Plutarch an eminent Greek philosopher, noted also as a biographical and miscellaneous writer, deserves a place here for the moral tendency of all his writings, and the vast influence he has exerted in modern as well as ancient times. Indeed, all that we know of him, which is principally gleaned from his own and others' writings, places him in a high rank as measured by the ethics of society in his time, and sets forth the morality of certain portions of that society itself during the first century of our era, and among so- called heathens, in a light of no doubtful brilliancy. Many things he wrote might have been written by the most ardent disciple of the new creed, and much of his belief was more strictly in accordance with the teachings of the apostles than are the dogmas of other writers of those days who call themselves Christians. Yet, in taking his works as our guide, we find that Plutarch had no knowledge of the great innovation amid which he lived, and which was disturbing the West and the East alike; or if he had a knowledge of it, he regarded it merely as a passing piece of Judaic sectarianism unworthy of his notice.
Life. — Plutarch, who lived from the reign of Claudius to that of Hadrian, was born at Chaeronea, a small city of Boeotia in Greece, which had also been the birthplace of Pindar. Plutarch's family was ancient in Chaeronea: his grandfather, Lamprias, was a man eminent for his learning and as a philosopher, and is often mentioned by Plutarch in his writings, as is also his own father. The time of Plutarch's birth is not known. He was early initiated in study, to which he was naturally inclined, and was placed under Ammonius, an Egyptian, who, having taught philosophy with reputation at Alexandria, thence traveled into Greece, and settled at Athens. Under this master he made great advances in knowledge; and like a thorough philosopher, more apt to regard things than words, he pursued this knowledge to the neglect of languages. The Latin language, at that time, was not only the language of Rome, but of Greece also. Yet he became not conversant with it until the decline of life; and though he is supposed to have resided in Rome at different times, yet he never seems to have acquired a competent skill in it at all. He is reputed to have visited Egypt, which was at that time, as formerly it had been, famous for learning; and probably the mysteriousness of their doctrine might tempt him, as it had tempted Pythagoras and others, to go and converse with the priesthood of that country. On his return to Greece he visited the various academies and schools of the philosophers, and gathered from them many of those observations with which he has abundantly enriched posterity. He does not seem to have been attached to any particular sect, but culled from each of them whatever he thought excellent and worthy to be regarded. He could not bear the paradoxes of the Stoics, and yet was more averse to the impiety of the Epicureans; in many things he followed Aristotle; but his favorites were Socrates and Plato, whose memory he reverenced so highly that he annually celebrated their birthdays with much solemnity. Besides this, he applied himself with extreme diligence to collect, not only all books that were excellent in their kind, but also all the sayings and observations of wise men, which he had heard in conversation, or had received from others by tradition; and likewise to consult the records and public instruments preserved in cities which he had visited in his travels. He took a particular journey to Sparta, to search the archives of that famous commonwealth, to understand thoroughly the model of their ancient government, the history of their legislators, their kings, and their ephori; and digested all their memorable deeds and sayings with so much care that he has not omitted even those of their women. He took the same methods with regard to many other commonwealths; and thus was enabled to leave us in his works such a rich cabinet of observations upon men and manners, as, in the opinion of some, Montaigne and Bayle in particular, have rendered him the most valuable author of antiquity. It appears from his writings that. Plutarch visited Rome more than once, and that he delivered lectures on philosophy in his vernacular, then the language of the cultured Romans. It is probable that the substance of these lectures was afterwards embodied in his moral writings. The latter part of his life was spent in honor and comfort in his native city, where he passed through various magisterial offices, and enjoyed the honors and emoluments of the priesthood. The time and circumstances of his death are unknown.
Works. — The great work of Plutarch is his Parallel Lives (Βίοι Παράλληλοι), which contains the biography of forty-six distinguished Greeks and Romans, besides the lives of Artaxerxes Mnemon, Aratus, Galba, Otho, and Homer, which last is probably not by him. The forty-six lives are arranged in pairs or sets, each of which contains a Greek and a Roman, and the two lives in each pair are followed by a comparison of the characters of the two persons. These lives are: Theseus and Romulus, Lycurgus and Numa, Solon and Valerius Publicola, Themistocles and Camillus, Pericles and Fabius Maximus. Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Timoleon and AEmilius Paulus, Pelopidas and Marcellus, Aristides and Cato Major, Philopoemen and Flaminius, Pyrrhus and Marius, Lysander and Sulla, Cimon and Lucullus, Nicias and Crassus, Eumenes and Sertorius, Agesilaus and Pompey, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, Phocion and Cato Minor. Agis and Cleomenes and the two Gracchi, Demosthenes and Cicero, Demetrius Poliorcetes and M. Antonius, Dion and M. Brutus. The biographies of Epaminondas, Scipio, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vitellius, Hesiod, Pindar, Crates the Cynic, Diophantus, Aristomenes, and the poet Aratus are lost. Plutarch's son, Lamprias, made a list of his father's works, which is partly preserved and printed by Fabricius (Bibliotheca Graeca).
In the department of biography, Plutarch is the only writer of antiquity who has established a lasting reputation. The plan of his biographies is briefly explained by himself in the introduction to the "Life of Alexander the Great," where he makes an apology for the brevity with which he is compelled to treat of the numerous events in the lives of Alexander and Caesar. "For," he says, "I do not write histories, but lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of necessity exhibit a man's virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight circumstance, a word or a jest, shows a man's character better than battles, with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays of armies and sieges of cities. Now, as painters produce a likeness by a representation of the countenance and the expression of the eyes, without troubling themselves about the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to look rather into the signs of a man's character, and thus give a portrait of his life, leaving others to describe great events and battles." The object then of Plutarch in his biographies was a moral end, and the exhibition of the principal events of a man's life was subordinate to this his main design; and though he may not always have adhered to the principle which he laid down, it cannot be denied that his view of what biography should be is much more exact than that of most persons who have attempted this style of composition. The life of a statesman or of a general, when written with the view of giving a complete history of all the public events in which he was engaged, is not biography, but history. This extract from Plutarch will also in some measure be an apology for the want of historical order observable in many of the lives. Though altogether deficient in that critical sagacity which discerns truth from falsehood, and disentangles the intricacies of confused and conflicting statements, Plutarch has preserved in his Lives a vast number of facts which would otherwise have been unknown to us. lie was a great reader, and must have had access to large libraries. It is said that he quotes two hundred and fifty writers, a great part of whose works are now entirely lost. On the sources of Plutarch's Lives the reader may consult an essay by A. H. L. Heeren, De Fontibus et Auctoritate Vitarum Parallelarum Plutarchi Commenfationes IV (Gott. 1820,8vo). Besides the Lives a considerable number of Plutarch's essays may be styled historical. They may all be read with pleasure, and some of them with instruction, not so much for their historical value as for the detached curious facts that are scattered so profusely through Plutarch's writings, and for the picture which they exhibit of the author's own mind. In one of these essays, entitled On the Malignity of Herodotus, he has, unfortunately for his own reputation, attacked the veracity and integrity of the father of history, and with the same success that subsequent writers, more ignorant and less honest, have made their puny attacks on a work the merit of which the closest criticism may enhance but can never depreciate. The Lives (f the Ten Orators, which are attributed to Plutarch, are of little value, and may not be his; still they bear internal evidence, at least negatively, of not being of a later age than that of Plutarch. The Lives of Plutarch first appeared in a Latin version by several hands, at Rome, in 2 vols. fol., about 1470. This Latin version formed the basis of various Spanish and Italian translations. The first Greek edition was printed by Philip Giunta (Florence, 1517, fol.). Among more recent editions are those of Bryan (Lond. 1729, 5 vols. 4to), in Greek and Latin, which was completed by Moses du Soul, after Bryan's death; that of Coray (Par. 18091815, 6 vols. 8vo); and that by Schafer (Leips. 1826, 6 vols. 8vo). The translations are very numerous. The best German translation is said to be by Kaltwasser (Magdeburg, 1799-1806, 10 vols. 8vo). Another German translation appeared at Vienna in 1812. The best Italian translation is by Pompei. The French translation of Amyot, which appeared in 1559, has considerable merit, and has been often reprinted. The English translation of Sir Thomas North (Lond. 1612), which is avowedly made from that of Amyot, is often very happy in point of expression, and is deservedly much esteemed. The Lives were also translated into French by Dacier (Par. 1721, 8 vols. 4to). The translation sometimes called Dryden's, the first volume of which was published in 1683, was executed by a great number of persons. According to a note by Malone (Dryden's Prose Works, 2, 331), there were forty-one of them. Dryden himself translated nothing, but he wrote the dedication to the duke of Ormond, and the Life of Plutarch which is prefixed to the translation. The translation by John and William Langhorne, an insipid and tasteless version, has the merit of being tolerably correct in rendering the meaning of the original. The last and best English translation is that of professor Long, which however only includes the lives of those Romans who were concerned in the Civil Wars of Rome; this translation, which is enriched with a valuable body of notes, formed five volumes of Knight's "Monthly Volumes" (1844-1847).
The other writings of Plutarch, which consist of about sixty essays, are generally comprehended under the title of his Moralia, or Ethical Works, many of them being entirely of an ethical character. 'he minor historical pieces already referred to, of which that on the malignity of Herodotus is one, are usually comprised in the collection entitled Moralia. Plutarch was fond of the writings of Plato; he was strongly opposed to the Epicureans: if he belonged to any philosophical sect, it was that of the Academics. But there is nothing like a system of philosophy in his writings, and he is not characterized by depth of thought or originality. He formed for himself a system, it we may so name that which had little of the connected character of a system, out of the writings of various philosophers. But a moral end is always a parent in his Motralia, as well as in his biographies. A kind, humane disposition, and a love of everything that is ennobling and excellent pervade his writings, and give the reader the same kind of pleasure that lie has in the company of an esteemed friend, whose singleness of heart appears in everything that he says or does. Plutarch rightly appreciated the importance of education, and he gives many good precepts for the bringing up of children. His philosophy was practical, and in many of its applications, as for instance his "Letter of Consolation to Apollonius," and his "Marriage Precepts," he is as felicitous in expression as he is sound in his precepts. Notwithstanding all the deductions that the most fastidious critic may make from Plutarch's moral writings, it cannot be denied that there is something in them which always pleases, and the more so the better we become acquainted with them; and this is no small merit in a writer. With regard to the purely ethical writings of Plutarch, archdean Trench says that they indicate a better state of society than is generally attributed to his age. Plutarch does not speak as one crying in the wilderness, but as to a circle of sympathetic hearers who will answer to his appeals. It may be supposed that his native kindliness of heart would prevent him from taking the full measure of the sin with which he was surrounded. No doubt he was deficient in the fierce indignation which consumed the heart of Tacitus and put a lash into the hands of Juvenal. But it is certain from many passages in his writings that he took no rose- colored view of life. Several of his statements almost amount to the confession of original sin. Plutarch's style bears no resemblance to the simplicity of the Attic writers. It has not the air of being much elaborated, and apparently his sentences flowed easily from him. He is nearly always animated and pleasing, and the epithet pictorial may be justly applied to him. . Sometimes his sentences are long and ill-constructed, and the order of the words appears not the best that could be chosen to express his meaning; certainly it is not the order in which the best Greek writers of an earlier age would have arranged their thoughts. Sometimes he is obscure, both from this cause and the kind of illustration in which he abounds. He occasionally uses and perhaps affects poetic words, but they are such as give energy to his thoughts and expression to his language. Altogether he is read with pleasure in the original by those who are familiar with him, but he is somewhat harsh and crabbed to a stranger. It is his merit, in the age in which he lived, treating of such subjects as biography and morals, not to have fallen into a merely rhetorical style, to have balanced antitheses, and to have contented himself with the inanity of commonplaces. Whatever he says is manly and invigorating in thought, and clear and forcible in expression.
The first Greek edition of the Moralia, which is exceedingly incorrect, was printed by the elder Aldus, with the following title, Plutetrchi Opuscula. 82, Gr. (Ven. 1509, fol.). It was afterwards printed at Basle by Froben (1542, fol., and 1574, fol.). The only good edition of the Moralia is that printed at Oxford, and edited by D. Wyttenbach, who labored on it twenty- four years. This edition consists of six volumes of text (1795-1800), and two volumes of notes (1810-1821), 4to. There is a print of it which is generally bound in 5 vols. 8vo, with two volumes of notes. The notes by Wyttenbach were printed at Leipsic in 1821, in two vols. 8vo. The first edition of all the works of Plutarch is by H. Stephens (Geneva, 1572, 13 vols. 8vo), which is said to be correctly printed. This edition was reprinted several times. A complete edition, Greek and Latin, appeared at Leipsic (1774-1785, 12 vols. 8vo), with the name of J. J. Reiske, but Reiske did very little to it, for he died in 1774. An edition by J. C. Hutten appeared at Tübingen (1791-1805, 14 vols. 8vo). A good critical edition of all the works of Plutarch is still wanted. See Meth. Qu. Rev. July1851, art. 6; 1852, p. 383; Christian Rev. vol. 10 and 11; Catholic World, Sept. 1870; Neander, Christian Dogmas; Pressense, Religions before Christ, p. 183 sq.; Donaldson, Literature (see Index); Cudworth, Intellectual Development of the Universe (see Index in vol. 3); Lardner, Works; Schaff, Hist. of the Apostolic Church, p. 140, 152; Lond. Qu. Rev. Oct. 1861; Trench, Plutarch, His Life, His Lives, and His Morals (Lond. 1873, 12mo); Smith, Dict. of Class. Biog. s.v.