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BirthplaceChaeronea, Boeotia
Biographer, essayist, priest, ambassador, magistrate


(plo͞o`tärk), A.D. 46?–c.A.D. 120, Greek essayist and biographer, b. Chaeronea, Boeotia. He traveled in Egypt and Italy, visited Rome (where he lectured on philosophy) and Athens, and finally returned to his native Boeotia, where he became a priest of the temple of Delphi. His great work is The Parallel Lives comprising 46 surviving biographies arranged in pairs (one Greek life with one comparable Roman) and four single biographies; some 19 short comparisons affixed to the lives are of doubtful authenticity. The English translation by Sir Thomas NorthNorth, Sir Thomas,
1535?–1601?, English translator. He is famous for his translation of Plutarch, entitled Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (1579), which he made from the French of Jacques Amyot.
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 had a profound effect upon English literature; it supplied, for example, the material for Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Timon of Athens. A translation by John Dryden was revised by A. H. Clough in 1864. Although Plutarch displays evident pride in the culture and greatness of the men of Greece, he is nevertheless fair and honest in his treatment of the Romans. As a biographer Plutarch is almost peerless, although his facts are not always accurate. Since his purpose was to portray character and reveal its moral implications, his technique included the use of much anecdotal material. Less known, but also of great charm and interest, are Plutarch's Moralia (tr. by F. C. Babbitt et al., 14 vol., 1927–76). They consist of dialogues and essays on ethical, literary, and historical subjects, such as The Late Vengeance of the Deity, On Superstition, The Right Way of Hearing Poetry, and Advice to Married Couples. Plutarch's quotations (frequent and long) from the old dramatists are often our only record of such writings.


See biography by R. H. Barrow (1967, repr. 1979); studies by C. J. Gianakaris (1970), C. P. Jones (1971), D. A. Russell (1973), and A. Wardman (1974).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born circa A.D. 46, in Chaeronea, Boeotia; died circa 127. Ancient Greek writer, historian, and moralistic philosopher.

Plutarch received an encyclopedic education in Athens, where he was later granted honorary citizenship. He traveled throughout Greece and visited Rome and Alexandria, but he spent most of his life in his isolated native town, where he was involved in public and educational activities, consciously demonstrating an almost hopeless fidelity to the outmoded ideal of patriotism toward one’s city-state. According to sources that are not entirely clear, toward the end of his life Plutarch was granted some kind of special authority by the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, making it possible for him to limit the arbitrary authority of the Roman governors in Greece.

As a philosopher, Plutarch adhered to the tradition of Platonism, paying tribute to the Stoic and Aristotelian schools but above all to Pythagoreanism. Thus, he conformed to the spirit of late classical eclecticism. Like other moralists of his time, he viewed philosophy less as a systematic discipline than as an instrument of self-education for the dilettante seeking all-around development. However, unlike the Epicurean and, particularly, the Stoic and Cynic moralists, who commonly drew a sharp distinction between the meaningless practices of everyday life and their own doctrines of salvation, Plutarch often defended existing human relationships that had been shaped by history. This explains his revulsion against doctrinaire, narrow views (for example, his polemic against the Stoics) and his somewhat philistine respect for everything that was generally accepted.

For Plutarch, the ethical norm was not an abstract theory but an idealization of life in the Greek city-states, with its civic spirit, openness, sociability, and sense of moderation in the details of everyday life. Consequently, his philosophical works abound in anecdotes, historical examples, literary quotations, and autobiographical confessions. For the same reason, Plutarch wrote not only treatises and dialogues but also a cycle of biographies presenting the same ethical ideal.

Plutarch’s nonbiographical works are traditionally combined under the title Moralities (Moralia). Although the title does not accurately describe the contents, it reflects Plutarch’s predominant interest in moral problems. The structure of his biographical cycle is reflected in its title, Parallel Lives. Each biography of a famous Greek is “paralleled” by the life of a famous Roman. (For example, Alexander the Great is paired with Julius Caesar, and Demosthenes with Cicero.) Each pair of biographies concludes with a comparison, in which the characters and destinies of the two subjects are correlated in terms of a single ethical and psychological pattern. As a whole, the collection of biographies paints a monumental picture of the Greco-Roman past. In contrast to other biographical collections of the Hellenistic period, whose subject matter is characterized by moral detachment, Plutarch’s collection presents heroes chosen according to moral criteria. The list of personages in the Parallel Lives may be described as a canon of model heroes of the past.

The ideals of Hellenistic humanism and civic responsibility developed by Plutarch were widely adopted during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Montaigne was impressed by Plutarch’s hostility to asceticism and doctrinairism, and J.-J. Rousseau by his attention to the “natural” features of human psychology. Plutarch’s civic spirit won him enormous popularity among the leading thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries, from the fathers of the Great French Revolution to the Russian aristocratic revolutionaries, the Decembrists.


Moralia. vols. 1–7. Edited by C. Hubert, M. Pohlenz, K. Ziegler [et al.]. Leipzig, 1925–67.
Vitae parallelae, vols. 1–4. Edited by C. Lindskog and K. Ziegler. Leipzig, 1914–39.
In Russian translation:
Sravnitel’nye zhizneopisaniia, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1961–64.


Averintsev, S. S. Plutarkh i antichnaia biografiia: K voprosu o meste klassika zhanra ν istorii zhanra. Moscow, 1973.
Ziegler, K. “Plutarchos von Chaironeia.” In Paulys Real-Encylopadie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, vol. 41, columns 636–962. Stuttgart, 1951.
Dihle, A. Studien zur griechischen Biographie. Göttingen, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(c. 46–c. 120) Greek biographer known for his Lives, a collection of biographies of Greek and Roman leaders. [Gk. Lit.: NCE, 2170]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?46--?120 ad, Greek biographer and philosopher, noted for his Parallel Lives of distinguished Greeks and Romans
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, when the 25-year-old Caesar was seized by Cilician pirates in the Dodecanese Islands in 75 B.C.E., he first insisted they increase their ransom demands, from 20 talents to 50 talents, a figure more in keeping with the future emperor's estimate of his worth.
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a dramatization of Plutarch's account of the death of Julius Caesar and the consequences of that event in the war waged against his assassins by Mark Antony and Octavian, is particularly admired for the elegance of its plot.
In an age of constant reinvention of the genre of epic, the ancient biographer Plutarch creates poignant connections between his Life of Marius and the Odyssey.
The Reception of Plutarch's Lives in Fifteenth-Century Italy.