Tom Cox from grammaticus.co explores Plutarch’s Parallel Lives to introduce you to antiquity, encourage you in your education, or refresh your perspective on people and politics by stepping outside the news cycle. Biography invigorates the study of history by bringing it to life. Plutarch was the first master of this form, examining in a person the relationship between fortune, virtue, and excellence. Whether you just want to study antiquity from your armchair, sit at the feet of the greatest teachers of the West, or expand your own classical education, Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and the podcast are here to serve. Plutarch wrote almost 50 lives exploring the greatest leaders of the Greek and Roman world before Christ. His lives have been foundational to education for centuries, but they are often wrapped in the obscurity of older translations or bog the reader down with specific political and social terms from Athens or Rome. Let Tom translate the jargon and enliven the journey by outlining and explaining each essay encouraging you to dive in and learn from the teacher himself, or guide your students through his essays. Whether you learn or teach in a classroom or at home, join Plutarch—and Tom—in examining what it means to live well, by considering those who have lived before us.
Themistocles saved Athens in its darkest hour, yet he dies in the Persian empire, the inveterate enemy of Athens. Is Themistocles a patriot or a traitor?
Aristides - Themistocles's main political rival and a man he has to recall from exile to help him fight Salamis. Plutarch considers Aristides to be one of the noblest Athenians who ever lived, and so their lives give us two different perspectives on almost the same time period. Eurybiades - The Spartan general in charge of the combined Greek forces at Artemisium and Salamis. Important Places
MarathonArtemisium ThermopylaeSalamisShow Notes and Outline of the Life
Helpful External Links
Battle of Salamis Podcast by Barry Strauss (Classics Professor at Cornell University)
Themistocles in Paintings
Plutarch's Life of Themistocles - Bernadotte Perrin translation
Lessons from the Lawgivers
We're wrapping season 2 with a bonus episode looking back at Plutarch's Parallels. We discuss the six biographies of the men who laids the foundations for Greek and Roman greatness. We'll also answer a couple questions that come up, like "Why are the comparison essays so much shorter than the biographies?" and "Why compare the Greek and Roman life at all?"
Valerius Publius, aka Publicola, topples the tyrant Tarquin with Brutus and founds the Republic on better justice than the Roman kings had exercised. Like his parallel Solon, his obsession with justice makes him seek the happiness of his own people all the way to his death. Remembering Solon's examples of happiness, does Publicola die a happy man?
Parallel - Solon
Tarquinius Superbus - The seventh, and last, king of Rome. Thrown out because of his refusal to punish his nephew who had raped a Roman noblewoman named Lucretia. This is important to the backstory and Plutarch only briefly summarizes it. Lucius Junius Brutus - The citizen who stood up to Tarquinius and drove him into exile. Also elected first consul. Mucius Scaevola - Roman soldier famous for breaking into the enemy camp, killing the wrong man, and then sticking his hand in fire to prove Roman toughness. Lars Porsena - described by Plutarch as "the most powerful king in Italy" he attacks Rome but later becomes a strong ally. Read on to find out how. Cloelia and Valeria - Two Roman maidens given to the enemy in a hostage exchange. Horatius Cocles - A one-eyed Roman veteran who single-handedly defends the last bridge into the city of Rome while his two friends destroy the bridge behind him. While taking several more wounds, he leaps into the river in full armor and swims across to safety and eternal glory. Appius Claudius - A Sabine who breaks off from the Sabines out of respect for the Romans and, along with 5000 other families, is inducted into the citizen rolls.Important Places
Temple of Jupiter on the CapitolineClusium - Lars Porsena's town, far north up a tributary of the Tiber (called the Clanis)Anio River - The land given to the defecting Sabines are along this tributary of the TiberFidenae - Another rival polis C. 1 - Lineage and Establishment of the Republic
C. 2 - Tarquin trying to infiltrate
C. 3 - The Plot against Brutus
C. 4 - Vindicius discovers the plots
C. 5 - Publicola brings the plot to public attention
C. 6 - Brutus brings justice to conspirators
C. 7 - Collatinus falls; Valerius (Publicola) rises
C. 8 - Ridding the Remains of the Tarquins from Rome
C. 9 - The Romans Win By One
C. 10 - Publicola Earns his Nickname
C. 11 - Consular Elections and Reform Laws
C. 12 - Tyranny and the Treasury
C. 13 - 15 - Jupiter Capitoline: The Chariot on Top
C. 16 - Porsena v. Publicola
C. 17 - Porsena v. Mucius Scaevola
C. 18 - Porsena: From Adversary to Ally
C. 19 - Hostages Escape, sent back, ambushed!
C. 20 - Triumphant Brother, with Publicola's help
C. 21 - Fourth Consulship; Sabine Enemies (Appius Claudius)
C. 22 - Sabines outwitted in a three-front counter-attack
C. 23 - Dies in Triumph
Helpful External Links
Publicola's Stories in ArtFree Online English TranslationAnne White's Study Guide on Ambleside OnlineHoratius at the Bridge by Thomas Babbington Macaulay - An almost 600-line poem immortalizing Horatius's bravery in English verse! (a favorite poem of Winston Churchill's)
It is the happy fate of all good and just men to be praised more after they are dead than when they livedPlutarch, Life of Numa 22
Parallel - Lycurgus
Pythagoras - the Greek philosopher and mystic mathematician who lived on the southern Italian peninsula and started a school of philosophy obsessed with simple living, observation of the created universe, piety to the gods, and justice to all men. Egeria - the second (and supernatural) wife of Numa, a nymph who taught him much about the simple life and seeking justiceRomulus – First king of the Romans, rules before NumaTullus Hostilius – Third king of the Romans, warlike, he lives up to his name (Hostilius = hostile)Important Places
RomeCapitoline HillTemple of Vesta - hearth of Rome; secret-keepersTemple of Janus - doors closed in times of peaceOutline
Records unclear, hard to trace Numa’s genealogyRomulus taken awayPeople grow tired of Senators ruling seriatim, want a kingNuma moves to the country@ 40 years old, ambassadors come to offer him kingshipHis father convinces himNuma acceptsReligion as a tool to tame the spirit (Pythagorean parallels)PontificesMore on the Vestal VirginsTemple of VestaFunerals and BurialSalii - Plague and Falling ShieldsRest and Quiet as Essential for WorshipRomans grow superstitious under NumaFides and Terminus - Rome's Trust and LimitsDividing the people by trade/craftThe Calendar RevisedMore months!January – Janus (two-faces, brought man from beast to social animal) - transitionFebruary – februa (and Lupercalia) – rituals of purification (see Life of Romulus)March - MarsApril – from Aphrodite (or aperīre – to open)May – Maïa, mother of MercuryJune – JunoMaiores from May and juniors from June?July – Quintilis – Fifth (re-named under Augustus's reign after Julius Caesar)August – Sextilis – Sixth (re-named after Augustus's death after Augustus)September – SeventhOctober – EighthNovember – NinthDecember – TenthJanus’s temple - Proof that Numa is the philosopher-kingNuma’s wives and childrenNuma dies of old ageNuma’s funeralAllies and friends pour into the cityThe whole city mournsSenators carry the litterPriests following in processionAll the people, wailing and mourningThe kings after Numa (none of whom get their own biography)Last one dies in exileThree of the other four were assassinatedTullus Hostilius, who reigned right after Numa, was his opposite, loving war and “mocking most of the fine things Numa had done”Struck down by a bolt of lightning (cf. Lycurgus’s tomb hit by lightning)Helpful External Links
Numa in Paint
English Translation of Numa Online
Pythagoras Podcast in the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps
Agoge - Lycurgus Part 2
The Agōgē (ἀγωγή) [16-19]Those Laconic Spartans [19-21]Military Maneuvers [22-24]Education never stops [24-25Blessing of scholēFreedom and restraintPolitical Setup
How someone elected to Gerousia Over 60Group of candidates selectedAssembly called, and votes decided by length of shout and volume of shoutBurying the dead NO injustice or inequality in these laws Those who criticize (cough cough: ARISTOTLE + PLATO) for lack of JusticeKrypteia! And treatment of HelotsLycurgus leaves: Spartans are living the laws, established in their hearts and minds Makes Spartans promise never to deviateGoes to Delphi, sacrifices to Apollo, starves himself to deathLeaves the Spartans to 500 years of supremacy and prosperityThe End of Perfection: Why Did Sparta fail?
Until LYSANDER Money flowed in and corrupted the moralsBefore then, Sparta relied on for generalsBy other GreeksBy SiciliansBy EgyptiansBy satraps and kings in AsiaLycurgus created a state not suited to rule others A state “in love with wisdom”“free, self-reliant, self-regulated” citizensMany philosophers agreed with him, but he was the only one who executed on his great ideas, leaving behind a polis rather than just writings.
Lycurgus was once asked why Sparta had no defensive wall around its perimeter. He responded, "A city is well-fortified with a wall of men instead of brick."
Parallel - Numa
Sparta Crete Asia Minor Egypt Important People
Uncertain origins: second son of King of SpartaExpected to become king when father and brother deadChemical Abortion or Infanticide?Charilaus born - joy of the people8-month reign as regent incites envyLycurgus Learns through Travel
TravelsCretePoetry makes good laws palatablePrivate hostilities calmedAsia MinorCrete was healthy “simple and severe”Asia diseased “extravagant and permissive”Lycurgus discovers the poems of Homer! makes Homer famous all over mainland GreeceHomer's poetry harmonizes well with the Spartan ideals of military courage as the highest virtueReturn HomeLycurgus resolves to rewrite the entire Spartan system of governmentNot a written constitution; this will become particularly clear later onApollo gives his blessing calling Lycurgus “more god than man”Apollo also prophesies that his reforms will be “by far the strongest and best of all constitutions”He and 30 friends take over the marketplaceLegals changes 1, 2, 3
ONE: Gerousia (Senate)γέρων (gerōn) – old man – Council of Elders --> γερουσία (Gerousia)senex – old man – Council of Elders --> Senate (see Life of Romulus)Rhetrai [sections 6 and 13]Verbal contracts with sacred forceThe name for most utterances of the gods to menNot to be ignored or trampled over lightly“named in the belief that they came from the gods as oracles”The GREAT RHETRA (from Apollo)Mixed Constitution2 KingsGerousia5 Ephors – balance the power of the oligarchsTWO: Redistribution of LandPurpose – “To end jealousy, vice, and luxury”Homoioi – equalsPerikoikoi – (not mentioned in this life)Helots – etym. “the seized” a particularly brutal form of slavery, even by an ancient standard Citizens forbidden fromUsing coins (iron bars instead)Practicing a tradeTHREE: Syssitia (Common Meals)Fixed Menu – black broth the staple!Wealth – blind, lifeless, and still in SpartaThe wealthy react poorlyLycurgus loses an eye!Punishment for AlcanderServe LycurgusConverted to thinking L is best man and himself becomes “Sparta’s most well-mannered and wise citizens”Temple to Athena OptilisThe COHORT (15 members)Everyone contributes foodKing Agis not allowed to dine at homeChildren learn self-discipline here (GRK: σωφροσύνη)What happens in here, stays in hereTake a joke, and give one!Bread-basket ballotThree other minor rhetrasDon’t write these down! (Training and Ethics more important than Laws)Simple Homes: All tools except ax and saw forbiddenDon’t fight consistently against the same enemy Marriage and Childbirth [14-16]The Agōgē (ἀγωγή) [16-19] and the Political Setup (for next time)
Who needs Plutarch when you have Cox?
I love this podcast. I already loved Plutarch, and maybe being familiar with a lot of the characters before you read Plutarch is just the thing you need to be able to read Plutarch more enjoyably—maybe the hardest part about reading some difficult texts is all the names one doesn’t know. Cox takes that difficulty away. He helps you to know which curious details are important, and which need not burden your conscious attention for now…so that you can get on to the business of reading Plutarch. The only problem is the temptation to be satisfied with one of his podcasts, and the danger of not going on to read the texts!
This podcast has proved to be beyond helpful for my studies! I’m a history major with a Classical Europe paper to write over Plutarch, and this podcast has made his writings so much easier to grasp and appreciate for me. Thank you so much for making these episodes!!
Exactly what I’m looking for
I love learning about the ancient world and podcasts like this one are the reason why. Tom takes the complex timelines, characters, and themes present in Plutarch’s Lives and presents them in a way that is both engaging and inspiring. Ten stars. Please pick another Latin classic to do once you finish Lives.