Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 603
Context: Plutarch was a Greek writer who spent considerable time in Rome, and one whose primary interest lay in biography. He wrote a number of essays, chiefly moral in nature, but his best-known work is Parallel Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans. His method was to write the biographical essays...
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Context: Plutarch was a Greek writer who spent considerable time in Rome, and one whose primary interest lay in biography. He wrote a number of essays, chiefly moral in nature, but his best-known work is Parallel Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans. His method was to write the biographical essays in pairs, one of a Greek and one of a Roman; each pair was then followed by a comparison of the two personages. In these works he quoted many sources, perhaps 250 authors in all; many of these writers survive only in Plutarch's use of them. In the biographies Plutarch's chief purpose is to delineate character, rather than to give a straight-forward account; it is for this reason that the portraits are striking and filled with a life of their own. The reader is left with a strong impression that he knows, and perhaps understands, the men Plutarch has depicted. True to his purpose, the biographer uses anecdotes, comments, and incidents for the insight they will provide or for their value as illustration. Strict chronological order is sometimes ignored: to Plutarch, the understanding of character is of greater significance than mere tabulation. It is for this reason that Shakespeare found him so useful. In his essay on Julius Caesar, Plutarch described vividly that leader's burning ambition, determination, fearlessness, and untiring energy. One illustration occurs during Caesar's war with Pompey. Following a major victory, Caesar returns briefly to Rome; resigning his dictatorship, he declares himself consul and returns to the war. He marches so fast that most of his army cannot keep up; but the weary troops are shamed into a stronger effort by this leader, who has more endurance than they. Caesar arrives in Appolonia, but the army has not yet arrived from Brundusium and he cannot fight.
. . . At last he resolved upon a most hazardous experiment, and embarked, without any one's knowledge, in a boat of twelve oars, to cross over to Brundusium, though the sea was at that time covered with a vast fleet of the enemy. He got on board in the night-time, in the dress of a slave, and throwing himself down like a person of no consequence, lay along at the bottom of the vessel. The river Anius was to carry them down to sea, and there used to blow a gentle gale every morning from the land, which made it calm at the mouth of the river, by driving the waves forward; but this night there had blown a strong wind from the sea, which overpowered that from the land, so that where the river met the influx of the sea-water and the opposition of the waves it was extremely rough and angry; and the current was beaten back with such a violent swell that the master of the boat could not make good his passage, but ordered his sailors to tack about and return.
Caesar, upon this, discovered himself, and taking the man by the hand, who was surprised to see him there said, "Go on, my friend, and fear nothing; you carry Caesar and his fortune in your boat." The mariners, when they heard that, forgot the storm, and laying all their strength to their oars, did what they could to force their way down the river. But when it was to no purpose, and the vessel now took in much water, Caesar finding himself in such danger at the very mouth of the river, much against his will permitted the master to turn back. When he was come to land, his soldiers ran to him in a multitude, reproaching him for what he had done. . . .