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Bill Thayer

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Plutarch on LacusCurtius

Although Plutarch lived under Roman rule and was a Roman citizen, his career even including tenure as a Roman civil servant, he was still a Greek, writing in Greek, and very often on Greek history and philosophy, subjects I'm only marginally interested in. I therefore don't expect to put all of Plutarch online.

Anything significantly related to Roman history, however, is onsite, at least in translation: the complete Parallel Lives and those few items in the Moralia specifically dealing with Roman matters. In addition, a number of other works commonly referred to elsewhere onsite are, as a matter of convenience, slowly finding their way here as well.

The translations of the various works of Plutarch transcribed here are those of the Loeb edition (1914‑ ): the Lives translated by Bernadotte Perrin, the Moralia by a number of people. The later volumes of the Moralia are late enough as to remain under copyright and therefore I cannot reproduce material from them onsite; copyright in the earlier volumes is expired, sometimes because the publishers failed to renew it in the appropriate years.

The original Greek texts of some of Plutarch's shorter works are also onsite, but there are so few people out there who read Greek while having no access to the TLG, and the tedium involved, even with Unicode, in transcribing webpages in polytonic Greek is great enough, that by and large it's a case of vastly diminishing returns to put the Greek online: I usually have not done so.

Currently (Oct 2012), then, my own site seems to carry the largest number of Plutarch's works online in English translation, and a small selection of Greek originals; but for the latter especially, the student may also find it useful to consult Philippe Remacle's site, which offers the widest selection of Plutarch's works available online in Greek, usually accompanied by one or more 19c French translations, carefully presented and often with a wealth of notes.

A complete index to the Moralia with links to its components online — here or on other sites — is maintained at Attalus.Org; it's especially useful if all you have is a bare reference (e.g., "Mor. 188B").

For a summary of Plutarch's life and of the manuscripts, editions and translations of the Lives, see the Loeb edition's introductory material, by Bernadotte Perrin.

Another summary of his life and a brief but careful assessment of him as a philosopher and historian is found in the Plutarch section of Livius.

The Lives are presented on their own page.

As of Oct 2012, about 50% of the Moralia are onsite:


[image ALT: An engraving of a wreath. It is my icon for the Roman Questions by Plutarch.]

[ complete English translation ]

Quaestiones Romanae (The Roman Questions) — 113 of them, all starting with "Why?"; many deal with the more mystifying aspects of Roman religion. Plutarch is wise enough to supply not answers, but further questions: he's not at a loss for ideas, though, and has provided generations of scholars with ample fields for speculation.


[image ALT: A row of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is my icon for the Isis and Osiris, by Plutarch.]

[ complete English translation ]

De Iside et Osiride (On Isis and Osiris): Egyptian religion rather than Roman, to be sure, but Isis especially was widely worshipped thruout the Roman empire. An enormous amount of information mixed in with an equal amount of Greek speculation and philosophical projection: who knows what the Egyptians themselves actually thought.


[image ALT: A photograph of a lamb chop. It is my icon for Plutarch's discourses on Eating Meat.]

[ complete Greek text and English translation ]

De esu carnium (On Meat-Eating): Two essays have survived of a larger set; they are almost certainly a work of Plutarch's youth, when he was much more fired up about vegetarianism than he seems to have been in later life.


[image ALT: A close‑up photograph of a Labrador-mix Dog in a pensive mood. It is my icon for Plutarch's essay on the Intelligence of Animals.]

[ complete English translation ]

De sollertia animalium (On the Intelligence of Animals): Technically titled "Whether Land or Marine Animals are more Intelligent", but ranging wider to the whole subject of animal intelligence.


[image ALT: A carved group of three Roman men. It is my icon for the Apophtegmata Romana, by Plutarch.]

[ complete English translation ]

Apophthegmata Romana (Sayings of Romans): a collection of memorable things said by twenty famous Roman men; just possibly, the kernel of what would become the Parallel Lives.


[image ALT: The bust of a Roman matron. It is my icon for the Bravery of Women, by Plutarch.]

[ complete English translation ]

De Mulierum Virtutibus (On the Bravery of Women): written by Plutarch for a woman friend of his, it's not the philosophical disquisition the title might lead one to expect — rather, an album of specific women of courage, both individuals and groups. Their bravery took an interesting variety of forms.


[image ALT: A full moon. It is my unimaginative icon for the de Facie, by Plutarch.]

[ complete English translation ]

You'd think that with a title like De Facie quae in orbe lunae apparet (On the Face which Appears in the Orb of the Moon) we'd have something interesting and fun. Well, those with an interest in esoteric Neoplatonist philosophy and, just maybe, the history of planetary science will find enough to keep them amused, but the rest of us will wonder why such a misleading title — not given by Plutarch, mind you. 460 footnotes, each abstruser than the others; enjoy.


[image ALT: A row of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is my icon for the Isis and Osiris, by Plutarch.]

[ complete English translation ]

De Genio Socratis (On the Sign of Socrates): What was Socrates' "daemon"? The ostensible subject of the essay takes up no more than a quarter of it, though: the rest is mostly an account of the liberation of Thebes from its ruling tyrants in 379 B.C.

[ complete English translations ]

Forty-five smaller works (i.e., they each fit on a single webpage, more or less):

Ad principem ineruditum (To an Uneducated Ruler): Fragment: a ruler is not himself unruled: rather, he ought to be ruled by virtue and justice. (Greek text also onsite)

Amatoriae narrationes (Love Stories): Like everybody else, I can't imagine Plutarch writing these; very little about love, and a lot about rape, murder, and vengeance: Greek stuff, in sum. (Greek text also onsite)

Animine an corporis affectiones sint peiores (Which are Worse: Diseases of the Soul or of the Body?): When the soul is disabled, so is the soul's ability to realize it, making the disease much harder to cure. (Greek text also onsite)

An seni respublica gerenda sit (Should Old Men Take Part in Affairs of State?): Yes, if that's what they've been doing all along: and with age, they've got rid of all the superfluous and dangerous ballast of youth; it would be a shame to waste such a resource!

An virtus doceri possit (Can Virtue be Taught?): Yes. Short, fragmentary essay. (Greek text also onsite)

An vitiositas ad infelicitatem sufficiat (Is Vice Enough to Make You Unhappy?): Yes, it certainly is. Short, fragmentary essay. (Greek text also onsite)

Aquane an ignis utilior (Is Water or Fire More Useful?): Peculiar and very awkward; like everyone else, I find it hard to imagine it's by Plutarch.

Comparationis Aristophani et Menandri Compendium (Summary of a Comparison between Aristophanes and Menander): Fragmentary; Plutarch prefers the refined Menander over the coarse Aristophanes. (Greek text also onsite)

Coniugalia praecepta (Advice to Bride and Groom): Work with, not against each other!

Consolatio ad Apollonium (Consolation to Apollonius): A collection of reasons for curbing excessive grief.

Consolatio ad uxorem (Consolation to His Wife): On the death of their two‑year-old daughter.

Convivium septem sapientium (The Dinner of the Seven Sages): A recreation of the mythic dinner they were said once to have shared, weaving in the sayings attributed to them: a literary virtuoso piece.

De amicorum multitudine (On Having Many Friends): You can't; not real ones, anyway. (Greek text also onsite)

De amore prolis (On Affection for Offspring): Fragment: the human affection for our offspring, no less than that of animals for theirs, is of biological origin.

De auditu (On Listening to Lectures): A lecture is not a place to show off, to try to trip up the speaker, to be ill-mannered; but an opportunity to learn: and not just for the entertainment value of it, but to improve your life, young man.

De capienda ex inimicis utilitate: An engaging and therapeutic little essay on profiting from our inevitable enemies.

De cohibenda ira: Tips on how to control anger.

De cupiditate (On the Love of Wealth): Worse than many other vices, because self-defeating.

De curiositate (On Being a Busybody): OK, so it's a nasty trait which will make you hated by everybody; how can you eliminate it little by little?

De defectu oraculorum (On the Failure, Ceasing, or Obsolescence of Oracles): Most of it is not about oracles at all, but about the plurality of worlds, the nature of demigods, mystical numbers: a collection of digressions, in sum. I can't say I'd pay two cents for the lot of it. (See also below, a different translation, offsite.)

De exilio (On Exile): Exile, a common legal penalty in Roman times, is not so bad, for a variety of reasons, both philosophical and practical. (Greek text also onsite)

De fato (On Fate): Not by Plutarch: a serried technical discourse on fate, free will, chance, and providence.

De fortuna (On Fortune) (Greek text also onsite)

De fortuna Romanorum (On the Fortune of the Romans): Just how did it happen that the Romans came to dominate the entire Western world? Plutarch puts it down to luck, although he hedges a bit.

De fortuna Alexandri (On the Fortune of Alexander): In the case of Alexander the Great, on the other hand, Plutarch's feathers get quite ruffled if you think his success due to luck; he ascribes it to heroic virtue.

De fraterno amore (On Brotherly Love): We should love our brothers — not one word about sisters — more than we do our friends, especially by not competing with them.

De garrulitate (On Talkativeness): It's bad.

De gloria Atheniensium (On the Glory of the Athenians): Fragmentary: it is Athens' great military leaders who allow her writers and artists to flourish. (Greek text also onsite)

De invidia et odio (On Envy and Hate): Similarities between the two emotions, but mostly the differences.

De liberis educandis (On the Education of Children): Commonsensical, humane, and — despite a timeline approach from prenatal to the time the boys get married — a bit disorganized. A lot of it is in fact, quite appropriately, about educating their fathers.

De monarchia (On Monarchy, Democracy and Oligarchy): Fragment on the types of government. (Greek text also onsite)

De primo frigido (On the Principle of Cold): With which of the four elements should we associate the principle of cold? (Greek text also onsite)

De se ipsum citra invidiam laudando (On Praising Oneself Inoffensively): It's loathsome to praise oneself, but in certain cases it becomes useful or even necessary for a public person to do so. Here then are the pitfalls to avoid.

De superstitione (On Superstition): Whereas the atheist disregards God, the superstitious person actively hates him. (Greek text also onsite)

De tranquillitate animi (On Tranquillity of Mind): We poison our lives by getting worked up over things; recipes for stopping it.

De virtute et vitio (On Virtue and Vice) (Greek text also onsite)

De virtute morali (On Moral Virtue): Virtue consists not in repressing or cutting away one's emotions, but in mastering and regulating them to make them serve reason.

De vitando aere alieno (That We Ought Not to Borrow): Plutarch knew a thing or two about credit cards; his advice is still good.

De vitioso pudore (On Not Letting Ourselves be Bullied): Plutarch seems to have been the first person to talk about bullying and our own part in coöperating with bullies — people who wheedle us into doing what we don't want to do, and shouldn't.

Gryllus [Bruta animalia ratione uti] (Beasts Are Rational): in which Odysseus chats with a sophistical pig on the comparative virtue of animals and people. As an examination of our own consciences will tell us, there's no contest; animals come out on top.

Maxime cum principibus philosopho esse disserendum (That a Philosopher ought to Converse Especially with Men in Power): as opposed to fleeing from the powerful; in order to achieve the greatest good.

Praecepta gerendae reipublicae (Precepts of Statecraft): not grand philosophy or geopolitical schemes, but practical political advice.

* * *

Instituta Laconica (Customs of the Ancient Spartans): Living in Sparta must have been hell on wheels. They took your children from you at age 7 and trained them to rob anyone who might be asleep; they forced street people to get drunk so they could make an example of them for the élite; every teenage boy was administered a severe public ritual beating once a year; there was pressure on you to lend your wife to other men, provided they were hunks; if you made an improved musical instrument, the government would come and destroy it; they paid you in worthless scrip; and you weren't allowed to eat dinner in your own house. Plutarch seems to admire it all, but when he wrote, it was all ancient history: Sparta no longer lived under such a system, if it ever had. Fortunately, though some of it is true, I'm not sure all of it should be believed.

Apophthegmata Laconica (Sayings of the Ancient Spartans): What seems to have been Plutarch's notebook, in which from various sources he gathered Spartan sound bites; most of them found their way into the Lives.

Lacaenarum Apophthegmata (Sayings of Spartan Women): Mostly anecdotes of anonymous Spartan mothers happy that their sons had died a brave death in battle, or furious that they had not. (Greek text also onsite)

* * *

The so‑called Parallela Minora: and minor indeed they are. A bizarrer, more ill-constructed hotchpotch of stuff would be hard to imagine from the pen of one of Antiquity's best writers; these "Parallel Incidents" that supposedly happened once to a Greek, once to a Roman, are probably not Plutarch's at all. Theories abound.


[image ALT: An open metal belt-buckle in the shape of an uncial letter 'E'. It is my icon for the 'On the E at Delphi' by Plutarch.]

In addition to the items on my own site, three more works from the Moralia can be found in English translation offsite, all of them related to oracles, and very well presented: On the E at Delphi, a flight of fancy worthy of Sir Thomas Browne; On the Pythian Responses; and On the Ceasing of the Oracles.


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Site updated: 6 Dec 12