Whether you’re reading a few lives for historical interest, many lives for your own education, or all the lives as a completist, Plutarch is daunting because he’s so old. You shouldn’t read Plutarch alone and, thanks to the Internet, you’ll at least have me to help you!
Find a Plutarch Translation That Fits
The first place to start is to pick a translation that works for you. There are a lot of free ones, but you may have the best luck paying a bit to read in a more comfortable idiom. Once you’ve selected a translation, you can start however you like, chronologically (as arranged in the Timeline below) or just by diving into your favorite period of Greek or Roman history.
Check out the Podcast
If you have a particular life in mind, start with the Podcast to see if I’ve already done an episode on that life (I’m 11 lives in, so I’m 20% of the way there). In each podcast, I try to give a general picture with enough contextual footholds that when you read (or re-read) a life, you remember more and make deeper connections with the person Plutarch is describing. If you’re confused about the historical context of a particular life, it’s best to check out the Timeline (below), or check out the show notes for the Important People or Important Places sections.
Season by Season: Reflecting on the Lives
I’ll break down the seasons and individual episodes below with some pertinent information (Greek life in green, Roman life in red), linked to the show notes and recording for each episode.
|Season 1: Why Plutarch and Introduction||Dates (all BC)|
|Solon – Introduction to the Lawgivers||638-558|
|Aristides – Introduction to Golden Age Athens||530-468|
|Demosthenes – Introduction to the Rise of Macedon||384-322|
|Cato the Elder – Introduction to the Rise of Rome||234-149|
|Cicero – Introduction to the Roman Revolution(s)||106-43|
|Season 2: Heroes, Lawgivers, and Kings|
|Publicola or Publius||died 503|
|Lessons from the Lawgivers|
|Season 3: Golden Age – 5th-century Athens|
|Season 4: Macedon and Hellenism|
|Season 5: The Rise of Rome|
|Season 6: Roman Revolutions|
|Cato the Younger||95-46|
Maps and Timelines for Plutarch’s Context
Speaking of important places, I’ll link helpful maps into the show-notes, but I also have a bigger post helping people find the physical and digital maps that run parallel to Plutarch’s biographies. If you like the timeline, sign up for my email list and you’ll get a printable bookmark form of the timeline putting the chronology for the Greeks and Romans in one place (preferably the book!).
Plutarch in Art
And finally, you may want to get a sense for what these men looked like, or at least enjoy their artistic representations through the years. For that, I highly recommend a resource I did not create, Plutarch’s Lives in Paint, where you can see Plutarch’s influence on more than just literary art through the past two millennia. The timeline also includes some of the most famous artistic depictions of these famous men of Greece and Rome.
Ask Questions: Never Stop Learning
I hope these resources help you start, continue, or finish fruitfully reading Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Plutarch always encouraged us to be students, feeding the fires of our souls with the good, the true, and the beautiful. As always, feel free to use the Contact page to send me any questions you may have about the Ancient World in general, or Plutarch in particular. Plutarch is the real teacher here, and I’m just learning along with you.