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
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Lion of Chaeronea Statue

Abstract Details

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5/16/2019  |   11:00 AM - 11:30 AM   |  Hampton Inn Conference Room

Plutarch’s Silence about the Relationship Between Military Success and Political Virtue in Sulla and Caesar

Sulla and Caesar are linked in Roman history by their willingness to invade Italy, their victories in civil wars, and their assumption of dictatorships. Their military successes provided them the means to seize sole power for themselves. How, then, are we to judge those victories? How does military success interact with a statesman’s moral character and political achievement, particularly when military victories enable tyranny? Plutarch’s Sulla and Caesar are surprisingly silent about these questions. Pelling (2011: 18-24) notes how Plutarch’s moral voice in the Caesar is strangely muted. Stadter (1992) describes the mixture of virtues and vices in the Sulla as paradoxical and Duff (1999: 161-204) develops the paradox into a seemingly inverse relationship between moral and political success. This paper will build on this scholarship and explore the nature of this silence. One reason to read these two biographies together is that both share a similar fundamental structure: a controversial political rise (Sulla 1-10, Caesar 1-14) and an autocratic political finish (Sulla 30-38, Caesar 57-69) that bookend an extended narrative of military victories in foreign and then civil wars (Sulla 11-29, Caesar 15-56). The goal of the paper will be to demonstrate how the political narratives emphasize vices and weaknesses in the characters of their subjects while the military narratives display their virtues and victories, thus establishing a tension between the two spheres that Plutarch chooses not to resolve (Sulla 30.6, Caesar 69.1). The paper will conclude by considering whether Plutarch’s respect for military success is perhaps too ingrained for him to fault it for the political consequences it makes possible. Duff, T. E. 1999. Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice. Oxford. Pelling, C. 2011. Plutarch: Caesar. Oxford. Stadter, P. A. 1992. “Paradoxical Paradigms: Lysander and Sulla.” In P. A. Stadter, ed., Plutarch and the Historical Tradition, London, 41-55.

Rex Stem (Primary Presenter), srstem@ucdavis.edu;
Associate Professor of Classics at the University of California, Davis. Author of: The Political Biographies of Cornelius Nepos (University of Michigan Press, 2012).

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