), was born at Chaeroneia in Boeotia.
The few facts of his life which are known, are chiefly collected from his own writings.
He was studying philosophy under Ammonius at the time when Nero was making his progress through Greece (Περὶ τοῦ Εἰ ἐν Δελφοῖς
, 100.1), as we may collect from the passage referred to. Nero was in Greece and visited Delphi in A. D. 66 ; and Plutarch seems to say, that he was at Delphi at that time. We may assume then that he was a youth or a young mall in A. D. 66.
In another passage (Antonius,
87) he speaks of Nero as his contemporary. His great-grandfather Nicarchus told him what the citizens of Chaeroneia had suffered at the time of the battle of Actium (Plut. Antonius,
He also mentions his grandfather Lamprias, from whom he heard various anecdotes about M. Antonius, which Lamprias had heard from Philotas, who was studying medicine at Alexandria when M. Antonius was there with Cleopatra. (Antonius,
29.) His father's name does not appear in his extant works.
He had two brothers, Timon and Larnprias.
As a young man, he was once employed on a mission to the Roman governor of the province. (Πολιτικὰ παραγγέλματα
It appears incidentally from his own writings that he must have visited several parts of Italy : for instance, he speaks of seeing the statue or bust of Marius at Ravenna (Marius,
But he says in express terms that he spent some time at Rome, and in other parts of Italy (Demosthenes,
He observes, that he did not learn the Latin language in Italy, because he was occupied with public commissions, and in giving lectures on philosophy ; and it was late in life before he busied himself with Roman literature.
He was lecturing at Rome during the reign of Domitianus, for he gives an account of the stoic L. Junius Arulenus Rusticus receiving a letter from the emperor while he was present at one of Plutarch's discourses (Περὶ πολυποαγμοσύνης
, 100.15). Rusticus was also a friend of the younger Plinius, and was afterwards put to death by Domitianus. Sossius Senecio, whom Plutarch addresses in the introduction to his life of Theseus (100.1), is probably the same person who was a friend of the younger Plinius (Ep.
1.13), and consul several times in the reign of Trajanus.
The statement that Plutarch was the 'preceptor of Trajanus, and that the emperor raised him to the consular rank, rests on the authority of Suidas (s. v. Πλούταρχος
), and a Latin letter addressed to Trajanus.
But this short notice in Suidas is a worthless authority; and the Latin letter to Trajanus, which only exists in the Policraticus of John of Salisbury (Lib. 5. 100.1, ed. Leiden, 1639). is a forgery, though John probably did not forge it. John's expression is somewhat singular : "Extat Epistola Plutarchi Trajanum instituentis, quae cujusdam political constitutionis exprimit sensum. Ea dicitur esse hujusmodi ;" and then he gives the letter.
In the second chapter of this book John says that this Politica Constitutio is a small treatise inscribed "Institutio Trajani," and he gives the substance of part of the work. Plutarch, who dedicated the Ἀποφθέγματα Βασιλέων καὶ Στρατηγῶν
to Trajanus, says nothing of the emperor having been his pupil.
But some critics have argued that Plutarch is not the author of the Apophthegmata, because he says in the dedication that he had written the lives of illustrious Greeks and Romans ; for they assume that he did not return to Chaeroneia until after the death of Trajanus, and did not write his Lives until after his return. If these assumptions could be proved, it follows that he did not write the Apophthegmata, or at least the dedication. If we assume that he retired to Chaeroneia before the death of Trajanus, we may admit that he wrote his Lives at Chaeroneia and the Apophthegmata afterwards.
It appears from his Life of Demosthenes (100.2), that he certainly wrote that Life at Chaeroneia, and this Life arind that of Cicero were the fifth pair. (Demosthenes,
100.3.) Plutarch probably spent the later years of his life at Chaoroneia, where he discharged various magisterial offices, and had a priesthood.
Plutarch's wife, Timoxena, bore him four sons and a daughter, also named Timoxena.
It was on the occasion of his daughter's death that he wrote his sensible and affectionate letter of consolation to his wife (Παραμυθητικὸς εἰς τὴν ἰδίαν γυναῖκα
The time of Plutarch's death is unknown.
The Parallel Lives of Plutarch
The work which has immortalised Plutarch's name is his Parallel Lives (Βίοι Παράλληλοι
) of forty-six Greeks and Romans.
The forty-six Lives are arranged in pairs; each pair contains the life of a Greek and a Roman, and is followed by a comparison (Σύγκρισις
) of the two men : in a few pairs the comparison is omitted or lost, He seems to have considered each pair of Lives and the Parallel as making one book (βιβλίον
). When he says that the book of the Lives of Demosthenes and Cicero was the fifth, it is the most natural interpretation to suppose that it was the fifth in the order in which he wrote them.
It could not be the fifth in any other sense, if each pair composed a book.
The forty-six Lives are the following :
- 1. Theseus and Romulus
- 2. Lycurgus and Numa
- 3. Solon and Valerius Publicola
- 4. Themistocles and Camillus
- 5. Pericles and Q. Fabius Maximus
- 6. Alcibiades and Coriolanus
- 7. Timoleon and Aemilius Paulus
- 8. Pelopidas and Marcellus
- 9. Aristides and Cato the Elder
- 10. Philopoemen and Flamininus
- 11. Pyrrhus and Marius
- 12. Lysander and Sulla
- 13. Cimon and Lucullus
- 14. Nicias and Crassus
- 15. Eumenes and Sertorius
- 16. Agesilaus and Pompeius
- 17. Alexander and Caesar
- 18. Phocion and Cato the Younger
- 19. Agis and Cleomenes, and Tiberius and Caius Gracchi
- 20. Demosthenes and Cicero
- 21. Demetrius Poliorcetes and Marcus Antonius
- 22. Dion and M. Junius Brutus.
There are also the Lives of Artaxerxes Mnemon
, and Otho
, which are placed in the editions after the forty-six Lives. A Life of Homer
is also sometimes attributed to him, but it is not printed in all the editions.
Lives that are lost
The following Lives by Plutarch are lost :--Epaminondas
, Crates the Cynic
, and the poet Aratus
Lamprias' List of Plutarch's Works
There is extant an imperfect list of the works of Plutarch, intitled Πλουτάρχου βιβλίων πίναξ
, which is attributed to his son Lamprias. Whether Lamprias made the list or not, may be doubtiful; but it is probable that a list of Plutarch's works was made in ancient times, for it was common to make such lists; and his son may have performed the pious duty. (Suidas, s. v. Λαμπρίας
Authorities for Plutarch's Lives
The authorities for Plutarch's Lives are incidentally indicated in the Lives themselves.
He is said to quote two hundred and fifty writers, of whom about eighty are writers whose works are entirely or partially lost.
The question of the sources of Plutarch's Lives has been examined by A. H. L. Heeren. (De Fontibus et Auctoritate Vitarum Parallelarum Plultarchi Commentationes IV
Goettingae, 1820, 8vo.) Plutarch must have had access to a good library; and if he wrote all his Lives during his old age at Chaeronea, we must infer that he had a large stock of books at command.
The passage in the Life of Demosthenes (100.2), in which he speaks of his residence in a small town, is perhaps correctly understood to allude to the difficulty of finding materials for his Roman Lives; for he could hardly have been deficient in materials for his Greek Biographies.
It is not improbable that he may have collected materials and extracts long before he began to compose his Lives. Plutarch being a Greek, and an educated man, could not fail to be well acquainted with all the sources for his Greek Lives ; and he has indicated them pretty fully. His acquaintance with the sources for his Roman Lives was less complete, and his handling of them less critical, but yet he quotes and refers to a great number of Romian writers as his authorities, as we may observe particularly in the Lives of Cicero and Caesar.
He also used the Greek writers on Roman affairs -- Polybius, Theophanes the historian of Cn. Pompeius, Strabo, Nicolaus Damascenus, and others.
In order to judge of his merits as a biographer we must see how he conceived his work.
He explains his method in the introduction to his Life of Alexander
: he says, that he does not write histories, -- he writes lives : and the most conspicuous events in a man's life do not show his character so well as slight circumstances.
It appears then that his object was to delineate character, and he selected and used the facts of a man's life for this purpose only. His Lives, as he says, are not histories; nor can history be written from them alone. They are useful to the writer of history, but they must be used with care, for they are not intended even as materials for history. Important historical events are often slightly noticed, and occupy a subordinate place to a jest or an anecdote.
The order of time is often purposely neglected, and circumstances are mentioned just when it is most suitable to the biographer's. purpose. Facts and persons are sometimes confounded; and a sober painstaking writer, like Drumann (Geschichte Roms
) has reason to complain of Plutarch and his carelessness.
But there must be some merit in a work which has entertained and instructed so many generations, which is read in so many languages, and by people of all conditions : a work which delighted Montaigne and Rousseau, for it was one of the few books which Rousseau had never read without profit (Les Reveries du Promeneur solitaire, Quatrième Promenade
; a work which amuses both young and old, the soldier and the statesmian, the philosopher and the man who is busied about the ordinary affairs of life.
The reason is that Plutarch has rightly conceived the business of a biographer : his biography is true portraiture (Alexander,
1). Other biography is often a dull, tedious enumeration of facts in the order of time, with perhaps a summing up of character at the end. Such biography is portraiture also, but it is false portraiture : the dress and the accessories put the face out of countenance.
The reflections of Plutarch are neither impertinent, nor trifling : his sound good sense is always there : his honest purpose is transparent : his love of humanity warms the whole. His work is and will remain, in spite of all the fault that can be found with it by plodding collectors of facts, and small critics, the book of those who can nobly think, and dare and do.
It is the book of all ages for the same reason that good portraiture is the painting of all time; for the human face and the human character are ever the same.
It is a mirror in which all men may look at themselves.
If we would put the Lives of Plutarch to a severe test, we must carefully examine his roman Lives.
He says that he knew Latin imperfectly ; and he lived under the empire when even many of the educated Romans had but a superficial acquaintance with the earlier history of their state. We must, therefore, expect to find himn imperfectly informed on Roman institutions; and we can detect him in some errors. Yet, on the whole, his Roman Lives do not often convey erroneous notions : if the detail is incorrect, the general impression is true. They may be read with profit by those who seek to know something of Roman affairs, and have not knowledge enough to detect an error. They probably contain as few rnistakes as most biographies which have been written by a man who is not the countryman of those whose lives he writes.
The first edition of the Lives was a collection of the Latin version of the several Lives, which had been made by several hands.
The collection appeared at Rome, 2 vols. fol. about 1470
: this version was the foundation of the Spanish and Italian versions.
The first edition of the Greek text was that printed by P. Giunta, Florence, 1517, folio. The edition of Bryan, London, 1729, 5 vols. 4to., with a Latin version, was completed by Moses du Soul after Bryan's death. There is an edition by A. Comres, Paris, 1809-1815, with notes, in 6 vols. 8vo.
; and one by G. H. Schaefer, Leipzig, 1826, 6 vols. 8vo., with notes original and selected. The latest and best edition of tihe Greek text is by C. Sintenis, Leipzig, 1839-1846, 4 vols. 8vo., with the Index of the Frankfort edition, considerably altered.
(See the Praefatio of Sintenis, vol. i.)
The translations are numerous. The French translation of Amyot, which first appeared in 1559, and has often been reprinted, has great merit. The English translation of Sir Thomas North, London, 1612
, professes to be from the French of Amyot, but it does not always follow the French version, and some passages are very incorrectly rendered by North which are correctly rendered by Amyot. North's version is, however, justly admired for the expression. The translation commonly called Dryden's, was made by many hands: Dryden did nothing further than write the dedication to the Duke of Ormond, and the Life of Plutarch, which is prefixed to the version.
The English version of John and William Langhorne has been often printed. The writer of this article has translated and written Notes on the following Lives: Tiberius and Caius Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Sertorius, Lucullus, Crassus, Pompeius, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Cicero, M. Brutus and Antonius. The German translation of Kaltwasser, Magdeburg, 1799-1806, 10 vols. 8vo., the last of which is chiefly occupied with an Index, is on the whole a faithful version. The French translation of Dacier is often loose and inaccurate.
Plutarch's other writings, above sixty in number, are placed under the general title of Moralia or Ethical works, though some of them are of an historical and anecdotical character, such as the essay on the malignity (κακοηθεία
) of Herodotus, which neither requires nor merits refutation, and his Apophthegmata, many of which are of little value. Eleven of these essays are generally classed among Plutarch's historical works: among them, also, are his Roman Questions or Inquiries, his Greek Questions, and the Lives of the Ten Orators.
But it is likely enough that several of the essays which are included in the Moralia of Plutarch, are not by him.
At any rate, some of then are not worth reading.
The best of the essays included among the Moralia are of a different stamp.
There is no philosophical system in these essays: pure speculation was not Plutarch's province. His best writings are practical; and their merit consists in the soundness of his views on the ordinary events of human life, and in the benevolence of his temper. His "Marriage Precepts" are a sample of his good sense, and of his happiest expression.
He rightly appreciated the importance of a good education, and he gives much sound advice on the bringing up of children.
His Moral writings are read less than they deserve to be; and his Lives are little read in the original. Perhaps one obstacle to the reading of Plutarch in the original is that his style is somewhat difficult to those who are not accustomed to it. His manner is totally unlike the simplicity of the best Attic writers.
But it is one of his merits, that in a rhetorical age he is seldom a rhetorical writer, though he aims and strains at ornament and effect in his peculiar way. His sentences, especially in the Lives, are often ill-constructed, burdened with metaphors, and encumbered with a weight of words, -- but they are not words without a meaning; there is thought under them, and we must not complain of a writer because he does not always clothe good ideas in the most becoming dress.
The common fault of fine words as of fine dress is that there is nothing under either of them worth looking at.
The first edition of the Moralia, which is said to be very incorrect, was printed by the elder Aldus, Venice, 1509, fol.
; and afterwards at Bale by Froben, 1542, fol., 1574, fol. Wyttenbach's edition of the Moralia, the labour of four-and-twenty years, was printed at Oxford in 4to.: it consists of four parts, or six volumes of text (1795-1800), and two volumes of notes (1810-1821).
It was also printed at the same time in 8vo.
The notes of Wyttenbach were also printed at Leipzig, in 1821, in two vols. 8vo.
The Moralia were translated by Amyot into French, 1565, 3 vols. fol. Kaltwasser's German translation of the Moralia was published at Frankforton-the-Main, 1783-1800, 9 vols. 8vo.
The first edition of all the works of Plutarch is that of H. Stephens, Geneva, 1572, 13 vols. 8vo. An edition of the Greek text, with a Latin version, appeared at Leipzig, 1774-1782, 12 vols. 8vo. and it is generally called J.J. Reiske's edition, but Reiske died in 1774. J. C. Hutten's edition appeared at Tübingen, 1791-1805, 14 vols. 8vo. Amyot's version of the Lives and of the Moralia was published at Paris by Didot, 1818-1820, 25 vols. 8vo.