SECOND MEETING OF THE
NORTH AMERICAN SECTIONS
INTERNATIONAL PLUTARCH SOCIETY
"Plutarch's Unexpected Silences"
15-18 May, 2019
HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE THEME
SECOND MEETING OF THE
NORTH AMERICAN SECTIONS
INTERNATIONAL PLUTARCH SOCIETY
"Plutarch's Unexpected Silences"
15-18 May, 2019
HIGHLY CUSTOMIZABLE THEME
SECOND MEETING OF THE
NORTH AMERICAN SECTIONS
INTERNATIONAL PLUTARCH SOCIETY
"Plutarch's Unexpected Silences"
15-18 May, 2019
By Itidorfa07 (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped from original)
Lion of Chaeronea Statue

Abstract Details

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5/16/2019  |   3:00 PM - 3:30 PM   |  Hampton Inn Conference Room

Finetuning Portraits in the Lives: Omissions that Clarify the Lessons in Leadership

Plutarch’s portraits of leaders in the Lives reflect a careful blending of incidents from a hero’s personal life and his political and military career, which together provide exempla to guide readers in cultivating moral character and effectiveness in managing public affairs. Designing these portraits required selectivity in including or omitting details about a person’s life. As Plutarch indicated at Cimon 2.4-5, a representation of a man had to retain the undesirable elements of a man’s character without giving them undue prominence. On this basis, Plutarch might have omitted key incidents which, if included, would have over-emphasized one virtue or vice. Similarly, a balanced portrait of a man’s successes and failures in managing political or military matters might also necessitate selective exclusion of episodes described by historians. Against this backdrop, the question arises: to what extent can Plutarch’s omission of key incidents from a Life be viewed as purposeful “finetuning” of his narrative to clarify certain lessons in leadership? My paper investigates this issue in the context of the Lives of Alcibiades, Agesilaus and Fabius Maximus. After a brief review of the variety of reasons that could explain the absence of specific events reported by historians, I discuss how Plutarch’s “silences” impact the ethical and pragmatic lessons in these three Lives. In particular, I examine Plutarch’s abbreviated treatment of (1) Alcibiades’ first exile (versus Thucydides), (2) aspects of Agesilaus’ character and leadership (versus Xenophon) and (3) Fabius Maximus’ influence in key political debates (versus Livy). As I will show, in each case, Plutarch’s omission of well-known episodes sharpens the focus on the specific lessons in leadership that each Life was designed to convey.

Susan Jacobs (Primary Presenter), jacobsassoc@prodigy.net;
Susan Jacobs began to study Plutarch in the early 2000s, when she entered the graduate program in Classics at Columbia University. After completing her doctorate in 2011, she expanded her doctoral thesis into a book, Plutarch’s Pragmatic Biographies, which was published as part of Columbia’s Studies in the Classical Tradition series in 2017. In this book, Susan argues that Plutarch’s intended lessons in the Parallel Lives center on effective leadership and incorporate both moral guidance and pragmatic lessons in how to solve common problems in the political and military arenas. Susan came to Classics after completing a doctorate in economics (Duke University, 1982, with a concentration in Soviet economics) and spending over 20 years in forecasting and strategic planning in the U.S. auto industry.

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