Plutarch’s Lives

  • M. N. S. Sellers
Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


Livy’s great rival as an inspiration to seventeenth- and eighteenthcentury republican patriots was his Greek successor, Plutarch (L. Mestrius Plutarchus), whose parallel Lives of Roman and Greek notables was readily available to Americans in the Dryden (1683) and North (1579) translations.1 Like Livy, Plutarch glorified the sensibility of Rome’s senatorial nobility, without necessarily endorsing their politics. Plutarch followed Livy, and often paraphrased him, but linked his Roman exempla to the lives of Greek heroes, many of whom he depicted as proto-republicans worthy of Roman admiration in their own right.2 Thus Plutarch compared Solon with Publicola, Timoleon with Aemilius Paulus, Aristides with Marcus Cato, Demosthenes with Cicero, and Dion with Brutus. American Greek pseudonyms came largely from Plutarch, and he celebrated Greeks who shared the characteristically Roman virtues of public-spiritedness and self-denial.3 General Charles Lee made a wholly conventional claim in 1782 when he asserted that it was Plutarch who first made him ‘an Enthusiastick for liberty … in a republican garb’.4


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  1. 1.
    On the Americans’ use of Plutarch, see Meyer Reinhold, The Classick Pages: Classical Reading of Eighteenth-Century Americans (University Park, Penn., 1975), 39–41; idem, Classica, 253–4. For his wider influence, see Martha Walling Howard, The Influence of Plutarch in the Major European Literatures of the Eighteenth Century (Chapel Hill, NC, 1970).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For discussions of Plutarch’s purposes and ideology, see Daniel Babut, Plutarque et le Stoïcisme (Paris, 1969); Christopher Prestige Jones, Plutarch and Rome (Oxford, 1971); F. Le Corsu, Plutarque et les Femmes dans les vies paralelles (Paris, 1981); Thérèse Renoirte, Les ‘conseils politiques’ de Plutarque (Louvain, 1951); Donald Andrew Russell, Plutarch (London, 1973); Philip A. Stadter (ed.), Plutarch and the Historical Tradition (London, 1992); Alan Wardman, Plutarch’s Lives (Berkeley, 1974).Google Scholar
  3. 55.
    Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (New York, 1984), 133–7.Google Scholar
  4. 77.
    Ibid., V:59. See Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (New York, 1984).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© M. N. S. Sellers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. N. S. Sellers
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Baltimore School of LawUSA

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