Plutarch writes, “My design is not to write histories, but lives.” What does he mean? In what ways can his biography of Alexander be used as a historical source?
By noting that his design is to write on ‘lives’ as opposed to ‘histories’, Plutarch means that he is concerned with characters and inclinations of individuals, but not accomplishments or personal endeavors.
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However, despite this assertion, Plutarch’s biography of Alexander can be used as a historical source. Conventionally, histories focus on an individual’s life from birth to death together with his/her accomplishments. Similarly, Plutarch follows Alexander’s life from birth to death dotted with some accomplishments like childhood endeavors, and thus his biography can be used as a historical source.
What, according to Plutarch, does Alexander aspire to most of all?
Alexander aimed at putting all races across the world under one government. He can be considered as the father of the one-world order. Plutarch notes that those conquered by Alexander were better off than those that escaped his conquest endeavors.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Alexander’s character?
One of the greatest strengths of Alexander’s character is his vision, ambition, and thirst to succeed. In addition, his character is dotted with true leadership skills. For instance, he persuades thousands of men to join him willingly before walking over 20,000 miles to conquer different towns. However, his greatest weakness in character is his eccentricity. In most occasions, he behaves oddly and especially towards his death, he cannot trust the people around him.
By what means did Alexander attempt to rule?
One time when his father is away fighting against the Byzantines, Alexander, at the age of sixteen years, decides to crush a rebellion by invading towns occupied by rebels. He drives out the rebels, captures the towns, and actually names the place, Alexandropoulos, after his own name. In addition, during the battle of Chaeronea, Alexander allegedly decides to charge the Thebans’ sacred band and these acts underscore his attempts to rule.
In this narrative, what types of things corrupt?
According to this narrative, arrogance and pride of wealth are among the many things that corrupt. For instance, Philotus falls deep into his arrogance of wealth that he forgets the gentleness and grace that underscore true greatness. The same corruption leads to Philotus disrespecting the king by claiming that he is enjoying the fruits of his (Philotus) father’s labor.
How does Plutarch depict the Persians?
Plutarch depicts the Persians as superior people. Throughout the narrative, Plutarch does not paint Persians negatively. For instance, he notes that after Alexander hears that Darius’ wife and daughters have been kidnapped and they are mourning the death of Darius, he sends men to comfort them. In addition, after Alexander enters Darius’ palace, he exclaims that it depicts ‘royalty’. Plutarch also claims that Alexander picked his attendants and guards from the Persians.
What does the text suggest about the values and beliefs of Plutarch?
Plutarch is a traditionalist. He believes in men of action. In addition, he prefers character to achievements. For instance, at the beginning of the narrative, he states that he is not interested in histories, and thus he focuses on lives, which means that he cares more on how people live their lives than their conquests. Therefore, in essence, Plutarch values humanity as opposed to personal victories. In a recap, he believes that most glorious exploits do not focus on character, which is an error for historical writers.
Do you think Plutarch was using the past as a way of judging the Roman society of his day?
Yes, Plutarch was using the past to judge the Roman society of his day. By writing on the lives of historical kings like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, he hoped to warn the Roman society on the dangers of immoral leadership. Plutarch lived in the first and the second centuries at a time when the Roman Empire was expanding its territories across the world.
Roman society celebrated every conquest, but Plutarch held a different opinion. This assertion explains why he says that he writes about ‘lives,’ but not ‘histories.’ By reflecting on the past, Plutarch hoped to correct the present by drawing key lessons from ruling and conquering territories.