Exam Questions for Plutarch

Exam Questions have been taken from Anne White's Study Guides. Exams for students in Years 4-6 include one Plutarch question; exams for older students should have two questions.


Years 4-6: Give an account of Crassus' vice of covetousness.

Years 7-11:
        1: How was Crassus able to stop Spartacus, when others had failed? Or, Why does Plutarch say that Crassus "shewed greater courage in this misfortune, than he before had done in all the war beside" after his son's death?
        2: Why was Crassus so interested in weighing out the treasure in the temple of Hierapolis? Or, "But Crassus went aside without light, and laid him down with his head covered, because he would see no man, shewing thereby the common sort an example of unstable fortune." What does this say about the character of Crassus?


Years 4-6: Give a short account of Timoleon's expedition against the Carthagenians, or, Why did Timoleon first save his brother's life and then consent to his death? Tell the whole story.

Years 7-11:
        1: Show how Timoleon demonstrated wisdom in his dealings with the Syracusans. How did the people back in Corinth help? Or, How did the Syracusans reward Timoleon?
        2: Explain the strategy that Timoleon planned to use against the Carthaginians. How did he show strong leadership, especially in dealing with the problem of the chariots? Or, Plutarch says that Timoleon, in his last years, "neither did make himself to be envied of the citizens." What did he mean, and what would have been the dangers of doing this?

Aemillus Paulus

Years 4-6: What characteristics distinguished Paulus Aemilius from other young men of his time? Or, How did Aemilius deal with the conquered Macedonian people?

Years 7-11:
        1: What were the acts most worthy of remark in Aemilius's first consulship? How did he react when he was passed over for a second consulship? Or, What does it mean that the Roman soldiers were too ready "to teach their general his duty?" How did Aemilius rebuke them? What is the duty of a soldier, according to Aemilius? Or, Tell about the speech of Aemilius after the death of his two sons.
        2: Why did Aemilius say that he didn't need to thank the people for choosing him as consul the second time? Explain the rules he set out in his speech. Or, Compare the Roman and Macedonian reactions to the eclipse of the moon. Why was Aemilius "no novice in these things"?Or, Discuss Aemilius's speeches about courage and resolution. How did his actions show that he believed in what he said?

Marcus Cato the Censor

Years 4-6: How was Cato's plain, simple manner of public speaking deceiving? Or, Why did Cato take on the education of his son himself? Would you like to have had him for a teacher?

Years 7-11:
        1: Why did Cato say that wise men learn and profit more by fools, than the other way around? Or, Explain Cato's health plan? Was it effective?
        2: How did Cato try to make the people of Rome a little less fond of their material goods? Was it successful? Or, "So that the government for which Scipio made such earnest suit in Spain, was a greater disgrace unto him, than it was unto Cato: because he passed all his time and office in peace . . ." Why did the Romans consider it a disgrace for the governor of a province to spend his time in peace?


Years 4-6: What was Philopoemen's objection to paying a lot of attention to athletics? Do you think this was a wise decision? Or, What was Philopoemen's advice about gifts/bribes?

Years 7-11:
        1: How did Philopoemen show bravery and understanding beyond his age and experience? Or, Did Philopoemen really put his country first? Explain your answer. Or, Discuss Philopoemen's last words. How was his attitude at the end consistent with the rest of his life?
        2: Comment on Philopoemen's opinion of Ptolemy--"always preparing and never performing." Or, Show how Philopoemen remained a good general to the end. Or, How did the people of Megalopolis react to his death? How did Philopoemen's death symbolize the end of an era?

Titus Flamininus

Years 4-6: Why was Titus a fortunate choice to lead the Roman army against the Macedonians? Or, Why did Titus let Nabis go and make peace with him instead of destroying him? What are two of the possible reasons that Plutarch suggests?

Years 7-11:
        1: Discuss the conduct of the Roman soldiers under Titus. Why did he not allow them to rob or molest the civilians, although they did loot Philip's camp? Or, Compare the speeches that Titus and Philip made. Or, How did Titus show compassion (magnanimity) for Greece, and especially for the Aetolians, after the defeat of Antiochus at Thermopylae? Was this unexpected?
        2: Why did Titus want to continue the war, and more importantly, to continue to be at the center of it himself? Or, Why did Titus turn his back on those who were besieged?


Years 4-6: How did Pyrrhus misjudge the ease of taking Sparta? Or, Why did Pyrrhus think it would be a better idea to rule alongside Neoptolemus than to overthrow him?

Years 7-11:
        1: How are Pyrrhus' experiences as a young man somewhat similar to those of Joseph or Moses in the Old Testament? Or, Pyrrhus, fighting in the field after the death of his son, "did shew more proof of his valiantness, strength, and courage, then he had ever done before." Considering the many risks Pyrrhus had taken in his lifetime, how was it possible for him to now show more strength and courage?
        2: "For he [Pyrrhus] was a man that could tell how to humble himself towards the great (by whom he might win benefit) and knew also how to creep into their credit: and in like manner was he a great scorner and despiser of such as were his inferiors." Did these characteristics predict success, trouble, or both? Or, What was the strongest point of Pyrrhus' character? What was the weakest?


Years 4-6: What used to be the problem with the religious processions at Delos? How did Nicias solve this? Or, Why was Nicias more afraid of the Athenians than he was of the Syracusans?

Years 7-11:
        1: Why was Nicias suddenly so unpopular when he returned to Athens? Or, Plutarch said he admired Nicias "for what he succeeded in." Do you agree that his successes outweighed his disasters?
        2: Why were Nicias and Alcibiades willing to work together to get someone else ostracized? Or, Plutarch says that an eclipse of the moon would actually be a very good "omen" for the Athenians, because the darkness would help them escape. How did Nicias fail to make the most of this opportunity?

Julius Caesar

Years 4-6: Discuss Caesar's reaction to his reading of Alexander. Should the stories of heroes make us weep? Or, Did Caesar want to be a king? Was he already a king in everything but name?

Years 7-11:
        1: Why did the soldiers' discovery that Caesar had arrived in Greece ahead of them give them new motivation to continue? Or, Why did Caesar say that he distrusted pale, thin people?
        2: Did Caesar want to be a king? Was he already a king in everything but name? Or, The story of the life of Julius Caesar ends with Plutarch's pronouncement that "he reaped no other fruit of all his reign and dominion, which he had so vehemently desired all his life, and pursued with such extreme danger: but a vain name only, and a superficial glory, that procured him the envy and hatred of his country." Did Caesar end up with a vain name only?

Agis and Cleomenes

Years 4-6: Describe the unexpected outcome of the marriage between Agiatis and Cleomenes. Or, How did Agis demonstrate courage during his trial? Or, What are some characteristics of heroes? Would you call either Agis or Cleomenes a hero?

Years 7-11:
        1: Why did Agis believe that getting his people back "under the law" would actually be liberating for them? Or, What do the dinner-party descriptions show about the character of Cleomenes? Or, Cleomenes said to Lysandrides, "Let honour take place with us, before profit." What did Cleomenes mean?
        2: Why was Cleomenes able to enact the reforms (in a seemingly short while) that Agis had proposed but been unable to carry out? Or, What are some characteristics of heroes? Would you call either Agis or Cleomenes a hero?

T. Gracchus and C. Gracchus

Years 4-6: How did Tiberius' army travels open his eyes to the needs of those living in rural areas of Italy? What were the other influences on his movement for land reform? Or, What qualities did Gaius display that made rich men afraid of him, but made other people desire his leadership?

Years 7-11:
        1: How did Tiberius' army travels open his eyes to the needs of those living in rural areas of Italy? What were the other influences on his movement for land reform? Or, Why did Gaius' friends encourage but not help him?
        2: What were some of the new laws that Tiberius proposed? What was the purpose of his dramatics in the forum? Did Tiberius really believe that he was in danger? Or, Gaius changed the direction in which he gave his speeches. Why did this signal a literal change of direction for the government?


Years 4-6: Give some account of how Demosthenes went to hear an orator who "bore the bell of eloquence," and how he then trained himself to become an orator.

Years 7-11: "He won him marvellous fame for his great eloquence and plain manner of speech." How did Demosthenes attain this distinction?


Years 4-6: Tell the story of Cicero's banishment, and his homecoming.

Years 7-11: How did Cicero earn the title "Father of the Country?"


Years 4-6: How was Demetrius inspired by the example of his father Antigonus?

Years 7-11: Describe a) the early life and career of Demetrius, b) his final days.


Years 4-6: (Questions to be filled in based on Anne White's upcoming Study Guide.)

Years 7-11:


Years 4-6: Dion criticized the men of the assembly "because they beastly and cowardly gave such counsel and advice, as might best please and feed the young tyrant's humor." Explain this. Or, Explain how Dionysius uses people to get what he wants. Is it effective?

Years 7-11:
        1: What does it say about Dion's character and reputation that Dionysius still respected and trusted him after the Plato incident? Or, Why were the mercenary soldiers at first reluctant to take part in Dion's "adventure"? How did Dion convince them that they would have a good chance of success?
        2: How does Dion's cold, serious manner sometimes work against his wisdom, loyalty and generosity? Or, What led to Dion's downfall? Was there a mistake he made that he could have avoided?

Marcus Brutus

Years 4-6: Brutus is described as a merciful and courteous ruler. Why, then, did the Xanthians refuse to surrender to him? Or, Why did Lucilius pretend to be Brutus?

Years 7-11:
        1: What was Brutus like as a young man? Give some examples that show his character. How did he end up being such a personal friend of Caesar? Or, "God, to prevent Brutus that it should not come to his government, kept this victory from his knowledge, though indeed it came but a little too late?" Explain this.
        2: What qualities about Brutus made people such as the soldiers of Caius Antonius want to submit to his leadership? Did he ever seem to abuse the power he had? Or, In Shakespeare's play, Antonius said of Brutus, "This was the noblest Roman of them all." Do you agree? Explain your answer.


Years 4-6: Why did Solon say that it was just as bad to speak evil of the living as of the dead? Or, What was Solon's retirement project? What kept him from completing it?

Years 7-11:
        1: Anacharsis teased Solon by saying that written laws "were like spiders' webs, and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and rich." What did he mean by this? Was he right? How did Solon respond? Or, What was Solon's definition of Happiness? Do you agree? Explain your answer.
        2: How did Solon convince the Athenians to endeavour to recover Salamis again, after they were discouraged? How do you think he was able to convince them (after his performance) that he was sane enough to lead the attack? Or, Explain the two new levels of government that Solon set up. Or, After chiding the Athenians for their willingness to give up so easily, Solon gave up on them. Was Solon justified at this point?


Years 4-6: Why do you think Valerius/Publicola cared about the fate of one very lowly slave (more than he did about the lives of two Roman citizens)? Or, How was Publicola honoured after his death?

Years 7-11:
        1: Publicola made laws "which added much to the people's liberty." Do you think that his tax cuts and so on were just politically prudent ways to gain votes and personal popularity? Or, What does it say about Publicola's character that he would send his own daughter as one of the hostages, and that he would send her back again after she escapes? Was there a personal risk to him or to her by including her in the group? Or, Why was Publicola not only happy to hear about the turmoil between the various groups of Sabines, but eager to encourage it?
        2: "The gods" seemed to favour Publicola. To what do you attribute Publicola's success as a leader? Supernatural help (from God or the gods)? His own character and ability (prudence in laws, conduct in wars)? Or, As Plutarch says, success in battle was usually attributed to the favour of the gods. Why was this success, Publicola's last battle, "attributed to the conduct of one captain?"


Years 4-6: (Questions to be filled in based on Anne White's upcoming Study Guide.)

Years 7-11:


Years 4-6: Describe the main characteristics of Themistocles as a young man.

Years 7-11:
        1: Why did Themistocles feel that leadership and management skills were more important than manners and social success?
        2: Explain what Themistocles wanted the Ionians to do--why was he leaving messages for them on the rocks?


Years 4-6: "Pericles, even those who have occasion for a lamp supply it with oil." Who said this? Tell the story. Or, "For no Athenian, through my means, ever wore mourning." Is it true that no Athenian ever wore mourning because of Pericles's decisions?

Years 7-11:
        1: How did Pericles handle the criticism that he had spent too much public money on the buildings to ornament Athens? How did the people react to his suggestion? Or, "But Pericles curbed this passion for foreign conquest, and unsparingly pruned and cut down their ever-busy fancies for a multitude of undertakings, and directed their power for the most part to securing and consolidating what they had already got, supposing it would be quite enough for them to do, if they could keep the Lacedaemonians in check." What was the inclination of the Athenians now that they had become powerful? What was Pericles's vision?
        2: How did Pericles manage the people in this time of war? Explain how he handled criticism and complaints. Or, Why is Pericles considered the greatest statesman Athens ever had?


Years 4-6: Discuss Fabius's attitude toward religious ceremonies and the gods. What was his personal (vs. public) opinion about the favour of the gods? What does this say about his character? Or, Describe the peoples' actions at Fabius's death, and what this shows about their feelings towards him.

Years 7-11:
        1: What were the greatest obstacles Fabius had to overcome in his early life? Or, How did Fabius raise the ransom money for his soldiers who had been taken by the enemy? What does this show about his character? Or, Why were the Romans quick to call Fabius "pusillanimous" when they were in a prosperous condition, but ready to place "their whole remaining hopes" in him now that they were in danger?
        2: Discuss Fabius's attitude toward religious ceremonies and the gods. What was his personal (vs. public) opinion about the favour of the gods? What does this say about his character? Or, Why did Fabius, in taking the town of Taranto, feel it was "not safe to rely wholly upon the plot?" How did he make doubly sure that the plan would go smoothly?


Years 4-6: Alcibiades wanted to be known for his eloquence. Why was this so important to him? Was he successful? Or, Why do you think Alcibiades picked out Socrates as his most trusted friend? Or, What is Alcibiades' first action after he has gained the trust of the Spartans? How do they react? Do you feel his vengeful plans against Athens are justified?

Years 7-11:
        1: Consider the various anecdotes about Alcibiades' childhood: the biting story, the dice story, the story about refusing to play the flute because it made him look silly--what do all of these show you so far about his character? What opinion did Alcibiades have of himself? Or, Plutarch thinks that the Athenians were right to consider Alcibiades still important, since "the thirty [enemy] governors themselves did what they could possibly to spy out Alcibiades' doings, and what he went about." Were they right?
        2: What was Alcibiades' first action after he gained the trust of the Spartans? How did they react? Werehis vengeful plans against Athens justified? Or, Why did Alcibiades warn the generals about their dangerous position? Was magnanimous of him, or did he have other reasons? Or, Was Alcibiades' murder inevitable? Why or why not?


Years 4-6: Describe Martius' relationship with his mother. Or, Why did Martius go in disguise to the house of Tullus?

Years 7-11:
        1: "Now in those days, valiantness was honoured in Rome above all other virtues." What is "valiantness?" Tell the story of the battle at Corioles (or Coriolis). How did Martius show "valiantness?" Or, "Oh mother," said Martius, "you have won a happy victory for your country, but mortal and unhappy for your son: for I see myself vanquished by you alone." Tell the story.
        2: Martius had his share of admirable scars; why then did he lose the election for Consul? What was his reaction? Or, Why did "the whole state of the Volsces heartily wish him alive again?"

Cato the Younger

Years 4-6: (Questions to be filled in based on Anne White's upcoming Study Guide.)

Years 7-11:

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