Plutarch Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What literary virtues have made Plutarch one of the few biographers before the eighteenth century to be highly regarded?

Plutarch, like many biographers after him, was much interested in inculcating moral principles. What are the dangers of this approach for a biographer?

What relationship between ancient Greek and Roman culture provided a basis for Parallel Lives?

What uses did William Shakespeare make of Sir Thomas North’s sixteenth century translation of Plutarch?

What did Samuel Johnson learn from Plutarch? What did James Boswell learn?


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.