Plutarch

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Plutarch : biography

c. 46 – 127

Lost works

The Romans loved the Lives, and enough copies were written out over the centuries so that a copy of most of the lives managed to survive to the present day. Some scholars, however, believe that only a third to one-half of Plutarch’s corpus is extant. The lost works of Plutarch are determined by references in his own texts to them and from other authors’ references over time. There are traces of twelve more Lives that are now lost.

Plutarch’s general procedure for the Lives was to write the life of a prominent Greek, then cast about for a suitable Roman parallel, and end with a brief comparison of the Greek and Roman lives. Currently, only nineteen of the parallel lives end with a comparison while possibly they all did at one time. Also missing are many of his Lives which appear in a list of his writings, those of Hercules, the first pair of Parallel Lives, Scipio Africanus and Epaminondas, and the companions to the four solo biographies. Even the lives of such important figures as Augustus, Claudius and Nero have not been found and may be lost forever.

Work as magistrate and ambassador

In addition to his duties as a priest of the Delphic temple, Plutarch was also a magistrate in Chaeronea and he represented his home on various missions to foreign countries during his early adult years. Plutarch held the office of archon in his native municipality, probably only an annual one which he likely served more than once. He busied himself with all the little matters of the town and undertook the humblest of duties.

The Suda, a medieval Greek encyclopedia, states that emperor Trajan made Plutarch procurator of Illyria. However, most historians consider this unlikely, since Illyria was not a procuratorial province, and Plutarch probably did not speak IllyrianGianakaris, C. J. Plutarch. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970. .

According to the 10th century historian George Syncellus, late in Plutarch’s life, emperor Hadrian appointed him nominal procurator of Achaea – a position that entitled him to wear the vestments and ornaments of a consul himself.Russell, D. A. Plutarch. New York: Scribner, 1973.

Plutarch died between the years AD 119 and 127.

Influence

Plutarch’s writings had an enormous influence on English and French literature. Shakespeare in his plays paraphrased parts of Thomas North’s translation of selected Lives, and occasionally quoted from them in verbatim.Honigmann 1959.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists were greatly influenced by the Moralia — so much so, in fact, that Emerson called the Lives "a bible for heroes" in his glowing introduction to the five-volume 19th-century edition. He also opined that it was impossible to "read Plutarch without a tingling of the blood; and I accept the saying of the Chinese Mencius: ‘A sage is the instructor of a hundred ages. When the manners of Loo are heard of, the stupid become intelligent, and the wavering, determined.’"

Montaigne’s Essays draw extensively on Plutarch’s Moralia and are consciously modelled on the Greek’s easygoing and discursive inquiries into science, manners, customs and beliefs. Essays contains more than 400 references to Plutarch and his works.

James Boswell quoted Plutarch on writing lives, rather than biographies, in the introduction to his own Life of Samuel Johnson. Other admirers included Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Alexander Hamilton, John Milton, Louis L’amour, and Francis Bacon, as well as such disparate figures as Cotton Mather and Robert Browning.

Plutarch’s influence declined in the 19th and 20th centuries, but it remains embedded in the popular ideas of Greek and Roman history. One of his most famous quotes was one that he included in one of his earliest works. "The world of man is best captured through the lives of the men who created history."

Plutarch Heavensbee is a character from the The Hunger Games by American author Suzanne Collins, presumably based on Plutarch, adding to a line of many ancient Greek and Roman or Greek- or Roman-sounding names in Collins’ work (the inspirations often taken from literature, myths, religions or philosophy), which may or may not also include Cinna, Caesar, Coriolanus and the name of the country in the series, Panem, which is taken from the old phrase "panem et circenses" AKA "bread and circuses".

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