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Ambleside Online Plutarch Rotation

This Term's selections

Who was Plutarch and why are we reading him?

Plutarch was a Greek writer who lived from 46 to 120 AD. To quote from the Philip's World History Encyclopedia, "his best-known work is his Parallel Lives, which consists of paired biographies of famous Greeks and Romans. Shakespeare used it as the source for his Roman history plays." Charlotte Mason categorized Plutarch's Lives under Citizenship rather than under history, because his biographies are more concerned with character and leadership qualities than they are with pure historical details. That is not to say that you can't learn a great deal of history from them; and in fact, Plutarch is one major source of the historical information we do have on many events. But for our purposes, we read Plutarch for some of the ideas and life-lessons his biographies offer, rather than as a history course. It's a look at what motivated some of the famous figures of the ancient world, what they did right, and where they went wrong.

"Plutarch's Lives, . . . I think, stand alone in literature as teaching that a man is part of the State, that his business is to be of service to the State, but that the value of his service depends upon his personal character. (Parents Review article by Charlotte Mason)

You can find out more about Plutarch's life here:

How do our studies work?

We take one of the biographies each term and study that person's life in detail. To make it easier, we've offered study notes for each term's Life, breaking it down into twelve readings, suggesting parts that parents will probably want to omit, giving vocabulary help and discussion questions. You can start with the current term's study, or you might want to start back with Poplicola, since it's fairly straightforward and not too difficult. (Another reason for starting with Poplicola might be that he seems to be, as the study notes say, "one of the good guys." A few of the people profiled are much more complex in terms of the good or evil they did.)

Are the biographies chronological?

The lives don't go in any kind of chronological order, which would seem to violate CM's preference for chronological history; we have to re-establish ourselves each term in a new Greek or Roman time period. But on the other hand, if you studied Crassus, then Caesar, then Pompey and so on, you'd have a lot of overlap since they all lived at the same time. Studying a variety of people allows you to touch on different periods such as the Golden Age of Athens. Marking a timeline or a Book of the Centuries is very helpful in keeping things straight.

When we did the revisions to the curriculum and wrote the 36-wk schedules in the.summer of 2002, the written Plutarch studies hadn't even happened yet. Before that, people were just doing their own thing with Plutarch, and some probably still are. The notes are just to make life easier. If you follow the study notes linked below with the term rotations, each life is divided into 12 lessons, which you would probably do one per week. Unless your student is extremely independent, you would likely want to schedule them into a time when you work together.

Do I have to buy a copy of Plutarch? If I do, what version should I look for? What is all this stuff about Dryden, North, Clough and other translations?

No, you do not have to buy a volume of Plutarch's Lives. Many of the books out there do not contain all the lives we will be reading; some are selections of the Lives that he wrote. Each term's study notes gives a link to the online version we used in preparing the study notes. In a couple of cases, an edited version of the text is included with the notes (when we felt that there was a real problem either with length or with some material).

The translation Charlotte Mason recommended was that by North, which is also the one Shakespeare would have used and which is full of nice, rich, Shakespearish language. (purchase; There are page images of all ten volumes online). Later on, the poet Dryden re-translated Plutarch, and in the 1800s that translation was edited by Arthur Hugh Clough. Dryden's version isn't always as earthy and interesting as North's, but it is a fairly standard English translation and since it is readily available online it is usually the one that has been used for the notes. You are welcome to use North's translation (the Wordsworth Classics North's paperback is inexpensive and often found at chain bookstores, although it contains only about a dozen lives) or another suitable version, although you will have to modify the study notes (i.e. you will have to look up your own vocabulary).

There are three childrens' versions of Plutarch (Our Young Folk's Plutarch by Rosalie Kaufman *, Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by W. H. Weston, and a 2-volume Children's Plutarch by F.J. Gould divided between Tales of the Greeks and Tales of the Romans; see chapter titles for Gould's book below) on that may be helpful in the same way as Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare or Bible story books are; and there is a Boys and Girls Plutarch on Project Gutenberg which is basically the Dryden/Clough translations with omissions of material not for children. However, like Bible story books, sometimes the retellings feel like they're missing the original flavour or intent of the story, and on occasion they will even substitute a gorier word or phrase than one that Dryden used!

These readings seem very difficult, even with the notes; how is my student going to get anything out of them?

One thing I sometimes suggest in the notes is not trying to focus on details of names or other unfamiliar references, but just trying to get the main idea of what's going on in the story. The same thing can happen with Shakespeare if you get so caught up in understanding all the vocabulary that you can't just read the script. Plutarch does tell good stories; you have to get into his style, though. (One advantage I've found of doing Plutarch is that it takes some of the fear out of reading other older historical books.)

Stop frequently and have your student narrate, or at least make sure he/she is clear on what just happened. That's why I like to start Plutarch lessons with an overview of what's going to happen, even if I have to include a "spoiler"--it helps to know what kind of a story you're listening to before you start. You could also suggest one or two things to listen for in the reading.

Helpful Links

Why Read Plutarch? by Dr. George Grant of King's Meadow Study Center; this is a great essay about the reasons for studying Plutarch.
Plutarch's Lives beneficial in citizenship lessons - Parents Review article from 1901

"Plutarch's Home on the Web" Plutarch links, texts
Plutarch for Youths online (This is John Dryden's version editted for school use in the 1800's)
Our Young Folks Plutarch by Rosemary Kaufman, online at and Heritage History
The Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks, and Tales of the Romans by F.J. Gould for very young children; see chapter titles below.
Famous Men of Rome and Famous Men of Greece by John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland includes many of Plutarch's Lives ("for ages 9-16")
Complete unedited Plutarch translated by John Dryden
Project Gutenberg's etext translated by John Dryden
Plutarch's Lives of Illustrious Men translated from the Greek by John and William Langhorne, 1856 (page images; may be more complete than Dryden's; this is the version quoted in the Parents' Review article above, which may indicate that it was one used by CM's students.)
North's translation of selected Plutarch's Parallel Lives includes Caius Martius Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus Marcus Antonius, Octavius Caesar Augustus, Theseus, Alcibiades (Scroll through the text pages by using the small blue left and right arrows at the bottom of the web page well below the text displayed on the first page. The upper arrows scroll to different lives and the table of contents)

Ambleside Online Term Schedule

Term 1: September - November
Term 2: January - March
Term 3: April - June

Ambleside Online schedules these terms as a group to facilitate our Artist, Composer, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Folksongs and Hymns studies through sharing resources and experiences on the list.

2013-2014 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Poplicola/Publicola (Anne White's Study Guide)
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Brutus (Anne White's Study Guide)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Dion - "Justice and bravery, together with a healthy feeling of self-sacrifice, and a preparation for and fulfilment of public responsibilities, breathe through the whole of the "Life of Dion." - Miss Ambler (Anne White's Study Guide)

2014-2015 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Crassus (Anne White's Study Guide)
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Timoleon (Anne White's Study Guide)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Aemillus Paulus (Anne White's Study Guide)

2015-2016 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Demetrius (Anne White's study guide and student-friendly edited text) Although a good leader, he also
       had a more sordid side, which Plutarch does not sanitize; we recommend using an edited text. has a brief bio.
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Aristides (Anne White's in-progress Study Guide: lessons 1-6 complete)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Philopoemen (Anne White's study guide)

2016-2017 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Titus Flamininus (Anne White's Study Guide and edited text)
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Themistocles (Anne White's Study Guide and edited text)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Camillus

2017-2018 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades (Anne White's Study Guide with hand-typed text from Thomas North's translation)
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus (Anne White's Study Guide)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Theseus (use a child-appropriate version, such as this one)

2018-2019 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Romulus (Anne White's in-progress Study Guide and Text divided into 12 weekly readings)
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Lycurgus
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Numa

2019-2020 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Caesar
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Alexander (summary of Alexander by AO student)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Solon (Anne White's Study Guide) (summary of Solon by AO student)

2020-2021 school year
Term 1: Plutarch's Life of Pericles (Anne White's Study Guide)
Term 2: Plutarch's Life of Fabius (Anne White's Study Guide; edited text)
Term 3: Plutarch's Life of Nicias (Anne White's Study Guide)

Anne White has also completed studies of Cicero and Demosthenes.

These retellings could be used with younger children if Plutarch is read as a family study, or as a supplement.

Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by W. H. Weston (not a complete collection, but the least abridged; not a childish edition.)
The Gracchi: Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus and Cornelia, their mother
Caius Marius
Julius Caesar

by Rosalie Kaufman (significantly more condensed than Weston's, but not as easy as Gould's; meant for fairly young children)
Caius Marcius Coriolanus
Marcus Cato (also called Cato the Stern, or Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor)
Aemilius Paulus
Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Caius Marius
Cato the Younger
Marcus Brutus

Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch by F. J. Gould (the shortest, most condensed version for the youngest ages; includes pronunciations of names.)
The Hardy Men of Sparta - Lycurgus
The Wise Man of Athens - Solon
The Just Man - Aristides
The Savior of Athens - Themistocles
The Admiral of the Fleet - Cimon
The Man Who Made Athens Beautiful - Pericles
Three Powers - Lysander
The Man with Many Faces - Alcibiades
In Old Persia - Artaxerxes
A Lame King - Agesilaus
A Martyr King - Agis
A Valiant Helper - Pelopidas
Dion- Dion
The Man Who Saved Sicily - Timoleon
The Orator - Demosthenes
The Conqueror - Alexander
A Servant of the City - Phocion
Golden Shoes and Two Crowns - Demetrius
Up the Scaling-Ladders - Aratus
A Fighting King - Pyrrhus
The Last of the Greeks - Philopoemen

Tales of the Romans: The Children's Plutarch by F. J. Gould
The Twins - Romulus
What the Forest Lady Said - Numa
Why the Romans Bore Pain - Brutus
The Second Founder of Rome - Camillus
The Man Who Waited - Fabius
How a Woman Saved Rome - Coriolanus
The Triumph - Aemilius Paulus
A Roman Undismayed - Marcellus
Cato the Stern - Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor)
The General Who Ate Dry Bread - Caius Marius
The Red General - Sulla/Sylla
Battle-Fields and Gardens - Lucullus
The Man Who Loved Gold - Crassus
The White Fawn - Sertorius
The Conqueror of Pirates - Pompey
Caesar and His Fortune - Caesar
The Man Who Seldom Laughed - Cato the Younger
The Noble Brothers - Tiberius Gracchus and Caius Gracchus
Tully - Cicero
The Man Who Looked Like Hercules - Antony
Caesar's Friend and Enemy - Brutus

Also: Famous Men of Rome and Famous Men of Greece by Haaren and Poland includes many of Plutarch's Lives ("for ages 9-16")