BMCR 2010.05.54

The Unity of Plutarch’s Work: “Moralia” Themes in the “Lives”, Features of the “Lives” in the “Moralia”. Millennium-Studien 19

, The Unity of Plutarch's Work: "Moralia" Themes in the "Lives", Features of the "Lives" in the "Moralia". Millennium-Studien 19. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. xviii, 851. ISBN 9783110202496. $198.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

[The reviewer apologizes for the extreme delay in this review, which is entirely his fault.]

The subject-matter of this volume is uncommonly wide-ranging and addresses many important issues of Plutarchean scholarship: the conditions under which Plutarch’s writings were separated into two distinct corpora, his methods of work and the various authorial techniques employed, the interplay between Lives and Moralia, Plutarch and politics, Plutarch and philosophy, literary aspects of Plutarch’s oeuvre, Plutarch on women, Plutarch in his epistemological and socio-historical context. To achieve his goal of defining the “… moral purpose, which, after all, is what ultimately links Plutarch the essayist with Plutarch the biographer,” Nikolaidis has collected fifty-five contributions, divided in eight thematic units, of which thirty-five are in English, twelve in Spanish, four in Italian, three in French, and one in German. Nearly all contributions were originally submitted to a congress with the same title as this volume, held at the University of Crete at Rethymno on 4-8 May 2005.

The separation of Plutarch’s works into Moralia and Lives is a relatively new one. Most essays in this volume, however, attempt to combine works from both “collections”. Due to the limited amount of space available in a review, I am, regrettably, unable to pay attention to all 55 contributions. Omitting a review is, therefore, not to be taken as an indication of disrespect for the author in question: the standard of the contributions is as might be expected in an international conference.

In the first paper (that forms the total of the first section), Geiger describes how the Byzantine monk Maximus Planudes was the first to create a separate corpus of Moralia. Once the works of Plutarch had, slowly and piecemeal, found their way to the West, the Lives found in general a more comprehensive readership — and more appreciation — than the more varied Moralia. This development is reflected in the number of translations of Lives and Moralia. Though Geiger refers in this respect to previous studies, I think he should nevertheless have mentioned here the names of Wilhelm Holtzmann (Xylander) and Hermannus Cruser (Cruserius).

Pordomingo Pardo focuses on the frequent use — or rather, reuse — of epigrams in Plutarch’s works. Possibly this might be a useful tool to determine the chronology of these works, though Pordomingo Pardo fails to convince me on this point. Her work comes close to the study of apophthegmata. Apophthegmata proper are the subject of the paper by Stadter. I completely agree with Stadter’s conclusion that no isolated anecdote alone reflects the information Plutarch had available to him, but that close examination of all versions is needed to reveal (part of) an image.

Apart from anecdotes and the like, another recurrent item in Plutarch’s works is the use of references from Homer, according to Bréchet “…un excellent indice de la cohérence de la pensée de Plutarque” (p. 85). Nevertheless, Homer is used differently in the Moralia (where he is referred to several hundreds of times) and the Lives (with only some dozens of references). This illustrates the different functions [my emphasis, JPS] of both corpora, not a difference in concepts and views expressed. Homer serves, at the same time, as a source of education, to boost a certain level of Hellenism, and to describe the Romans as not barbarians, but nevertheless as distinctly non-Greek.

Boulet observes that throughout Plutarch’s work his picture of Apollo fluctuates. He argues that Plutarch “seems to adapt various texts with a view to different listeners or readers. This variation…would account for many inconsistencies in his works” (p. 159). This paper is in many respects closely attuned to Nikolaidis’s paper on Plutarch’s heroes in the Moralia. Nikolaidis’s view fits seamlessly with Boulet’s conclusion that Plutarch “possesses the art of writing intelligent contradictions” (p. 169). Verdegem discusses the common ground of the Quaestiones Romanae and the Lives of early Romans compared to the other Roman Lives. In this study, Verdegem has to concede that Plutarch sometimes used his sources discriminately, but also that “Plutarch did not always follow the lead of his sources when he decided to elaborate upon a certain topic” (p. 177). It is an important statement that deserves further investigation.

The paper by Vicente Sánchez may well prove to introduce a promising new lead in Plutarchean studies, examining on three levels some intratextual (here defined as “la presencia efectiva de un texto en otro”: p. 209) relations between a number of Lives and some of the Moralia. Here as well we may notice some points of contact, be it with a slightly different emphasis, with Nikolaidis’s paper.

Capriglione concludes that the Lives show that according to Plutarch a good paideia, one provided with proper examples, can teach people how to handle their pathê. Those examples would teach πραότης, mildness, gentleness, the fundamental virtue of the philosophos. Plutarch describes the theoretical framework for a life full of arete in several of the Moralia, but he is too much a Greek (“è troppo greco” (p. 257): perhaps a little too prejudicial a description) to follow the consequences to the extreme in the Lives. There, he allows all his main characters some room for transgression, according to objective situation and social status.

Anger is the subject of Van der Stock’s paper. Plutarch uses, both in several of the Lives and in De cohibenda ira, a similar, consistent, and distinct terminology concerning anger. In the end, however, being able to control anger is a quality proper to καλοκαγαθία and denotes, therefore, both social status and ethical excellence. Van Hoof deals with another vice that is discussed both in some Lives (though without a clear protagonist!) and specifically in one of the Moralia, sc. meddlesomeness ( πολυπραγμοσύνη), the desire to learn other people’s evils, as Plutarch defines it. Here, as well, social status plays a role: “the mob is repeatedly characterised as meddlesome” (p. 301) — and therefore, prone to revolt. Noteworthy are the differences in emphasis in Moralia and Lives, indicating that “they are the heirs of different traditions” (p. 303).

De Blois opens section four with an essay on the “Ideal Statesman”. Politics in his own days were, in Plutarch’s view, inferior to, e.g., those in the days of the great lawgivers, and primarily aimed at forestalling Roman intervention. I think De Blois might well have connected Plutarch’s reticence on this subject with the emerging Greek renascence, of which he was one of the protagonists, but that is only a minor detail. Also in Roskam’s paper the statesman is the focus of attention. In contrast to the impression one might get from De Blois’s description of how Plutarch valued politics in his own time, Roskam stresses the value Plutarch attached to political activity, notably for the philosopher. Virtue is regarded as a tool to gain fame and power: as it appears from previous remarks (e.g. 799A), these in their turn should be used to achieve τὸ καλόν. Roskam’s treatment of Plutarch’s apparent duplicity regarding the behaviour of the politician is, in combination with Ingenkamp’s views (see Table of Contents, below), valuable for understanding the pragmatic quality of Plutarch’s lessons.

A good education (already discussed by Capriglione) is the subject of Teodorsson’s essay and also returns in Koulakiotis’s paper later in this section. Plutarch’s adamant ideas on education and its potential naturally followed the track beaten by Plato. Nevertheless, the model of the ideal statesman Plutarch paints in the Moralia is utterly unrealistic — as Plutarch himself appears to concede. The practice is presented in various Lives : few politicians (certainly not the Romans and Laconians) had received the “Attic philosophical and rhetorical training” (p. 342) Plutarch so valued. Dillon likewise focuses on Plutarch’s Platonist concept of the good ruler. As a starting point Dillon takes To an Uneducated Ruler (i.e. Ad principem inerud., JPS), where the good ruler “allows himself to be ruled in turn by divine reason … expressed in Law” (p. 352). Dillon compares this image with the practice of Dion and Brutus. Dion faces the ‘Syracusan mob’ (Plutarch is no friend of democracy!), but strives for a ‘mixed constitution’ (in fact an oligarchy): before he succeeds he is murdered. Brutus fails as well to re-create the rule of a senatorial oligarchy “in the rough-and-tumble world of practical politics” (p. 364) and takes his own life.

Alexiou’s subject is εὔνοια. He thereby connects 4th century BCE political thinking (notably that of Isokrates) with Plutarch’s, but also relates to the papers by De Blois and especially Teodorsson with respect to the interplay between theory and practice. Plutarch connects eunoia with φιλανθρωπία as parts of political arete : “eine direkte Linie zwischen Tugend and Umgänglichkeit” (p. 371). In fact, it is all a matter of public relations and ‘spin doctoring’ in the Praecepta. As far as the behaviour of today’s politicians is concerned, Alexiou’s paper may hold much that is familiar, as well as much to think about: a stimulating essay.

Section 5 is devoted to Plutarch’s involvement in philosophical matters. Plutarch’s attitude towards Epicureanism is the subject of FitzGibbon’s essay. Close investigation reveals that Plutarch used Epicureans as a foil for his own Platonist and allegedly superior views This is clearest in three anti-Epicurean tracts, but equally in the character of Cassius in the Life of Brutus. Muccioli investigates, through the figure of Phanias of Lesbos, a character in the Life of Themistocles, the relations between biography, history, and ethical philosophy. Both the Lives and the Moralia show that Plutarch adhered to a model of philosophical history indebted to Peripatetic writers and/or ideas. Both works hold an important caveat for people using Plutarch’s biographies as a historical source, confirming Bosworth’s conclusion of 1992 — applicable for Verdegem’s essay mentioned above as well: “And for the historian working with Plutarch there is a stark message. Heaven help you if your evidence is the Lives and the Lives alone!”1.

Leão focuses on the literature of maxims (close to the apophthegmata of Stadter’s essay in section 2a). In his Septem Sapientium Convivium (N.B. Leão uses the ‘u’ instead of the ‘v’), Plutarch treats “the seven” as if they were contemporaries of each other. Notable participants are Anacharsis (a barbarian) Neiloxenos (an Egyptian, envoy of Amasis), Aesop (an ex-slave), and Cleobouline (a woman): carefully, Plutarch introduces an image of “the other” as a potential contributor of wisdom. It is a conclusion that seems in stark contrast with the Plutarch’s conclusion in the De Herodoti malignitate, which implies that foreign influences can bring no good for a Hellenic mind. I would have welcomed Leão’s views on this matter. The Septem and the Life of Solon also feature in the essay by Vela Tejada, aimed at revealing the main lines of Solon’s political myth. Since his wisdom, “el ideal de la moderación” (p. 506), is rooted in the tradition of the ‘Seven Wise Men’ (e.g., Plato’s Timaeus 20d), the Septem is an essential work for our understanding of the Life of Solon.

Section six pays attention to more technical aspects of Plutarch’s works. Representation, in this case by a comparison of the Pelopidas and the De Genio Socratis using a narratological approach, is the subject of Pelling’s study. His paper clearly demonstrates that new approaches may yield new and promising results in Plutarchean studies. Ash’s paper is likewise based on comparison, in this case of Plutarch’s perception of Roman emperors and especially their entourage. It is interesting to compare Ash’s paper with that of Vicente Sánchez in section 2b and, to a lesser extent, that of Pordomingo Pardo in 2a: though all use ‘intratextuality’, the precise method and results differ. A Plutarchean synkrisis by editor and contributors on this point might have been useful from a methodological point of view.

Section 7 opens with a paper by Marasco, discussing the peculiar and favourable position of women (“[una] tendenza naturale all’ ἀρετή” (p. 663); gifted with wisdom and intelligence (ibid.)), both in Moralia and Lives. I only wonder how Marasco would value the position of Queen Parysatis in the Life of Artaxerxes, a work she does not mention. Beneker deals with Plutarch’s views on the role of eros, and its seemliness, between husband and wife, mainly using the Amatorius and two of the Lives, sc. those of Brutus and Pompey. The Amatorius — she uses its Greek name Erotikos — is the starting point for the study by Tsouvala as well: she argues that Plutarch ultimately promotes a heterosexual relationship based on marriage, adducing inter alia the rape of the Sabine women in the Life of Romulus. Marriage is a prime tool for achieving social cohesion.

The final section is opened by Boulogne. He discusses forty-odd scientific digressions, sc. digressions regarding theories explaining natural phenomena, in the Lives in order to explore Plutarch’s aims in writing as well as the mechanics of his thinking (“la pensée [sc. de Plutarque]”, p. 747). The indebtedness of Plutarch to Aristotle and his theory of natural reproduction, specifically Aristotle’s view of deformity, is the subject of Plese’s essay. The way Plutarch appropriated Aristotle’s ideas, by means of an ‘intertext’ and a ‘paradigm’ (Plese uses a passage from the De Iside to elucidate), makes clear as well how he must have approached Plato’s works. Also from the De Iside comes one of the two passages (the other is from the Quaestio convivalis) that Volpe Cacciatore confronts with each other in order to investigate Plutarch’s vegetarianism, finally quoting Bruno, that “… ogni cosa ha la divinityà latente in sé (everything has the divinity hidden in itself)” (p. 789).

If Plutarch expresses more or less identical or at least complementary views throughout Moralia and Lives, as it is this volume’s basic aim to demonstrate, that does not apply to Plutarch’s views regarding Crete, argue Francis and Harrison. The image of Crete that emerges from the Lives is static and dated, but in the Moralia we find indications that Plutarch wrote on Crete in these works from autoptic knowledge, acquired during a stay for a ‘considerable time ( χρόνον συχνὸν)’ (see p. 793). The multidisciplinary approach of these contributors is a particular asset in their paper. A geographical component is also present in Schrader’s essay on Plutarch’s position with respect to a problem regarding the (southern) limit of the Persian fleet according to the (alleged?) Treaty of Callias of 449 BCE. In historiography two such lines of demarcation figure, sc. Phaselis and the Chelidonian Islands, situated some 55 km South of Phaselis. Plutarch opts for the latter location — in fact following a secondary tradition — based on an inscription collected by Craterus the Macedonian. It should be mentioned, however, that Schrader’s reference (FGrHist 342 F.12) is faulty: the correct reference should be FGrHist 342 F. 13.5 = Plutarch, Cimon 13.4-5.

As may have become clear, the volume under scrutiny is an impressive collection, which no one working in the field of Plutarchean studies can allow himself (or herself) to pass over. For me the real core of the volume lies in Chapters 2 through 5 but all the contributions challenge the reader to reinvestigate his (or her) Plutarch time and again and Nikolaidis deserves a warm compliment for his efforts. Of course, the volume is not flawless: there are some typos (though a surprisingly small number for the size of the volume), there is no strict consistency in the writing of names (e.g., sometimes Alcibiades, sometimes Alkibiades) and, sometimes annoyingly, in the works of Plutarch himself (e.g., sometimes Amatorius, sometimes Erotikos). I think the editor should have maintained a stricter uniformity in this respect. Though I normally favour a central bibliography, in this case the separate bibliographies are to be preferred. The indices are, though not exhaustive, good and usable. I have worked intensively through this volume from cover to cover and in the process the book has had to suffer quite a lot. Nevertheless, its condition is still fine, indicating how well this volume was produced, unfortunately at a price that makes it nearly inaccessible to private readers.

Table of Contents:

Introduction (p. XIII)

Section 1: The Formation of Plutarch’s Corpus : Synopsis (p. 3); Joseph Geiger, ‘ Lives and Moralia : How Were Put Asunder What Plutarch Hath Joined Together’ (p. 5).

Section 2: Plutarch’s Methods of Work: Synopsis (p. 15).

Subsection 2a: How Plutarch deals with other genres : José Antonio Fernández Delgado, ‘On the Problematic Classification of Some Rhetorical Elements in Plutarch (p. 23); Francisca Pordomingo Pardo, ‘La reutilización de citas de epigramas: una manifestación del diálogo intratextual en el corpus plutarqueo’ (p. 33); Philip A. Stadter, ‘Notes and Anecdotes: Observations on Cross-Genre Apophthegmata‘ (p. 53); Craig Cooper, ‘The Moral Interplay Between Plutarch’s Political Precepts and Life of Demosthenes‘ (p. 67); Christophe Bréchet, ‘Grecs, Macédoniens et Romains au “test” d’Homère. Référence homérique et hellénisme chez Plutarque’ (p. 85); Diotima Papadi, ‘ Moralia in the Lives : Tragedy and Theatrical Imagery in Plutarch’s Pompey‘ (p. 111); Peter Liddel, ‘Scholarship and Morality: Plutarch’s Use of Inscriptions’ (p. 125);

Subsection 2b: Other authorial techniques : Ewen Bowie, ‘Plutarch’s Habits of Citation: Aspects of Difference’ (p. 143); Bernard Boulet, ‘Why Does Plutarch’s Apollo Have Many Faces?’ (p. 159); Simon Verdegem, ‘Plutarch’s Quaestiones Romanae and his Lives of Early Romans’ (p. 171); Timothy E. Duff, ‘How Lives Begin’ (p. 187); Ana Vicente Sánchez, ‘Plutarco compositor de Vitae y Moralia : análisis intratextual’ (p. 209); Anastasios G. Nikolaidis, ‘Plutarch’s Heroes in the Moralia : a Matter of Variatio or Another (More Genuine) Outlook?’ (p. 219).

Section 3: Moralia in Vitis : Synopsis (p. 235); Frederick E. Brenk, ‘Setting a Good Exemplum. Case Studies in the Moralia, the Lives as Case Studies’ (p. 237); Jolanda Capriglione, ‘Sempre in bilico tra vizi e virtù’ (p. 255); Heinz Gerd Ingenkamp, ‘ Moralia in the Lives : The Charge of Rashness in Pelopidas/Marcellus‘ (p. 263); Frances B. Titchener, ‘Is Plutarch’s Nicias Devout, Superstitious, or Both?’ (p. 277); Luc Van der Stockt, ‘Self-esteem and Image-building. On Anger in De cohibenda ira and in Some Lives‘ (p. 285); Lieve Van Hoof, ‘Genres and Their Implications: Meddlesomeness in On Curiosity versus the Lives‘ (p. 297).

Section 4: Plutarch and Politics: Synopsis (p. 313); Lukas de Blois, ‘The Ideal Statesman: A Commonplace in Plutarch’s Political Treatises, His Solon, and His Lycurgus‘ (p. 317); Geert Roskam, ‘Two Roads to Politics. Plutarch on the Statesman’s Entry in Political Life’ (p. 325); Sven-Tage Teodorsson, ‘The Education of Rulers in Theory ( Mor.) and Practice ( Vitae)’ (p. 339); John Dillon, ‘ Dion and Brutus: Philosopher Kings Adrift in a Hostile World‘ (p. 351); Evangelos Alexiou, ‘ Eunoia bei Plutarch: von den Praecepta Gerendae Reipublicae zu den Viten‘ (p. 365); Manuel Tröster, ‘Struggling with the Plêthos : Politics and Military Leadership in Plutarch’s Life of Lucullus‘ (p. 387); Elias Koulakiotis, ‘Greek Lawgivers in Plutarch: A comparison Between the Biographical Lycurgus and the Rhetorical Alexander’ (p. 403).

Section 5: Plutarch and Philosophy: Synopsis (p. 425); Benoît Castelnérac, ‘Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus and the Philosophical Use of Discourse’ (p. 429); Patricia M. FitzGibbon, ‘Boethus and Cassius: Two Epicureans in Plutarch’ (p. 445); Federicomaria Muccioli, ‘”Fania di Lesbo, un filosofo e assai esperto di ricerca storica” (Plut., Them., 13, 5). Plutarco e i rapporti tra biografia, storia e filosofia etica’ (p. 461); Delfim F. Leão, ‘Plutarch and the Character of the Sapiens‘ (p. 481); Jackson P. Hershbell, ‘Plutarch on Solon and Sophia‘ (p. 489); José Vela Tejada, ‘El Banquete de los Siete Sabios y la Vida de Solón de Plutarco: mito político y contexto literario’ (p. 501); Inés Calero Secall, ‘Las Vidas frente a los Moralia en las alusiones plutarqueas sobre Solón’ (p. 515).

Section 6: Literary Aspects of Plutarch’s oeuvre : Synopsis (p. 535); Christopher Pelling, ‘Parallel Narratives: the Liberation of Thebes in De Genio Socratis and in Pelopidas‘ (p. 539); Rhiannon Ash, ‘Standing in the Shadows: Plutarch and the Emperors in the Lives and Moralia‘ (p. 557); Alain Billault, ‘Plutarque et la scène du banquet’ (p. 577); Aurelio Pérez Jiménez, ‘El trofeo de Maratón: Adaptación y desarrollo de un tópico ético en Plutarco’ (p. 591); Vicente Ramón Palerm, ‘Recursos humorísticos en la obra de Plutarco’ (p. 601); Marietta Horster, ‘Some Notes on Grammarians in Plutarch’ (p. 611); Mónica Durán Mañas, ‘La dinastía de los Ptolomeos en Plutarco: etopeya de los personajes’ (p. 625); Rafael J. Gallé Cejudo, ‘Plutarco y la elegía helenística’ (p. 637); Roosevelt Araújo Da Rocha Júnior, ‘Plutarch and the Music’ (p. 651).

Section 7: Women, Eros, Marriage, and Parenthood in Plutarch: Synopsis (p. 659); Gabriele Marasco, ‘Donne, cultura e società nelle Vite Parallele di Plutarco’ (p. 663); Dámaris Romero González, ‘El prototipo de mujer espartana en Plutarco’ (p. 679); Jeffrey Beneker, ‘Plutarch on the Role of Eros in a Marriage’ (p. 689); Georgia Tsouvala, ‘Integrating Marriage and Homonoia‘ (p. 701); Carmen Soares, ‘Parent-Child Affection and Social Relationships in Plutarch: Common Elements in Consolatio ad uxorem and Vitae‘ (p. 719).

Section 8: Plutarch in his Epistemological and Socio-Historical Context: Synopsis (p. 731); Jacques Boulogne, ‘Les digressions scientifiques dans les Vies de Plutarque’ (p. 733); Rosa Ma Aguilar, ‘ Pharmakon en Plutarco’ (p. 751); Zlatko Plese, ‘Deformity ( anapêria): Plutarch’s Views of Reproduction and Imperfect Generation in the Moralia and Lives‘ (p. 773); Paola Volpe Cacciatore, ‘Due testi a confronto: De Iside 352F-353E – Quaestio convivalis VIII, 8 728C-730F’ (p. 785); George W. M. Harrison and Jane Francis, ‘Plutarch in Crete’ (p. 791); Carlos Schrader, ‘Plutarco ( Cim. 13, 4) y las islas Quelidonias’ (p. 805); Israel Muñoz Gallarte, ‘El judaísmo en las Vitae y Moralia de Plutarco’ (p. 815).

List of Contributors (p. 831)
A Selective Index of Keywords and Topics (p. 833)
Ancient Author Index (p. 845)
Proper Names Index (p. 849).


1. A. B. Bosworth, ‘History and Artifice in Plutarch’s Eumenes’, in: P.A. Stadter (ed), Plutarch and the Historical Tradition, London 1992, 56-80: 80.