BMCR 2020.08.17

Brill’s companion to the reception of Plutarch

, Brill's companion to the reception of Plutarch. Brill's companions to classical reception, volume 20. Leiden: Brill, 2019. xxvi, 693 p.. ISBN9789004280403 €198,00.

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

This new companion to the reception of Plutarch is most welcome. The breadth of coverage in its thirty-seven chapters is unprecedented. Partial comparison can be made to the seven chapters on reception in the 2014 A Companion to Plutarch, edited by Mark Beck, which are mostly on reception in western Europe.[1] The depth of coverage is likewise unprecedented, for which it is all but required to have such a team of scholars to achieve this. By comparison, Rudolf Hirzel, in his Plutarch (1912), part of the Das Erbe der Alten series, covered the nearly two millennia of reception in a mere 133 pages.[2] The thirty-seven scholars here, most of whom are specialists on their respective chapters, fill over fives times that number of pages. Of particular note is the attention to middle and late Byzantine authors, an era covered by Hirzel in four pages, here taking up 180 pages, a particular strength of the current volume, as noted by the editors (5). Some chapters are more synoptic, some more illustrative, some more engaging, but, as a set, the editors deserve praise for achieving their goal “to encourage further research” (6) in the reception of Plutarch.

The book is divided into five chronological parts. “Part 1: The Early Fame” has five chapters topically organized on Plutarch’s influence on authors of the first four centuries who wrote dialogues, in Latin, philosophical works, in Atticizing Greek, and on papyrus. Part 2 is titled “Late Antiquity and Byzantium” and contains fifteen chapters, the first five of which, though overlapping chronologically with the preceding chapters, discuss early Christian writers (Ch. 6–7), Neoplatonists (Ch. 8), Damaskios (Ch. 9), and Stobaios (Ch. 10). The Byzantine chapters start with Chapter 11 on the ninth and tenth centuries, with the remaining nine chapters (Ch. 12–20), on authors from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries. Part 3, “Other Medieval Cultures,” presents the almost untraceable influence of Plutarch in Syriac (Ch. 21) and in Arabic texts (Ch. 22). Seven chapters make up Part 4, “Renaissance,” from Leonardo Bruni (Ch. 23) to Shakespeare (Ch. 29), and Part 5, “Enlightenment and the Modern Age,” presents eight chapters (Ch. 30–37) on select authors.

Of the five chapters of Part 1, the first four reveal slight direct influences and hints of connections. The last of these five chapters has the most substantive evidence in the form of fragments of sixteen papyrus texts—and one fifth-century parchment fragment—that manifest an interest in Plutarchan works in Egypt, some extraordinarily within a generation or two of Plutarch writing them. The next five chapters, from Eusebios to Stobaios, like the first four, often show only slight influence, or use, or even direct knowledge of Plutarch. Not a great deal can be learned from one or two explicit references in an author, especially when some of these authors wrote as much as Plutarch. The last of these five, on Plutarch in Stobaios, parallels curiously the chapter on papyri, from which we learn about use and transmission of Plutarchan texts, but not about influence per se.

The ten Byzantine chapters of Part 2 can be read as a sort of core sample of intellectual life of these 600 years. András Németh describes the textual practices at the beginning of this era that gave access to Plutarch in the subsequent centuries (Ch. 11). The size and variety of the Plutarchan corpus, as well as those of many of the authors discussed in these Byzantine chapters limit them to providing glimpses only. Delli’s discussion of Psellos, for example, makes one want to start reading all of Psellos (Ch. 12). Similarly, Kampianaki prompts one to thumb through Zonaras’ immense Epitome to examine more closely her claims about Zonaras’ use of Plutarch’s Alexander (Ch. 14, esp. 256–259; see also her 2017 BMGS article). The same can be said of the succinct samplers of the rich, multifaceted corpora of Niketas Choniates and Theodore Metochites by Simpson (Ch. 16) and Xenophontos (Ch. 18) respectively. These and all the Byzantine chapters are well supported by bibliographies that illustrate the burgeoning of resources on these authors, in print and digitally (note the URLs to manuscripts of Planudes in Pérez Martin’s chapter). The two chapters on Plutarchan influences in Syriac and Arabic textual traditions (Ch. 21–22) may seem slight in citations to Plutarch, or more often Plutarchan works, but that in itself is important, and provides parallels to stunningly slight knowledge of Plutarch for century upon century in most of Europe.[3]

The seven Renaissance chapters (23–29) address a selection of topics, some broad, some quite specific, that have received more attention in publication. Marianne Pade leads the section with a chapter specifically on Leonardo Bruni, which draws on her earlier, extensive, and invaluable two-volume work The Reception of Plutarch’s Lives in Fifteenth-Century Italy, which in its first hundred pages serves as a superb overview of Plutarchan reception, as many authors of the current volume note. Stok’s chapter on Poliziano is both fascinating and frustrating, trying to address so many aspects of this extraordinary person in a mere thirteen pages. In contrast, the following five chapters are more focused in scope, some still fascinating, especially the chapter on Amyot by †Frazier and Guerrier, not simply because the two are exceptionally knowledgeable but also because of all the online resources that they note, above all Amyot’s highly annotated copy of the 1542 printing of Plutarch’s Moralia (423 n. 8), in color and downloadable from The last two chapters of this section, on Montaigne and Shakespeare, can be seen as overly short, and thus mere impressions, but they are essential in such a volume, and the closing paragraph of Dimitrova’s chapter on Shakespeare has a superb final paragraph (508).

In the final eight chapters we have a highly selective tour of authors of the most recent three centuries, most notably a quintet of French readers and writers (Voltaire to Stendhal, Ch. 30), to the Paris-based Koraes and his remarkable transfusion of Plutarch into the hands of pre-revolutionary Greeks (Ch. 32), a study of six of Cavafy’s poems (Ch. 34), and, in Eran Almagor’s two-part essay on Plutarch in modern Israel, the second half (633–644) presents his reading of three poems in Hebrew that show, as with Cavafy, that Plutarch is alive and is read.

Is every author influenced by Plutarch examined, or at least listed? No, but the bibliographies to each chapter almost always point to relevant publications, often by the very authors of the particular chapter. The effect of many of these chapters, and their bibliographies, is that they serve as introductions to these later authors, with specific examination of their engagement with Plutarch. Scholars of a number of specialties within and beyond Classics have been drawn together for their research on how the authors they study reveal the influence of Plutarch. The result is a set of studies as multifaceted and varied as the Plutarchan corpus itself.

I noticed only a few, usually minor, slips in the bibliographical references. D. A. Russell’s classic Plutarch, originally published in 1973,[4] is typographically misdated twice (1 n. 1 and 56 n. 1, but listed correctly in their respective bibliographies). Similarly minor is “II” for “III” for Kaster’s three-volume Macrobius in the Loeb series (33). Missing from their respective bibliographies are Pietsch 2005 (235 n. 3) and Canart 2010 (340 n. 1).[5] The acronym for a manuscript of Poliziano on 407, 409, and 412 needs to be clearly consistent in the form BNCF. There is the seemingly inescapable appearance of dates of reprinting as dates of publication. Of typographical errors, I noted hardly more than a dozen, all utterly minor.[6] Lastly, a correction to the “Note to the Reader” (xxvii) about the section numbers in Plutarch’s Lives: the section numbers in the Teubner edition were created by Lindskog and Ziegler, starting in 1914, not Sintenis, whose Teubner (and earlier Koehler) edition have line numbers but no section numbers (and the Lindskog-Ziegler section numbers are used in most subsequent European editions). And, though not noted, confusion can arise for those using Perrin’s Loeb edition in which the section numbers often differ from the Teubner; the source of this difference, though, is not Perrin, since, when he started publishing his translation, in 1914, he borrowed the section numbers created by Immanuel Bekker for his Tauchnitz edition (1855–57).

Authors and Titles

1. Maria Vamvouri Ruffy, “Plutarch in Macrobius and Athenaeus,” pp. 17–36
2. Katerina Oikonomopoulou, “Plutarch in Gellius and Apuleius,” pp. 37–55
3. Mauro Bonazzi, “Plutarch’s Reception in Imperial Graeco-Roman Philosophy,” pp. 56–65
4. Katarzyna Jażdżewska, “Plutarch and Atticism: Herodian, Phrynichus, Philostratus,” pp. 66–78
5. Thomas Schmidt, “Plutarch and the Papyrological Evidence,” pp. 79–99

6. Arkadiy Avdokhin, “Plutarch and Early Christian Theologians,” pp. 103–118
7. Sébastien Morlet, “Plutarch in Christian Apologetics (Eusebios, Theodoretos, Cyril),” pp. 119–135
8. Elsa Giovanna Simonetti, “Plutarch and the Neoplatonists: Porphyry, Proklos, Simplikios,” pp. 136–153
9. Geert Roskam, “On Donkeys, Weasels and New-Born Babies, or What Damaskios Learned from Plutarch,” pp. 154–170
10. Michele Curnis, “Plutarch in Stobaios,” pp. 171–186
11. András Németh, “The Reception of Plutarch in Constantinople in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries,” pp. 187–204
12. Eodoxia Delli, “The Reception of Plutarch in Michael Psellos’ Philosophical, Theological and Rhetorical Works: An Elective Affinity,” pp. 205–233
13. Diether Roderich Reinsch, “Plutarch in Michael Psellos’ Chronographia,” pp. 234–247
14. Theofili Kampianaki, “Plutarch and Zonaras from Biography to a Chronicle with a Political Leaning,” pp. 248–264
15. Michael Grünbart, “Plutarch in Twelfth-Century Learned Culture,” pp. 265–278
16. Alicia Simpson, “Precepts, Paradigms and Evaluations: Niketas Choniates’ Use of Plutarch,” pp. 279–294
17. Inmaculada Pérez Martín, “Maximos Planoudes and the Transmission of Plutarch’s Moralia,” pp. 295–309
18. Sophia Xenophontos, “Plutarch and the Theodore Metochites,” pp. 310–323
19. Stephanos Efthymiadis, “Plutarch’s Reception in the Works of Nikephoros Xanthopoulos,” pp. 324–339
20. Florin Leonte, “Plutarch and Late Byzantine Intellectuals (c. 1350–1460),” pp. 340–357

21. Alberto Rigolio, “Plutarch in the Syriac Tradition: A Preliminary Overview,” pp. 361–372
22. Aileen Das and Pauline Koetschet, “Para-Plutarchan Traditions in the Medieval Islamicate World,” pp. 373–386

23. Marianne Pade, “Leonardo Bruni and Plutarch,” pp. 389–403
24. Fabio Stok, “Plutarch and Poliziano,” pp. 404–420
25. †Françoise Frazier and Olivier Guerrier, “Plutarch’s French Translation by Amyot,” pp. 421–435
26. Michele Lucchesi, “The First Editions of Plutarch’s Works and the Translation by Thomas North,” pp. 436–457
27. Francesco Becchi, “Humanist Latin Translations of the Moralia,” pp. 458–478
28. Christopher Edelman, “Plutarch and Montaigne,” pp. 479–492
29. Miryana Dimitrova, “Taking Centre Stage: Plutarch and Shakespeare,” pp. 493–511

30. Francesco Manzini, “Plutarch from Voltaire to Stendhal,” pp. 515–527
31. Paul Bishop, “Plutarch and Goethe,” pp. 528–545
32. Sophia Xenophontos, “Plutarch and Adamantios Koraes,” pp. 546–562
33. Isobel Hurst, “Plutarch and the Victorians,” pp. 563–572
34. David Ricks, “Plutarch and Cavafy,” pp. 573–589
35. Frieda Klotz, “Plutarch in American Literature: Emerson and Other Authors,” pp. 590–605
36. Aurelio Pérez Jiménez, “Plutarch’s Fortune in Spain,” pp. 606–621
37. Eran Almagor, “A Sage and a Kibbutznik: Plutarch in Modern Hebrew Literature and Culture,” pp. 622–651


[1] Four of those authors also wrote three of the chapters in this new volume. See as well in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Plutarch, the excellent overview of Plutarch’s reception in the Byzantium (down to Metochites) by Noreen Humble, “Plutarch in Byzantium,” which is cited in the current volume.

[2] Rightly called “something of a masterpiece” by D. A. Russell, Plutarch (London: Duckworth, 1973), 143; see also Ziegler, Plutarchos, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Alfred Druckenmüller, 1964), 309.

[3] Throughout the Byzantine chapters, and many of the Renaissance chapters, I recommend keeping at hand N. G. Wilson’s two volumes, Scholars of Byzantium, rev. ed. (i.e., corrected, w/ 4 pp. of addenda) (London: Duckworth, 1996; 1st ed. 1983) and From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 2nd ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2017; 1st ed. Duckworth, 1992), both of which are frequently cited in the current volume.

[4] And reissued in 2001 with a foreward and updated bibliography by Judith Mossman.

[5] Efthymia Pietsch, Die Chronographia des Michael Psellos. Kaisergeschichte, Autobiographie und Apologie(Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2005) and Paul Canart, “Pour un répertoire des anthologies scolaires commentées de la période des Paléologues,” in Antonio Bravo García, Immaculada Pérez Martin, and Juan Signes Codoñer, eds., The Legacy of Bernard de Montfaucon: Three Hundred Years of Studies on Greek Handwriting (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 449–462.

[6] “quarell” (29); “intersting” (62 n. 29); On Benefitting on <from> (148); “doxograhic” (221 and 222); “roading” for “riding” (245); “getting” for “get” (268); “expects” for “experts” (282); “maybe” for “may be” (285); 1885 for 1485 (409); Kallendrof for Kallendorf (437, 454 bis, 457); “humanist[s]” (461); Mattias<s> (463); “at <the> beginning” (500); “in question [in] here” (529).