More Plutarch

29 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Bill copies the translations of Plutarch‘s Moralia faster than even God can read them.  I am glad that they are online now. Today’s installments are:

So many Greek texts… Seeing the speedy expansion of their number, I think Bill will soon have to rebaptize his increasingly inaccurately named website “LacusCurtius. Into the Roman World”, and will name it  “Trophonius’ Cave. Into the Greek World”. ;)


Finishing things, sort of

26 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

When I was a kid I collected stamps. Back in those days, it was still not so far in the past that many countries issued stamps in “series” — a set of stamps with a single design, but each denomination in a different color. The stamp collector was thus very often enticed into trying to get the whole series, an amusing and harmless semi-competitive endeavor.

Well, this compulsive trait has surfaced again from my childhood. I originally had no intention of putting all of Plutarch online, many of his works being concerned with philosophy and Greek stuff, and I’m not fond of either. But little by little — at Attalus there is a page entitled “Plutarch: Moralia — list of translations”; and if anyone out there has been wondering why certain Plutarch items have been going up at Lacus rather than others, it goes far to explain it. I’m filling in the blanks, starting by and large with those texts that don’t appear to be online anywhere at all; and when I’m done with those, I’ll probably wind up by putting up the others as well … to “complete the series”. Right now, in addition to the Lives (complete), Lacus has just short of 30% of the Moralia.

Today’s item is an exception, though, since already up elsewhere, but it was short: On Envy and Hate (envy rather than hate, in fact) with Philippe Remacle’s Greek and French linked, as before. It’s a bland little essay, tells us a bit about envy, but not what to do about it; reminds me of the oft-told story, with various famous American divines in the title rôle, of the preacher who gave a two-hour sermon on Sin: when a parishioner was asked by an absent friend what he’d said, the reply — “He was against it.”


The good Plutarch

25 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Amyot thought and wrote of Plutarch as “le bon Plutarque”; and I’ve just put online one of the items that gave him that reputation, that made him “the good Plutarch.”

Plutarch can be very good. Good in two senses: (1) as opposed to not very good, unfinished, fragmentary, turgid, pro-forma — a lot of that in the Plutarchean corpus, as previously noted — but also (2) good in the sense of therapeutic for the common man. If philosophy among the Greeks covered disciplines as diverse as metaphysics and meteorology, theories of history and religion, political science and ethics, it also covered psychology; and the essay usually called De vitioso pudore (“On Compliancy” in the Loeb translation) is one of the psychological ones, and apparently breaks new ground: it’s a clear exposition, not previously made by anyone, of a fault common to many of us, and what to do about it. The fault in question is one of my worst, and has caused me endless personal grief; I hope that for once, in addition to doing the donkey work for which LacusCurtius is now famous and being of academic use to serious students of Antiquity, I might pay attention to what I transcribed, and maybe do myself some good. My own title for it — as the Loeb editor’s introduction points out, the Greek word is very difficult to render — is On Not Letting Ourselves Be Bullied. The approach is typical Plutarch: the moral person is the happy person; and this particular essay, in its easy humanity but at the same time its astringent sense of morality, is very reminiscent of the Desert Fathers (or of course, the other way round).

No Greek onsite: again, grec et français chez Philippe Remacle with links to him on each of my pages, under the Greek and French flags as before.


Oh, what a difference 40 years makes….

18 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Plutarch, or at least the body of work transmitted to us under his name, covers a multitude of sins.

Some of these works are so fragmentary as to be next to nothing; some very few are so bizarre or so inept that they cannot possibly be by him (unless they’re impish self-parodies); some seem to be his own working notes or collections extracted from him by others; some are abstruse Gnostic-like disquisitions on the slenderest of topics, the kind of thing that gives philosophy a bad name; finally, many are banal and derivative; and many, and not just either the longest and the best-known, are marked by warmth, humanity, psychological insight, humor, and outright genius: the Plutarch of Montaigne and Shakespeare.

I’ve just put online two of these unpredictable critters — as it turns out, one each of the last two types mentioned; amazing they should be by the same man, but to me, at least, they both bear the unmistakable imprint of Plutarch: the first, the dull one, On the Love of Wealth (De cupiditate); the other, Should Old Men Take Part in Affairs of State? (An seni respublica gerenda sit). The “only” thing that separates them is forty years or so of living; the latter is clearly addressed by one old man to another he has known for many years — “neither of us shall desert the long companionship in the journey which we have thus far made together” — this one sentiment and the gracious expression of it sufficient to place the essay in a class of its own; the other essay, so the Loeb editor tells us, is characterized by youthful “exuberance and fancifulness of diction”: but we need not be proficient in ancient Greek prose style to recognize it clearly as the work of a very young man, just by its inadequate and regurgitative treatment of the subject.

I feel privileged to see the beginning and end of such a man’s life, and as it were share in his journey; would we all did so well in the business and art of being human.

No Greek onsite for either one, since Philippe Remacle has the Greek original of both on his site; I was off the hook easily: you will find links to him on each of my pages, under the Greek and French flags of course.


Plutarch, That a Philosopher ought to Converse especially with Men in Power

18 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Although LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer is also occupied with putting online texts on the history of the United States, he continues to put online the Moralia by Plutarch. Today’s contribution is a brief treatise with the dazzling title That a Philosopher ought to Converse especially with Men in Power.

Plutarch addresses an old question. Plato had argued that in the best constitution, the state was ruled by philosophers. When he was offered to organize Syracuse according to his ideas, Plato failed miserably. His pupil, Aristotle, argued that it was better if a king had philosophers as his advisers. Plutarch essentially sides with the latter, arguing that one should not put a light under a bushel.


Two texts by Plutarch

13 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

LacusCurtius‘ Bill Thayer has returned to putting online the Moralia by Plutarch, and today, we can read two well-known treatises:

Both texts are fragments of larger discourses. The ideas are not very original, which the ancients almost expect from texts on this subject. The constitutional debates in Herodotus (Histories, 3.82), Cassius Dio (Roman History, 52), Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, 19), and Philostratus (Life of Apollonius, 5.31ff) are surprisingly similar. Plutarch’s ideas are another branch of this tree.


The Glory of Athens

10 June 2009
The Parthenon

The Parthenon

So many of the Greek and Roman texts I transcribe and present on Lacus can be considered as irrelevant to us today, if not in their most general lines of course, certainly in their details. One of today’s items, though, is not: Plutarch’s fragmentary essay On the Glory of Athens. I hadn’t read it, but it was part of the immense backlog of items not online or not onsite that I was eventually going to get around to; Jona’s entry a few days ago on the runner of Marathon decided me to put it up, mostly so he’d have something to link to for the careful reader eager to read the actual source. The incidental mention of Marathon aside, however, the essay itself turned out to be so relevant to the modern world and to modern America, that I’m not far from considering it part of my American history site. (The Greek original is also up.)

While I was at it, I noticed that a squib of Plutarch that I’d already put up in English translation, the Greek wasn’t that long, why not — so it’s now gone to join it: Εἰ διδακτόν ἡ ἀρετή.


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