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Pyrrhus

Roman Parallel – Marius (157-86 BC)

Important People

  • Demetrius (337-283) – Neighbor and even, for a time, brother-in-law. Son of Antigonus I and father of Antigonus II, Demetrius rules in Greece, Macedon (for seven years), Asia Minor but was ultimately conquered by Seleucus and imprisoned until he died of his own drinking habit.
  • Cassander (355-297) – Son of Antipater, who had served as regent of Macedon during Alexander’s campaigns and later served as regent after the death of Perdiccas, he did not inherit the Macedonian throne from his father but had to fight Polyperchon for it. He conquers Greece as well and, most infamously, ends the charade of the successors serving as satraps to a regent by killing the young Alexander IV and his mother and grandmother, Olympias.
  • Ptolemy I Soter (367-282) – The stable successor to Alexander who carves out Egypt (305 BC) for himself and founds a dynasty that rules Egypt from the prosperous port of Alexandria until Julius Caesar’s arrival. Ptolemy also strategic in his dynastic alliances to stave off further wars.
  • Cineas – Philosopher and orator, Cineas acts as a foil to Pyrrhus’s reckless moving from hope to hope. In the midpoint of this life, he attempts to help Pyrrhus think through why he should be driven from conquest to conquest and provides reflection on Pyrrhus’s accomplishments. Nevertheless, the philosopher accompanies him on all Pyrrhus’s expeditions.
  • Fabricius – Our first direct encounters with Roman virtue. While not given his own biography, Fabricius looms large in contrast to Pyrrhus’s vices. Fabricius is stable, cautious, and dependable where Pyrrhus is reckless, overly optimistic, and flighty.

Important Places

  • Epirus – Pyrrhus’s birthplace and kingdom by right, inheritance, and conquest.
  • Macedon – Neighboring kingdom to Epirus. Pyrrhus manages to win it and lose it without a fight. 
  • Rome – The new power in the Western Mediterranean, having risen even more recently than Carthage, now threatens the entire Italian peninsula, including the Greek-speaking colonies in the south. 
  • Tarentum – The colony that asks Pyrrhus for help, and then quickly comes to regret asking. 
  • Beneventum – The battle in which the Romans manage, not exactly to beat Pyrrhus, but to convince him that Italy won't be worth the fight. 

Key Vices and Virtues

  • Excessive Appetite for Conquest (πλεονεξία) – Not a vice in the Aristotelian canon, but one important to historians like Thucydides, who saw it as the root of the Athenian downfall. This Life becomes a meditation on knowign one’s political limits and serving in the capacity one has been placed. The philosopher Cineas provides some of this perspective for us without being too heavy-handed.
  • Justice – Once again ignored by most of Alexander’s successors, we do se key aspects of it lived up to by the Romans. It is called the virtue of kings in this life and one philosopher observes that the Roman Senate strikes him as “An Assembly of Kings.” When Justice and Power are joined, Plutarch sees not only a properous state nor even just a stable situation, but a good government promoting virtue in its people. This life sets us up so well to enter into the Roman story, because Plutarch wants to remind even the Romans of their past virtues and encourage them to live up to those old virtues in the height of their power.

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