46 Plutarch.

Plutarch's Lives, Volume I online

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E-text prepared by Jonathan Ingram, Linda Cantoni, and the Project
Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team, with special thanks to


Translated from the Greek
with Notes and a Life of Plutarch


Late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge

and the late

Formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge



George Bell & Sons, York St., Covent Garden, and New York


Reprinted from Stereotype Plates by Wm. Clowes & Sons, Ltd., Stamford
Street and Charing Cross


No apologies are needed for a new edition of so favourite an author as
Plutarch. From the period of the revival of classical literature in
Europe down to our own times, his writings have done more than those of
any other single author to familiarise us with the greatest men and the
greatest events of the ancient world.

The great Duke of Marlborough, it is said, confessed that his only
knowledge of English history was derived from Shakespeare's historical
plays, and it would not be too much to say that a very large proportion
of educated men, in our own as well as in Marlborough's times, have owed
much of their knowledge of classical antiquity to the study of
Plutarch's Lives. Other writers may be read with profit, with
admiration, and with interest; but few, like Plutarch, can gossip
pleasantly while instructing solidly; can breathe life into the dry
skeleton of history, and show that the life of a Greek or Roman worthy,
when rightly dealt with, can prove as entertaining as a modern novel. No
one is so well able as Plutarch to dispel the doubt which all schoolboys
feel as to whether the names about which they read ever belonged to men
who were really alive; his characters are so intensely human and
lifelike in their faults and failings as well as in their virtues, that
we begin to think of them as of people whom we have ourselves personally

His biographies are numerous and short. By this, he avoids one of the
greatest faults of modern biographers, that namely of identifying
himself with some one particular personage, and endeavouring to prove
that all his actions were equally laudable. Light and shade are as
necessary to a character as to a picture, but a man who devotes his
energies for years to the study of any single person's life, is
insensibly led into palliating or explaining away his faults and
exaggerating his excellencies until at last he represents him as an
impossible monster of virtue. Another advantage which we obtain by his
method is that we are not given a complete chronicle of each person's
life, but only of the remarkable events in it, and such incidents as
will enable us to judge of his character. This also avoids what is the
dreariest part of all modern biographies, those chapters I mean which
describe the slow decay of their hero's powers, his last illness, and
finally his death. This subject, which so many writers of our own time
seem to linger lovingly upon, is dismissed by Plutarch in a few lines,
unless any circumstance of note attended the death of the person

Without denying that Plutarch is often inaccurate and often diffuse;
that his anecdotes are sometimes absurd, and his metaphysical
speculations not unfrequently ridiculous, he is nevertheless generally
admitted to be one of the most readable authors of antiquity, while all
agree that his morality is of the purest and loftiest type.

The first edition of the Greek text of Plutarch's Lives appeared at
Florence in the year 1517, and two years afterwards it was republished
by Aldus. Before this, however, about the year 1470, a magnificent Latin
version by various hands appeared at Rome. From this, from the Greek
text, and also from certain MSS. to which he had access, Amyot in the
year 1559 composed his excellent translation, of which it has been well
said: "Quoique en vieux Gaulois, elle a un air de fraicheur qui la fait
rejeunir de jour en jour."

Amyot's spirited French version was no less spiritedly translated by Sir
Thomas North. His translation was much read and admired in its day; a
modern reviewer even goes so far as to say that it is "still beyond
comparison the best version of Parallel Lives which the English tongue
affords." Be this as it may, the world will ever be deeply indebted to
North's translation, for it is to Shakespeare's perusal of that work
that we owe 'Coriolanus,' 'Antony and Cleopatra,' and 'Julius Caesar.'

North's translation was followed by that known as Dryden's. This work,
performed by many different hands, is of unequal merit. Some Lives are
rendered into a racy and idiomatic, although somewhat archaic English,
while others fall far short of the standard of Sir Thomas North's work.
Dryden's version has during the last few years been re-edited by A.H.
Clough, Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford.

The translation by which Plutarch is best known at the present day is
that of the Langhornes. Their style is certainly dull and commonplace,
and is in many instances deserving of the harsh epithets which have been
lavished upon it. We must remember, however, before unsparingly
condemning their translation, that the taste of the age for which they
wrote differed materially from that of our own, and that people who
could read the 'Letters of Theodosius and Constantia' with interest,
would certainly prefer Plutarch in the translation of the Langhornes to
the simpler phrases of North's or Dryden's version. All events, comic or
tragic, important or commonplace, are described with the same inflated
monotony which was mistaken by them for the dignity of History. Yet
their work is in many cases far more correct as a translation, and the
author's meaning is sometimes much more clearly expressed, than in
Dryden's earlier version. Langhorne's Plutarch was re-edited by
Archdeacon Wrangham in the year 1819.

In 1844, thirteen Lives were translated by that eminent scholar the late
Mr. George Long; and it is by way of complement to these Lives that the
present version was undertaken with his consent and his approval.

Those translated by Mr. Long were selected by him as illustrating a
period of Roman history in which he was especially interested, and will
therefore be found to be more fully annotated than the others. It has
seemed to me unnecessary to give information in the notes which can at
the present day be obtained in a more convenient form in Dr. Smith's
Classical Dictionary and Dictionary of Antiquities, many of the articles
in which are written by Mr. Long himself. The student of classical
literature will naturally prefer the exhaustive essays to be found in
these works to any notes appended to Plutarch's text, while to those who
read merely "for the story," the notes prove both troublesome and

In deciding on the spelling of the Greek proper names, I have felt great
hesitation. To make a Greek speak of Juno or Minerva seems as absurd as
to make a Roman swear by Herakles or Ares. Yet both Greek and Roman
divinities are constantly mentioned. The only course that seemed to
avoid absolute absurdity appeared to me to be that which I have adopted,
namely to speak of the Greek divinities by their Greek, and the Latin
ones by their Latin names. In substituting a k for the more usual c, I
have followed the example of Grote, who in his History spells all Greek
names exactly as they are written, with the exception of those with
which we are so familiar in their Latin form as to render this
practically impossible; as for instance in the case of Cyprus or
Corinth, or of a name like Thucydides, where a return to the Greek k
would be both pedantic and unmeaning.

The text, which I have followed throughout, is that of C. Sintenis,
Leipsic, 1873.



[Footnote A: It has been thought desirable to give here Mr. Long's
preface to the lives published by him, under the title of "Civil Wars of
Rome." The lives will be found in subsequent volumes.]

Among the extant Lives of Plutarch there are thirteen Lives of Romans
which belong to the most eventful period of Roman history. They are the
lives of the brothers Tiberius and Caius Sempronius Gracchus, of Caius
Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Quintus Sertorius, Marcus Licinius
Crassus, Cneius Pompeius Magnus, Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, Marcus
Tullius Cicero, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, Caius Julius Caesar, Marcus
Junius Brutus, and Marcus Antonius. From the year of the death of
Tiberius Gracchus, B.C. 133, to the death of Marcus Antonius, B.C. 30, a
period of about one hundred years, the Roman State was convulsed by
revolutions which grew out of the contest between the People and the
Nobility, or rather, out of the contests between the leaders of these
two bodies. This period is the subject of Appian's History of the Civil
Wars of the Romans, in Five Books. Appian begins with the Tribunate and
legislation of Tiberius Gracchus, from which he proceeds to the
Dictatorship of Sulla, and then to the quarrels between Pompeius and
Caesar, and Caesar's Dictatorship and assassination. He then proceeds to
the history of the Triumvirate formed after Caesar's death by his great
nephew Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Marcus Antonius, and Lepidus, the
quarrels of the Triumviri, the downfall of Lepidus, who was reduced to
the condition of a private person, and the death of Sextus Pompeius, the
last support of the party in whose cause his father, Cneius Pompeius,
lost his life. The remainder of this History, which is lost, carried the
narration down to the quarrels of Octavianus and Marcus Antonius, which
ended in the defeat of Antonius in the battle of Actium, B.C. 31, and
his death in Egypt, B.C. 30. The victory over Antonius placed all the
power in the hands of Octavianus, who, in the year B.C. 27, received
from the Roman Senate the title of Augustus, or the Sacred, by which
name he is commonly known as the first of the long series of Roman
Emperors. "He made himself," says Appian (_Civil Wars_, i. 5), "like
Caius Julius Caesar, and still more than Caesar, governor of his country
and of all the nations under it, without needing either election or the
popular votes, or any show of such things. After his government had
subsisted for a long time, and been maintained with vigour, fortunate in
all his measures, and feared, he left behind him descendants and
successors who kept the power that he transmitted to them. In this way,
after various civil commotions, the Roman State was restored to
tranquillity, and the government became a Monarchy. And how this came
about I have explained, and brought together all the events, which are
well worth the study of those who wish to become acquainted with
ambition of men unbounded, love of power excessive, endurance unwearied,
and forms of suffering infinite." Thus, the historian's object was to
trace the establishment of the Imperial power in Rome back to its
origin, to show that the contests of the rival heads of parties involved
the State in endless calamities, which resulted in a dissolution of all
the bonds that held society together, and rendered the assumption of
supreme power by one man a healing and a necessary event.

As already observed, it happens that thirteen of Plutarch's extant Lives
are the lives of the most distinguished of the Romans who lived during
this eventful period; and though Plutarch's Lives severally are not
histories of the times to which they respectively refer, nor
collectively form a History of any given time, yet they are valuable as
portraits of illustrious men, and help us to form a better judgment of
those who make so conspicuous a figure in History.

Plutarch was a native of the town of Chaeroneia, in Boeotia; the times
of his birth and death are not exactly known, but we learn from his own
works that he was a young student at Delphi, in the thirteenth year of
the reign of the Emperor Nero, A.D. 66. He visited both Italy and Rome,
and probably resided at Rome for some time. He wrote his Life of
Demosthenes, at least after his return to Chaeroneia: he says (_Life of
Demosthenes_, c. 2), that he had not time to exercise himself in the
Latin Language during his residence at Rome, being much occupied with
public business, and giving lessons in philosophy. Accordingly it was
late before he began to read the Latin writers; and we may infer from
his own words that he never acquired a very exact knowledge of the
language. He observes that it happened in his case, that in his study of
the Latin writers he did not so much learn and understand the facts from
the words, as acquire the meaning of the words from the facts, of which
he had already some knowledge. We may perhaps conclude from this, that
Plutarch wrote all his Roman lives in Chaeroneia, after he had returned
there from Rome. The statement that Plutarch was the preceptor of the
Emperor Trajan, and was raised to the consular rank by him, is not
supported by sufficient evidence. Plutarch addressed to Trajan his Book
of Apophthegms, or Sayings of Kings and Commanders; but this is all that
is satisfactorily ascertained as to the connection between the Emperor
and Philosopher. Trajan died A.D. 117.

"The plan of Plutarch's Biographies is briefly explained by himself in
the introduction to the Life of Alexander the Great, where he makes an
apology for the brevity with which he is compelled to treat of the
numerous events in the Lives of Alexander and Caesar. 'For,' he says, 'I
do not write Histories, but Lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of
necessity exhibit a man's virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight
circumstance, a word, or a jest, shows a man's character better than
battles with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays
of armies and sieges of cities. Now, as painters produce a likeness by a
representation of the countenance and the expression of the eyes,
without troubling themselves about the other parts of the body, so I
must be allowed to look rather into the signs of a man's character, and
thus give a portrait of his life, leaving others to describe great
events and battles.' The object then of Plutarch in his Biographies was
a moral end, and the exhibition of the principal events in a man's life
was subordinate to this his main design; and though he may not always
have adhered to the principle which he laid down, it cannot be denied
that his view of what biography should be, is much more exact than that
of most persons who have attempted this style of composition. The life
of a statesman or of a general, when written with a view of giving a
complete history of all the public events in which he was engaged, is
not biography, but history. This extract from Plutarch will also in some
measure be an apology for the want of historical order observable in
many of his Lives. Though altogether deficient in that critical sagacity
which discerns truth from falsehood, and distinguishes the intricacies
of confused and conflicting statements, Plutarch has preserved in his
Lives a vast number of facts which would otherwise have been unknown to
us. He was a great reader, and must have had access to large libraries.
It is said that he quotes two hundred and fifty writers, a great part of
whose works are now entirely lost." (_Penny Cyclopaedia_, art.
"Plutarch," by the writer of this Preface.)

The lively portraitures of men drawn in Plutarch's Lives have made them
favourite reading in all ages. Whether Plutarch has succeeded in drawing
the portraits true, we cannot always determine, because the materials
for such a judgment are sometimes wanting. But when we can compare his
Lives with other extant authorities, we must admit, that though he is by
no means free from error as to his facts, he has generally selected
those events in a man's life which most clearly show his temper, and
that on the whole, if we judge of a man by Plutarch's measure, we shall
form a just estimate of him. He generally wrote without any
predilections or any prejudices. He tells us of a man's good and bad
acts, of his good and bad qualities; he makes no attempt to conceal the
one or the other; he both praises and blames as the occasion may arise;
and the reader leaves off with a mixed opinion about Plutarch's Greeks
and Romans, though the favourable or the unfavourable side always
predominates. The benevolent disposition of Plutarch, and his noble and
elevated character, have stamped themselves on all that he has written.
A man cannot read these Lives without being the better for it: his
detestation of all that is mean and disingenuous will be increased; his
admiration of whatever is truthful and generous will be strengthened and

The translation of these Lives is difficult. Plutarch's text is
occasionally corrupted; and where it is not corrupted, his meaning is
sometimes obscure. Many of the sentences are long and ill-constructed;
the metaphors often extravagant; and the just connection of the parts is
sometimes difficult to discover. Many single words which are or ought to
be pertinent in Plutarch, and which go towards a description of
character in general or of some particular act, can hardly be rendered
by any English equivalent; and a translator often searches in vain for
something which shall convey to the reader the exact notion of the
original. Yet Plutarch's narrative is lively and animated; his anecdotes
are appropriately introduced and well told; and if his taste is
sometimes not the purest, which in his age we could not expect it to be,
he makes amends for this by the fulness and vigour of his expression. He
is fond of poetical words, and they are often used with striking effect.
His moral reflections, which are numerous, have the merit of not being
unmeaning and tiresome, because he is always in earnest and has got
something to say, and does not deal in commonplaces. When the reflection
is not very profound, it is at least true; and some of his remarks show
a deep insight into men's character.

I have attempted to give Plutarch's meaning in plain language; to give
all his meaning, and neither more nor less. If I have failed in any
case, it is because I could do no better. But, though I have not always
succeeded in expressing exactly what I conceive to be the meaning of the
original, I have not intentionally added to it or detracted from it. It
may be that there are passages in which I have mistaken the original;
and those who have made the experiment of rendering from one language
into another, know that this will sometimes happen even in an easy
passage. A difficult passage attracts more than usual of a translator's
attention, and if he fails there, it is either because the difficulty
cannot be overcome, or because he cannot overcome it. Mere inadvertence
or sleepiness may sometimes cause a translator to blunder, when he would
not have blundered if any friend had been by to keep him awake.

The best thing that a man can do to avoid these and other errors is to
compare his translation, when he has finished it, with some other. The
translation which I have compared with mine is the German translation of
Kaltwasser, Magdeburg, 1799, which is generally correct. Kaltwasser in
his Preface speaks of the way in which he used the German translations
of two of his predecessors, J. Christopher Kind, Leipzig, 1745-1754, and
H. v. Schirach, 1776-1780, and some others. He says, "These two
translations, with the French translations above mentioned, I have duly
used, for it is the duty of a translator to compare himself with his
predecessors; but I lay my labour before the eyes of the public, without
fearing that I shall be accused of copying or of close imitation. First
of all, I carefully studied the text of my author and translated him as
well as I could: then, and not before, I compared the labour of my
predecessors, and where I found a more suitable expression or a happier
turn, I made use of it without hesitation. In this way, every fault,
every deviation of the old translators must be apparent; the most
striking of them I have remarked on in the notes, but I have more
frequently amended such things silently, as a comparison will show the
reader." The translator has not compared his version with any English
version. The translation of North, which has great merit in point of
expression, is a version of Amyot's French version, from which, however,
it differs in some passages, where it is decidedly wrong and Amyot's
version is right. Indeed, it is surprising to find how correct this old
French translation generally is. The translation of 'Plutarch's Lives
from the Greek by several hands,' was published at London in 1683-86. It
was dedicated by Dryden to James Butler, the first Duke of Ormond, in a
fulsome panegyric. It is said that forty-one translators laboured at the
work. Dryden did not translate any of the Lives; but he wrote the Life
of Plutarch which is prefixed to this translation. The advertisement
prefixed to the translation passes under the name and character of the
bookseller (Jacob Tonson), but, as Malone observes, it may from internal
evidence be safely attributed to Dryden. The bookseller says, "You have
here the first volume of Plutarch's Lives turned from the Greek into
English; and give me leave to say, the first attempt of doing it from
the _originals_." This is aimed at North's version, of which Dryden
remarks in his Life of Plutarch: "As that translation was only from the
French, so it suffered this double disadvantage; first, that it was but
a copy of a copy, and that too but lamely taken from the Greek original;
secondly, that the English language was then unpolished, and far from
the perfection which it has since attained; so that the first version is
not only ungrammatical and ungraceful, but in many places almost
unintelligible." There is another English version, by the Langhornes,
which has often been reprinted; there is an edition of it with notes by
Wrangham. I have compared my translation carefully with the German of
Kaltwasser, and sometimes with the French of Amyot, and I have thus
avoided some errors into which I should have fallen. There are errors
both in the versions of Amyot and Kaltwasser which I have avoided; but I
may have fallen into others.

The translation of Kaltwasser contains some useful notes. Those which I
have added to this translation are intended to explain so much as needs
explanation to a person who is not much acquainted with Roman history
and Roman usages; but they will also be useful to others. The notes of
Kaltwasser have often reminded me of the passages where some note would
be useful, and have occasionally furnished materials also. But as I have
always referred to the original authorities, I do not consider it
necessary to make more than this general acknowledgment. The notes added
to this translation are all my own, and contain my own opinions and

This translation has been made from the edition of C. Sintenis, Leipzig,
1839, and I have compared the text of Sintenis with that of G.H.
Schaefer, Leipzig, 1826, which has been severely criticized: this
edition contains, however, some useful notes. I have very seldom made
any remarks on the Greek text, as such kind of remark would not have
suited the plan and design of this version, which is not intended for
verbal critics.

I shall explain by two brief extracts what is my main design in this
version and in the notes, which must be my apology for not affecting a
learned commentary, and my excuse to those who shall not find here the
kind of remarks that are suitable to a critical edition of an ancient
author. I have had another object than to discuss the niceties of words
and the forms of phrases, a labour which is well in its place, if it be
done well, but is not what needs to be done to such an author as
Plutarch to render him useful. A man who was a great reader of Plutarch,
a just and solid thinker above the measure of his age, and not surpassed
in his way by any writer in our own, Montaigne, observes in his 'Essay
of the Education of Children' - "Let him enquire into the manners,
revenues, and alliances of princes, things in themselves very pleasant
to learn, and very useful to know. In this conversing with men, I mean,
and principally those who only live in the records of history, he shall
by reading those books, converse with those great and heroic souls of
former and better ages. 'Tis an idle and vain study, I confess, to those
who make it so, by doing it after a negligent manner, but to those who

Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives, Volume I → online text (page 1 of 43)