Plutarch’s Parallel Lives


Welcome to this comprehensive review of Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives,” a monumental work that has captivated scholars and general readers alike for centuries. Written by Plutarch, a philosopher, biographer, and essayist from ancient Greece, “Parallel Lives” remains a seminal text in the study of history, ethics, and leadership. While Plutarch’s work has been revered for its deep insights into the human condition, it is also subject to the cultural and temporal biases of its era. This review aims to be not only academically rigorous but also accessible to those less familiar with classical literature. We’ll delve into the major themes and key teachings that Plutarch aimed to impart, assess his unique contributions and methodologies, and also offer some critical perspectives, including considerations of gender and cultural biases. We will explore the larger sociopolitical context in which he wrote and evaluate why his works remain relevant today.

Note to the reader: While this review delves into academic aspects of Plutarch’s works, it aims to be accessible to those who may be unfamiliar with classical literature. Explanatory notes and layman’s terms are used to break down complex topics.


Plutarch’s Life and Time

Plutarch lived during a transformative period, from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. His philosophy and works were heavily influenced by his environment, including his education in Plato’s Academy. Understanding Plutarch’s life offers an invaluable lens through which to comprehend his body of work.

Life of Plutarch

Plutarch, born around 46-50 AD in Chaeronea, a small town in Boeotia, Greece, was a prominent philosopher, biographer, and essayist of the Greco-Roman world. His life unfolded during a time of great change, transitioning from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

Plutarch’s early life was shaped by his family’s strong ties to education and philosophy. His father, Lamprias, was an esteemed teacher, and Plutarch was exposed to literature, philosophy, and rhetoric from a young age. He studied in Athens and travelled extensively through Greece, Italy, Egypt, and Asia Minor, which exposed him to a wide range of cultures and ideas.

Plutarch’s intellectual pursuits were broad and deep. He was a devoted follower of Platonism, which influenced his philosophical outlook. He wrote extensively on a wide range of topics, covering ethics, politics, religion, history, and more. His work was informed by his belief in the interplay between divine providence and human agency.

His most famous works are the “Parallel Lives” and “Moralia.” The former consists of biographical sketches comparing Greek and Roman figures, highlighting their virtues, vices, and historical impact. This work offered not just historical insights but also moral lessons for readers. The “Moralia” comprises a collection of essays covering a myriad of subjects, showcasing Plutarch’s wisdom and versatility.

Plutarch’s life wasn’t confined to scholarly pursuits. He was a priest at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and was involved in the administration of Chaeronea. His public roles gave him insight into the political and religious dynamics of his time.

His legacy is marked by his enduring impact on literature, philosophy, and education. Plutarch’s works were widely read during his lifetime and remained influential for centuries. His ideas influenced thinkers like Montaigne, Shakespeare, and later philosophers and scholars.

Plutarch’s approach to biography, which emphasized moral lessons and character exploration, laid the foundation for modern biographical writing. His examination of virtue and vice, complex human nature, and the intersection of individual choices with historical events remain relevant to this day.

Plutarch passed away around 120 AD, leaving behind a legacy that continues to enrich our understanding of history, philosophy, and the intricacies of the human experience. His life and works offer a timeless invitation to ponder the moral complexities of existence and to seek wisdom in both history and literature.

Who influenced Plutarch 

Plutarch’s thought and writing were influenced by a variety of philosophical, historical, and literary traditions of his time. Some of the notable influences on Plutarch include:

Plato: Plutarch was deeply influenced by Plato’s philosophy, particularly his ideas about virtue, ethics, and the nature of the soul. Plutarch’s admiration for Plato’s teachings is evident in his emphasis on moral and intellectual development.

Pyrrhonism: Plutarch engaged with Pyrrhonian scepticism, a philosophical school that advocated for suspension of judgment. This influence can be seen in his willingness to explore multiple perspectives and his discussions on the complexity of human knowledge.

Stoicism: Plutarch incorporated Stoic concepts into his ethical teachings, including ideas about self-control, rationality, and the pursuit of virtue.

Middle Platonism: Plutarch’s works reflect the influence of Middle Platonism, which sought to reconcile Platonic thought with other philosophical systems. This is seen in his blend of Platonic ideas with elements from other philosophical schools.

Epicureanism: While Plutarch often criticized Epicurean doctrines, he engaged with their ideas on pleasure, happiness, and the pursuit of a tranquil life in some of his writings.

Plutarch’s Lives 

Plutarch’s “Lives” stands as a seminal work in the genre of biography, offering an intricate weave of moral evaluation and historical narration. While its immediate impact was significant in shaping the moral and historical discourse of its time, the text has sustained its relevance for millennia. However, a critical evaluation reveals not only its contributions but also the complications that arise when interpreting Plutarch’s objectives and methods.

One must first recognize the dualistic nature of Plutarch’s project. Rather than a stringent historical account, “Lives” is an amalgamation of ethical philosophy and historiography. Plutarch often deploys anecdotal digressions, apparently irrelevant in a strictly historical sense, but invaluable for his overarching moral objectives. However, this hybrid form problematizes the work’s historiographical integrity; Plutarch’s commitment to moral edification can, and often does, take precedence over factual accuracy.

Moreover, Plutarch’s technique of “parallel lives”—comparing a Greek and a Roman figure—serves a syncretic agenda, seeking to create a cultural bridge between the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. But this strategy risks essentializing and simplifying the individuals he describes, as they are often shoehorned into a pre-existing moral framework, which may not entirely accommodate the complexities of their characters or circumstances.

Furthermore, the ethical paradigms employed by Plutarch often derive from an elitist, male-centric worldview that reflects the social hierarchies of his time. While instructive within the context of his own era, these paradigms may perpetuate certain normative ideologies that are questionable when scrutinized through contemporary lenses, such as feminist or post-colonial theories.

Finally, one cannot ignore Plutarch’s role as a moral pedagogue. While the lives he portrays serve to edify, the selectivity in his presentation creates a spectrum of virtue and vice that may inadvertently cater to propagandistic ends. For instance, the laudatory tone in the life of Alexander the Great could be seen as an implicit endorsement of imperial ambitions, thereby complicating Plutarch’s role as a moral guide.

In summary, while Plutarch’s “Lives” remains a foundational text in both biographical literature and ethical discourse, its multidimensional complexities render it a work that invites—and withstands—rigorous scholarly interrogation. It is a text that is both shaped by and shapes its multifarious interpretative communities, reflecting a dialogic dynamism that both enriches and complicates its legacy.

The Parallel Lives

Theseus & Romulus: Both are considered founders of great cities (Athens and Rome). Plutarch examines their legends and deconstructs their methods of rule. However, Theseus’s approach is marked by inclusivity and consultation, while Romulus employs force and autocratic methods.

Lycurgus & Numa: Both are lawgivers who helped to establish the structures of their respective societies (Sparta and Rome). Plutarch describes them as peaceful innovators, emphasizing the sanctity they brought to their respective legal systems.

Solon & Publicola: Solon is renowned for democratic reforms in Athens, while Publicola played a similar role in the early Roman Republic. However, Plutarch’s idealization of Solon seems to overshadow Publicola, indicating a subtle Greek bias.

Themistocles & Camillus: Both are military leaders who saved their cities from peril (Athens from Persians, Rome from Gauls). Plutarch focuses on Themistocles’ cleverness and Camillus’s heroism but questions their moral complexities, including issues of pride and greed.

Pericles & Fabius Maximus: Both are politicians known for their cautious military strategies. Plutarch emphasizes their prudence and integrity but also scrutinizes the political environments that allowed them to flourish.

Alcibiades & Coriolanus: Both are brilliant but flawed military leaders who turn against their own cities. Plutarch explores the volatile interplay between personal ambition and public duty, suggesting a certain tragic inevitability in their actions.

Alexander & Caesar: Both are extraordinary conquerors whose ambition knew no bounds. Plutarch discusses the tyranny that often accompanies genius, raising ethical questions about the impact of imperial conquest.

Demosthenes & Cicero: Both are orators and statesmen who faced enormous political challenges. Plutarch is more sympathetic to Cicero, emphasizing his rhetorical prowess and statesmanship, whereas Demosthenes is depicted as effective but less virtuous.

Sertorius & Eumenes: Both are military men who operated in difficult circumstances outside their homeland. Plutarch presents them as virtuous underdogs, highlighting their resourcefulness and commitment to their causes.

Dion & Brutus: Both are idealistic politicians who ousted tyrannical figures. While Dion failed to achieve long-lasting change in Syracuse, Brutus’ actions led to the end of the Roman monarchy, making his narrative more successful in Plutarch’s eyes.

Timoleon & Aemilius Paulus: Each restored their city to glory through military means. Timoleon liberates Syracuse from tyranny, and Aemilius Paulus defeats Perseus of Macedon. Plutarch presents them as guided by divine providence and moral integrity.

Pelopidas & Marcellus: Both are distinguished warriors known for personal bravery. Plutarch frames Pelopidas as a self-sacrificing hero, while Marcellus is viewed as an example of Roman martial virtue, albeit one lacking in strategic acumen.

Aristides & Cato the Elder: Each is an upright statesman, known for moral integrity. While Aristides was admired in his time, Cato is presented as a counter-cultural figure whose rigid morality was often at odds with his society.

Philopoemen & Flamininus: Known for military prowess and leadership, Philopoemen’s strict discipline contrasts with Flamininus’s diplomatic flexibility. Plutarch highlights how their different approaches shaped the landscape of Greek independence.

Pyrrhus & Caius Marius: Both are renowned for military innovation but struggled to transition from military to political life. Plutarch examines the ethical implications of their respective ambitions, focusing on their inability to adapt to peacetime governance.

Lysander & Sulla: Each turned military success into political power but faced ethical compromises. Lysander’s rigidness led to his downfall, while Sulla’s dictatorial reign led to societal decay, raising questions about the morality of authoritarian rule.

Cimon & Lucullus: Cimon’s campaigns expanded Athenian influence, and Lucullus’s military adventures in Asia Minor are legendary. Plutarch praises Cimon’s generosity but critiques Lucullus for his ostentation and luxury.

Nicias & Crassus: Both experienced military failures that had significant repercussions for their states. Nicias’s failure in the Sicilian Expedition contrasted with Crassus’s defeat in Parthia, emphasizing the devastating impacts of poor military judgment.

Demetrius & Antony: These leaders were undone by personal failings—Demetrius by his ambition and Antony by his love for Cleopatra. Plutarch illustrates how private vices can have public consequences.

Agesilaus & Pompey: Each had initial military successes but ended in failure. Plutarch depicts Agesilaus as virtuous but impractical, whereas Pompey is shown as initially successful but eventually outmanoeuvred by Caesar.

Agis & Cleomenes paired with Tiberius Gracchus & Gaius Gracchus: These are examples of reformers who faced resistance from established powers. The Gracchi brothers sought land reform, while Agis and Cleomenes aimed at redistributing wealth in Sparta.

Alexander of Phere & Caesar: Both were tyrants who met violent ends. Plutarch uses these lives to explore the darker aspects of power and the moral degradation associated with tyranny.

Phocion & Cato the Younger: Both are examples of incorruptible statesmen who met tragic ends due to political circumstances. Phocion was executed despite his virtues, while Cato committed suicide rather than live under tyranny.

The nuanced presentations in these pairs offer a kaleidoscopic view of virtues and vices, of successes and failures, allowing Plutarch to address ethical considerations. While each life offers a different moral lesson, the collective corpus shows Plutarch’s effort to guide the moral compass of his readers, even though his methodology and focus have limitations that include cultural bias, historical inaccuracies, and a certain ideological selectivity.

These pairings showcase Plutarch’s intricate methodology. However, the ethical frameworks he employs are often bound by cultural and temporal biases. For instance, virtues such as martial bravery are consistently glorified, while traits like cunning or diplomatic skill are either understated or problematized. Similarly, the absence of women and non-elite individuals reveals the narrow sociopolitical lens through which Plutarch viewed greatness.

Moreover, the interpretive liberties Plutarch takes with historical events also raise questions about the reliability of his work as a historical source. His interest in moral exemplars often leads him to overlook or understate the darker aspects of these figures, thereby creating an idealized, rather than accurate, portrayal of historical events and individuals.

In conclusion, while Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” remains a pivotal text for understanding antiquity and has contributed immensely to the genre of biography, its ethnocentric biases, factual liberties, and limited scope must be critically examined to better appreciate its complex impact on the historiographical and ethical discourse.

The Unpaired Lives 

Unpaired lives include those of Aratus, Artaxerxes, Galba, and Otho.

Aratus: He was a statesman and general of Sicyon who aimed to free his city-state from tyranny. In a sense, his life serves as an exploration of the virtues of civic-mindedness and the responsibilities that come with political power. Aratus also worked to expand the Achaean League, making him an interesting figure for Plutarch’s broader discussions on unity and collective governance.

Artaxerxes: A Persian king whose reign was marked by internal strife and external wars. Through the life of Artaxerxes, Plutarch engages with themes of monarchical rule, exploring the complexities and challenges that come with governing a sprawling empire. He is a study in contrast to the typically Greek and Roman figures that populate Plutarch’s work, serving perhaps as a counterpoint to explore different facets of leadership and governance.

Galba: A Roman Emperor whose short reign was marked by a lack of political acumen and who eventually fell victim to assassination. Through Galba, Plutarch investigates the fragile nature of authority and the consequences of failing to grasp the nuances of power dynamics, particularly within the treacherous political environment of Rome.

Otho: Another Roman Emperor with a brief reign, he committed suicide after losing a decisive battle. Like Galba, Otho’s life serves as a cautionary tale about the volatility of power, but it also delves into personal virtues and vices, focusing on Otho’s initial frivolity and eventual gravitas.

In including these unpaired lives, Plutarch extends the range of his ethical and political exploration. Aratus and Artaxerxes offer perspectives from beyond the Greco-Roman world, while Galba and Otho offer insights into the chaotic Year of the Four Emperors in Rome. These unpaired lives enrich the tapestry of “Parallel Lives,” allowing for a more comprehensive view of the complexities of leadership, ethics, and governance. However, the same critiques—such as cultural biases and the potential for historical inaccuracy—apply here as well, reminding us that Plutarch’s work is a product of its time, shaped by the author’s own ideological leanings and the limitations of his sources.

Plutarch’s works glaringly omit the influence and roles of women in history, a reflection of his societal norms. This absence impacts the moral lessons derived from “Parallel Lives” and influences how we interpret his understanding of virtues, ethics, and governance.

Table of Parallel Lives

Certainly, here’s a simplified table that outlines the pairs in Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” along with their key characteristics as depicted by Plutarch:

PairingGreek FigureRoman FigureKey Characteristics
1. FoundersTheseusRomulusCity founders, differing in governance methods
2. LawgiversLycurgusNumaEstablishers of legal and religious frameworks
3. Democratic ReformersSolonPublicolaChampions of democratic reforms
4. Military SaviorsThemistoclesCamillusSaved their cities from foreign invasion
5. Prudent PoliticiansPericlesFabius MaximusKnown for cautious military strategies
6. Tragic HeroesAlcibiadesCoriolanusTalented but flawed military leaders
7. ConquerorsAlexanderCaesarExpansive conquerors with unlimited ambition
8. OratorsDemosthenesCiceroInfluential orators and statesmen
9. Virtuous UnderdogsSertoriusEumenesMilitary leaders who thrived in adversity
10. Idealistic PoliticiansDionBrutusIdealists who ousted tyrants
11. Divine LeadersTimoleonAemilius PaulusMilitary leaders guided by divine providence
12. Brave WarriorsPelopidasMarcellusKnown for personal bravery in battle
13. Men of IntegrityAristidesCato the ElderStatesmen known for moral integrity
14. Military LeadersPhilopoemenFlamininusLed armies with differing approaches
15. Failed PoliticiansPyrrhusCaius MariusMilitary leaders who failed in politics
16. AuthoritariansLysanderSullaTurned military success into political power
17. Generous LeadersCimonLucullusMilitary men known for their differing lifestyles
18. Failed GeneralsNiciasCrassusSuffered monumental military failures
19. Self-DestructiveDemetriusAntonyUndone by personal vices
20. Fallen HeroesAgesilausPompeyInitial successes but ultimately defeated
21. ReformersAgis & CleomenesTiberius & Gaius GracchusAdvocated societal reforms
22. TyrantsAlexander of PhereCaesar (Julius)Tyrannical rulers who met violent ends
23. Tragic StatesmenPhocionCato the YoungerIncorruptible but met tragic ends

This table condenses the multi-faceted lives portrayed by Plutarch into simplified categories, reflecting the key characteristics he aimed to emphasize in each pairing.

Major themes, ideas, and innovations

Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives” and “Moralia” offer rich ground for understanding major themes, ideas, and innovations that have made a lasting impact on the fields of biography, history, and philosophy. Here are some key aspects:

Major Themes

Moral and Ethical Inquiry: Central to both works is the exploration of virtue and vice. Each life serves as a case study in human behavior, examining both the greatness and shortcomings of individuals. For example, in the life of Alexander the Great, Plutarch discusses the idea of ambition run amok, providing a cautionary tale for leaders today.

Leadership and Governance: Plutarch explores different styles of leadership, from military generals to political reformers, and assesses the effectiveness and ethical dimensions of each. In his account of Lycurgus, Plutarch explores the concept of law and social order, providing an early exploration into the necessity and pitfalls of a tightly regulated society.

Individual vs. Society: Plutarch often focuses on the tension between an individual’s ambition and the needs or expectations of society. Many lives end tragically due to this tension. The biographies of Alcibiades and Coriolanus offer a nuanced look at the complexities of charismatic leadership and how personal magnetism can be both an asset and a liability.

Divine Influence and Fate: In several lives, Plutarch discusses the influence of divine signs, omens, and fate, offering a view into ancient belief systems. For example, in the life of Numa Pompilius, he delves into the themes of religious piety and divine guidance, offering a look at the role of spirituality in governance.

Civic Virtue: Especially in Roman lives, Plutarch emphasizes the role of civic virtue and public duty, examining how statesmen and soldiers contributed to the welfare of the community. Themistocles’ biography offers an in-depth look at the concept of cunning intelligence and strategy, illustrating how personal virtues can benefit society.

Major Ideas

Comparison as Insight: The innovative format of comparing Greek and Roman lives allows Plutarch to offer a nuanced view of similar characters, elevating the work from mere biography to a form of comparative history.

Human Agency: Though acknowledging the role of fate, Plutarch places significant emphasis on free will and individual agency, suggesting that moral choices are pivotal in shaping one’s destiny.

The Complex Nature of Morality: Plutarch refrains from simplistic judgments, presenting his subjects as multifaceted individuals who possess both virtues and vices. The life of Cicero offers a perspective on the importance of eloquence and public speaking, emphasizing the diverse skills that can lead to political effectiveness.


Biography as Moral Instruction: One of the early adopters of biography as a form of ethical teaching, Plutarch’s approach has been foundational for the genre.

Inclusion of Anecdotes: Plutarch’s use of anecdotes and personal details was groundbreaking. These elements provide psychological depth to the characters, something rarely seen in ancient historical works.

Thematic Pairing: The very idea of pairing lives for comparison was novel and provided a new way of examining historical and moral themes.

Interdisciplinary Approach: Plutarch combined history, biography, and moral philosophy in a seamless manner, creating works that defy easy categorization and have consequently been of interest to a broad array of scholars. Understanding Plutarch’s methodological choices in relation to other historians like Herodotus and Thucydides reveals the uniqueness of his narrative style and his focus on ethics over mere historical facts.

Through these themes, ideas, and innovations, Plutarch not only offers timeless insights into human behaviour but also leaves a lasting impact on the literature and methodology of history and biography.

Key teachings and wisdom that Plutarch attempts to impart

Plutarch aimed to impart several key teachings and pieces of wisdom through his works, particularly in “Parallel Lives” and “Moralia.” Here are some of the most salient:

Ethical and Moral Lessons

The Importance of Virtue: Virtue is at the core of a fulfilling and admirable life. Plutarch’s biographies often focus on the virtues his subjects exemplified, such as courage, wisdom, and justice. For example, the life of Pericles provides a comprehensive look at the concept of statesmanship, showing how personal virtues can be translated into public goodness.

Complexity of Human Nature: Plutarch was keen to show that people are complex mixtures of virtues and vices. His nuanced portrayals encourage readers to understand the multifaceted nature of human character. In the life of Sulla, for example, Plutarch presents a man who is both cruel and brilliant, providing an example of the complexity of human nature.

Value of Self-Examination: By studying the lives of others, we can better understand ourselves. Plutarch’s work acts as a mirror for readers to examine their own moral fibre, as seen in the life of Cato the Younger, whose unyielding commitment to principle offers a lens through which readers might consider their own ethical rigidity or flexibility.

Leadership and Governance

The Role of Character in Leadership: The effectiveness and morality of a leader often depend on personal character. A leader’s virtues or vices can have widespread implications for a community or nation. In the biography of Caesar, Plutarch explores how personal ambition can both elevate and corrupt a leader, thereby influencing an entire society.

Public Service and Civic Duty: Plutarch emphasized the importance of serving one’s community and nation, often praising his subjects for their dedication to the public good. The life of Solon, for instance, shows how laws and governance can be employed to establish justice and fairness in society.

Individual vs. Society

Personal Ambition and Collective Needs: There’s often a tension between individual desires and societal expectations. Plutarch explores this theme extensively, showing how some figures successfully harmonize the two, while others do not. For example, in the life of Demosthenes, Plutarch presents the pitfalls of personal ambition when it conflicts with the needs of a democracy.

Philosophical Wisdom

Role of Fate and Divine Providence: Plutarch touches upon the role of fate and the gods in human affairs, often juxtaposing these external forces with human agency and free will. The life of Theseus offers an exploration of the role of heroism and fate, showing how destiny and personal action can intertwine.

Ethical Decision-Making: Through the choices and dilemmas faced by his subjects, Plutarch offers insights into how one might approach ethical decision-making in complex situations. This is evident in the life of Brutus, where Plutarch delves into the complexities of betrayal for a perceived greater good.

Insights into Human Behavior

The Influence of Early Life: Childhood and upbringing often play a critical role in shaping an individual, a point Plutarch underscores in many of his biographies. The life of Cyrus the Great offers insights into the impact of education and early experiences on leadership qualities.

Consequences of Hubris: Excessive pride and disregard for moral limits often lead to downfall. Figures like Alcibiades and Antony serve as cautionary tales, illustrating how personal flaws can have monumental consequences.

Through these teachings, Plutarch attempts to offer a guide for moral living, effective leadership, and a better understanding of human nature. His wisdom has been valued across ages, testifying to the enduring relevance of his work.

Plutarch’s Influence

Plutarch’s teachings find applications in today’s world, from leadership courses to ethical decision-making models. Discussing Plutarch’s relevance in the context of current events or personal development further testifies to the timelessness of his wisdom. For example, the leadership qualities extolled in his biographies resonate with modern theories of effective governance, which frequently cite figures like Alexander the Great or Lycurgus to illustrate principles of leadership and organizational behaviour.


Shakespeare: Plutarch’s “Lives” was a major source for Shakespeare, particularly for his Roman plays like “Julius Caesar,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” and “Coriolanus.” In plays like “Julius Caesar,” Shakespeare drew directly from Plutarch’s examinations of character and fate, showing how they can intermingle to produce tragic outcomes.

Renaissance Literature

Montaigne: Plutarch was widely read during the Renaissance, influencing writers such as Montaigne, who drew on the “Moralia” for his “Essays.” The importance of self-examination, a central theme in Plutarch’s works, also features prominently in Montaigne’s introspective essays.

History and Biography

Historiography: Plutarch’s approach to biography influenced the way historians treat individual characters within broader historical narratives. The very practice of modern historiography, where the personal intersects with the geopolitical, owes much to Plutarch’s methodological choices.

Modern Biography

Anecdotal Approach: Many tenets of modern biographical writing, such as the inclusion of personal anecdotes and moral assessment, can be traced back to Plutarch. Modern biographies often incorporate these elements to provide a fuller, more nuanced picture of their subjects.


Ethical Thought: Plutarch’s discussions on virtue and vice have been considered by philosophers interested in ethics, especially virtue ethics. Plutarch’s work remains a staple in philosophy curricula, reflecting the ongoing interest in his thoughts on morality and human nature.

Political Theory

Machiavelli: Although they differed in many respects, Plutarch’s examinations of leadership and political power were of interest to Machiavelli, especially his assessments of virtù (virtue) in rulers. For instance, Machiavelli’s “The Prince” presents a different perspective on some of the same leaders Plutarch examined, providing a unique counterpoint.

American Founding Fathers: Figures like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams read and respected Plutarch’s works, seeing them as studies in civic virtue and leadership. The Federalist Papers and other founding documents reflect the influence of Plutarchan thought on early American political theory.

Popular Culture

Educational Curricula: From the Renaissance through to the modern period, Plutarch’s “Lives” have often been included in educational curricula as moral instruction. His works serve as both historical accounts and ethical primers, offering enduring lessons for personal development.

Public Discourse: Even today, Plutarch’s stories are cited in political and ethical discussions, showing the enduring relevance of his work. In debates about leadership qualities, ethical decision-making, and the role of virtue in public life, Plutarch’s biographies continue to offer valuable insights.


Plutarch’s work has remained relevant over the centuries, shaping the way we think about history, politics, and individual moral character. His approach to linking biography and history has provided a template that many subsequent writers and thinkers have followed. Whether it’s a corporate leader examining the qualities that make for effective governance or a student delving into ethical philosophy, Plutarch offers timeless wisdom. With narratives that span from the virtues of selfless leadership to the pitfalls of unrestrained ambition—as seen in the life of Alexander the Great—his work serves as a complex mirror in which we can reflect on our own lives. Therefore, Plutarch’s writings are not merely historical documents but enduring resources for anyone interested in the complexities of human behaviour and the eternal questions of morality and governance.

Bibliography of Plutarch and References 

Below is a simplified bibliography that aims to offer a comprehensive look at Plutarch’s works and subsequent scholarship:

Primary Sources

Plutarch. “Parallel Lives.” Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Loeb Classical Library, various editions.

Plutarch. “Moralia.” Translated by Harold North Fowler. Loeb Classical Library, various editions.

Secondary Sources


Duff, Timothy. “Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice.” Oxford University Press, 1999.

Pelling, Christopher. “Plutarch and History: Eighteen Studies.” Classical Press of Wales, 2002.

Russell, Donald. “Plutarch.” Duckworth, 2001.

Stadter, Philip A. “Plutarch and His Roman Readers.” Oxford University Press, 2014.

Ziegler, Konrat. “Plutarchos von Chaironeia.” C.H. Beck, 1964.

Journal Articles

Hamilton, J. R. “Plutarch and the Roman Army.” Classical Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 1, 1962, pp. 152-169.

Wardman, Alan. “Plutarch’s ‘Lives’.” Greece & Rome, vol. 13, no. 1, 1966, pp. 80-96.

Beneker, Jeffrey. “The Politics of Plutarch’s Sertorius.” Classical Philology, vol. 100, no. 1, 2005, pp. 60–76.

Scardigli, Barbara. “Essays on Plutarch’s Lives.” Oxford University Press, 1995.

Georgiadou, Aristoula. “Plutarch’s Pelopidas: A Historical and Historiographical Commentary.” Historia, vol. 42, 1993, pp. 295-327.

Online Resources

“The Plutarch Project.” [Website] Available at: 

Lendering, Jona. “Plutarch of Chaeronea.” Available at: 

This bibliography provides an overview of the central works written by and about Plutarch, offering readers a roadmap for delving deeper into his life, his methodologies, and his lasting impact on the fields of history and biography.