Roman Imperium, Greek Paideia: Plutarch’s lives of Aemilius Paullus and Timoleon

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This paper focuses on the theme of fortune (tychē) and its mutability in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of Aemilius Paullus and Timoleon, first at the level of individual biography and then as it applies to the progress of civilization and the rise and fall of great powers. The Greek Life (of Timoleon) makes greatest explicit use of the notion of historical destiny, yet in such a way as to provide a yardstick by which to bring out what is latent in its Roman counterpart, while the much more explicit deployment of traditional Greek cultural models at the individual level in the Aemilius also helps shape the interpretation of the Timoleon. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is the Roman Life that highlights, in thoroughly Greek terms, the vicissitudes of a single life, a central focus of traditional Greek thought on the nature and possibility of happiness, whereas the Greek Life exemplifies the notion of historical destiny that is so important for Rome and the Romans. The theme of vicissitude (what I call “the principle of alternation,” i.e., the notion that no human life is free of misfortune and that the best one can hope for is a mixture of good and bad) interacts with that of historical destiny and informs both Lives in this pair. Reading each Life in the light of the other and both together as single artistic project offers insights that are lost if we treat each in isolation; this highlights, in particular, Plutarch’s perspective on the enduring value of Greek culture under the military and political supremacy of the Romans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-28
JournalHorizons: Seoul journal of humanities
Volume5
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014

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