Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Author Sketch: Plutarch


Born circa 46 CE in Chaeronea in the province of Boeotia
Died circa 120-125 CE probably in Chaeronea

Other things that happened in Plutarch’s lifetime:

Paul begins his travels as a missionary.
The Eastern Han dynasty rules China and introduces Buddhism as the state religion.
Jerusalem destroyed by Rome after Jewish uprising.

At first glance, the transition from Aristotle to Plutarch would seem to indicate a clear shift from the Hellenic world to the Roman one. Just as Aristotle, who was not born in Athens but is most associated with it, can be seen as a transitional figure so can Plutarch, who was not born in Rome, did not write in Latin but whose writing is lumped in with Roman writers all the same. The keys to this misidentification come in the form of his extensive writing on the history of Rome (and Greece among other places), his eventual audience, and his position in time as witness to the golden age of Roman emperors.

Plutarch was born in Chaeronea in the Greek province of Boeotia. Though Chaeronea was a small city by any standard, it was just a little over twenty miles from the Oracle at Delphi where Plutarch would serve in his later years as a priest to Apollo. It had also been the host of a number of fundamental battles as the winds of empire had shifted first one way and then the next over the centuries. While legend about Plutarch is abundant, the details of his actual life alternate between sparse and mundane. It is widely assumed that he spent at least two years studying at the Academy in Athens and journeyed to key spots around the Mediterranean in his younger years. His adult life appears to have been consumed by occupying various civic and religious roles specific to Chaeronea as well as Delphi and composing the works that represent him today.

It has been said that though Plutarch benefits from proximity to at least some of the subjects of his biographies, he exhibits a deep piety that sometimes equivocates myth with history. Though both components are valuable, parsing one from the other in his accounts of famous persons’ lives is a good part of the active work that goes into reading his writing. It is also valuable to note that his choice of subjects and analyses of their lives are not without the taint of his own, more provincial interests, often fueled by a unspoken but powerful urge to place the events from the fall of Greece to the rise of Rome into some kind of meaningful, ordered context that demonstrates that civilization, wherever it may rise, has a plan that transcends the understanding of the individual.

1. Chaeronea

2. Delphi

3. Thebes

4. Athens

5. Rome

Click on map to enlarge

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