Plutarch

"In order to do all this we give the life stories of great men, the first great writer of which, Plutarch, has left us a wonderful store-house of great ideas and examples, showing how the life of the individual is the life of the state, and that where private standards are high or low, public morality is upheld or falls; thus it would be possible to trace much of the gradual break-down of the Roman military colonies to the example of "Mark Antony," and two such lives as those of Cato the Censor and Alcibiades will do much to teach future generations what good or evil one man can do for his times."
("P.N.E.U. Principles As Illustrated by Teaching," The Parents' Review, 1899)

AmblesideOnline Plutarch Rotation Schedule

AO's Terms:
* Term 1: Sep-Nov
** Term 2: Jan-Mar
*** Term 3: Apr-Jun

We encourage AmblesideOnline members to follow the schedule as a group for Artists, Composers, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Folk Songs, Hymns, and Nature Study. Staying on schedule together for these subjects enriches our studies as we share resources and experiences.

AmblesideOnline is part of Amazon.com's Affiliate program. If you use our Amazon.com links, we receive a small commission which enables us to cover the costs of keeping the website and curriculum. Amazon.com links are identified like this: ($amzn) or (K), but we have provided links to free and alternate sources as well.

The Study Guides linked below are by Anne White using a combination of Thomas North's and John Dryden's original text with edits where appropriate for content. They are divided into twelve weekly lessons.

If you are just beginning Plutarch, you may prefer to begin with Publicola, as it has study notes for beginners. It is listed below, and is also available in book format. ($amzn) (K)

For those wanting additional help, Anne White has written The Practical Plutarch, a short guide to what these studies are about and some tips to get more out of them. The book also includes a six-lesson study guide for Plutarch's Life of Eumenes, which could be used as a "first Plutarch." One reader has said, "I feel like Publicola was the 'I do' with Anne demonstrating. But I needed a 'we do' before getting to the 'you do' where I implemented it on my own. To me, Practical Plutarch feels like that 'we do' step." Purchase from amazon.com ($amzn) (K)

If your schedule needs some breathing room, going through two of these Lives (and spending 18 weeks on each) instead of three per year is one way to lighten the reading.

2020-2021 School Year

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 6, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Aemilius Paulus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Aristides (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Solon (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2021-2022 School Year

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 7, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Pompey, Part 1 (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Pompey, Part 2 (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Themistocles (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2022-2023 School Year [Updated!]

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 8, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Marcus Brutus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Pericles (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Fabius (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2023-2024 School Year

[New and Updated] (Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 9, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Alcibiades (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Coriolanus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Cato the Younger (Old Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2024-2025 School Year

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 10, in one book ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Phocion (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Camillus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Dion (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2025-2026 School Year

[New and Updated in 2021] Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 1, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Marcus Cato the Censor (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Philopoemen (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Titus Flamininus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2026-2027 School Year - REVISED 2021

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 2, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Pyrrhus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Nicias (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Crassus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2027-2028 School Year - REVISED 2021

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 3, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Julius Caesar (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Agis and Cleomenes (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

2028-2029 School Year

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 4, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Demosthenes (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Cicero (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Demetrius (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero
Note: Demosthenes is only 10 lessons; you may wish to do Cicero first, then Demosthenes, and the Comparison for the last two weeks.

2029-2030 School Year

Purchase this year's study guides, Vol 5, in one book: ($amzn) (K)
Term 1: Alexander, Part 1 (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 2: Alexander, Part 2 (Study Guide with text; Text Only)
Term 3: Timoleon (Study Guide with text; Text Only)

Optional Alternative Lives

Plutarch's Life of Theseus (use a child-appropriate version, such as this one)
Plutarch's Life of Publicola (Study Guide with text; Text Only) Purchase Publicola Primer ($amzn) (K)

Questions About Plutarch

The Most-Asked Questions About Plutarch

What year do we begin reading Plutarch?

Some eager Year Four students will be able to begin Plutarch; others may choose to read Emily Beesly's Stories from the History of Rome (online at archive.org or googlebooks). Students who have moved up to reading Shakespeare's plays in the original will probably be ready.

How do the AmblesideOnline study notes work?

We take one of the biographies each term and study that person's life in detail. To make it easier, we have created study notes for many of the Lives we use, breaking each one down into twelve readings, suggesting parts that parents will probably want to omit, giving vocabulary help, and offering discussion questions.

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. The AO study notes include an edited version of the text.

What if I do want to buy one?

The translation Charlotte Mason recommended was that by North, which is the one Shakespeare would have used and which is full of nice, rich, Shakespearish language. The poet Dryden re-translated Plutarch, and in the 1800s that translation was edited by Arthur Hugh Clough, so you will often see editions called the Dryden/Clough version.

There are other English translations, old and new, some of which may have been used by Charlotte Mason’s students (as passages from them appear in her volumes). Keep reading for more information on some of these.

Is this an independent-reading subject?

For various reasons (such as the cost of books and the high frequency of mature content in Plutarch), Charlotte Mason seemed to expect that these lessons would be read aloud. Most of us have found that, since these Lives offer many topics for discussion, students (and parents) get more out of them when they are studied together. Older students may prefer to read independently.

Why shouldn’t we just hand students a copy of Plutarch’s Lives, or let them listen to an unabridged audio version?

See the previous question. When we say that there is inappropriate content in some of the Lives, we aren’t joking. If you are using an unabridged copy of the Lives, please preview the material first.

More to Know

Who was Plutarch and why are we reading him?

Plutarch was a Greek writer who lived from 46 to 120 AD. Among his other works, he wrote a series of biographies of Greek and Roman rulers and military leaders, many of whom lived long before his own time. He has been called a “moral biographer,” meaning that his purpose in writing was largely focused on virtue and valour (or the lack thereof). This book of Lives is also called the Parallel Lives, because he usually paired up one Greek and one Roman subject, and then followed up with a comparison of their life events and character qualities. (The PNEU programmes did not put much emphasis on the “Parallel” part, or assign the comparisons; Charlotte Mason seems to have preferred to let students make their own connections between the stories.)

Dr. George Grant of King's Meadow Study Center has written an article that addresses this called "Why Read Plutarch?"

Is this a history course?

In the early years of the Parents' Union School, Plutarch was counted as part of the History lessons, because there was no real category that seemed to fit. Later it was put under the heading of Citizenship. What does one need to do, or what character did one need to have, to be both a good subject and a great leader? When is it right to fight against tyranny? How do human beings manage their affairs, wisely and justly or not?

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 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)

One key to understanding Plutarch's Lives, as Charlotte Mason used them, can be found in the examination questions that were given. Something as innocent-sounding as Form III's "How did Alexander spend his days at a time of leisure?" may end up being, as Charlotte would say, suggestive. Note that there is nothing more there than a question--but it's a thought-provoking one. Did he make the dull time count for something, or was it unproductive? Form II's (younger students) were asked "Why and how did Alexander teach his men 'to acquaint themselves with hardness?'" They were not being asked to write essays on the importance of fortitude, they were simply asked to recount what was said or done; but the idea was there, to be taken or not.

Alcibiades, someone who had "great courage and quickness of understanding, but had many great faults and imperfections" inspired an examination question that went both ways: "Tell a story to illustrate (a), his courage, (b), his envy." Often the students were asked to describe someone's behaviour in a particular situation; again, not necessarily telling why this was good or bad, but telling the story, giving examples of particular virtues or vices.

In many cases the examination questions were based on a quotation, which may suggest to us as the "course facilitators" that we may want to make sure such sayings are noticed and remembered, in whatever ways seem the most natural for us to do so.

From Alexander again:
"Alexander loved to remember and reward the worthy deeds of men." Give two instances in details,
OR, "To live at pleasure is a vile thing, and to travail is princely." Why did Alexander thus rebuke his friends? Tell the whole story.

In the high school years, the quotations and the writing were at a higher level. From the Life of Julius Caesar, for Form IV (Grade 9):
1. Sketch briefly the character of Julius Caesar, and say to what events in his life the following sayings refer,--
(a), "A man can be but once undone, come on."
(b), "Time of war and law are two things."
(c), "Thou has Caesar and his fortune with thee."

And from Cleomenes, a question which seems to sum up much of Plutarch and Citizenship:
What were some of the things that Cleomenes "thought most fit and honourable for a prince" in private and in public life?

What if we really, really aren't getting anything out of those long sentences and hard words? Do we drop Plutarch altogether?

First of all, don't underestimate your children (and yourself). Many of us have gone into Plutarch’s Lives with great trepidation, but have found it one of the favourite and best-remembered books of the upper years.

That said, yes, there are later translations *, and there are abridgements for young people, and even some children's versions online. There are three children’s' 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) that may be helpful in the same way as Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare or Bible story books are. (See chapter titles for some of these retellings below.) There is also John S. White's Boys and Girls Plutarch on Project Gutenberg which is basically the Dryden/Clough translation with omissions of material not suitable 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 earlier translators used!

One thing we 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 of doing Plutarch that many parents have found is that it takes some of the fear out of reading other older historical books.)

Stop frequently and have your student(s) narrate, or at least make sure they're is clear on what just happened. It can be a good idea to start Plutarch lessons with an overview of what's going to happen, even if sometimes a "spoiler" has to be included--it helps to know what kind of a story they'll be listening to before they start. You could also suggest one or two things to listen for in the reading.

Plutarch Retellings

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.)
Aristides
Themistocles
Pelopidas
Timoleon
Alexander
Philopoemen
Coriolanus
The Gracchi: Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus and Cornelia, their mother
Caius Marius
Julius Caesar
Brutus

_contents">Our Young Folks Plutarch by Rosemary Kaufman, online at www.gatewaytotheclassics.com and Heritage History (significantly more condensed than Weston's, but not as easy as Gould's; meant for fairly young children)
Theseus
Lycurgus
Romulus
Numa Pompilius
Solon
Publicola
Caius Marcius Coriolanus
Themistocles
Aristides
Cimon
Pericles
Nicias
Alcibiades
Lysander
Camillus
Artaxerxes
Agesilaus
Dion
Phocion
Pelopidas
Timoleon
Demosthenes
Alexander
Eumenes
Demetrius
Pyrrhus
Aratus
Agis
Cleomenes
Fabius
Marcellus
Philopoemen
Flaminius
Marcus Cato (also called Cato the Stern, or Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor)
Aemilius Paulus
Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Caius Marius
Sylla
Crassus
Lucullus
Pompey
Cicero
Caesar
Cato the Younger
Marcus Brutus
Antony
Sertorius
Galba
Otho

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")

* Louise Ropes Loomis translated a version titled "Plutarch: Selected Lives and Essays." It has a 1951 copyright date and is not online as an etext, but used copies can be found from online booksellers. This is an unabridged yet modernized, easy to read version. Because it is unabridged, it will require some on-the-fly parental editing. It includes these Lives: Lycurgus; Numa Pompilius; Themistocles; Camillus; Pericles; Fabius Maximus; Alcibiades; Gaius Marcius Coriolanus; Demosthenes; Cicero.

Plutarch's Lives of Illustrious Men translated from the Greek by John and William Langhorne, 1856 (this is the version quoted in the Parents' Review article below, which may indicate that it was one used by CM's students.)

Plutarch's Lives beneficial in citizenship lessons - Parents Review article from 1901

AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:


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