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.
Comparison - Fabius and Pericles
Fabius Show Notes
Pericles Show Notes
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Full Show Notes: https://plutarch.life/fabius
Greek Parallel - Pericles
Terentius Varro - Mastermind of Cannae, survivor of the same battle, much to his shame.
Marcellus - The sword to Fabius’s shield. Marcellus, whose life Plutarch also wrote, and Fabius together kept the Romans in their war against Hannibal without shameful or crippling setbacks.
Scipio (Africanus) - The young and ambitious general, first succesful in Spain against the Carthaginians, makes a plan to take the war to Africa. This plan that Fabius will oppose with every ounce of influence he has.
Minucius - The master of horse (magister equitum) during Fabius's dictatorship. He grows annoyed at Fabian tactics and gets himself elected “co-dictator.” After Hannibal draws him into a trap from which Fabius saves him and all his men, Minucius admits his fault and joins again in complete unity of command under Fabius.
Trebia (218 BC) - Shortly after crossing the Alps, Hannibal crushes the Roman army that comes to meet him.
Trasimene (217 BC) - Working his way almost halfway down the peninsula, Hannibal crushes another massive Roman army.
Cannae (216 BC) - Finally working his way past Rome (perhaps not enough soldiers, supplies, or the right materials to besiege Rome), he crushes for the third year in a row an army of tens of thousands of Romans, with the consul in charge that day being one of a handful of survivors.
Tarentum (213 BC) - One of the first strategic cities that the Romans, primarily through Fabius Maximus, manage to take back and hold out of Hannibal's grasp. It also seems to be a blot on Fabius's record, as he does something out of character when taking over the city.
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Full Show Notes for Camillus - Noble Roman Dictator
Greek Parallel - Themistocles
No Extant Parallel Essay - :(
Brennus - Gallic chieftan, unscrupulous and forceful, but without much character development as Plutarch did for other villains (see, for example, Alexander of Pherae's character development in the Life of Pelopidas or Dionysius II's tyrannical character as developed in the Life of Dion).
The Common (Ro)Man - Whether volunteering to give your wagon to Vestal Virgins or to take a risky message across enemy lines and back again, the common Romans do a great deal in this life. This creates a great parallel with the Life of Publicola, whose life features the brave deeds of so many Romans other than himself.
Ardea - Camillus’s chosen spot of exile
Rome - What’s in a city? When it’s all been burned to the ground, should the Romans rebuild or colonize elsewhere?
Allia - Battle v. The Gauls
Sutrium - An ally of Rome which the Tuscans besiege calling for unprecedented tactics on the part of the Romans.
Key Virtues and Vices
φρόνησις - practical judgment - Not quite prudence, but the lower element of it that chooses the means most appropriate to the ends. His parallel, Themistocles, had this in spades, but Camillus is no slouch at planning and tactics, both political and military.
Moderation - μετριότης (cf. 11 for lack of it in grieving)
Boldness of Speech - παρρησία - This one often is on a knife's edge between vice and virtue. This is the same key word that Luke uses in Acts of the Apostles when describing the boldness with which the apostles preached about Jesus. Plutarch, writing after Luke and with no knowledge of the man, already recognizes the long Greek history behind this word.
Hatred - ἀπεχθεία - You will accrue allies, but you will also accrue enemies in doing worthy political work.
Gentleness - ἥμερος (cf. 11) - Here one almost wishes his parallel were Pericles, though he is *not* as gentle as Pericles, so again Plutarch chose well in that parallel too (see next month for the Life of Fabius!)
Kindliness - χρηστός (cf. 11) - Has at its root usefulness, and was a key virtue in the life of that obscure Greek, Pelopidas.
Avoidance of Conflict - On several occasions Camillus seems to choose to do the easier thing, rather than having the difficult conversation or confrontation necessary to ensure the right action is taken.
Justice - δικαιοσύνη - More important even than victory, Camillus’s conscientious application of the law even to his enemies in war wins him admiration and trust on both sides of a conflict.
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Comparison - Coriolanus and Alcibiades
So how do Coriolanus and Alcibiades actually compare? One seems like an angry fireball of revenge, the other a self-serving but talented chameleon. Coriolanus couldn't care less about his reputation, but wants the excellence that lives up to his own standard. Alcibiades can accept anyone's standards of behavior... as long as there is something in it for him. How do these two very different men stand in their similarities and differences? What can we learn for ourselves and apply to our own lives if we ever interact with someone like Alcibiades or Coriolanus.
First we'll hear from Plutarch himself, and then Tom will give his perspective with some helpful ways to grow in virtue, particularly key in this life is the ability to know when to lead and when to follow.
Re-listen to the original lives for a refresher:
CoriolanusAlcibiadesSupport the show
Greek Parallel - Alcibiades
Volumnia - Coriolanus’s mother and, because his father died young, the woman on whom Coriolanus will pour all his filial piety.
Tullus Aufidius - The leader of the Volscians against the Romans. When Coriolanus switches sides, it is Tullus who is eclipsed.
The Senate - Yes, the Senate acts as a character in this Life, so much so that they represent those with all the power and control, even though they don’t do all the fighting. Coriolanus represents their interests primarily, even over Rome’s.
The People or Plebs - Also a character seen as a body, with no one to represent them. They fight and die in Rome’s wars but often do not see the political fruits of their sacrifices. As such, they secede from Rome and refuse to fight in wars the Senate votes for. This enrages Coriolanus and is one of the major turning points in his life.
Corioli - The town which Marcius takes nearly single-handedly after a risky choice, earning him the agnomen Coriolanus.
Rome - Really just a city-state at this time. As a young Republic, the people are probably more sensitive to attitudes of hubris and condescension in their leaders. Coriolanus will be put on trial for tyranny, though the charges morph as the trial progresses.
The Sacred Mount - The plebes are many generations away from full political involvement in this fledgling Republic. As such, they have to force the patricians to notice them. One tactic available to them is secession, and they flee to the Sacred Mount to show the Roman Senators that they will not just be dictated to about what wars they will and will not fight in. They demand justice and the sacred mount shows how closely woven were military, religious, and political interests of the Roman people.
Key Virtues and Vices
Gravity - ἐμβριθής - We might call this virtue steadiness since it implies the ability to see a task through even as everyone around you changes his mind or runs around like an electrocuted chicken. Coriolanus is too reactionary, and gravity allows a leader to stick with the good plan even in the moments when everyone else thinks its a bad one.
Mildness - πραότης - This virtue, coupled with the previous one, were what Plutarch (and Thucydides for that matter) admired so much about Pericles.
Anger - ὀργή - What seems more to us like an emotion, and Plutarch, when pressed would call a passion (παθή) he often treats as a vice, particularly in this Life. One interesting thing to note, though, is that the words for anger and indignation are used more often in the English translations where the Greek has a word with much greater semantic range: θυμός - listen to the podcast to find out more about this fascinating word.
Ambition - φιλοτιμία - Plutarch examines this from many angles, but Coriolanus’s appetite for glory is unquenchable. It also seems only to be tempered by his love for his mother… almost.
Love of Strife - In Greek, the difference between the love of victory (φιλονικία) and the love of strife (φιλονεικία) is one letter, an epsilon. That slippery little letter has caused a lot of strife among Plutarch scholars, but I think we can safely say here that Coriolanus had a love of strife that sat deeper in his soul than a love of victory, particularly when he disregards Rome’s victories as he fought for them and chooses to fight for her defeat.
Justice (δικαιοσύνη) - When the Senate and People disagree, Rome is brought to a standstill. When Coriolanus thinks he receives less than he deserves, he storms off to fight for someone who will appreciate him.
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Pyrrhus - Episode 2
Pyrrhus, tempted to fight in the old Homeric style of one on one, strikes me as a man born in the wrong era. With the rise of the Macedonian phalanx, his tactical brilliance sees some success but his personal appetite for risk and voracious craving for the next adventure over the horizon cause him to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory too many times in his life.
From Fabricius to Sparta to Argos, Pyrrhus seems to learn prudence, but only learns that even the Spartans can defend their homeland with everything they've got.
How can we learn from Pyrrhus and not earn victories so costly that we end in defeat?
Also, Pyrrhus's end in Argos...
How to read a metaphor (or an omen!).
And so much more...
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Thanks for uploading the episodes so frequently!
I listen to this podcast while playing badminton and enjoying pasties
Love this show!! Wish this had been my history/literature teacher !!