BMCR 2006.01.42

The Statesman in Plutarch’s Works, Volume II: The Statesman in Plutarch’s Greek and Roman Lives. Mnemosyne Suppl. 250/II

, The statesman in Plutarch's works : proceedings of the sixth international conference of the International Plutarch Society. Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava. Supplementum ; 250. Leiden: Brill, 2004. volumes 1 ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9004137955 €99.00/$134.00.

This volume constitutes the second part of the contributions presented at the sixth international conference of the International Plutarch Society, held in Nijmegen, Holland, in May 2002, with the theme ‘The Statesman in Plutarch’s Works’. The first volume (reviewed in BMCR 2005.07.09) covered the Statesman in the Moralia; this volume focuses on the Lives. There are three sub-divisions, with approximately equal numbers of papers, covering (1) General Issues, (2) the Greek Lives, and (3) the Roman Lives. The great majority of the contributions are in English (18), with 4 in Italian, 2 in Spanish, and 1 in German.

To take the contributions in turn, under the rubric of ‘General Issues’, we find the following:

Suzanne Said, ‘Plutarch and the People in the Parallel Lives’, identifies a notable, and hardly surprising, consistency in the treatment of the dêmos in Plutarch’s work, conditioned not only by his Platonism, but by his experience of the contemporary mob, as being quite simply at the mercy of emotions rather than reason. Thomas Späth, ‘Das Politische und der Einzelne: Figurenkonstruction in Biographie und Geschichtsschreibung’, studies the representation of the First Triumvirate in Appian, Cassius Dio and the six relevant Lives by Plutarch, and shows, on the one hand, that there is not much difference in the treatment of historical figures as between the historians and Plutarch, but also that none of them exhibit the modern concept of individual character; rather ‘character’ in these texts is composed by selection from a fixed repertoire of political and social norms and values. David Larmour, ‘Statesman and Self in the Parallel Lives’, is also concerned with the portrayal of character, from a different, and perhaps excessively sophisticated angle. He adduces Michel Foucault, and his The Care of the Self to argue that Plutarch is engaged in developing a ‘technology of the self’, and reflecting the dissolution of a secure sense of identity which was a consequence of the rise of the Roman imperial system. I feel sure that Plutarch would be as baffled by all this as I am, but that does not prevent it, I suppose, from having a certain validity.

George Harrison, ‘Plutarch the Dramaturg: Statecraft as Stagecraft in the Lives’, focuses on the dramatic elements in the Lives, and connects this, with some plausibility, with a general interest in drama which he discerns in various other writers of the first century A.D. Of course, as he himself recognises, the genre of moralizing biography is inherently prone to dramatic effects in any case, but it is nonetheless worth being reminded how large a part drama still played in the lives of educated gentlemen of the first centuries A.D. Frederick Brenk, ‘O Sweet Mystery of the Lives! The Eschatological Dimension of Plutarch’s Biographies’, draws attention to the rather surprising fact that Plutarch, Platonist though he was, seems in general little interested in what is to happen in the next life to his heroes. This is odd, as Brenk points out, in view of his various lively portrayals of the after-life in the myths of sundry of the Moralia.

Starting from a reflection on Plutarch’s surprising treatment of Alexander the Great as a sort of philosopher in action (or indeed, of action), Marlein van Raalte, ‘More Philosophico: Political Virtue and Philosophy in Plutarch’s Lives’, goes on to conduct an important study of what moral qualities are referred to as ‘philosophical’ in the Lives, and how such qualities relate to fitness for political leadership. In fact, they seem to boil down to self-restraint, combined with philanthropia and a good ability to express oneself — as she says, qualities more likely to be hailed as philosophical by Isocrates than by Plato, but demonstrating Plutarch’s interest and expertise in this area. So much for the Philosopher-King, at any rate. On a quite different issue, Alexei Zadorojnyi, ‘”Stabbed with Large Pens”: Trajectories of Literacy in Plutarch’s Lives’, taking his start from a notable incident in the life of Gaius Gracchus, where an opponent of his is stabbed to death by writing styluses, explores the significance of episodes dealing with literacy-related activities, such as reading and writing, in a selection of the Lives (the Gracchi, Pompey, Cato, Eumenes and Caesar). His lively and thought-provoking survey, however, does not result in any very clear conclusions, as he himself admits.

We now proceed to the first of two parallel sections of more specialized papers, the first on the Greek Lives, the second on the Roman. Leading off, we have a paper by Luisa Pradi, ‘Singolare e plurale nelle Vite greche di Plutarco’, which focuses on the respective roles of the single individual and the mass in constructing politics. As she points out, the Lives exhibit two types of situation: either a statesman is able to achieve results primarily by himself (e.g. Theseus, Lycurgus, Lysander, Alcibiades), or he is compelled to proceed by exercising persuasion — or compulsion — on a mob, such as the Athenian dêmos (e.g. most Athenian statesmen) — or indeed, the Syracusan, as in the case of Dion, whom she chooses for special treatment, as his struggle with the people is given particularly extended coverage by Plutarch, whose view is, of course, that the people cannot manage themselves, and it is incumbent on the statesman to manage them. Tim Duff, in ‘The First Five Anecdotes of Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades’, seeks to show how anecdotes about the childhood of his heroes exemplifies Plutarch’s strategy in constructing his characters, and chooses the cluster of five anecdotes in the first few chapters of the Alcibiades as a good example of this. Still on the Alcibiades, Simon Verdegem, ‘De Gloria Alcibiadis: Alcibiades’ Military Value and its Relation to his Doxa in Plutarch’s Alcibiades’, examines Alcibiades’ military prowess and how it contributes to his fame among his contemporaries — a fame which is then diminished by his private excesses. Verdegem here points up the contrast with his Roman ‘pair’ Coriolanus. Significantly, Alcibiades’ achievements as a private soldier are not dwelt upon, but Coriolanus’ are. Also on the Alcibiades, Maricruz Salcedo Parrondo, ‘Rtorica visual y carácter politico’, fixes on the opening anecdote of ch. 10 of the Life, which involves Alcibiades making a generous public contribution at an epidosis, and simultaneously letting a pet quail escape from his bosom, both of which acts endeared him to the populace. The particular point of interest here is the vividness with which Plutarch presents this scene, for rhetorical purposes. And fourthly on the Alcibiades, Francesca Alesse, ‘Fonti socratice e stoiche nella Vita Alcibiadis’, embarks on an impressive and largely successful attempt to prove influences from the traditions about Alcibiades aired in the dialogues of Socratics such as Antisthenes and Aeschines of Sphettus, as well as of the Stoics, on Plutarch’s presentation of him in his Life, particularly in the anecdotes of the early part.

The Life of Alcibiades, then, proved a popular focus for papers. With Federicomaria Muccioli, ‘Gli onori per Lisandro a Samo. A proposito di Plutarchus, Lysander 18’, we move on to Lysander. What Muccioli focuses on is the divine honours paid to Lysander by the Samians, and Plutarch’s (disapproving) treatment of these. This is by way of introducing a discussion of Lysander as a bridge-figure between old Spartan values and the drive towards innovation, and Lysander’s philotimia has a part to play in this. Moving further along chronologically, Sven-Tage Teodorsson, ‘Timoleon, the Fortunate General’, presents an attractive account of Plutarch’s very sympathetic treatment of Timoleon, who came out from Corinth to bring about the revival of Greek Sicily in 344-338 B.C. As Teodorsson shows, Plutarch pays special attention to Timoleon’s remarkable good fortune, as a sign of the gods’ endorsement of him.

Lastly, on the Greek side, we have a study by Geert Roskam, ‘Plutarch’s Life of Agis, or the Honourable Course of a Beginning Politician’, showing the young, reforming King Agis IV of Sparta (c. 262-241 B.C.) as the ideal of what a young politician should be (even if he came to a sticky end). Roskam makes good use of Plutarch’s Political Precepts to reinforce his point.

Turning to the Roman Lives, we have first Bernard Boulet, ‘Is Numa the Genuine Philosopher King?’, who makes the interesting observation that Numa, though presented as a Platonic ‘philosopher-king’, is actually far from exemplifying the ideal as presented in the Republic — as also is his counterpart Lycurgus. As Boulet demonstrates, Numa is too peaceable to qualify for Plato’s Board of Guardians (even as Lycurgus’ regime is too exclusively militaristic). If anything, Numa pursues an epithymetic ideal; and yet he is both a king and a philosopher — and a successful ruler. Is Plutarch gently criticising Plato here, while setting up his own model of the ideal ruler? Boulet thinks so, and he may well be right.

Jan Maarten Bremer turns to the topic of ‘Plutarch and the “Liberation of Greece,”‘ focusing on the lives of T. Quinctius Flamininus and L. Aemilius Paullus (the counterpart of Timoleon), where he argues that Plutarch honors them not simply because of their virtue and philhellenism, but because they (and their successors as Roman governors) saved the Greek upper classes from the unruliness of their own masses — a good point! Also on Aemilius Paullus, Lora Holland argues plausibly that Plutarch (possibly borrowing something from Cicero’s portrayal of Paullus in the Somnium Scipionis, depicts him in subtle ways as a latter-day Socrates. Moving on a century. Bradley Buszard, ‘The Decline of the Roman Republic in Pyrrhus-Marius’, argues that both the Pyrrhus and the Marius contribute to the theme of the decline of the republic, the former by showing it still in a healthy state, the latter depicting it in steep decline, torn by faction — with Tarentum and the cities of Greek Sicily brought in as foils. Buszard suggests, ingeniously but persuasively, that Plutarch’s sub-text here is that late Republican Rome was a dysfunctional state, the only solution for which was the absolute rule of Augustus. Arthur Keaveney, ‘Sulla the Warlord and Other Mythical Beasts’, continues the study of the late Republic with a lively and well-argued attack on the picture of Sulla as an extortionate thug (in contrast to such heroes as Flamininus and Aemilius Paullus, propagated by Plutarch in the Life (notably in ch. 12), and accepted all too readily by many modern scholars. He suggests that such a view of him, and his relations with his soldiers, is being projected back from Appian’s evaluation of the Triumvirs. From this latter era, Manuel Tröster, ‘Hellenism and Tryphê in Plutarch’s Life of Lucullus’, addresses the picture of Lucullus presented by Plutarch as, first, exhibiting philhellenism and even an interest in philosophy, and then declining into luxury, and argues that it is more black-and-white than the evidence warrants. Next, Jeffrey Beneker, ‘Thematic Correspondences in Plutarch’s Lives of Caesar, Pompey and Cassius’, studies the intertextuality operating between these three ‘triumviral’ lives, and argues that they must be read together for this to be fully appreciated. This is true even of a number of the anecdotes related in them.

From a different perspective — art-historical and archaeological — Michael Hoff, ‘Athens honors Pompey the Great’, examines the extent, first of Pompey’s beneficence to Athens in 62 B.C., after his defeat of Mithridates, following on his being granted divine honours in 67, when he visited there after his defeat of the pirates. Hoff usefully lists the improvements attributable to him, and then points out that Julius Caesar felt it incumbent on him to match Pompey’s generosity when he visited in 50 B.C., by financing the building of the Roman Agora

The collection ends with two articles on more general Roman topics. Rosa Maria Aguilar’s essay, ‘Matrimonios politicos en Roma’, addresses the role of women in the Roman Republic, and the political marriages in which they were involved, drawing on Plutarch’s accounts of these, focusing particularly on those of Pompey, Caesar and Cato; while Maria Teresa Schettino, ‘I soggetti politici e i conflitti civili del 68/69 d/C. in Plutarco’, basing herself on Plutarch’s Lives of Galba and Otho, presents a study of Plutarch’s interpretation of the history of his own times. A notable theme running through these two Lives, as she points out, is that of the ‘bad adviser’.

This, then, is a fine collection, covering a wide range of topics. It could have done with some more editorial checking in places, perhaps, but there is nothing seriously wrong there. It is completed by a useful bibliography (which, however, seems not to include the references from Fred Brenk’s contribution), and a general index.