The Last Classical Greek Historian

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Plutarch: a brief biography

Plutarch was one of the last Classical Greek historians. He was born about 45AD at Chaeronea in Boeotia. Plutarch traveled to Egypt and went to Rome. The emperor Hadrian honoured him with a government appointment in Greece and in later life he took up a priesthood at Delphi. He died soon after 120AD.

Plutarch wrote a large number of essays and dialogues on philosophical, scientific and literary subjects and he frequently attacked both Stoics and Epicureans. He wrote his historical works later in life and his Parallel Lives of eminent Greeks and Romans is probably the best known and most influential of his works (Shakespeare used the Alfred North translations as a source for his Roman plays). He wrote not to give a full account of the men‟s lives and careers, but to inspire later generations to emulate their virtues.

Aspects of Plutarch‟s work which need to be remembered by the modern historian are: his casual approach to chronology; his frequent unwillingness to make an accurate judgement of the quality and reliability of his sources; his failure to understand that the political situation in fifth century Greece was very different to his own time and his (understandable) lack of any attempt to assess the effects and historical importance of his subject‟s deeds and policies.

Despite these reservations, Plutarch is a valuable source, especially for the Pentecontaetia (the „fifty- Year Period‟ 478-432). Without Plutarch our evidence from this period would be very fragmentary indeed.

Source
Plutarch, Life of Pericles, Penguin Classics
Buckley, T. (1996) Aspects of Greek History 750-323BC. A Source Based Approach. Routledge, London

Pericles Study Guide

Chapters 1 & 2

Details you should know:
• In these first two sections Plutarch sets out his philosophy for writing about the lives of eminent citizens. He does so in order to provide examples of public virtues so that the common folk may be educated as to how they might best conduct their lives.

For this reason we ought to seek out virtue not merely to contemplate it, but to derive benefit from doing so.
• The final statement in this section (Moral good…) will be worth returning to once we have completed our study of Pericles as it provides a useful rationale as to why Plutarch considered Pericles a worthy subject for discussion.

Chapter 3 (Family Background)

Details you should know:
• What is a deme?
Smallest political unit outside the family

• What is a tribe?
Political (Demes from coast, plains, mountains brought together for the state)

• Who were Pericles‟ parents?
Xanthippus and Agariste

Thematic study:
• What made Pericles‟ parents significant individuals in their own right? Xanthippus was a political figure, and Agariste was born in the high standing family of Alcmeoniod.

• What political advantages may Pericles have obtained from his family background?

With Xanthippus being a political figure, Pericles would have an advantage and would learn from his father about politics and experience politics so that he would become a political ruler, due to his father, and with Agariste born in the high standing family of Alcmeoniod, he would have wealth on his side.

• How might his family background have been a hindrance to Pericles‟ political career?

• Give a possible explanation for the (existence of the) lion dream. To see a lion in your dream symbolizes great strength, courage, aggression and power. You will overcome some of your emotional difficulties. As king of the jungle, the lion also represents dignity, royalty, leadership, pride and domination. You have much influence over others. You also need to exercise some restraint in your own personal and social life. Alternatively, a lion represents your need for control over others. You have to be in charge.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 (Education)

Details you should know:
• Who was Damon? Find the most appropriate quote/s which...
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