The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

430

PLUTARCHUS.

Aratus, Galba, and Otho, which are placed in the editions after the forty-six Lives. A Life of Ho­mer is also sometimes attributed to him, but it is not printed in all the editions,

The following Lives by Plutarch are lost:— Epaminondas, Scipio, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, _Nero, Vitellius, Hesiod, Pindar, Crates the Cynic, Daiphantus, Aristomenes, and the poet Aratus.

There is extant an imperfect list of the works of Plutarch, intitled UXovrdpxov &L§\iw 7r(j/a|, which is attributed to his son Lamprias. Whether Lam-prias made the list or not, may be doubtful; but it is probable that a list of Plutarch's works was made in ancient times, for it was common to make such lists ; and his son may have performed the pious duty. (Suidas, s. v. Aajuirptas.)

The authorities for Plutarch's Lives are inci­dentally indicated in the Lives themselves. He is said to quote two hundred and fifty writers, of whom about eighty are writers whose works are entirely or partially lost. The question of the sources of Plutarch's Lives has been examined by A. H. L. Heeren. (De Fontibus et Auctoritate Vi­tamin Parallelarum PlutarcJd Commentationes IV. Goet^ingae, 1820, 8vo.) Plutarch must have had access to a good library ; and if he wrote all his Lives during his old age at Chaeronea, we must infer that he had a large stock of books at com­mand. The passage in the Life of Demosthenes (c. 2), in which he speaks of his residence in a small town, is perhaps correctly understood to allude to the difficulty of finding materials for his Roman Lives ; for he could hardly have been deficient in materials for his Greek Biographies. It is not improbable that he may have collected materials and extracts long before he began to compose his Lives. Plutarch being a Greek, and an educated man, could not fail to be well ac­quainted with all the sources for his Greek Lives ; and he has indicated them pretty fully. His acquaintance with the sources for his Roman Lives was less complete, and his handling of them less critical, but yet he quotes and refers to a great number of Roman writers as his authorities, as we may observe particularly in the Lives of Cicero and Caesar. He also used the Greek writers on Roman affairs—Polybius, Theophanes the historian of Cn. Pompeius, Strabo, Nicolaus Damascenus., and others.

In order to judge of his merits as a biographer we must see how he conceived his work. He explains his method in the introduction to his Life of Alexander : he says, that he does not write his­tories,— he writes lives : and the most conspicuous events in a man's life do not show his character so well as slight circumstances. It appears then that his object was to delineate character, and he selected and used the facts of a man's life for this purpose only. His Lives, as he says, are not histories ; nor can history be written from them alone. They are useful to the writer of history, but they must be used with care, for they are not intended even as materials for history. Important historical events are often slightly noticed, and occupy a subordinate place to a jest or an anec­dote. The order of time is often purposely neg­lected, and circumstances are mentioned just when it is most suitable to the biographer's* purpose. Facts and persons are sometimes confounded ; and a sober painstaking writer, like Drumann (Ge-

PLUTARCHUS.

scldclite Roms) has reason to complain of Plutarch and his carelessness.

But there must be some merit in a work which has entertained and instructed so many gene­rations, which is read in so many languages, and. by people of all conditions: a work which de­lighted Montaigne and Rousseau, for it was one of the few books which Rousseau had never read without profit (Les Reveries du Promemur solitaire^ Quatrieme Promenade) ; a work which amuses both young and old, the soldier and the statesman, the philosopher and the man who is busied about the ordinary affairs of life. The reason is that Plutarch has rightly conceived the business of a biographer : his biography is true portraiture (Alexander, 1). Other biography is often a dull, tedious enumeration of facts in the order of time, with perhaps a summing up of character at the end. Such biography is portraiture also, but it is false portraiture : the dress and the accessories put the face out of countenance. The reflections of Plutarch are neither impertinent, nor trifling: his sound good sense is always there : his honest purpose is transparent: his love of humanity warms the whole. His work is and will remain, in spite of all the fault that can be found with it by plodding collectors of facts, and small critics, the book of those who can nobly think, and dare and do. It is the book of all ages for the same reason that good portraiture is the painting of all time ; for the human face and the human cha­racter are ever the same. It is a mirror in which all men may look at themselves.

If we would put the Lives of Plutarch to a severe test, we must carefully examine his Roman Lives. He says that he knew Latin imperfectly ; and he lived under the empire when even many of the educated Romans had but a superficial acquaintance with the earlier history of their state. We must, therefore, expect to find him imperfectly informed on Roman institutions j and we can detect him in some errors. Yet, on the whole, his Roman Lives do not often convey erroneous notions: if the detail is incorrect, the general impression is true. They may be read with profit by those who seek to know something of Roman affairs, and have not knowledge enough to detect an error. They probably contain as few mistakes as most biographies which have been written by a man who is not the countryman of those whose lives he writes.

The first edition of the Lives was a collection of the Latin version of the several Lives, which had been made by several hands. The collection appeared at Rome, 2 vols. fol. about 1470: this version was the foundation of the Spanish and Italian versions. The first edition of the Greek text was that printed by P. Giunta, Florence, 1517, folio. The edition of Bryan, London, 172.9, 5 vols. 4to., with a Latin version, was completed by Moses du Soul after Bryan's death. There is an edition by A. Coraes, Paris, 1809—1815, with notes, in 6 vols. 8vo.; and one by G. H. Schaefer, Leipzig, 1826, 6 vols. 8vo., with notes original and selected. The latest and best edition of the Greek text is by C. Sintenis, Leipzig, 1839— 1846, 4 vols. 8vo., with the Index of the Frankfort edition, considerably altered. (See the Praefatio of Sintenis, vol. i.)

The translations are numerous. The French translation of Amyot, which first appeared in

Pages
About | First

428

429

430
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.