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A Greek writer of biographies and miscellaneous works, who was born at Chaeronea in Baetia, about 50 A.D. He came of a distinguished and wealthy family, and enjoyed a careful education. His philosophical training he received at Athens, especially in the school of the Peripatetic Ammonius (of Lamptrae in Attica, who is identified with Ammonius] the Egyptian. After this he made several journeys and stayed a considerable time in Rome, where he gave public lectures on philosophy, was in friendly intercourse with persons of distinction, and conducted the education of the future emperor Hadrian. From Trajan he received consular rank, and by Hadrian he was in his old age named procurator of Greece. He died about 120 in his native town, in which he held the office of archon and of priest of the Pythian Apollo. His fame as an author is founded principally upon his Parallel Lives . These he probably prepared in Rome under the reign of Trajan, but completed and published late in life at Chaeronea. The biographies are divided into connected pairs, each pair placing a Greek and a Roman in juxtaposition, and generally ending with a comparative view of the two; of these we still possess forty-six: Theseus and Romillus, Lycurgus and Numa, Solon and Valerius Publicola, Themistocles and Camillus, Pericles and Fabius Maximus, Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Timoleon and Aemilius Paulus, Pelopidas and Marcellus, Aristides and the elder Cato, Philopaemen and Flamininus, Pyrrhus and Marius, Lysander and Sulla, Cimon and Lucullus, Nicias and Crassus, Eumenes and Sertorius, Agesilaus and Pompeius, Alexander and Caesar, Phocion and the younger Cato, Agis and Cleomenes and the two Gracchi, Demosthenes and Cicero, Demetrius Poliorcetes and Antonius, Dion and Brutus . To these are added the four specially elaborated lives of Artaxerxis Mnenon, Aratus, Galba, and Otho; a number of other biographies are lost. Plutarch's object was, not to write history, but out of more or less important single traits to form distinct sketches of character. The sketches show indeed a certain uniformity, in as much as Plutarch has a propensity to pourtray the persons represented either as models of virtue in general, or as slaves of some passion in particular; but the lives are throughout attractive, owing to the liveliness and warmth of the portraiture, the moral earnestness with which they are penetrated, and the enthusiasm which they display for everything noble and great. For these reasons they have always had a wide circle of readers. More than this, their historical value is not to be meanly estimated, in spite of the lack of criticism in the use of the authorities and the manifold inaccuracies and mistakes, which, in the Roman lives, were in part the result of a defective knowledge of the Latin language. There are a large number of valuable pieces of information in which they fill up numerous gaps in the historical narratives that have been handed down to us. Besides this work, eighty-three writings of various kinds (some of them only fragments and epitomes of larger treatises) are preserved under the name of Plutarch. These are improperly classed together under the title Moralia (ethical writings); for this designation is only applicable to a part of them. The form or these works is as diverse as their tenour and scope: some are treatises and reports of discourses; a large number is composed in the form of Platonic or Aristotelian dialogues; others again are learned collections and notices put together without any special plan of arrangement. A considerable portion of them are of disputable authenticity or have been proved to be spurious. About half are of philosophical and ethical tenour, and have for the most part a popular and practical tendency, some of them being of great value for the history of philosophy, such as the work on the opinions of the philosophers (De Placitis Philosophorum) in five books. Others belong to the domain of religion and worship, such as the works on Isis and Osiris, on the Oracles of the Pythia Priestess, and on the Decay of the Oracles; others to that of the natural sciences, while others again are treatises on history and antiquities, or on the history of literature, such as the Greek and Roman Questions, and the Lives of the Ten Orators. [This last is undoubtedly spurious.) One of most instructive and entertaining of all his works is the Table-talk (Questiones Conviviales) in nine books, which deal inter alia, with a series of questions of history, archaeology, mythology, and physics. But even with these works his literary productiveness was not exhausted; for, besides these, twenty-four lost writings are known to us by their titles and by fragments. In his language he aims at attaining the pure Attic style, without, however, being able altogether to avoid the deviations from that standard which were generally prevalent in his time.
Type: Standard
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