A LETTER OF CONDOLENCE TO APOLLONIUS (CONSOLATIO AD APOLLONIUM)
The Letter of Condolence to Apollonius, into which quotations from earlier
authors have been emptied from the sack rather than scattered by hand, has
in comparatively recent years fallen under suspicion as being perhaps not
the work of Plutarch. The suspicion rests mainly on two grounds, the unusual
length of the quotations, and certain incongruities of style. The latter may
here be briefly dismissed with the remark that for every departure from
accepted Plutarchean style a striking instance of conformity to his style
may be cited, so that no very positive results are to be obtained in this
way. The case is much the same with the quotations. Many of them are
unusually long, although not longer than we find in other authors. Some of
them, for example Euripides, Suppliants 1110 and 1112 (Plut. 110c), show an
accuracy of ms. tradition so far superior that the reading given by Plutarch
is commonly adopted by editors of Euripides in preference to the traditional
reading of the mss. of Euripides. On the other hand, the quotation from
Plato, Gorgias 523 a (Plut. 120 e), shows many minor variations from our
text of Plato ; some of these are interesting in themselves, but none of
them really disturbs the meaning of the passage.
We learn from the letter almost nothing about [p. 106]
and his departed son, and hardly more about Plutarch. It lacks the intimate
touch of a similar letter which was written by Plutarch to his wife
(Moralia, 608 a). Indeed we cannot be wholly sure that the boy was called
Apollonius after his father, for one stroke of the pen to change the
accusative to a vocative (121 e) would cause his name to disappear entirely.
The title of the letter is not found in Lamprias' list of Plutarch's works,
nevertheless we have reference to it at a comparatively early date.
Some striking similarities between the letter and Cicero's Tusculan
Disputations are doubtless to be explained by derivation from a common
source, and this source was doubtless in large part the works of the
Academic philosopher Crantor.
In the absence of actual knowledge it is convenient to assume an hypothesis
(as in the realm of science one speaks of ‘atoms’ or ‘
ions’ or of the electric ‘current’). If we assume
that this is the original rough draft of the letter which was to be sent to
Apollonius, nearly everything can be made to square with the hypothesis. In
selecting some of the quotations Plutarch had put down enough of the
context, so that later the lines he might finally choose to insert could be
smoothly interwoven with the text, and the text itself was no doubt to be
subjected to further polish.
However, we may be profoundly grateful for the collection of extracts
included in the letter, and, if the hypothesis be right, we may also be
grateful for this glimpse of Plutarch's methods of composition.
We must bear in mind that this particular form of literary composition had
developed a style of its [p. 107]
own, the earliest example
perhaps being the Axiochus (of Plato ?), and we have records of many more
now lost. Among the Romans also this form of composition was popular, and
several examples may be found in the works of Seneca.