Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.47

Rainer Hirsch-Luipold, Gott und die Götter bei Plutarch. Götterbilder - Gottesbilder - Weltbilder. Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten, 54.   Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter, 2005.  Pp. x, 287.  ISBN 3-11-018479-6.  €88.00.  

Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus, Hilpoltstein (
Word count: 1726 words

[Titles and authors are listed at the end of the review.]

In cooperation with the International Plutarch Society the graduate school "Götterbilder -- Gottesbilder -- Weltbilder. Polytheismus und Monotheismus in der Welt der Antike" at the Georg-August-University in Göttingen organized an international symposium about "Gott und die Götter bei Plutarch" (February 2-4, 2005).1 Distinguished experts in Plutarch from Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United States came together to read papers and to discuss the major aspects of polytheism and monotheism in Plutarch's work with the members of the graduate school. The present volume comprises eleven papers, four in English and seven in German, and a general introduction. Five papers focus on "Gottesbilder: Die Gottesbilder der philosophischen Tradition und der Gott Plutarchs", six on "Götterbilder: Die Götter der religiösen Tradition und der Gott Plutarchs", so that two different ways of approaching Plutarch's conception of god in comparison with traditional and/or contemporary conceptions are brought together. Without doubt the dense information provided and the complex subject matters do not make the contributions to this volume an easy read. The informed reader interested in Plutarch's conception of a single god and the variety of traditional gods, however, will certainly benefit from the concise and concentrated treatment of individual aspects in Plutarch's work and world.

The editor of the volume, Rainer Hirsch-Luipold, introduces into the overall topic of all the contributions: the connection between the divine one of the philosophical speculations (with some quite interesting affinities with Jewish and Christian traditions) on the one side and the many gods of the myths and the various traditions of religion on the other (for instance, Zoroastrianism, Orphism, and Pythagoreanism). His general and methodical reflections are precise (only five pages) and are very rewarding, as all kinds of readers -- specialists in the area of research and the ordinary informed readers -- are confronted with the appropriate questions and supplied with the relevant basic knowledge about the Platonic philosopher and Delphic priest Plutarch and his conception. Then Hirsch-Luipold briefly summarizes the eleven contributions, so that readers get a first impression of what they can expect from what follows.

The first set of contributions is opened by Franco Ferrari's comparison of Plutarch's and Plato's god. Ferrari identifies Plutarch's god with the demiurge of the Platonic Timaios, a god who is father and creator of everything. Basically, this demiurge is the idea of the good and consequently identical with the good itself (τὸ ἀγαθόν). Then Frederick E. Brenk sheds light on Plutarch's Middle-Platonic god and the issue of entering (or remaking) the Academy. It is not surprising that The E at Delphi is referred to here several times, as there the young Plutarch offers deep insights into the Platonism of his time. Brenk deals with the Alexandrian Middle Platonism of Ammonios and Eudoros, Noumenios, and others, and comes to the conclusion that (47) "Plutarch seems to have advanced, even with some originality, the Platonic conception of God." So it is no wonder that Plutarch's concept of god became the dominant one. Again connected with Platonism is Jan Opsomer's paper specializing on the demiurges in Early Imperial Platonism. This paper becomes essential for a deeper understanding of Ferrari's study. Above all, Plato's Timaios characterizes the demiurge and his power more closely. This demiurge is an intellect, and an equation with god is possible. Opsomer takes a closer look at the "thoughts of various Platonists" (55) and thus, among others, writes about the concepts of the Epicureans, who criticized the Timaios, as well as about Proclus' Commentary on the Timaios, Numenius, and Atticus, who is credited by Proclus with the notion that the demiurge is the highest of the gods. Atticus actually believes that the demiurge is the first god, and for him of course an intellect. It is just natural that Opsomer continues with Alcinous and his Didaskalikos, Plotinus, Porphyry, and then finally Plutarch. Opsomer impressively determines what the different conceptions, which are dependent on the interpretation of Plato, tell about the demiurge.

Aurelio Pérez Jiménez puts the focus on virtue and specifically on justice (δικαιοσύνη). For Plutarch, god has some personal features and is good and just. Basically, god is best characterized by δικαιοσύνη and so becomes the reason for the appropriate attitude human beings should have towards their god, which is εὐσέβεια. It is this virtue that enables human beings to become more equal to god, because in fact it is the only virtue that can be realized (for instance, in contrast to immortality). Ideally, the longing for justice determines solicitous and benevolent action. While Jiménez mentions personal features in Plutarch's picture of god, Françoise Frazier actually focuses on the personal relations with god in Plutarch's late work. She discusses the religion Plutarch experienced as a human being and the way he classified his experiences as a philosopher. Therefore she first tackles the problem of the meaning of θειότης in order to discuss Plutarch's hermeneutics of the traditions and his notion of god's goodwill. The relationship between god and human beings is best defined by the term χάρις, a quality that distinguishes Plutarch's god from the Platonic demiurge.

The editor, Rainer Hirsch-Luipold, opens the second set of papers with a comparison of the conceptions of god in the works of Philo of Alexandria and Plutarch. Of course, Philo built his ideas on the Torah in order to define god's relation with the world (cf. his De opificio mundi 172), while Plutarch has to utilize the variety of -- mostly contemporary -- religious traditions. Nevertheless, Plutarch, too, can form a conception of a unique god and the unity of the divine (see his The E at Delphi 393B and 388F, where he interprets the name of Apollo as εῖ̔ς καὶ μόνος and as ἀρνούμενος τὰ πολλά -- 'the one and only' and 'the one who negates diversity'). Then Herwig Görgemanns has a closer look at Plutarch's Amatorius 13-20, with Eros as god, and outlines the realm of the Greek gods, the rhetorical model, and the climax of these chapters. Finally, he tackles three questions (1. Is Eros god or καιρός? 2. Is Eros the highest god? 3. Is Eros god or δαίμων?), and portrays Plutarch as a young man. In a supplement he offers the text (in Greek and German) in which the orator Alexander talks about the arguments to praise a god. In the next essay, Philip A. Stadler reads about Apollo of Delphi in Plutarch's work, as Plutarch necessarily mentions Delphi quite often and, in particular, the oracle there, above all who consulted the oracle and how it was consulted.

Reinhard Feldmeier widens the scope: in De Iside 76-78 Plutarch characterizes Osiris as the god of the dead and the god of life, which sounds similar to a passage in the Gospel of Mark (12:27 and parallels), where Jesus qualifies god as "a god of the living". It is natural that Feldmeier returns to some other passages in the Bible as well, because against that background he can easily determine Plutarch's own conception and its implications. Plutarch differentiates between Osiris' body that was killed and dismembered and his soul. Even if Osiris is the god of the dead, he utilizes the natural death in order to liberate the human souls, formerly enclosed in the body and passions of human beings, for the true life far off from the world of bodies.

Luc Van der Stockt focuses on chthonic deities in Plutarch's work. According to Liddell/Scott/Jones χθόνιος means "in, under or beneath the earth", or "sprung from the earth" and with its spatial meaning it is opposed to "heaven" (or the like). Nonetheless, when it refers to deities it is opposed to ὀλύμπιος as well, so that seemingly there are two different kinds of deities. Among others, Plutarch writes about Hades/Plouton, Demeter, Persephone/Kore, Hermes, Hecate, the Erinyes, and the Titans. Van der Stockt tries to trace the function and meaning of chthonic deities in Plutarch's work, concluding that Plutarch attempted to categorize them as daemons and to place them as intermediary and transmissive beings.

The final paper of the volume is more general than the others and at the same time specializes in various manifestations of gods. Fritz Graf, who is well known for his distinguished work in the field, deals with statues, the fundamental problem of images (or other manifestations of gods), and the discussion revolving around these subjects. Without doubt, the Alethes Logos by Celsus and, of course, Porphyry play a decisive role in this context.

Each contribution to this volume is supplemented by a bibliography and, as far as style is concerned, written down as it was delivered as a paper in the course of the symposium. Indices of modern authors and references enable the readers to find their way through the various contributions if they prefer to focus on specific topics. As noted earlier, the volume comprises papers that approach Plutarch's conception of god and the traditional conceptions of gods (in the myths and the like) in a very systematic and distinguished way, so that the informed reader and even the specialist in the field will certainly find enough thought-provoking questions and statements that may initiate further discussion. Without beating about the bush, the individual contributions are pieces of profound research and -- even if they are printed in their paper-like style -- state of the art. No doubt, a fine volume!


Hirsch-Luipold, Rainer, "Einleitung," pp. 1-11.

Part I

Gottesbilder: Die Gottesbilder der philosophischen Tradition und der Gott Plutarchs

Ferrari, Franco, "Der Gott Plutarchs und der Gott Platons," pp. 13-25.

Brenk, Frederick E., "Plutarch's Middle-Platonic God: About to Enter (or Remake) the Academy," pp. 27-49.

Opsomer, Jan, "Demiurges in Early Imperial Platonism," pp. 51-99.

Jiménez, Aurelio Pérez, "δικαιοσύνη als Wesenszug des Göttlichen," pp. 101-137 (translated from Spanish into German by Rainer Hirsch-Luipold).

Françoise Frazier, "Göttlichkeit und Glaube. Persönliche Gottesbeziehung im Spätwerk Plutarchs," pp. 111-137.

Part II

Götterbilder: Die Götter der traditionellen Religion und der Gott Plutarchs

Hirsch-Luipold, Rainer, "Der eine Gott bei Philon von Alexandrien und Plutarch," pp. 141-168.

Görgemans, Herwig, "Eros als Gott in Plutarchs 'Amatorius'," pp. 169-195.

Stadter, Philip A., "Plutarch and Apollo of Delphi," pp. 197-214.

Feldmeier, Reinhard, "Osiris: Der Gott der Toten als Gott des Lebens (De Iside Kap. 76-78)," pp. 215-227.

Van der Stockt, Luc, "No Cause for Alarm: Chthonic Deities in Plutarch," pp. 229-249.

Graf, Fritz, "Plutarch und die Götterbilder," pp. 251-266.


1.   On October 1, 2003, the graduate school "Götterbilder -- Gottesbilder -- Weltbilder. Polytheismus und Monotheismus in der Welt der Antike" was established in Göttingen to allow those studying for a doctorate and postdocs to focus on relevant topics, and to organize guest lectures/courses of lectures and symposia. The pages of the Georg-August-University of Göttingen offer further information about this graduate school.

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