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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

Life

Born during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius, Plutarch (PLEW-tahrk) was studying philosophy at Plato’s Academy in Athens when the emperor Nero toured Greece in 67 c.e. After completing his studies in Athens, Plutarch returned to Chaeronea, where he founded a philosophical academy of his own and continued...

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Life

Born during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius, Plutarch (PLEW-tahrk) was studying philosophy at Plato’s Academy in Athens when the emperor Nero toured Greece in 67 c.e. After completing his studies in Athens, Plutarch returned to Chaeronea, where he founded a philosophical academy of his own and continued to reside until his death during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. He traveled widely, however, at least twice to Italy.

An extraordinarily prolific writer, Plutarch consistently adopted a moral perspective. His surviving essays, dialogues, declamations, and collections of information have traditionally been grouped under the title Ethika (after c. 100 c.e.; Moralia, 1603); of particular autobiographical interest are “The Dialogue on Love” (found in Moralia) and the consolation he wrote to his wife on the death of their two-year-old daughter. His most famous work, the Bioi paralleloi (c. 105-115 c.e.; Parallel Lives, 1579), is organized into pairs of biographies of statesmen and military leaders, each pair consisting of the life of a Greek and that of his Roman counterpart (for example, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar).

Influence

Plutarch’s writings exerted a substantial influence on Western letters from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century. The plots of English playwright William Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies, for example, are derived from the Parallel Lives.

Further Reading:

Barrow, Reginald Hayes. Plutarch and His Times. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967. Emphasizes Plutarch’s Greek background, with chapters on his role as a teacher and his relationship to the Roman Empire. The bibliography is divided between English and foreign titles. Includes map of central Greece.

Duff, Tim. Plutarch’s “Lives”: Exploring Virtue and Vice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Explains how Plutarch’s Parallel Lives offers insight into issues of psychology, education, morality, and cultural identity in ancient Greece and Rome.

Gianakaris, C. J. Plutarch. New York: Twayne, 1970. An excellent short introduction to Plutarch. Includes detailed chronology, discussions of all Plutarch’s important works, an annotated bibliography, and a useful index. Gianakaris writes with a firm grasp of the scholarship on Plutarch, corrects errors of earlier writers, and conveys great enthusiasm for his subject.

Hamilton, J. R. Plutarch, Alexander. Newburyport, Maine: Focus Information Group, 1999. Annotated edition of individual portions of Parallel Lives.

Russell, Donald Andrew. Plutarch. London: Duckworth, 1973. Draws on the best English and French scholarship. Slightly more difficult than Gianakaris as an introduction. Includes chapters on language, style, and form, on the philosopher and his religion, and on Plutarch and William Shakespeare. Contains several appendices, including one on editions and translations, and a general bibliography and index.

Scardigli, Barbara, ed. Essays on Plutarch’s “Lives.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Collection includes essays on Plutarch’s life, his methodology; choice of subjects and sources, compositional techniques, and more.

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