Page images
PDF
EPUB

would make itself heard from the wild tribes on the Danube, or in the far Syrian deserts, but over nearly all the world known to the ancients was established the Pax Romana. Battles were indeed fought, and troops were marched upon Rome, but this was merely to decide who was to bo tho nominal head of tho vast system of tho Empire, and what had once been independent citics countries, and nations submitted unhesitatingly to who ever represented that irresistible power. It might be imagined that a political system which destroyed all national individuality, and rendered patriotism in its highest sense scarcely possible, would have reactod unfavourably on the literary character of tho age. Yet nothing of the kind can bo urged against tho times which produced Epictetus, Dio Chrysostom and Arrian; whilo at Rome, I'liny the Younger, Tacitus, Martial, and Juvenal were reviving the memories of the Augustan age.

From several passages in Plutarch's writings we gather that he studied under a master named Ammonius, at Athens. For instance, at the end of his Life of Themise tokles, ho mentions a descendant of that great man who was his follow-studont at tho houso of Anmonins tho philosopher. Again, ho tells us that onco Ammonius, obo serving at his afternoon lecturo that soino of his class had indulged too freely in the plcasures of tho tablo, ordered his own son to be flogged, “ because," he said, “ the young gentleman cannot cat his dinner without pickles,” casting his eye at the samo timo upon tho other offonders so as to make them sensillo that the reproof applied to them also.

By way of completing his educatiun ho proccodod to visit Egypt. The “wisdom of the Egyptians" always seems to have had a fuscination for the Greeks, and at this period Alexandria, with its faiyonu library and its momories of the Ptolemies, of Kallimachus and of Theokritus, was an important centre of Grook intollectual activity. Plutarch's treatise on Isis and Osiris is generally supposed to be a juvenilo work suggested by his Egyptian travels. In all the Gruoco-Egyptian lore he certainly became well skilled, although we have no evidence as to how long ho remained in Egypt. He makes mention indeed of a feast given in his honour by somo of his relatives on the occasion of his return home from Alexandria, but we can gather nothing from the passage as to his age at that time.

Ono anecdoto of his early lifo is as follows:-“I remomber," he says,

“ that when I was still a young man, I was sent with another person on a deputation to tho Proconsul; my colleague, as it happened, was unable to proccoil, and I saw tho Proconsul and performed the commission alono. When I returned I was about to lay down my office and to givo a public account of how I had discharged it, when my father rose in the public assom bly and enjoined mo not to say I went, but we went, nor to say that I said, but we said, throughout my story, giving my colleaguo his share."

Tho most important ovent in the wholo of Plutarcb's pious and penceful lifo is undoubtodly his journoy, to Italy and to Roino; but hicro agnin wo know littlo moro than that ho know but littlo Lutin whon ho wont thither, and was too busy whon there to acquire much knowledge of that tonguo. Ilis occupation at Romo, besides antiquarian researches which were afterwards worked up into his Roman Lives, was the delivery of lectures on philosophical and other subjects, a common practico among the learnod Grecks of his day. Many of thoso locturos, it is conjeotured, wcro afterwards recast by him into tho numerous short treatises on various subjects now included under the general name of Moralia. Plutarch's visit to Rome and business there is admirably explained in the following passage of North's 'Life of Plutarch':-"For my part, I think Plutarch was drawn to Romo by mcance of sumo friends be bad thero, especially by Sossius Senecio, that had been a Consull, who was of great estimation at that time, and namely under tho Empiro of Trajan. And that which maketh mo think so, is because of Plutarch's own words, who saith in the boginning of his first book of his discourse at the table, that ho gathered together all his reasons and discourses mado horo and thoro, ns woll in Ronio with Senecio, ns in Grecco with I'lutarch and others. Not being likely that he would have taken tho pains to have mado so long a voyago, and to havo como to such a city where he understood not their vulgar tongue, if he had not been drawn thither by Senecio, and such other men; as also in acknowledgement of tho good turnes and honour ho had rccoived by such mon, ho dedi. cated diverse of his bookcs unto them, and omong others, the Lives unto Senecio, and tho nine volumes of his discourse at the table, with tho treaty, Ilow a man may know that ho profitcth in vertuo. Now for the time, considering what he saith in tho cnd of his book against curiosity, I suppose that he taught in Romo in tho timo of Titus and of Domitian : for touching this point, ho makcth mention of a nobleman called Rusticus, who being ono day at his lccturo, would not open a lottor which was brought him from the Emperor, nor interrupt l’lutarch, but attended to the end of his declamation, and until all the hearers were gono away; and addeth alsi, that Rusticus was afterwards put to death by tho commandmont of Domitian. Furthermore, about tho beginning of the Life of Demosthenes, Plutarch saith, that whilst he remained in Italy and at Romo, he had no leizure to study the Latino tongue; as well for that he was busicd at that time with matters ho had in hand, as also to satisfio those that were his followers to learno philosophio of hinc.".

[graphic]
[graphic]

• North's 'Plutarchi,' 1691, p. 1194.

A list of all Plutarch's writings would be a very long ono. Besides tho Lives, which is tho work on which his famo chiesly rests, ho wrote a book of • Table Talk,' which may havo suggested to Athenaeus the plan of his Symposium.'

The most romarkablo of his minor works is that On tho Malignity of IIcrodotus.' Groto takes this treatise as being intended soriously as an attack upon the historian, and speaks of tho "honourablo frankness which Plutarch calls his malignity." But it is probably morely a rhetor. ical cxcrciso, in which Plutarch has endeavoured to sco what could bo said against so favourito and well-known a writer,

Ilo was probably known as an author before he went to Rome. Large capitals have always had a natural attraction for literary genius, as it is in them alono that it can hopo to bo appreciated. And if this bo the case at the present day, how much moro must it have been so before tho invention of printing, at a time when it was moro visual to listen to books read aloud than to read them oneself? Plutarch journeyed to Romo just as IIerodotus went to Athens, or as he is said to havo gone to the Olympian festival, in scarch of an intelligent audience of wlucated men. Whether his object was merely praiso, or whether he was influenced by ideas of gain, wo cannot say. No doubt his lectures wero not delivered gratis, and that they were well attended soems ovident from Plutarch's own notices of them, and from tho names which have becn preserved of tho eminent men who used to frequent them. Moreover, strango though it may appear to us, tho demand for books seems to have been very brisk oven though they were entirely written by hand.

The epigrams of Martial inform us of tho oxistence of a class of slaves whoso occupation was copying books, and invumerablo allusions in Horace, Martial, &c., to the

$

Sosii and others prove that the trade of a bookseller at Romo was both extensive and profitablo. Towards the end of the Republic it becaine the fashion for Roman nobles to encourage literature by forming a library, and this taste was given immenso encouragement by Augustus, who established a public library in the Temple of Apollo on the Mount Palatine, in imitation of that previously founded by Asinius Pollio. There were other librarius besides these, the most famous of which was the Ulpian library, fuunded by Trajan, who called it so from his own Dame, Ulpius. Now Trajan was a contomporary of our author, and this act of his clcarly provos that there must have been during Plutarch's lifetime a considerable reading public, and consequent demand for books at Rome.

Of Plutarch's travels in Italy we know next to nothing. He mentions incidentally that he had seen the bust or statue of Marius at Ravenna, but never gives us another hint of how far he explored the country about which ho wroto so much. No doubt his ignoranco of tho Latin language must not be taken as a literal statement, and probably means that he was not skilled in it as a spoken tongue, for we can scarcely imagine that he was without Bomo acquaintance with it when he first went to Romo, and he certainly aftorwards became well read in tho literature of Rome. In some cases he has followed Livy's narrative with a closeness which proves that he must have been acquainted with that author either in tho original or in a translation, and the latter alternativo is, of the two, the more improbable.

It seems to be now generally thought that his stay at Romo was a short one. Clough, in his excellent Prefaco, says on this subject, “ The fuult which runs through all the earlier biographies, from that of Rualdus downwards, is the assumption, wholly untenable, that Plutarch passoul

« PreviousContinue »