The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Lives, Parallel

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Lives, Parallel
Edition of 1920. See also Parallel Lives on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LIVES, Parallel (βίοι παράλληλοι), the work upon which Plutarch's fame chiefly rests, were published by him late in life after his return to Chæronea, and, if one may judge from the long lists of authorities given, must have taken many years in the compilation. The biographies appear in pairs, each of which places a Greek and Roman in juxtaposition. For example, Theseus and Romulus are compared as the legendary founders of states. Twenty-two pairs are extant: Theseus and Romulus, Lycurgus and Numa, Solon and Valerius Publicola, Themistocles and Camillus, Pericles and Fabius Maximus, Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Timoleon and Æmilius Paulus, Pelopidas and Marcellus, Aristides and Cato the Elder, Philopœmen and Flaminius, Pyrrhus and Caius Marius, Lysander and Sulla, Cimon and Lucullus, Nicias and Crassus, Sertorius and Eumenes, Agesilaus and Pompey, Alexander and Julius Caesar, Phocion and Cato the Younger, Agis and Cleomenes and Tiberius and Caius Gracchus (a double comparison), Demosthenes and Cicero, Demetrius Poliorcetes and Antony, Dion and Brutus. To these are added the four single lives of Aratus, Artaxerxes Memnon, Galba and Otho, making a total of 50 lives. There are traces of perhaps 12 more biographies that are now lost. Eighteen of the 22 pairs close with a sort of balanced judgment (σύγκρισις) of the two careers and characters. These formal comparisons abound in contrasts rather than in resemblances, the latter indeed being sometimes a trifle forced. This need not be wondered at, inasmuch as Plutarch's object was not to write history, but to prove that the more remote past of Greece could show its men of action and achievement as well as the nearer and, therefore, more impressive past of Rome. In these biographies, therefore, the interest is primarily ethical, although they have no mean historical value. In spite of his lack of judicious discrimination in the use of authorities and the consequent errors and inaccuracies, Plutarch gives an abundance of citations and incidentally a large number of valuable bits of information which fill up numerous gaps in the historical knowledge obtainable elsewhere. Owing to the liveliness and warmth of portrayal and the moral earnestness and enthusiasm displayed by their author, the ‘Lives’ have not failed to attract a large circle of readers throughout the ages, in spite of a certain degree of uniformity inherent in the very plan of the series. Their wide appeal is instanced by the fact that ‘Julius Caesar,’ the first of Shakespeare's Roman plays, like those that followed, namely, ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ was based on Plutarch's ‘Lives’ as translated from the French translation of Jacques Amyot (1559) and published by Sir Thomas North in 1579. ‘Timon of Athens’ likewise is based, at least in part, upon Plutarch's life of Mark Antony. The chief manuscripts of the ‘Lives’ date from the 10th and 11th centuries; the first edition appeared at Florence in 1517. The most generally accepted text is that of the minor edition of Carl Sintenis in the ‘Bibliotheca Teubneriana’ (5 vols., Leipzig 1852-55; reissued without much change in 1873-75). There are annotated editions by I. C. Held, E. H. G. Leopold, Otto Siefert and Friedrich Blass and Carl Sintenis, all in German; and by Holden, in English. Besides North's translation (mentioned above), there are English translations by John and William Langhorne (1770), by Dryden and others (1683), and, of the Roman lives, by George Long. A. H. Clough's revision of the so-called Dryden edition was published in five volumes in 1859 and reprinted in one large octavo volume in 1876 and 1880. Finally, mention must be made of Bernadotte Perrin's translation, with the Greek and English texts en regard, in the ‘Loeb Classical Library,’ in 10 volumes, five of which have already appeared.

Herbert F. Wright,
Sometime of The Department of Latin, The Catholic University of America.