Plutarch and the Historical Tradition

Plutarch and the Historical Tradition

Plutarch and the Historical Tradition

Plutarch and the Historical Tradition


These essays, by experts in the field from five countries, examine Plutarch's interpretative and artistic reshaping of his historical sources in representative lives. Diverse essays treat literary elements such as the parallelism which renders a pair of lives a unit or the themes which unify the lives. Others consider the selecting, combining, simplifying, and enlarging employed in composition. The construction of a Plutarchian life, the essays demonstrate, required careful selection and creative reworking of the historical material available.


Philip A. Stadter

In the peace of the little town of Chaeronea in central Greece, and the bustle of the university city of Athens, Plutarch composed pair after pair of parallel lives of Greek and Roman statesmen, not following a fixed plan, but moving from one to another as his spirit led him.

I began writing biographies for others, but I have continued and grown attached to them for myself: the virtues of these great men serve me as a mirror in which I may see how to adjust and make more handsome my own life.

(Aem. 1)

Plutarch wrote for his own improvement and pleasure, and that of his close friends, Roman senators and Greek landowners at the beginning of the second century of our era. Yet the charm of his style and the breadth of his vision of a past which had already become classical in his own day has won him admiring readers from his contemporaries to the present. Leonardo Bruni and Niccolò Machiavelli, Rabelais and Montaigne, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche have found inspiration in his biographies. Plutarch’s greatest attraction has been his ability to use historical figures to contemplate the play of human qualities in action, to reveal the specific cast vices and virtues assume in the contingent world of political leadership and strife.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, a more scientific historical consciousness and a critical investigation of sources

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