FT 012-M Heroes of Ancient Greece and Rome: Plutarch's Parallel Lives
David Kubiak, Department of Classical Languages and Literatures
Pericles, Alexander the Great, Cicero, Julius Caesar – these names have lived on as powerful reminders of the debt western civilization owes to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Despite shifts in historical approach, we continue to be fascinated by the “great man” and his impact on the events that have been crucial to the development of our own culture. Even popular media appreciate the attraction, with movies like Alexander and the HBO television series Rome. One of our chief sources of knowledge about important men of antiquity is Plutarch, a Greek writer living in the Roman Empire (A.D. 46-120). He composed a series of biographies known as the Parallel Lives, in which he pairs a Greek and Roman leader who he thinks are in some way connected. We have extant 23 such pairs, as well as four single lives. As Plutarch himself says at the beginning of his life of Alexander, his main concern is not so much historical as ethical. He wants to present to readers models of great-hearted men for imitation in their own lives, and for this reason Plutarch’s biographies have had a great influence on the personal formation of the educated classes in European and American history. Ralph Waldo Emerson called Plutarch’s Lives “a bible for heroes,” and before him they were read by the American Founding Fathers, who discovered in these texts many ethical concepts that were to inform their ideas about the creation of a free republic. In this tutorial we will use Plutarch’s Lives as a means to learn about ancient history and various approaches to studying it. Our texts will also provide much material that will aid students in acquiring basic skills in close reading, correct and imaginative writing, and effective speaking, the general goals of the freshman tutorial program. Did Julius Caesar really say “Et tu, Brute?” Read Plutarch, and find out the answer.
Kubiak, David P.