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  Linguistics, Languages, and LiteraturesGreek and Latin Languages and LiteraturesGreek Literature

PlutarchPlutarch

[plU' tark] writer of at least 227 books and treatises of various lengths

Plutarch was born into a wealthy family in the small town of Chaeronea sometime around 46. His father was Aristobulus, a philosopher and biographer. Sometime around 66 he entered the Academy at Athens, where he studied mathematics and philosophy under Ammonius. After completing his studies he spent time travelling around the Mediterranean. He also spent some time in Rome, where he became friends with many influential officials. He also appears to have obtained Roman citizenship, and the official name Mestrius Plutarchus.

Plutarch finally resettled in Chaeronea, where he spent the majority of his adult life. In his Consolation to his Wife, Plutarch talks of having a daughter who died in childhood, as well as four sons, two of whom survived into adulthood. He also talks of being a senior priest of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi, where he was responsible for interpreting the auguries of the oracle. He died sometime around 122.

Principal Works

No complete catalog of Plutarch's works survives, but he is believed to have been responsible for at least 227 books and treatises of various lengths. Of these his Morals and Parallel Lives are the best known.

Morals (Moralia) consists of some 78 pieces on a variety of subjects, only a few of which can properly be designated moral. In the group loosely known as "Rhetorical Display Pieces" can be found such titles as On Fortune; On the Fortune of the Romans; Whether Alexander the Great was Lucky or Deserving; Whether Virtue Can be Taught; OWhether Vice Causes Unhappiness; and Whether Water of Fire is the Most Useful. Ethical questions are addressed in On Love; Marriage Counsel; Hygienic Principles; and On the Intelligence of Animals. In On Superstitution he cautions against excesses because these precipitate intelligent men into atheism. There are also works dealing with education, politics, and compariative philosophy.

Parallel Lives (Bioi paralleloi) was for centuries the main source of knowledge of the Greco-Roman world. Fifty of the works within this series survive, and many others are known to have perished. There are twenty-two pairs, in which a Greek and a Roman of comparable character or career are discussed, with a formal comparison of the two added. Four of the Lives stand alone. Each volume includes a long list of authorities and sources, and it is believed that Plutarch spent a number of years researching and writing the Lives.

In the order followed in current compilations the Lives are: Theseus-Romulus; Solon-Pulicola; Themistocles-Camillus; Aristides-Cato the Elder; Cimon-Luclullus; Pericles-Fabius Maximus; Nicias-Crassus; Coriolanus-Alcibiades; Demosthenes-Cicero; Phocion-Cato the Younger; Dion-Brutus; Aemilus Paulus-Timoleon; Sertorius-Eumenes; Philopoimen-Flamininus; Pelopidas-Marcellus; Alexander-Caesar; Demetrius-Antonius; Pyrrhus-Marius; Aratus; Artaxerxes; Agis and Cleomenes-Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus; Lycurgus-Numa; Lysander-Sulla; Agesilaus-Pompey; Galba; and Otho.

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This page was last updated on 10/01/2015.

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