This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Anyone who reads some of the many articles which have been written about the Sayings of Kings and Commanders found in Plutarch's works would almost certainly gain the impression that the whole book is a tasteless forgery; yet a closer study would probably convince him that the Sayings are, in the main, just as truly the work of Plutarch as the poems of Sappho or Alcaeus which we now possess are the works of those authors. The only question, then, is how it happens that the Sayings stand in their present form, and this will doubtless serve as a topic for debate in the future, as it has in the past, since it can never be definitely settled. The assumption that the whole book is a forgery can only be regarded as nonsense. Many of the stories included here are found also in other writers, such, for example, as Aelian, Polyaenus, or Valerius Maximus, and the relation between the versions found in the different writers is quite the same as the relation between other stories found in the indisputably genuine works of Plutarch and the versions found in other writers. A second assumption that some of the stories were put together by a later writer who copied them largely from Plutarch's Lives (when there were Lives from which they could be copied) is more plausible [p. 4] in the case of many of the Sayings, especially since the versions often coincide (in whole or part) in language. At the same time a comparison of the versions found here with the versions found in the Lives, for example, of Phocion, or Fabius Maximus, or the elder Cato, will probably serve to convince an unprejudiced reader that these were not copied verbatim from the Lives, but that they have been put down independently from the same or the original source. A special stress is laid by those who uphold this theory upon the words ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ὕστερον (196 e), but that again is only a natural observation which anyone writing a memorandum might properly make regarding that incident, and anyone enthusiastic in supporting the genuineness of the Sayings might equally well suggest that this was an observation of some copyist, put down as a marginal note, which has crept into the text. There remains, then, the possibility that the Sayings are in the main the work of Plutarch, written by him in practically their present form, and that some of these were copied into the Lives rather than from the Lives. Plutarch himself tells us, in Moralia 464 f and 457 D,1 that he was in the habit of making collections of notes of this sort, and certainly nothing could be more natural than that the author of the Lives, to say nothing of the Moralia, should get together some of his material in more accessible form, especially in view of the difficulty, in ancient times, of consulting books, which were written and kept in the form of a roll. The arrangement of the Sayings of Kings and [p. 5] Commanders is roughly chronological, with some retrogressions. The Greeks (and Persians) and the Romans are grouped separately. If these sayings were extracted from the Lives by a writer as dullwitted as many would have us believe he was, it might reasonably be expected that he would have jumbled the Greeks and the Romans together as they are alternated, in the Lives, but such is not the case. It will be noted that the names of the Spartans whose sayings are recorded in a similar collection are arranged in alphabetical order for convenience in consultation. In Lampriass catalogue of Plutarch's works the Sayings of Kings and Commanders is listed as No. 108, and Stobaeus, in his Florilegium, quotes from it freely. Of the large number of quotations from this work which are to be found in Stobaeus an overwhelming majority agree in language either verbatim or almost verbatim, and are not in agreement verbatim with variant versions found elsewhere in the Lives or the Moralia or in Aelian or Polyaenus. In one case Stobaeus (Florilegium, liv. 43 = Moralia 788 d and not 187c) seems to have preferred aversion found elsewhere in the Moralia, and in one other case (vii. 48 = Life of Lycurgus, chap. xx. 4, rather than Moralia, 190 d, or 215 d) a version found in the Lives. It is clear, then, that the book was in existence as an independent volume in the time of Stobaeus, and probably earlier. Whether Plutarch ever meant that this collection should be published, or whether he himself provided the introduction addressed to the Emperor Trajan, are questions of minor importance. In ancient times, no doubt, as in later days royalty could not afford to [p. 6] spend too much time with books, and welcomed predigested information. Plutarch very seldom tells the same story in the same words. Over and over again in his works we find a story repeated with minor variations in language, or in expansion or condensation, which often serve to adapt it better to its context, or, again, seem to serve no purpose except to avoid sameness ; and so with the stories in this collection : when they are repeated in other parts of Plutarch's works they almost always show the same minor variations which are so characteristic of Plutarch.2 It is an interesting academic study, for those to whom such studies appeal, to compare the different versions of the same story, and to try to draw conclusions as to which version is derived from the other, or the others (as has been done by Carl Schmidt, De apophthegmatum quae sub Plutarchi nomine feruntur collectionibus, Greifswalde, 1879), 3 but such studies are bound to be unconvincing at best. [p. 7] Of many of the stories there is no variant version. Some were doubtless used in lives or essays by Plutarch which are now lost, and some were doubtless meant to be included in lives or essays which were never written. The collection in whole or in part is probably as well known as anything that Plutarch has written, for parts of it have become proverbial, and so it is not surprising that some of the sayings have been attributed to other well-known men, both ancient and modern, or that other men both ancient and modern have given utterance to them as their own.
1 In 457 d if. Plutarch gives some examples of the kind of anecdotes which he is wont to collect, and some of these are identical with those found in the Sayings of Kings and Commanders.
2 Of the hundred or two hundred or more examples which might be cited (and which may be found by consulting the footnotes in the following pages) three or four must here suffice. One may compare the four accounts of Ada's cooks (180 a), or the three versions of Antigonus's modesty (183 c), or the remark of Lysimachus to Philippides (183 e), copied practically verbatim by Stobaeus, Florilegium xlix. 19, which looks like an original memorandum, while the other versions (Moralia 508 c and 517 β) appear to be adapted to their context; or the retort of Phocion to Antipater (188 f), six times repeated, in which the language of the retort is always essentially the same, but the setting is regularly adapted to the context.
3 One may compare also Wilhelm Gemoll, Das Αpοphthegma (Leipzig, 1924), which is a discursive essay on the apophthegm, anecdote, novel, and romance, with relatively little reference to Plutarch.