Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Plutarch (ca 45-120)

Plutarch (Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus) was born into a wealthy family living in a small town about 20 miles (32 km) east of Delphi. As a twenty-year-old, he studied for a year at Plato’s Academy in Athens. He completed his education by travelling around Hellenia and the western coast of Anatolia and by visiting the great cities of Alexandria and Rome. As an adult he primarily lived in the town of his birth, actively involved himself in its governance, wrote regularly, and interpreted the cryptic prophecies of the Oracle of Delphi as a priest of Apollo.

One collection of Plutarch’s essays is titled Moralia today. These essays, written throughout his life, range over a variety of subjects including psychology, ethics, politics, philosophy, and theology. In one essay, On the Malice of Herodotus, Plutarch criticizes his legendary predecessor for his criticisms of Hellenians fighting against the Persians.

In Plutarch’s major work Lives, written between 105 and 115, he matches the biographies of 23 Hellenians with 23 Romans of similar character. He did so to study the impact which a person’s character has both on their life and on their times. Subjects of these biographies include Solon, Themistocles, Pericles, Alexander, Romulus, Theseus, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Mark Antony, and Marcus Brutus. As Plutarch himself put it, “The world of man is best captured through the lives of the men who created history.”

Montaigne quotes Plutarch’s essays hundreds of times in his own. Shakespeare made extensive use of Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Lives for his plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Other writers influenced by Plutarch include John Milton, Jonathan Swift, William Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich von Schiller.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.