Monday, October 19, 2009

Plutarch: an introduction

Plutarch (AD 46 – 120) was an ancient Greek historian and biographer, who became an Roman citizen during his lifetime.  The son of a wealthy land owner, Plutarch travelled widely - Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and Italy. During the 10 years he spent in Rome he visited well-stocked libraries, taught philosophy in Milan and visited many ancient battlefields.

One of his most well-known works is "Parallel Lives" a series of biographies is also known as the "The Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans". Plutarch compares two lives, usually one Roman and one Greek, to examine similarities and differences between them. For example, he compares the great Roman conqueror Julius Caesar to Alexander the Great. 

Plutarch has been called the first biographer, and his writings are our source of primary knowledge for many famous people from antiquity. His writing are not only historical, but also reflect the humanity in each of his characters, which was later embraced by subsequent admirers such as Franklin, Beethoven, Montaigne, Emerson, Napoleon and Jefferson. 

 I will only be reading a few of the 23 comparisons he makes, but reading Plutarch is surprisingly easy. Although he tries to be objective and impartial (like a modern historian), I have read that he slightly emphasizes some facts in order to make a point.

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