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'A critical study of a significant aspect or aspects of Plutarch's aims and achievements as a biographer' -To what extent does Plutarch achieve his aims for the lives of Marius and Caesar?

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Introduction

'A critical study of a significant aspect or aspects of Plutarch's aims and achievements as a biographer' -To what extent does Plutarch achieve his aims for the lives of Marius and Caesar? We are able to establish Plutarch's aims in creating his biographies by looking at his background and influences. Plutarch was born in Greece to a wealthy established family. He was well educated, studying rhetoric in Athens, and then travelled to Rome where he established connections with some important political figures. Despite being an outsider (a Greek), Plutarch accepted Roman aristocratic tradition as well as the moralising of some key Roman figures. This is reflected in the 'Lives' which in effect provide moral guidelines, prescribing how one should live a virtuous life. He viewed himself as an artist or moraliser rather than a historian, believing, "It is not so much history that we are writing but lives."1 Plutarch was deeply into the platonic approach to ethics, and therefore was also influenced by Socrates. Plato was a pupil of Socrates who claimed that the most important thing in life was to know how one should live; an emphasis on moral conduct was therefore passed down to Plutarch. He is fascinated not only by great deeds and battles but, "often a little matter, like a saying or a joke,"2 which can be more revealing in terms of character and virtue. Plato's philosophy was about the search for absolute standards of truth and moral certainty and almost all of his works are about ethics, or moral philosophy. ...read more.

Middle

believing he was "quite deliberately making himself hated by the upper class."10 A theme throughout the biographies is the idea of 'hubris' (acting with arrogance) leading to 'nemesis' (divine retribution). Plutarch believed the Gods would eventually punish those who acted with such presumption. This idea is clearly expressed in the life of Marius. He is described as having a "rough, bitter character," "too forward and lacking in modesty."11 Inevitably this leads to his 'nemesis', starting mildly: "some sort of retribution came to him for his behaviour; for Sulla took from Marius the credit of the final success, just as Marius had taken it from Metellus."12 Then finally leading to his death; "cast up upon the shores of a bloodthirsty and savage old age."13 Plutarch believed that death and how a person dies is often shown to reveal something of the true nature of their character, and therefore portrays Marius' death as some sort of retribution for his immoral life. Plutarch shows his contempt for Marius and respect of Plato after Marius' death by describing Plato as "a man and not an irrational animal"14 in comparison to Marius. Plutarch shows a clear bias against Marius yet is not wholly unsympathetic towards him. He is shown to be a strong leader having, "won the affection of the soldiers by showing that he would live as hard as they did"15 and good at winning the support of the people. ...read more.

Conclusion

I believe that Plutarch achieved some if not all of his aims for the lives of Marius and Caesar. I feel he is far more successful in moralising Marius' character without being distracted by historical events than Caesars. This is probably partly due to Plutarch favouring Caesar and therefore feeling there are less moral faults to be put right. However Plutarch uses both lives to give the reader a moral lesson, although in different ways. He shows Marius coming to a bad end and suffering at times due to being immoral, while he uses Caesars opposition rather than Caesar to show the effect of the vices. The murder of Caesar is a blow to Plutarch's theory, however he manages to emphasise the fact that the gods are on Caesars side and punishing his murderers. I believe Plutarch managed to achieve his aims in the 'Life of Marius' despite being thoroughly biased against him but achieved less (although still a few) of his aims in the 'Life of Caesar'. 1 Plutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic, Alexander, 1.1-3, Penguin 2 Plutarch, Alexander, 1.1-3, 3 Plutarch, Alexander, 1.1-3, 4 Plutarch, Alexander, 1.1-3, 5 Russell, p105 6 Russell, Plutarch quote, p80 7 Plutarch, Alexander, 1.1-3 8 Plutarch, Marius [3] 9 Plutarch, Marius [7] 10 Plutarch, Marius [9] 11 Plutarch, Marius [2,5] 12 Plutarch, Marius [10] 13 Plutarch, Marius [45] 14 Plutarch, Marius [46] 15 Plutarch, Marius [7] 16 Plutarch, Marius notes by Robin Seager 17 Plutarch, Alexander, 1.1-3 18 Plutarch, Marius [6] 19 Plutarch, Marius [46] 20 Plutarch, Caesar [1] 21 Cicero 22 Plutarch, Caesar [69] ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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