Trinity College Dublin

Skip to main content.

Top Level TCD Links

CL3063 Plutarch

Plutarch at Delphi

Module Organisers: Dr Shane Wallace
Duration of Course: Semester 2 (JAn-Apr)
Contact Hours: 22 (One 2-hr class p.w.)
Weighting: 10 ECTS
Assessment: 20% course work (written assignment), 80% 3 hour end of year examination

The module examines the first and second century AD Greek writer, Plutarch of Chaeronea. Plutarch’s voluminous works fall into two categories, the Moralia and the more famous Lives, the Bioi Paralleloi. With a few exceptions, almost all of Plutarch’s Lives survive intact and are one of the major sources of information for Greek and Roman historians. Plutarch’s Lives were originally written and published as individual books containing one Greek and one Roman life, and it appears that they were conceived of as clusters of associated lives (those covering the late Roman Republic, for example). Due to the vast nature of the work, and Plutarch’s Greek and Roman ambidexterity, modern scholarship tends on the whole to study each life individually. Plutarch’s Antony was published in the Cambridge ‘Green and Yellow’ series but the parallel life, the Demetrius, has yet to receive a full critical edition and commentary.

This module will study Plutarch’s Life of Demetrius and, through it, the nature and scope of Plutarch’s work. Demetrius is one of only two Hellenistic kings to receive a biography in the Bioi Paralleloi, so the Life of Demetrius is a vital source for the history of the early Hellenistic period. Accordingly, this module will explore the importance of this work for our understanding of the period. It will also, where possibly, examine other sources for the history of the period and, through this, explore not only Plutarch’s working method but also his accuracy as a historian. A major theme throughout the module will be genre and the overlap between what we today call ‘history’ and biography’. Features of the text, such as Plutarch’s interest in theatricality, intertextuality, and characterization will be studied in depth. Students will also be asked to read carefully the parallel Life of Antony. Specific seminars will bring together both lives and discuss themes both common and unique to them.

Learning Outcomes:

On successful conclusion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • Ability to read and analyse the prescribed texts in Greek.
  • Sophisticated awareness of the style and scope of Plutarch’s work and its application in the Demetrius.
  • Ability to examine, engage with, and integrate different types of source material in the original language.
  • Awareness of the contribution of Plutarch’s work to this development of Greek literature.
  • Sophisticated awareness of genre in antiquity, in particular the relationship between history and biography.
  • Ability to develop the skills necessary for studying ancient history.

Prescribed Edition

  • Perrin, B., Plutarch’s Lives Vol. IX: Demetrius and Antony, Pyrrhus and Caius Marius (Cambridge, Mass., 1920) [Loeb Classical Library]

Introductory Bibliography

  • Beck, M., A Companion to Plutarch (Chichester, 2014)
  • Beck, M., Plutarch. Understanding Classics (London, 2017)
  • Beneker, J., The Passionate Statesman: Eros and Politics in Plutarch’s Lives
  • (Oxford, 2012)
  • Duff, T., Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice (Oxford, 1999)
  • Jones, C.P., Plutarch and Rome (Oxford, 1971)
  • Mossman, J. (ed.), Plutarch and his Intellectual World (London, 1997)
  • Pelling, C., Plutarch and History (Swansea, 2002)
  • Stadter, P., Plutarch and his Roman Readers (Oxford, 2014)
  • Stadter, P. (ed.), Plutarch and the Historical Tradition (London, 1992)
  • Waterfield, R. & Erskine, A., Plutarch’s Hellenistic Lives (Oxford, 2016)

Last updated 8 September 2017