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An Innovator


Plutarch is one of the most well-known ancient Greek philosophers. Born around 45 CE in Chaeronia, a settlement in the region called Boeotia, he lived during the rise of both the Roman Empire and Christianity. Many historical events occurred during his lifetime, including the reign of the ruthless Roman emperor Nero, the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine, an eruption of Mount Vesuvious, and the Parthian War (Jones, “Roman History Timeline”). Plutarch was a well-known, wealthy citizen who acted as mayor and represented his homeland on several occasions when traveling abroad. Plutarch studied at the platonic Academy of Athens, was one of only two permanent priests at Delphi, and later became known for his moral treatises, which were very influential not only in his time, but for hundreds of years after his death (Lendering, “Plutarch of Chaeronia”). Plutarch is believed to have written over two hundred works in his lifetime, which was from approximately 45 CE to approximately 120 CE. These writings consist of comparative biographies that examine well-known historical figures, ethical pieces, and philosophical works that reflect of the ideas of Plato. In “Parallel Lives” Plutarch examines the lives of pairs of distinguished men, one man of each pair being Greek and the other Roman, in order to draw parallels between the two. For example, in the fifth book of” Parallel Lives” Plutarch compares the life and works of the Roman orator Cicero to that of the Greek orator Demosthenes. In this piece, Plutarch draws parallels as he writes, “In the case of Demosthenes and Cicero, then, it would seem that the Deity originally fashioned them on the same plan, implanting in their natures many similarities, such as their love of distinction, their love of freedom in their political activities, and their lack of courage for wars and dangers, and uniting in them also many similarities of fortune” (qtd. in Thayer, “Plutarch• Life of Demosthenes”). Some of the other pairs Plutarch wrote about include Theseus and Romulus, Lycurgus and Numa, Alexander and Caesar, and Demetrius and Antony. “Parallel Lives” is a very well known and influential series. “Moralia” is a collection of over sixty essays in which Plutarch wrote about his philosophies pertaining to psychology, metaphysics, theology, physics, natural philosophy, and historical, political, and ethical issues. This collection includes several pieces that criticize the philosophies of the Stoics and the Epicureans, including “On the Self-contradictions of the Stoics” and “That One Cannot Live Happily Following Epicurus.” Plutarch was a Platonist and because he felt so strongly about his ideas being correct, he attempted to discredit the Stoics and Epicureans, who were generally very critical of Plato (Karamanolis, “Plutarch”). Plutarch did however promote Stoic ideas in two of his political works, the first entitled “To the Unlearned Ruler” and the second “The Philosopher Should Converse Especially with Princes” (Walbank, “The Moralia”). “Moralia” also includes works in which Plutarch explores ethical issues, such as “On Moral Virtue,” “On Tranquility of Mind,” “On the Education of Children,” and “On Control of Anger.” “On What Heraclitus Maintained,” “On the Unity of the Academy since Plato,” and “On Empedocles” are examples of pieces Plutarch wrote about the history of philosophy. Plutarch wrote about natural philosophy in “Where are the Forms?,” “How Matter Participates in the Forms: It Constitutes the Primary Bodies,” and “On Matter.” These are just a few examples of the many works of Plutarch that are included in Moralia (Karamanolis, “Plutarch”). Plutarch wrote in Attic Greek, which was the language used by well-educated citizens of the Roman Empire. His style of writing was confident, intelligent, logical, and thought-provoking. He was knowledgeable about many subjects, including history, politics, and philosophy....
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