Plutarch : biography

c. 46 – 127


Book IV of the Moralia contains the Roman and Greek Questions. The customs of Romans and Greeks are illuminated in little essays that pose questions such as ‘Why were patricians not permitted to live on the Capitoline?’ and then suggests answers to them, often several mutually exclusive.


Pseudo-Plutarch is the conventional name given to the unknown authors of a number of pseudepigrapha attributed to Plutarch. Some editions of the Moralia include several works now known to be pseudepigrapha: among these are the Lives of the Ten Orators (biographies of the Ten Orators of ancient Athens, based on Caecilius of Calacte), The Doctrines of the Philosophers, and On Music. One "pseudo-Plutarch" is held responsible for all of these works, though their authorship is of course unknown. The thoughts and opinions recorded are not Plutarch’s and come from a slightly later era, though they are all classical in origin.

Lives of the Roman emperors

The first biographical works to be written by Plutarch were the Lives of the Roman Emperors from Augustus to Vitellius. Of these, only the Lives of Galba and Otho survive. The Lives of Tiberius and Nero are extant only as fragments, provided by Dasmascius (Life of Tiberius, cf. his Life of Isidore)Ziegler, Konrad, Plutarchos von Chaironeia (Stuttgart 1964), 258. Citation translated by the author. and Plutarch himself (Life of Nero, cf. Galba 2.1), respectively. These early emperors’ biographies were probably published under the Flavian dynasty or during the reign of Nerva (CE 96–98).

There is reason to believe that the two Lives still extant, those of Galba and Otho, “ought to be considered as a single work.”Cf. among others, Holzbach, M.-C.(2006). Plutarch: Galba-Otho und die Apostelgeschichte : ein Gattungsvergleich. Religion and Biography, 14 ( Detlev Dormeyer et al.). Berlin London: LIT, p.13 Therefore they do not form a part of the Plutarchian canon of single biographies – as represented by the Life of Aratus of Sicyon and the Life of Artaxerxes II (the biographies of Hesiod, Pindar, Crates and Daiphantus were lost). Unlike in these biographies, in Galba-Otho the individual characters of the persons portrayed are not depicted for their own sake but instead serve as an illustration of an abstract principle; namely the adherence or non-adherence to Plutarch’s morally founded ideal of governing as a Princeps (cf. Galba 1.3; Moralia 328D-E).Cf. Holzbach, op.cit., 24, 67-83

Arguing from the perspective of Platonian political philosophy (cf. Republic 375E, 410D-E, 411E-412A, 442B-C), in Galba-Otho Plutarch reveals the constitutional principles of the Principate in the time of the civil war after Nero’s death. While morally questioning the behavior of the autocrats, he also gives an impression of their tragic destinies, ruthlessly competing for the throne and finally destroying each other.Cf. Holzbach, op.cit.,24, 67-83 “The Caesars’ house in Rome, the Palatium, received in a shorter space of time no less than four Emperors,” Plutarch writes, “passing, as it were, across the stage, and one making room for another to enter” (Galba 1).The citation from Galba was extracted from the Dryden translation as given at the

Galba-Otho was handed down through different channels. It can be found in the appendix to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives as well as in various Moralia manuscripts, most prominently in Maximus Planudes’s edition where Galba and Otho appear as “Opera” XXV and XXVI. Thus it seems reasonable to maintain that Galba-Otho was from early on considered as an illustration of a moral-ethical approach, possibly even by Plutarch himself.Cf. Holzbach, op.cit.,24


Plutarch was a Platonist, but was open to the influence of the Peripatetics, and in some details even to Stoicism despite his polemics against their principles.Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, 13th edition, page 306 He rejected absolutely only Epicureanism. He attached little importance to theoretical questions and doubted the possibility of ever solving them.Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, 13th edition, page 307 He was more interested in moral and religious questions.