s corpus is extant. The lost works of Plutarch are determined by references in his own texts to them and from other authors' references over time. There are traces of twelve more Lives that are now lost.
Plutarch was a Platonist, but was open to the influence of the Peripatetics, and in some details even to Stoicism despite his polemics against their principles. He rejected absolutely only Epicureanism. He attached little importance to theoretical questions and doubted the possibility of ever solving them. He was more interested in moral and religious questions. In opposition to Stoic materialism and Epicurean "atheism" he cherished a pure idea of God that was more in accordance with Plato. He adopted a second principle (Dyad) in order to explain the phenomenal world. This principle he sought, however, not in any indeterminate matter but in the evil world-soul which has from the beginning been bound up with matter, but in the creation was filled with reason and arranged by it. Thus it was transformed into the divine soul of the world, but continued to operate as the source of all evil. He elevated God above the finite world, and thus daemons became for him agents of God's influence on the world. He strongly defends freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul.