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).
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...
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