Plutarch : biography

c. 46 – 127

In opposition to Stoic materialism and Epicurean "atheism" he cherished a pure idea of God that was more in accordance with Plato. He adopted a second principle (Dyad) in order to explain the phenomenal world. This principle he sought, however, not in any indeterminate matter but in the evil world-soul which has from the beginning been bound up with matter, but in the creation was filled with reason and arranged by it. Thus it was transformed into the divine soul of the world, but continued to operate as the source of all evil. He elevated God above the finite world, and thus daemons became for him agents of God’s influence on the world. He strongly defends freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul.

Platonic-Peripatetic ethics were upheld by Plutarch against the opposing theories of the Stoics and Epicureans. The most characteristic feature of Plutarch’s ethics is, however, its close connection with religion.Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, 13th edition, page 308 However pure Plutarch’s idea of God is, and however vivid his description of the vice and corruption which superstition causes, his warm religious feelings and his distrust of human powers of knowledge led him to believe that God comes to our aid by direct revelations, which we perceive the more clearly the more completely that we refrain in "enthusiasm" from all action; this made it possible for him to justify popular belief in divination in the way which had long been usual among the Stoics.

His attitude to popular religion was similar. The gods of different peoples are merely different names for one and the same divine Being and the powers that serve it. The myths contain philosophical truths which can be interpreted allegorically. Thus Plutarch sought to combine the philosophical and religious conception of things and to remain as close as possible to tradition.

Translations of Lives and Moralia

There are translations in Latin, English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Hebrew.

Italian translations

Giuliano Pisani, Moralia I – «La serenità interiore» e altri testi sulla terapia dell’anima, with Greek text, Italian translation, introduction and notes, La Biblioteca dell’Immagine, Pordenone 1989, pp. LIX-508 (De tranquillitate animi; De virtute et vitio; De virtute morali; An virtus doceri possit; Quomodo quis suos in virtute sentiat profectus; Animine an corporis affectiones sint peiores; De vitioso pudore; De cohibenda ira; De garrulitate; De curiositate ; De invidia et odio ; De cupiditate divitiarum)

Giuliano Pisani, Moralia II – L’educazione dei ragazzi, with Greek text, Italian translation, introduction and notes, La Biblioteca dell’Immagine, Pordenone, 1990, pp. XXXVIII-451 (De liberis educandis; Quomodo adolescens poetas audire debeat ; De recta ratione audiendi ; De musica, in collaboration with Leo Citelli)

Giuliano Pisani, Moralia III – Etica e politica, with Greek text, Italian translation, introduction and notes, La Biblioteca dell’Immagine, Pordenone, 1992, pp. XLIII-490 (Praecepta gerendae rei publicae; An seni sit gerenda res publica; De capienda ex inimicis utilitate; De se ipsum citra invidiam laudando; Maxime cum principibus philosopho esse disserendum; Ad principem ineruditum; De unius in republica dominatione, populari statu et paucorum imperio; De exilio)

Giuliano Pisani, Plutarco, Vite di Lisandro e Silla, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1997 (in collaboration with Maria Gabriella Angeli Bertinelli, Mario Manfredini, Luigi Piccirilli).

French translations

Jacques Amyot’s translations brought Plutarch’s works to Western Europe. He went to Italy and studied the Vatican text of Plutarch, from which he published a French translation of the Lives in 1559 and Moralia in 1572, which were widely read by educated Europe. Amyot’s translations had as deep an impression in England as France, because Thomas North later published his English translation of the Lives in 1579 based on Amyot’s French translation instead of the original Greek.