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Copyright, 1885,
By Andrew P. Peabody.

John Wilson and Son, Cambridge.


§ 1. The dialogue opens with comments on the cavils
against the Divine Providence by a person who is
supposed to have just departed.

2. The alleged encouragement to the guilty by the delay

of punishment, while the sufferers by the guilt of
others are disheartened by failing to see the wrong-
doers duly punished.

3. The guilty themselves, it is said, do not recognize

punishment when it comes late, but think it mere

4. Plutarch answers the objections to the course of Provi-

dence. In the first place, man must not be too con-
fident of his ability to pass judgment on things
divine. There are many things in human legislation
undoubtedly reasonable, yet with no obvious reason.
How much more in the administration of the uni-
verse by the Supreme Being !

5. God by the delay of punishment gives man the example

of forbearance, and rebukes his yielding to the first
impulses of anger and of a vindictive temper.

6. God has reference, in the delay of punishment, to the

possible reformation of the guilty, and to the services
which, when reformed, they may render to their
country or their race. Instances cited.

7. The wicked often have their punishment postponed till

after they have rendered some important service



in which they are essential agents, and sometimes
that, before their own punishment, they may serve
as executioners for other guilty persons or com-
§ 8. There is frequently a peculiar timeliness and appro-
priateness in delayed punishment.
9. Punishment is delayed only in appearance, but com-
mences when the guilt is incurred, so that it seems
slow because it is long.

10. Instances of punishment in visions, apprehensions, and

inward wretchedness, while there was no outward
infliction of penalty.

11. There is really no need that punishment be inflicted ;

guilt is in the consciousness of the guilty its own
adequate punishment.

12. Objection is made by one of the interlocutors to the

justice of punishing children or posterity for the
guilt of fathers or ancestors, and he heaps up an
incongruous collection of cases in which he mingles
confusedly the action of the Divine Providence and
that of human caprice or malignity.

13. In answer to the objection, Plutarch first adduces as a

precisely parallel order of things, with which no one
finds fault, that by which children or posterity de-
rive enduring benefit and honor from a parent's or
ancestor's virtues and services.

14. There are alike in outward and in human nature

occult and subtle transmissions of qualities and
properties, both in time and in space. Those in
space are so familiar that they excite no wonder ;
those iu time, though less liable to attract notice,
are no more wonderful.

15. A city has a continuous life, a definite and permanent

character, and an individual unity, so that its moral
responsibility may long outlast the lives of those
who first contracted a specific form of guilt.

Synopsis. v

16. The same is to be said of a family or a race ; and,

moreover, the pmiishraent for inherited guilt may
often have a curative, or even a preventive efficacy,
so that children or posterity may refrain from guilt
because the ancestral penalty falls upon them before
they become guilty.

17. The immortality of the soul asserted, on the ground

that God would not have deemed a race doomed to
perish after a brief earthly life worth rewarding or

18. Punishments in a future state of being are out of sight,

and are liable to be disbelieved. Therefore it is
necessary, in order to deter men from guilt, that
there should be visible punishments in this life.

19. The remedial efficacy of the penal consequences of

parental or ancestral guilt reaffirmed, and illustrated
by analogies in the treatment of disease.

20. God often punishes latent and potential vice, visible

only to Omniscience.

21. If a child has no taint of a father's vices, he remains

unpunished. But moral qualities, equally with
physical traits, often lapse in the first generation,
and reappear in the second or third, and even later.

22. The story of Thespesius, who — apparently killed, but

really in a trance, in consequence of a fall — went
into the infernal regions, beheld the punishments
there inflicted, and came back to the body and its
life, converted from a profligate into a man of pre-
eminent virtue and excellence.


Plutarch ^ was born, about the middle of the first
Christian century, at Cberoneia in Boeotia, where
he spent the greater part of his life, and where he
probably died. The precise dates of his birth and
death are unknown ; but he can hardly have been
born earlier than A. D. 45, and he must have lived
nearly or quite till A. D. 120, as some of his works
contain references to events that cannot have taken
place earlier than the second decade of the second
century. We know little of him from other sources,
much from his own writings. There may have been
many such men in his time ; but antiquity has
transmitted to us no record like his. He reminds
one of such men as were to be found half a cen-
tury ago in many of our American country towns.
Those potentially like them have now, for the most
part, emigrated to the large cities, and have become
very unlike their prototypes. Cheroneia, with its
great memories, was a small and insignificant town,

1 A large part of this Introduction is reprinted, by permission
of the editors, from an article of mine on " Plutarch and his
Times," in the Andover Review, November, 1884.

2 nXovrapxos.



and Plutarch was a country gentleman, superior,
as in culture so in serviceableness, to all his fellow
citizens, holding the foremost place in municipal
affairs, liberal, generous, chosen to all local offices
of honor, and especially of trust and responsibility,
associating on the most pleasant terms with the
common people, always ready to give them his ad-
vice and aid, and evidently respected and beloved
by all. He belonged to an old and distinguished
family, and seems always to have possessed a com-
petency for an affluent, though sober, domestic
establishment and style of living, and for an un-
stinted hospitality. He was probably the richest
man in his native city ; for he assigns as a reason
for not leaving it and living at some centre of in-
tellectual activity, that Cheroneia could not afford
to lose the property which he would take with him
in case of his removal.

He had what corresponds to our university edu-
cation, at Athens, under the Peripatetic philosopher
Ammonius. He also visited Alexandria, then a
renowned seat of learning ; but how long he stayed
there, or whether he extended his Egyptian travel
beyond that city, we have no means of knowing.
There is no proof of his having been in Eome or in
Italy more than once, and that was when he was
about forty years of age. He went to Eome on
public business, probably in behalf of his native
city, and remained there long enough to become
acquainted with some eminent men, to make him-

Introduction. ix

self known as a scholar and an ethical philosopher,
and to deliver lectures that attracted no little
public notice. This visit seems to have been the
great event of his life, as a winter spent in Boston
or New York used to be in the life of one of our
country gentlemen before the time of railways.

He had a wife, who appears to have been of a
character kindred to his own ; at least five children,
of whom two sons, if not more, lived to be them-
selves substantial citizens and ^\'orthy members of
society ; and two brothers, who seem to have pos-
sessed his full confidence and warm affection. He
was singularly happy in his relations to a large
circle of friends, especially in Athens, for which he
had the lifelong love that students in our time
acquire for a university town. He was archon, or
mayor, of Cheroneia, probably more than once, —
the ofi&ce having doubtless been annual and elect-
ive, — and in this cajpacity he entered, like a
veritable country magistrate, into material details
of the public service, superintending, as he says,
the measuring of tiles and the delivery of stone and
mortar for municipal uses. He officiated for many
years as priest of Apollo at Delphi, and as such
gave several sumptuous entertainments. Indeed,
hospitality of this sort appears, so far as we can see,
to have been the sole or chief duty of his priestly
office. As an adopted citizen of one of the Athe-
nian tribes, he was not infrequently a guest at civic
banquets and semi-civic festivals.

X Introduction.

As regards Plutarcli's philosophy, it is easier to
say to which of the great schools he did not belong
than to determine by what name he would have
preferred to be called. He probably would have
termed himself a Platonist, but not, like Cicero, of
the ISTew Academy, which had incorporated Pyrrho-
nism with the provisional acceptance of the Pla-
tonic philosophy. At the same time, he was a
closer follower and a more literal interpreter of
Plato than wxre the Xeo-Platonists of Alexandria,
who had not yet become a distinctly recognized
sect, and who in many respects were the precursors
of the mysticism of the Pieformation era. Plutarch,
with Plato, recognized two eternities : that of the
Divine Being, supremely good and purely spiritual ;
and that of matter, as, if not intrinsically evil, the
cause, condition, and seat of all evil, and as at least
opposing such obstacles to its own best ideal ma-
nipulation that the Divine Being could not embody
his pure and perfect goodness, unalloyed by evil, in
any material form. Herein the Platonists were at
variance with both the Stoics and the Epicureans.
The Stoics regarded matter as virtually an emana-
tion from the Supreme Being, who is not only the
universal soul and reason, but the creative fire,
which, transformed into air and water, — part of
the water becoming earth, — is the source of the
material universe, which must at the end of a cer-
tain cosmical cycle be re-absorbed into the divine
essence, whence will emanate in endless succes-

Introduction. xi

sion new universes to replace those that pass away.
The Epicureans, on the other hand, believed in the
existence of matter only, and regarded mind and
soul as the ultimate product of material organiza-

In one respect Plutarch transcends Plato, and,
so far as I know, all pre-Christian philosophers.
Plato's theism bears a close kindred to pantheism.
His God, if I may be permitted the jDhrase, is only
semi-detached. He becomes the creator rather by
blending his essence with eternal matter, than by
shaping that matter to his will. He is rather in all
things tlian above all things, rather the Soul of the
universe than its sovereign Lord. But in Plutarch's
writings the Supreme Being is regarded as existing
independently of material things ; they, as subject
to his will, not as a part of his essence.

Plutarch was, like Plato, a realist. He regarded
the ideas or patterns of material things, that is,
genera, or kinds of objects, as having an actual
existence (where or how it is hard to say), as pro-
jected from the Divine Mind, floating somewhere in
ethereal spaces between the Deity and the material
universe, — the models by which all things in the
universe are made.

As to Plutarch's theology, he was certainly a
monotheist. He probably had some vague belief
in inferior deities (daemons he would have called
them), as holding a place like that filled by angels
and by evil spirits in the creed of most Christians ;

xii Introduction.

yet it is entirely conceivable that his occasional ref-
erences to these deities are due merely to the con-
ventional rhetoric of his age. His priesthood of the
Delphian Apollo can hardly be said to have been a
religious office. It was rather a post of dignity and
honor, which a gentleman of respectable standing,
courteous manners, and hospitable habits might
creditably fill, even though he had no faith in
Apollo. But that Plutarch had a serious, earnest,
and efficient faith in the one Supreme God, in the
wise and eternal Providence, and in the Divine
wisdom, purity, and holiness, we have in his writ-
ings an absolute certainty. Nor can we find, even
in Christian literature, the record of a firmer belief
than his in human immortality, and in a righteous
retribution beginning in this world and reaching on
into the world beyond death.

But Plutarch was, most of all, an ethical philoso-
pher. Yet here again he cannot be classed as be-
longing to any school. For Epicureanism he has
an intense abhorrence, and regards the doctrines
of that sect as theoretically absurd and practically
demoralizing. He maintains that the disciples of
Epicurus, as such, utterly fail in the quest of pleas-
ure, or what according to their master is still bet-
ter, painlessness : for the condition of those who,
as he says, " swill the mind with the pleasures of
the body, as hogherds do their swine," cannot en-
tirely smother the sense of vacuity and need ; nor
is it possible by any appliances of luxury to cut off



even sources of bodily disquietude, which are only
the more fatal to the happiness of him who seeks
bodily well-being alone ; while the prospect of an-
nihilation at death deprives those necessarily un-
happy in this life of their only solace, and gives
those who live happily here the discomfort of an-
ticipating the speedy and entire loss of all that has
ministered to their enjoyment.

In Plutarch's moderation, his avoidance of ex-
treme views, and his just estimate of happiness as
an end, though not the supreme end, of being, he
is in harmony with the Peripatetics, among whom
his Athenian preceptor was the shining light of his
age ; but his ethical system was much more strict
and uncompromising than theirs, and I cannot find
that he quotes them or refers to them as a distinct
school of philosophy. In matters appertaining to
ph5^sical science he indeed often cites Aristotle, but
not, I think, in a single instance, as to any question
in morals.

As regards the Stoics, Plutarch writes against
them, but chiefly against dogmas which in his time
had become nearly obsolete, — namely, that all acts
not in accordance with the absolute right are equally
bad ; that all virtuous acts are equally good ; that
there is no intermediate moral condition between
that of the wise or perfectly good man and that
of the utterly vicious ; and that outward circum-
stances neither enhance nor diminish the happiness
of the truly wise man. These extravagances do

xiv Introduction.

not appear in the writings of Seneca, nor in Epicte-
tus as reported by Arrian, and Plutarch in reason-
incr ao-ainst them is controverting? Zeno rather than
his later disciples. He is in full sympathy with
the Stoics as to their elevated moral standard,
though without the sternness and rigidness which
had often characterized their professed beliefs and
their public teaching, yet of which there remained
few vestiges among his contemporaries. With the
utmost mildness and gentleness, he manifests every-
where an inflexibility of principle and a settled
conviction as to the rightfulness or wrongfulness
of specific acts which might satisfy the most rigid
Stoic, and in which he plants himself as firmly on
the ground of the eternal Eight as if his philosophy
had been founded on a distinctively Christian basis.
Indeed, Plutarch is so often decidedly Christian
in spirit, and in many passages of his writings there
is such an almost manifest transcript of the thought
of the Divine Founder of our religion, that it has
been frequently maintained that he drew from
Christian sources. This, I must believe, is utterly
false in the sense in wdiich it is commonly asserted,
yet in a more recondite sense true. If Plutarch had
known anything about Christians or the Christian
Scriptures, he could not have failed to refer to them ;
for he is constantly making references to contem-
porary persons and objects, sects and opinions.
We know of no Christian church at Cheroneia in
that age, and indeed it is exceedingly improbable

Introduction. xv

that there should have been one in so small a town.
The circulation of thought, and consequently the
diffusion of a new religion from the great centres
of population to outlying districts or villages, was
infinitesimally slow. Our word jpagan is an en-
during witness of this tardiness of transmission.
It had its birth (in its present sense) after Chris-
tianity had become the legally established religion
of the Empire, and had supplanted heathen temples
and rites in the cities, while in the loagi, or villages,
the old gods were still in the ascendant. There
were indeed Christian clmrches in Athens and in
Eome ; but they would most probably have eluded
the curiosity and escaped the knowledge of a tem-
porary resident, especially as most of their chief
members were either Jews or slaves. Yet I cannot
doubt that an infusion of Christianity had some-
how infiltrated itself into Plutarch's ethical opin-
ions and sentiments, as into those of Seneca, who
has been represented as an acquaintance and cor-
respondent of St. Paul, though it is historically
almost impossible that the two men ever saw or
heard of each other.

In one respect, the metaphor by which we call
the Autlior of our religion the Sun of Eighteousness
has a special aptness. The sun, unlike lesser lumi-
naries, lights up sheltered groves and grottos that are
completely dark under the full moon, and sends its
rays through every chink and cranny of roof or wall
In like manner there seems to have been an indi-

xvi Introduction.

rect and tortuous transmission of Christian thought
into regions where its source was wholly unknown.
In the ethical writings of the post-Christian philos-
ophers, of Plutarch, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus
Aurelius, there may be traced a loftiness, precision,
delicacy, tenderness, breadth of human sympathy,
and recognition of holiness in the Divine Being as
the archetype of human purity, transcending all
that is most admirable in pre-Christian moralists.
Thus, while I cannot but regard Cicero's " De Of-
ficiis " as in many respects the world's master- work
in ethical philosophy, containing fewer unchristian
sentences than I could number on the fingers of one
hand, there is nothing in it that reminds me of
the Gospels; while these others often shape their
thoughts in what seem to be evangelic moulds.

Now I think that we may account for the large
diffusion of Christian thought and sentiment among
persons who knew not Christianity even by name.
The new religion was very extensively embraced
among slaves in all parts of the Eoman Empire,
and slave then meant something very different from
what it means now. It is an open question whether
there was not, at least out of Greece, more of learn-
ing, culture, and refinement in the slave than in the
free population of the Empire. We must remember
how many illustrious names in Greek and Eoman
literature — such names as those of Aesop, Terence,
Epictetus — belonged to slaves. Tiro, Cicero's slave,
was not only one of his dearest friends, but fore-

Introduction. xvii

most among his literary confidants and advisers.
Most of the rich men who had any love of litera-
ture owned their librarians and their copyists, and
the teacliers of the children were generally the
property of the father. Among Christian slaves
there were undoubtedly many who felt no call to
martyrdom, (which can have been incumbent on
them only when the alternative was apostasy and
denial of their faith,) who therefore made no open
profession of their religion, while in precept, con-
versation, and life they were imbued with its spirit,
— a spirit as subtile in its penetrating power as it
is refining and purifying in its influence. From the
lips of Christian slaves many children, no doubt,
received in classic forms moral precepts redolent
of the aroma breathed from the Sermon on the
Mount. If the social medium which Plutarch rep-
resents is a fair specimen of the best rural society
of the Empire in his time, there must have been a
ready receptivity for the highest style of ethical
teaching, — a genial soil for the germination of a
truly evangelic righteousness of moral conception,
maxim, and principle.

Probably no book except the Bible has had more
readers than Plutarch's Lives. These biographies
have been translated into every language of the
civilized world ; they have been among the earliest
and most fascinating books for children and youth
of many successive generations; and down to the
present time, when fiction seems to have almost


xviii Introduction.

superseded history and biography, and to have de-
stroyed the once universal appetency for them
among young people, they have exercised to a
marvellous degree a shaping power over character.
They are, indeed, underrated by the exact historian,
because modern research has discovered here and
there some mistake in the details of events. But
such mistakes were in that age inevitable. Histor-
ical criticism was then an unknown science. Docu-
ments and traditions covering the same ground were
deemed of equal value when they were in harmony,
and w^hen they differed an author followed the one
which best suited his taste, or his purpose for the
time being. Thus Cicero, in one case, in the same
treatise gives three different versions of the same
story. Thus, too, there were several stories afloat
about the fate of Eegulus ; but Eoman writers took
that which Mebuhr thinks farthest from the truth,
yet which threw the greatest odium on the hated
name of Carthage. InTow I have no doubt that,
whenever there were two or more versions of the
same act or event, Plutarch chose that which would
best point his moral. But it is only in few and un-
important particulars that he has been proved to
be inaccurate.

It has been also objected to Plutarch, that he
attaches less importance to the achievements of his
heroes in war and in civic life, than to traits and an-
ecdotes illustrative of their characters. This seems
to me a feature which adds not only to the charm

Introduction. xix

of these Lives, but even more to their historical
value. The events of history are at once the out-
come and the procreant cradle of character, and we
know nothing of any period or portion of history
except as we know the men who made it and the
men whom it made. Biography is the soul; his-
tory the body, which it tenants and animates, and
which, when not thus tenanted, is a heap of very
dry bones. The most thorough knowledge of the
topography of Julius Caesar's battles in Gaul, the
minutest description of the campaign that termi-
nated in Pharsalia, the official journal of the Senate
during his dictatorship, would tell us very little
about him and his time. But a vivid sketch of
his character, with well-chosen characteristic anec-
dotes, would give us a very distinct and realizing
conception of the antecedent condition of things
that made a life like his possible, and of his actual
influence for good and for evil on his country and
his age.

Nor is the value of such a biography affected in
the least by any doubts that we may entertain as
to the authenticity of incidents, trivial except as
illustrative of character, which occupy a large space
in Plutarch's Lives. Indeed, the least authentic
may be of the greatest historical value. An anec-
dote may be literally true, and yet some peculiar
combination of circumstances may have led him of
whom it is told to speak or act out of character.
But a mythical anecdote of a man, coming down

XX Introduction.

from his own time and people, must needs owe its
origin and complexion to his known character.

It is perfectly easy to see throughout these biog-
raphies the author's didactic aim. If I may nse
sacred words, here by no means misapplied, his
prime object was " reproof, correction, and instruc-
tion in righteousness." He evidently felt and
mourned the degeneracy of his age, was profoundly
aware of the worth of teaching by example, and

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