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Plutarch

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Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus (46 to 120 AD) or just Plutarch was born in Greece and later became a Roman citizen. He is known to have constructed important written works of first century literature (See: Ancient biography).

Works

  • Moralia - 78 essays about Roman and Greek life. It consists of 14 books since the time of Stephanus' edition of 1572.[1]
  • Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans - This is Plutarch's most famous work. It is called Parallel Lives, Plutarch's Lives, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans or Lives. It is mentioned in several different ways throughout. The biographies of famous men cover the time period of approximately 1234 BC to the first century AD. Lives begins with the Life of Theseus (1234–1204 BC) who is considered myth and ends with the Life of Otho (32 AD – 69 AD). Within Greek Lives by Plutarch, the layout, or table of contents so to speak, is a long chain of pairs of biographies of Greeks or Grecians and Romans. The reader is presented with twenty-three pairs of biographies in all, alternating so it was one Greek and one Roman biography per pair. There are then four individual or un-linked biographies to round out the work.

Authorship and Authenticity

Evidence of the title of Plutarch's Lives is available internally as he refers to it several times and in several different ways throughout the work.

Much like the gospels, Plutarch's Lives does not contain the authors name. The gospels and Lives are actually anonymous if only relying upon the earliest extant manuscripts. Scholars today are able to find traditions about such things within history around the same time period. Relying on other independent writings around the the same time period as Lives produce quotations of Plutarch's work in which those are attributed to him by name, and also some actually name Plutarch as the author. It is generally by tradition as opposed to first-hand direct attribution of authorship that the authors of ancient literary texts are found out.

History or Legend

See: Mythology

There does remain some attempts within Lives by Plutarch to give historicity to mythical or non-historical figures. Although this is of only a minority of content within the overall canon of his work. Plutarch's Lives according to modern historians and specifically Plutarchean scholars apparently range from semi-legendary to outright legendary and therefore myth.[2] Outside of those particular lives that are semi-legendary or legendary, nevertheless scholars have concluded that those should be read as ancient biographies.[3] One of the most famous biographies is Alexander the Great. It is traditionally called the Life of Alexander.[4] What this biography and others do within Lives by Plutarch is that it enables modern day scholars to glean historical knowledge about Alexander the Great. As well as other figures covered. Scholars today read Lives by relying on, not the originals which are called autographs, but copies of the originals. In fact the oldest copy dates to the 10th and 11th centuries AD. This introduces a gap of time from the original autograph to the copies of about 1,000 years. A substantial amount of time which no copies exist, to then reconstruct the original for an English translation. There are also indications of tampering with the text by later writers.[5] Regardless Plutarch is a considerable and unique figure of the disciplines of Greco-Roman and ancient history. From Plutarch as an ancient biographer of first-rate, not only historical facts of ancient Greek and Roman lives can be found. Even more importantly what Plutarch represents is the fundamentals of how to actually write history through the literary genre of ancient biography. It is because of the work of Plutarch historicity of the time periods of the individuals he covered can be discovered. The wider sociocultural context naturally flows as a result.[6]

Examples of a legendary account by Plutarch is the Life of Theseus.[7] Founder of Athens, a king and son of Aethra.[8] However a more elusive life covered by Plutarch is Coriolanus. William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616) even took liberties with the work of Plutarch and interacted with his Life of Coriolanus for the popular political tragedy called Coriolanus. The play was made in 1608, close to the end of Shakespeare's life. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare declares that the biography of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus by Plutarch is semi-legendary with little explanation.[9] The authors seem to just assume so and gloss over any other historical background necessary to justify such a statement. Coriolanus lived in the 5th century BC and had a great deal to do with military sieges against the Volscians. Coriolanus represented the Roman aristocracy and was a famous general due to the campaigns against the historical Volscians, an ancient Italic people. Although some scholars do think Coriolanus is semi-legendary to legendary, to take the other end of the spectrum and think historical substance under the literary genre ancient biography can be obtained is an acceptable position. Most who cast doubt on the historicity of Coriolanus seem to suggest agnosticism rather than certainty in the position.[10] Shakespeare at some points directly quotes verbatim from Plutarch pulling the material from a translation by Sir Thomas North. On the other hand Shakespeare also takes liberty at creating new roles for characters only glanced at within Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus.[11] The liberty of Shakespeare is probably due to differing genres. William Shakespeare was a English poet and playwright highlighting character development for any and all that were needed, while Plutarch was an ancient biographer and was restricted by his literary genre to the individual more so and his public career rather than personal.

References

  1. Moralia By Wikipedia
  2. Chronology of the Lives By Wikipedia
  3. Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans
  4. Plutarch, Life of Alexander[1]
  5. Contents of Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans By Wikipedia
  6. The large ships of antiquity by Larry Pierce. June 1, 2000. AiG states; "Plutarch briefly describes the fleet which Demetrius built around 294 bc."
  7. Plutarch, Life of Theseus[2]
  8. Plutarch, Life of Theseus. "When Aethra was delivered of a son, some say that he was immediately named Theseus, from the tokens which his father had put under the stone;"
  9. Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells, Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (Oxford University Press 2001), pg. 90. "The play's depiction of the semi-legendary Caius Martius closely follows Plutarch's 'Life of Caius Martius Coriolanus' in his Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans;"
  10. Wikipedia references here as evidence for justification for at least some skepticism toward Coriolanus as historical.Coriolanus By Wikipedia
  11. Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells, Oxford Companion to Shakespeare (Oxford University Press 2001), pg. 90