Born in A.D. 46 in the city of Chaeronea into the family of the prominent historian and philosopher Aristobulus, Plutarch had the best education available to the elite of Greco-Roman society. He was sent by his father to Athens to study with the philosopher and mathematician Ammonius from 66 to 67. Plutarch was active in politics and traveled to Rome several times as a public servant. In Rome, he was a popular philosopher and public figure and traveled in circles that included the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. He died sometime after 119.
Plutarch is known to have written 227 works of various sorts. Of these, Morals have been the most influential for later generations. Lives is a collection of biographies about Greek and Roman figures that are paired because of similarities in their characters and history. This work examines the morals of each person in depth and is the first biographical work in the modern sense. Morals is a collection of works on ethical, political, religious, and literary topics. Both works were largely lost from the Latin tradition until the fifteenth century, when Plutarch was reintroduced to Italy by Byzantine scholars. From that point on he exerted a noticeable influence (mostly through Lives) on writers of biography and history. Such writers as Bacon, Montaigne, Goethe, Schiller, Rabelais, and Shakespeare were all influenced either by Plutarch's literary style or by his thought. Shakespeare used Parallel Lives as his primary source for historical information in his Roman historical works and seems to have taken his notion of the tragic hero from Plutarch's examples. Montaigne owes both his style of revealing character through historical anecdote and the idea of ancient virtue to Plutarch.
Plutarch of Chaeronea. The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans compared together by that Grave, Learned Philosopher and Historiographer Plutarch. 8 vols. Translated by James Amyot and Thomas North. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1941.
Plutarch of Chaeronea. Plutarch's Lives. Translated by John Dryden. Revised by Arthur H. Clough. Philadelphia: The Nottingham Society.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.
Last modified April 10, 2014