Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Plutarch's deterrent lives: Lessons in Statesmanship
by Jacobs, Susan Gail, Ph.D., Columbia University, 2011, 363; 3451499
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation challenges two fundamental assumptions in current scholarship on Plutarch's Parallel Lives: first, that the Lives belong to moral biography and, second, that Plutarch fails to provide the clear-cut exempla promised in the Prologues. Instead, it is argued that Plutarch wrote his Lives, not as moral biography, but as "case studies in statesmanship" designed to illustrate in action the principles of statesmanship articulated as precepts in the Moralia. When the Lives are interpreted as depictions of effective and ineffective statesmanship, the subjects in fact become unambiguous exempla of actions to adopt or avoid. By pairing Greek and Roman statesmen, Plutarch uses the careers of two men from different eras to convey effective and ineffective approaches to meeting political challenges that confront statesmen in every age—including Plutarch's day.

The change in perspective from "virtue and vice" to "political effectiveness" leads to new interpretations of the Lives. While the revelation of virtue and vice is the primary objective in moral biography, in studies of statesmanship it is only the first step since the analysis ultimately is directed at two larger questions. First, how do the subject's virtues and vices enhance or impede his ability to achieve the goals of noble statesmanship? Secondly, how do his moral qualities interact with other factors—namely, his practical judgment and persuasiveness—to strengthen or undermine his effectiveness?

In Chapter 1, the new paradigm is justified on the basis of the overlap between Plutarch's treatment of statesmanship in the Moralia and the themes emphasized in the Prologues and synkriseis to the Lives. When this paradigm is applied to Demetrius-Antony (Chapter 2), Coriolanus-Alcibiades (Chapter 3), Agesilaus-Pompey (Chapter 4) and Phocion-Cato Minor (Chapter 5), the subjects emerge as exempla of behaviors statesmen must avoid. This analysis leads to the conclusion that the new paradigm is more powerful than moral biography for both identifying Plutarch's exempla and explaining the structure and content of each pair. It is expected that similar analysis of other Lives will reveal their subjects also to be exempla of effective and ineffective statesmanship.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Said, Suzanne
School: Columbia University
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 72/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Classical studies
Keywords: Moral qualities, Plutarch, Roman Empire, Statesmanship
Publication Number: 3451499
ISBN: 978-1-124-56756-3
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