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A Close Analysis of Plutarch's "Parallel Lives"

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A Close Analysis of Plutarch's "Parallel Lives"

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During the Renaissance, humanism became a guiding principle in social, cultural, political, and artistic endeavors. The revival of classical culture was achieved through the study of ancient Roman and Greek texts. Among the ancient Greek authors, Plutarch undoubtedly attracted the most readers. His accounts of the past found in his Parallel Lives are apparent in numerous literary, theatrical, and artistic pieces of the Renaissance. Unfortunately, during the time, his literature was commonly perceived as concrete records of antiquity. However, Plutarch's Parallel Lives was not a collection of memoirs. He had no intimate knowledge of nor personal relationships with the men depicted in his work. Plutarch was not trying to write precise records of these men. In fact, Plutarch approached his Parallel Lives as biographical narratives. Therefore, it is inevitable that some personal bias and creative license were applied to the reconstructions of his subject matter in an effort to make his accounts more complete (Jones 81-87). In this essay I will illustrate how Plutarch's own life experiences and ideologies are manifested in his work.

In order to formulate an accurate perception of Plutarch's writing, it is imperative to know what kind of a man he was, what his motives were, and the conditions of his time. I will use an excerpt from Parallel Lives, The Life of Antony 28 to demonstrate the reflexive nature of Plutarch's writing. This passage captures the rapport between Cleopatra and Antony and illustrates the changes in demeanor of the Roman general brought about by the Egyptian queen. However, Plutarch's own experiences and conceptions are intertwined in his account and utilized to paint a picture of the ill-fated Roman.

First of all, it is essential to understand where Plutarch's loyalties lied. Plutarch was born in a small Greek province that had been ravaged by the civil wars. The Roman Empire had restored the prosperity of his family. The peace which the...