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University of Iowa

Iowa Research Online

Theses and Dissertations

Summer 2015

Diatribe and Plutarch's practical ethics

Aaron Burns
University of Iowa

Copyright 2015 Aaron Burns

This dissertation is available at Iowa Research Online:

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Burns, Aaron. "Diatribe and Plutarch's practical ethics." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2015.

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Aaron Burns

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the
Doctor of Philosophy degree in Classics
in the Graduate College of
The University of Iowa

August 2015

Thesis Supervisor: Professor John F. Finamore

Copyright by



All Rights Reserved

Graduate College
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa





This is to certify that the Ph.D. thesis of

Aaron Burns

has been approved by the Examining Committee for

the thesis requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy degree
in Classics at the August 2015 graduation.

Thesis Committee: ____________________________________________

John F. Finamore, Thesis Supervisor

Craig A. Gibson

Paul Dilley

Glenn Storey

Carrie E. Swanson

I would like to thank John Finamore helping me grow my knowledge of

and appreciation for ancient philosophy, and for guiding me through the

dissertation process.

I would like to thank the members of my dissertation committee, Craig

Gibson, Paul Dilley, Glenn Story, and Carrie Swanson, for their willingness to be

on the committee and their helpful suggestions. I would also like to thank Craig

for helping me organize the prospectus for this dissertation.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Kristin for many hours of editing

and proofreading this dissertation, and for her patience and love during the long

process of completing graduate school and my dissertation.


This dissertation concerns two aspects of Plutarchs ethics that have

received relatively little attention: the link between his metaphysics and ethics,

and Plutarchs use of diatribe, a rhetorical style primarily associated with Stoics

and Cynics, as a means of targeting a wider audience of educated elite for his

philosophy. I argue that Plutarchs De virtute morali links his ethics with his

understanding of Platonic metaphysics. De virtute morali also serves as model for

Plutarchs ethical treatises on specific topics. I analyze the following works: De

curiositate, De garrulitate, De vitando aere alieno, De vitioso pudore, and De

superstitione. In these, Plutarch identifies a vicious behavior () and suggests

methods of self-training to eliminate the vicious behavior (). Self-training

always involves the subordination of emotions to reason (), rather

than the elimination of emotions () advocated by the Stoics. Plutarch

uses diatribe, in which the author adopts a conversational tone and addresses the

reader in second person, both in and , as well as in his arguments

against Stoic . Since Stoicism was the most popular philosophical

adherence among educated elites during the time when Plutarch began to write, I

argue that Plutarch adopts rhetoric associated with the Stoics as a means of

promoting Platonism, and himself as its interpreter, in a culture where

intellectuals required the patronage of the educated elite for their personal

livelihood and the livelihood of their schools.


This dissertation examines five practical ethical works by Plutarch of

Chaeronea (c. 50 CEc.120 CE): On Talkativeness, On Curiosity, On Avoiding

Borrowing Money, On Excessive Modesty, and On Superstition. In each work

Plutarch explains the problems associated with the vice in the title and proposes

a self-training regimen for overcoming the vicious behavior. Plutarchs diagnoses

of and cures for these vicious behaviors are based on his belief (following Plato

and Aristotle) that the human soul has a rational part and irrational part that

work in opposition to each other. Vicious behavior arises when the rational part

loses control of the irrational. Plutarchs regimens are designed to put the

rational part of the soul back in control to restore virtue. I argue that Plutarch

gives an abstract account of the process of putting reason in control of the soul in

his treatise On Moral Virtue, and that the five practical ethical works show that

abstract process in specific cases. I argue that On Moral Virtue links Plutarchs

practical and theoretical philosophy: the ordering of ones soul under the control

of reason mirrors the creator gods ordering of the cosmos. I also argue that On

Moral Virtue and the five practical ethical works are linked by Plutarchs use of

the diatribe, a rhetorical style associated with the Cynic and Stoic philosophical

schools. Plutarchs innovation is to appropriate this style from rival philosophical

schools and use it to argue for Platonic ethics. I argue he does this to promote

Platonism to a wider audience.


1 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................... 1
PRACTICAL ETHICS .................................................................................................................... 3
DIATRIBE..................................................................................................................................... 8
BION OF BORYTHENES ............................................................................................................. 11
MUSONIUS RUFUS .................................................................................................................... 12
EPICTETUS................................................................................................................................. 13
SENECA ..................................................................................................................................... 14
DION OF PRUSA ........................................................................................................................ 14
DIATRIBE AND PLUTARCH....................................................................................................... 15
De garrulitate ....................................................................................................................... 17
De curiositate........................................................................................................................ 19
De vitando aere alieno .......................................................................................................... 19
Diatribe with virtue as a mean ............................................................................................. 20
De vitioso pudore .................................................................................................................. 20
De superstitione .................................................................................................................... 21
2 DE VIRTUTE MORALI .................................................................................................... 23
3 DE GARRULITATE .......................................................................................................... 43
4 DE CURIOSITATE ............................................................................................................. 56
5 DE VITANDO AERE ALIENO ....................................................................................... 74
6 DE VITIOSO PUDORE .................................................................................................... 85
7 DE SUPERSTITIONE ....................................................................................................... 94
8 CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................ 105
9 WORKS CITED ................................................................................................................ 112



Plutarchs Moralia received relatively little scholarly attention in the

English-speaking world for most of the twentieth century. This is partially due to

the wide variety of Plutarchs subjects, which has often proved an obstacle to

general analyses of his philosophical works. Recently, however, scholars have

made significant progress in tackling the great breadth of topics on which

Plutarch chose to write. Also, several excellent studies that explore connections

and unifying themes between Plutarchs works have appeared within the last

decade. Many of these studies have focused on Plutarch as a Second Sophistic

writer and look at Plutarchs strategies for self-promotion in an agonistic milieu.

This dissertation will analyze Plutarch and his use of the diatribe style in his

popular/practical ethical works. I will argue that Plutarch made use of the

diatribe style, which was associated with Stoic/Cynic works of popular/practical

philosophy that were the best-known kind of philosophical work in the first and

early-second century CE, in order to create the first popular philosophical works

in the Platonic tradition. I will present a brief survey of the arguments about the

diatribe style and use of the term diatribe, as well as a brief survey of the

diatribe before Plutarch. Subsequent parts will present analysis of six works of

Plutarch that show him using the diatribe style (which up to Plutarchs time had

been used exclusively by Cynics and Stoics) to argue for his own practical ethics.

This analysis will establish that Plutarchs ethics, despite employing a style

generally associated with the Stoics/Cynics, are more in line with the Platonic


This analysis will use several recent works on Plutarchs ethics, many of

which appear in Roskam and van der Stockts Virtues for the People: Aspects of

Plutarchan Ethics, as well as Opsomers works on Plutarchs place in the Platonic

tradition, and especially van Hoofs 2010 book Plutarchs Practical Ethics, in which

the author argues that certain ethical works of Plutarch are written as a guide to

good behavior for a cultural elite who are well-educated, but lack rigorous

training in philosophy. Although these works do acknowledge the Stoic

influence on Plutarch, there is little or no mention of diatribe. Van Hoof refers to

diatribe only briefly, and downplays its significance for Plutarch. I will argue

that Plutarchs use of the diatribe demonstrates his awareness of the kind of

ethical works his educated audience would be accustomed to, and that it fits well

into the model of practical ethics described by van Hoof, van der Stockt, and

others. In addition, analyzing Plutarchs use of a style primarily associated with

the Stoics to advocate an ethics based in Platonism will provide insight into what

makes Plutarchs ethics distinct from those of the Stoics. As Russell (1973a)

observes, Plutarchs ethics were, in practice, not obviously different from those of

the Stoics. However, despite the outward similarity of the practice, the theory

and reasoning behind Plutarchs ethics is in sharp contrast to Stoic ethics (8788).

Plutarch himself is keenly aware of this distinction, and wrote several polemics

against Stoics. Thus it makes sense, if we are to fully understand Plutarchs

practical ethics, to understand the theory behind the practice, and how it differs

from that of the Stoics. Making this distinction was clearly a concern of Plutarch.

Furthermore, attempts to understand the theory behind Plutarchs ethics are

lacking in the recent treatments of his ethics. I will show that the six works

analyzed herein are examples of Plutarch adopting a Stoic/Cynic style to

advocate an ethics that is both practical and Platonist.

Practical Ethics

In the introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy, A. A. Long observes that, while by no

means abandoning other branches of philosophy, the philosophical schools in

the Hellenistic period focused most of their attention on ethics and on answering

the question What is happiness or well-being and how does a man achieve it?

Long also observes: Hellenistic philosophy strove to make itself relevant to a

wider social group than Plato or Aristotle had influenced (6). Stoics (as well as

Epicureans) purposefully set out to popularize their teachings, creating moral

works that could serve as advice for those unable to study more technical

writing, or as starting points for those who wanted to begin pursuing philosophy

(12). Stoics, and, to a lesser extent, Cynics, tended to dominate popular


philosophy in the Hellenistic period and Roman Empire. Platos Academy and

the Peripatetic Lyceum were active during this period, but produced very little

output that was read outside of the schools themselves.1 The term popular

philosophy as it relates to Plutarch has its origin in Konrad Zeiglers seminal

1951 RE article on Plutarch, in which he classifies twenty-one of Plutarchs works

as popularphilosophisch-ethische Schriften (637). However, this classification

has raised more questions than it has answered, and recent studies of these

works have called the usefulness of the term into question. As Geert Roskam and

Luc van der Stockt observe in their introduction to their volume Virtues for the

People: Aspects of Plutarchan Ethics, Zieglers criteria for choosing certain works to

be popularphilosophisch-ethische Schriften are not clear; the works he chooses

vary in genre and in level of philosophical sophistication assumed of the reader.

Ziegler, on a later page (703), also adds five additional works, which he calls

pdagogische Schriften, to the class of popularphilosophisch-ethische

Schriften, again without any explanation of the criteria of classification (9).

In addition to the problem of what works count as popularphilosophisch-

ethische Schriften, the term itself is problematic. Popular philosophy denotes

philosophy for the common person. As Lieve van Hoof notes in her introduction

1The most important Academic philosophers of this period were the Skeptics Arcesilaus and
Carneades, who did not write any works (though their opinions are preserved by Cicero). After
Theophrastus, the output of the Lyceum drops off dramatically, both in quality and quantity
(CHCL 622625).

to Plutarchs Practical Ethics, popular philosophy often connotes second-rate

philosophy, and the works that Zeigler has so labeled are frequently treated as

such.2 Chris Pelling, in his chapter in Virtues for the People titled What is popular

about Plutarchs popular philosophy?,3 argues that while Plutarch clearly

attempted to popularize his ethics by writing to, for, and about non-

philosophers, his popularizing did not extend beyond educated non-

philosophers, i.e. the pepaideumenoi, who Pelling writes became a staple of Greek

thought in the Second Sophistic (56). Thus, Plutarch may be writing a popular

philosophy, but it is not a demotic philosophy. Pelling raises two excellent

questions about Plutarchs popular philosophy:

Is it then a wider feature of the self-characterisation that he [Plutarch] is a

person who can also write more technical works on philosophy or on
history, but finds such specialisms less appropriate for the real business of
everyday moral living than the register of those more popular
philosophy essays? That for topics like these [emphasis his], Plato or
Panaetius or Epicurus or Zeno are of more use for stray aphorisms and
anecdotes than for sustained analysis or engagement, that they just need
to be thrown into a wider cultural amalgam along with Homer and

2 Van Hoof (2010) 45. As van Hoof observes, the tendency shown in general treatments of
Plutarchs Moralia is to reserve in-depth analysis for the more technical treatises and refer to the
popular philosophical works only in support of a point. Babut (1969a) and Dillon (1996) 184
230 are the best examples of this. She also calls attention to the faint praise given to the popular
ethical works in Sorabjis introduction to Greek and Roman Philosophy 100 BC200 AD (2007), in
which he writes that Plutarch (though this may be a personal opinion) should be on the shelves
of every household that has growing children, because he discusses so many issues that need
discussion and do not get it (12), noting the denigrating effect in his ostensibly positive
statement both in the parenthetical interjection and in his recommendation of Plutarchs ethics,
which are obviously written for adults, for children (56).
3 Pellings chapter focuses mostly on the Lives, rather than the Moralia, but his augments about

Plutarchs intended audience are applicable to both works.


Euripides and Herodotus, a great literary meadow from which the

pepaideumenos knows how to weave the right sort of garland? (57).

Pelling offers only perhaps so as an answer, but in his questions he raises

several important issues about the works that have been labeled as popular

philosophy. First is the idea that Plutarch consciously styles himself as a writer

of the whole range of philosophical works, from technical treatises on

metaphysics such as De animae procreatione in Timeao, to religious exegeses such

as De Iside et Osiride, to less specialized works such as those identified as

popular philosophy. Plutarch, as Pelling suggests, intentionally adjusts the

level of philosophical sophistication required to understand the work according

to his intended audience. So, dismissing the popular philosophical works as

examples of second-rate philosophy misses the point of these works entirely. For

that reason, it makes sense to consider a more useful name for these works. Such

a suggestion, as Pelling relates at the beginning of his article, was made by

Franoise Frazier, when Pelling presented the paper that would become his

article at the Symposium of the Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven, Belgium:

Virtues for the People: Plutarch and Contemporaries on Desirable Ethics, Delphi,

Greece, September 2004 (41 n. 1). Frazier proposed that practical ethics would

make a more useful term than popular philosophy. Van Hoofs subsequent

adoption of the term for her book seems to have cemented practical ethics as

the preferred term.


A second important point coming from Pellings questions is that Plutarch

not only presents himself as a versatile writer on philosophical topics, but also

does so in a way that presents his literary garland (to use Pellings metaphor) as

the most attractive to a pepaideumenos. Given the arguments of Pelling (see above)

and van Hoof4 that the cultural elite were the target audience of Plutarchs

works, Plutarchs attention to his audience is clear. Plutarch makes his allegiance

to Platonism plain but he shows awareness of the influence of other

philosophical traditions, both in his ability to borrow from them and his

willingness to engage in spirited polemic against them. As stated above,

Platonism was far from the most influential of the great philosophical schools in

the period before Plutarch; the Stoics were responsible for most of the influential

popular philosophy at that point. Platonists of the century before Plutarch

began writing also had been influenced by Stoicism, to the point that some were

adopting Stoic doctrine into Platonism. Plutarch was opposed to many Stoic

doctrines and their influence on Platonism.5 So, while Plutarch does devote

works to attacking Epicurean doctrine, his most frequent target in his polemical

works is the Stoics. However, Plutarch also seems to have been aware of the

4 As van Hoof notes, Plutarch assumes that his audience is wealthy and well-educated, both
through references to material wealth, such as slaves, horses, and luxury goods, and also in
references to participation in political and intellectual activities reserved for the cultural elite (20).
The majority of Plutarchs addressees in the twenty-one popular philosophical/practical ethical
works are known to have held political offices, and van Hoof provides a list of them (21).
5 See Chapter 2 for details on the Stoic doctines, the Platonists who adopted them, and Plutarchs

opposition to those doctrines.


effectiveness of the Stoics in producing popular philosophy, and so he borrows

freely from them, occasionally in content, but more frequently in the form and

style of popular philosophical works. In this respect, the diatribe tradition

became useful for Plutarch.


The diatribe tradition, and even the term diatribe, have been a source of

scholarly controversy since the late nineteenth century. Given the lack of

consensus surrounding diatribe, reference works generally are cautious about

making strong claims about the term. There is some general agreement, however.

Moles (OCD4, diatribe) emphasizes the role of oral performance in the

development of the diatribe: written works so described must bear some

relationship to oral performances, a relationship ranging from more or less direct

transcription to quite elaborate literary development. Moles also emphasizes the

role of Cynics in the creation of the diatribe style, which accounts for the

sermonizing quality and the focus on ethics. Russell (1973a) defines the

diatribe as lectures or discourses on a moral theme, marked by a combination of

seriousness with humor and a certain vividness and immediacy in language

(29). Schenkeveld, in his chapter on philosophical prose in the Handbook of

Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period 330 B.C.A.D. 400, follows Russell, and

also identifies some formal features: (a) short dialogues between the speaker and

imagined nameless interlocutor(s); (b) Socratic questioning, i.e., the speaker

leading the interlocutor into self-contradiction or an absurd position; (c) ethical

subject matter; (d) vocatives and rhetorical questions; (e) simple syntax; (f) use of

irony and sarcasm, maxims, and anecdotes; and (g) use of rhetorical figures

isocolon, parallelism, and antithesis (232).

The earliest works that have been called diatribes come from the

Stoic/Cynic tradition. From its beginning, the Stoic school had a popular

component, in that it was conducted in a public setting. Thus, while the

Academy, the Lyceum, and Epicurus garden were situated on the outskirts of

Athens, Zeno of Citium (331261 BCE), the reputed founder of Stoicism, engaged

in discourse right in the heart of Athens, at the Painted Porch (Stoa poikile), which

gives its name to the school.6 According to Diogenes Laertius (VII. 4), Zeno was

educated by Crates the Theban (fl. 326 BCE), a Cynic philosopher, who had a

habit of entering peoples homes and admonishing whoever was inside. As with

all of the early Stoics and Cynics, no works by Zeno or Crates survive, but Teles

(fl. 235 BCE), another Cynic, records some of the sayings of Zeno, Crates, and

Bion of Borysthenes (c. 335c. 245 BCE), a philosopher/sophist who dabbled in

many philosophical schools.7 Bion was known for his wit, use of rhetoric, and

6 (Diog. Laert. VII. 5)

7Diog. Laert. tells a story in which Bion calls himself a philosopher, but later refers to him as a
sophist (IV. 47)

serio-comic style of writing.8 It is with Bion that the diatribe style, with all the

problems surrounding it, first emerges.

Whether or not there is actually a style that can be called diatribe in

ancient philosophy is an issue in itself. Diogenes Laertius makes a parenthetical

reference to Bion and works of his called diatribes in his life of Aristippus:

... (2.77) Kindstrand, in his

edition of the fragments of Bion, argues that this use of is late, and that

Bion would likely have not referred to his own works by that name.9 The modern

use of diatribe to signify a genre of philosophical work had its origin in

Herman Useners introduction to his 1887 edition of the works of Epicurus.10

Two years later Richard Heinze published a monograph on Bions influence on

Horace, in which, citing Usener, he calls the diatribe a genus.11 Over the next

two decades, several works appeared that attempted to systematically explain

the formal features of diatribe. The most important of these were Henricus

Webers book on Seneca (1895), Joseph Seidels dissertation on Plutarch (1906),

8 Moles, J. L. Bion (1).

9 Kinstrand 23. Terzaghi argues that would have been the term used by Bion (13 n. 1).
Diog. Laet. calls Bions works (memoranda or notes), a term which he uses
for philosophical works in general (cf. life of Speusippus 4.5), in the life of Bion.
10 Bio Borysthenita sermonibus suis ( nomen erat) genus cynicum serveritate risuque

mixtum perfecit. (LXIX). Kindstrand does not object to this statement, but says that it in no
ways justifies the far-reaching conclusions drawn by later scholars, who assumed that the word
stood for a special literary form with a special style (97). Stowers attributes the idea of
the genre to Wilamowitzs 1881 essay Der kynische Prediger Teles. Wilamowitz does not use
the term diatribe, however (78).
11 Heinze 67.

and Rudolf Bultmanns dissertation on Paul (1910). Despite the number of works

devoted to diatribe, there is an alternative school of thought that the notion of

diatribe as a literary genre is a modern invention and not something that the

ancients would recognize as genre, and that the term diatribe is misleading

and overly simplistic. This view is best summarized by Gottschalk and

Schmeller. However, I think that following Russell (1973a), Kindstrand, and

Jocelyn, while the term diatribe might be unfortunate and a modern coinage, it

does refer to a distinct style (but not necessarily a genre) that can be identified,

described, and analyzed.

Bion of Borythenes

As stated in the introduction, Bion is the first philosopher who is said to have

given diatribes. Bions diatribes likely were actual lectures delivered both to

students and to a general public. As Diogenes Laertius implies, there were

probably written notes from these lectures, but these have been lost. Fragments

are preserved by Teles. As Kindstrand observes, what fragments there are

suggest a lively, at times aggressive, style in attacking vice, which he suggests

Bion employs to grab and then hold the attention of the audience, and the

influence of the Asiatic style, which he suggests is indicative of Bions attempt

to appeal to a wider audience. Bions most frequent topic seems to have been

choosing a life of poverty and learning over a life of luxury. Since Bion is the

supposed founder of the diatribe tradition, the studies of diatribe from the late

nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often seek to find parallels between

later authors and Bion. Stowers observes that there was a sort of Bion mania at

this point in studies of diatribe (19). Much has also been made of Horaces

statement in Ep. ii.2.5960, carmine tu gaudes, hic delectatur iambis, / ille Bioneis

sermonibus et sale nigro.12

Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus was a Roman eques and Stoic philosopher who lived and taught

in the first century CE (c. 25c. 95) in Rome. Tacitus reports that he was exiled

twice by Nero, first in the company of the senator Rubellius Paulus from 6062

(Ann. 14.59), and then again from 6569, when Nero forced him into hard labor

(Ann. 15.71). After Neros death, he returned to Rome and served as a peace

envoy from the emperor Vitellius to Vespasian in 69 (His. III.81), and successfully

prosecuted P. Egnatius Celer in 70 for his false accusations of treason against the

proconsul Barea Soranus (His. IV.40). Musonius was exiled again in the mid-70s

by Vespasian, and while in exile he met Pliny the Younger (Plin. Ep. III.11). Like

Bion he did not write any works, but his student Lucius recorded several of his

discourses (J. T. Dillon vi). The subject of all of these discourses is the necessity of

the four cardinal virtues: , , , and (10).

12 See esp. Heinze and Fiske.


Lutz characterizes Musonius as the Roman Socrates because he did not write

anything, exhorted his followers to virtue, and suffered at the hands of

governmental authority. J. T. Dillon follows this characterization and suggests

that Musonius method of teaching resembled Socratic elenchus (7381).

Musonius discourses in the form recorded by Lucius lack the liveliness of Bions

diatribes, and presence of the imagined interlocutor is less obvious.13 For this

reason, as well as the didactic and quiet tone, Schenkeveld questions whether

Musonius discourses really fit in the diatribe tradition, but allows for the

possibility that Lucius editing has elided the vividness of the oral discourse

(236). However, Geytenbeek and Schmeller (125157) both make strong cases

that Musonius belongs in the diatribe tradition.


Epictetus (c. 55 CEc. 135 CE), while a slave, was allowed to attend lectures by

Musonius Rufus. Once manumitted, he began teaching himself. Epictetus

student Flavius Arrianus recorded and edited some of his lectures, which he

published in eight books as the Diatribae, of which four survive. Schenkeveld

regards Epictetus diatribes, like those of his teacher Musonius, as more

argumentative and didactic than Bions, but he continues the use of rhetorical

13Schenkeveld believes that imagined interlocutor is entirely absent (236), but Schmeller argues
that there is evidence for it (151154).

questions and a hypothetical interlocutor. However, his use of popular or vulgar

terminology and barbarisms makes his Diatribae somewhat more vivid

(according to Schenkeveld) than Musonius Rufus (242243). Though he focuses

on moral themes, he also addresses logic and more technical arguments.


Seneca is the lone Latin author participating significantly in the diatribe tradition

in the time before Plutarch. Unlike the other Stoics to this point, Seneca did write

down his works, including declamations and tragedies in addition to his

philosophical prose. His Naturales Quaestiones and Epistulae morales are the works

that show elements of the diatribe tradition. Like the other authors of diatribes,

he rails against vice using short, loosely constructed sentences, and also makes

liberal use of neologisms. Quintilian famously censured his style as corrupta (Inst.

10:1:129). Schenkeveld describes his style as vivid and direct (238), and he

brings the spontaneity of the oral diatribe tradition to written composition,

which Plutarch follows him in doing.

Dion of Prusa

Dion, also known as Dio Chrysostom (c. 40 CEc. 110 CE), was trained as an

orator but took up philosophy after being taught by Musonius Rufus. Dions

works were divided into sophistic, political, and moral orations, of which

we have some of the last group. Some of these contain stories about the Cynic

Diogenes. Schenkeveld doubts whether his works are properly classified as

diatribes, since Dion, as he describes, desire[d] to lend them a more regular and

definite rhetorical composition in order to bring them nearer to classical Attic

prose (244). However, Dion still maintains at times the convention of direct

address and rhetorical questions, and the Atticizing tendency in his work is

mirrored in Plutarchs treatment of the diatribe tradition.

Diatribe and Plutarch

The first of the six works analyzed here, De virtute morali (De virt. mor.), is about

ethics generally, while the other five are about specific vices. In De virt. mor.,

Plutarch accounts for the role that moral (as opposed to intellectual) virtue plays

in his ethics. This account makes it clear that his ethics are fundamentally

Platonic: he devotes much of the treatise to attacking Stoic ethics and

differentiating his own views from Stoic views. The attack on Stoicism, however,

uses elements of Stoic diatribe. De virt. mor. also establishes a paradigm that the

practical ethical treatises follow. Plutarch describes how moral virtue involves

the subordination of emotions and desires to reason through habituation. This

process of controlling the passions with reason is known as metriopatheia.

Metriopatheia does not involve eradication of desire, as the Stoic ideal of apatheia

that Plutarch attacks does. In each of the five practical ethical treatises considered

in this analysis, Plutarchs advice for remedying vicious behaviors involves

bringing the desires that lead to vicious behavior under the control of reason

through habituation.

A self-identifed Platonist like Plutarch writing diatribes was

unprecendented in Plutarchs time. Three of Plutarchs works fall rather

obviously into the diatribe tradition: De garrulitate (De garr.), De curiositate (De

cur.), and De vitando aere alieno (De vit. ae.). These works, I believe, stay true

generally to the features associated with the diatribe tradition. Plutarch differs

from his Stoic/Cynic predecessors, however, in that he speaks of vice as an

affection () or sickness () of the soul and offers remedies for

vicious behavior, in addition to condemnation.14 I will examine how Plutarch

uses the diatribe style, first to show his reader how the vicious behaviors he is

attacking do harm both to the reader himself and to his relationships, and second

to offer the reader a means of remedying those vicious behaviors. One may

question whether the vices (Nikolaidis calls them only foibles) that Plutarch is

attacking (talkativeness, meddlesomeness, borrowing money, excessive modesty,

superstition) rise to the level of ethical concerns. My analysis will show that, for

Plutarch, they do. Recent work on the Second Sophistic in general (Whitmarsh)

and Plutarch specifically (van Hoof; van der Stockt) have emphasized the social

14 Nikolaidis gives a detailed examination of Plutarchs use of medical vocabulary (206207).


component of educated life; that is, the educated man, whether a philosopher or

non-philosopher, practices the educated life through interactions with other

educated men. Thus, habits that do damage to ones relationships do damage to

ones ability to live philosophically (or, at least, to live as an educated person

should). My analysis will emphasize how the vices do harm to both the person

himself and to his social relationships. It is this harm that makes these topics

ethical concerns for Plutarch. Plutarch diverges from his Platonic/Peripatetic

predecessors in this elevation of foibles to ethical concerns. In this way he

appears to be following the Stoic/Cynic diatribe tradition more closely. However,

where Plutarch distinguishes himself from the Stoic/Cynic predecessors is that,

rather than haranguing the audience with the general formula stop being

vicious and start being virtuous, Plutarch instead presents the audience with

the formula this is how your vices harm you and here are ways you can

overcome them.

De garrulitate

In this treatise Plutarch attacks the vice of talkativeness () and

eulogizes keeping silent. In the first sentence of De garrulitate (502B) Plutarch

observes that

. One may wonder why Plutarchs remedying

talkativeness is a task for philosophy. A was the butt of jokes in old


comedy (c.f. Eupolis fr. 352; Ar. Nu. 1485), and was one of Theophrastus

characters (along with the and the ), but Plutarch regards

talkativeness as something more serious. Rather than an annoyance, Plutarch

characterizes as a , equating it with ,

, and (502E). He provides several examples of how the

talkative person annoys and alienates his listeners and makes himself appear

foolish. He compares the talkative person with a drunk, saying that the talkative

person appears drunk even when sober (503E504 B). He offers numerous

exempla from literature and history of disadvantage or disaster caused by

talkativeness, and the advantages of reticence (504F510D). The rest of the essay

is devoted to remedies for talkativeness. This essay makes sense as a starting

place for discussing Plutarchs use of the diatribe tradition, first because it does

contain most of the elements associated with that tradition, and second because

he makes explicit use of medical language, which provides opportunity to

discuss in detail (following Nikolaidis) his vice-as-disease paradigm that holds

true for the rest of the works I discuss. It also makes sense as a starting place for

introducing Ingenkamps model of and , which informs nearly all

of the subsequent works on Plutarchs ethics. Analyzing this text will also be

programmatic for the rest of the texts that I examine, in that Plutarch explicitly

states that his primary purpose is not to censure talkative people, but to advise

them. He also emphasizes that habituation is the key to overcoming this vice,

which is the practical method he proposes in each of the texts I will analyze.

De curiositate

In this treatise Plutarch attacks the vice of , translated

into Latin as curiositas, but more properly meaning meddlesomeness.

According to Plutarch is the desire to discover and inquire

into other peoples business, especially their troubles. Curious/meddlesome

people do this, according to Plutarch, because they cannot bear to examine their

own lives and deal with their own shortcomings; they instead revel in others

misfortune. They do harm to themselves because they are so interested in others

affairs that they neglect their own, and they harm their relationships because no

one trusts them due to their desire to expose secrets. As remedy for this vicious

behavior, Plutarch proposes a re-direction of ones curiosity towards intellectual


De vitando aere alieno

Plutarch attacks those who borrow money to acquire more goods in this

treatise, emphasizing that a borrower harms himself in that he makes himself

like a slave to the lender. The remedy Plutarch proposes is to enjoy the freedom

from debt rather the pleasure of acquiring things. Although the vice-as-disease

paradigm is less obvious in De vit. ae. (Nikolaidis believes it is not present),

Plutarch nevertheless speaks of the greed that drives the borrower to borrow

more as insatiable, just like the s desire for new gossip. I also

think the vice-as-disease paradigm belongs in this discussion because, among

Plutarchs works, De vit. most closely resembles the diatribes of his predecessors.

Plutarch even quotes Musonius Rufus at 830b.

Diatribe with virtue as a mean

In the works I will discuss in this section, De vitioso pudore (De vit. pud.)

and De superstitione (De superst.), Plutarch approaches virtue differently than in

the previous, treating it as a mean between vicious extremes, but continuing to

emphasize the harm that vice has on the self and on relationships, and speaking

of vice as disease.

De vitioso pudore

Plutarch cautions against , best translated as excessive

modesty, or shyness in this treatise. According to Plutarch, it is a that,

unlike the vices discussed in the previous section, arises from a good nature,

because a certain degree of modesty is desirable and praiseworthy. The disease

, however, comes from an excessive fear of being censured, and leads to

the excessively modest man agreeing to do and say things that his reason tells

him are wrong out of fear of those around him. The harm in this excessive

modesty is that, because the overly modest man does and says bad things

because others persuade him to, he harms his own character. When good people

censure him, it harms his relationships, which is exactly the situation he hoped to

avoid in the first place. Plutarch prescribes habitual practice of the use of ones

rational faculty, which he says will strengthen ones convictions. Greater practice

with using ones reason also makes clear whose opinions one should yield to,

helping the modest man to avoid deferring to those who are mistaken or


De superstitione

Superstition translates the Greek , literally, fear of

daemons. Plutarch describes too as a , but one arising from

mistaken doctrine ( ). The idea that vice can

arise from mistaken doctrine distinguishes this treatise from others that also have

elements of diatribe. Plutarchs method in De superst. is to contrast the vicious

extremes of superstition and atheism, portraying atheism as mistaken, but not

harmful the way superstition is. The superstitious man believes that the gods

purposefully do harm to humans, and thus lives his life in perpetual terror,

believing that any bad thing that happens is a punishment from some god. He

engages in any ritual, rite, or sacrifice, no matter how absurd, to try to appease

the gods that he believes hate him. Again Plutarch, this time noting what an

insidious and difficult affliction is, prescribes habitually engaging

in rational study as a solution. Only by understanding the gods correctly will the

superstitious man overcome his fears.



Before considering the influence of diatribe on Plutarch's practical ethics,

it is necessary to examine Plutarch's ethics generally, and how they fit in his

understanding of Platonism. De virtute morali is Plutarch's most general treatise

on ethics, and it has a two-fold purpose and structure. First, Plutarch grounds his

ethics in his interpretation of Platonist metaphysics (as described in De animae

procreatione in Timaeo); second, he argues that moral virtue is achieved through

the moderation of emotions and subordination of passion to reason

(metriopatheia). He also argues against the Stoic notion of moral virtue as apatheia,

or the eradication of emotions. De virt. mor. describes in general terms a process

of bringing one's emotions under the control of reason, which he will apply to

remedying specific vicious behaviors in other essays. Despite arguing against the

Stoics, Plutarch borrows the diatribe style from the Stoics, using it to argue

against Stoic apatheia in De virt. mor. and to show how vices are harmful in the

other practical ethical treatises. A full understanding of De virt. mor. requires

some discussion of Plutarch's philosophy generally, and the state of Platonism

when Plutarch was active; Plutarch identifies as a Platonist, and his ethics, even

his practical ethics directed at non-philosophers, are grounded in his


understanding of Platonism. This understanding begins with his interpretation

of Platos Timaeus, which Plutarch considered the central text of Platonism. 15

For most of the twentieth century, scholars tended to view Plutarch as a

second-rate philosopher. Although Zeiglers RE article was instrumental in

reinvigorating studies of Plutarchs Moralia, his characterization of Plutarchs

philosophical works did a disservice to Plutarch as a philosopher, with

statements such as: P. ist kein originaler Denker gewesen (938). Few early-

twentieth-century treatments of Plutarchs philosophy give him much credit as

an original thinker. In the introduction to the Loeb edition of Plutarchs Moralia,

Babbit writes, [i]n philosophy, Plutarch does not go very far below the surface

(xiv). Babbit (ibid.) and Zeigler (940) also call Plutarch an eclectic, a label

which, when applied to a philosopher, tends to carry a negative connotation.16

Roger Miller Jones 1916 dissertation The Platonism of Plutarch is an exception

in this period. Jones argues that Plutarch is both systematic and consistently a

Platonist (see esp. 913). D. A. Russells Plutarch (1973a) was the first work in

English on Plutarchs thought as a whole, and represents a major shift in attitude

15 Plutarch begins his treatise De animae procreatione in Timeo by saying that he has frequently
made various statements about Platos opinions on the soul and that he has written about those
opinions in various works:
... (1012B). cf. Opsomer (2005)
16 For a discussion of eclecticism in ancient philosophy and the negative connotation the term

"eclectic" often has in scholarship, see Dillon and Long (1988) 114 and Donini (in Dillon and
Long 1988) 1533. See also Castelnrac 2007.

towards Plutarch as a philosopher. Russell opens his chapter on Plutarchs

philosophy with this statement: Plutarch was a declared and consistent

Platonist even if he was not in all respects in agreement with the orthodoxy of

the school (63). More recent works now view Plutarch as a pivotal figure in the

development of Platonism, and, if not the most important, certainly the best

attested author in Middle Platonism.17 Russell (ibid.) observes that in Plutarchs

youth in the mid- to late first century CE, Stoicism was the dominant

philosophical school, but by the end of his life in the early second century,

Platonism came to overshadow every other adherence. Given his concern with

the history of Platonism and his own place in that history (see n. 26 below), a full

understanding of De. virt. mor. also requires some discussion of Platonism before


In the first century BCE, there had been conflict in the Academy between

Philo of Larissa18 and his student Antiochus of Ascalon.19 Philo defended the

unity of Academic Skepticism, as advocated by Arcesilaus and Carneades, with

the aporetic nature of Socrates teachings and some of Platos dialogues.

Antiochus argued, on the other hand, that there was a clear break between the

ancients (the first four heads of the Academy, Plato, Speusippus, Xenocrates,

17 Cf. Dillon (1986, 185), Opsomer (2005, 169).

18 Philo became head of the Academy in 110 BCE (Dillon 1986, 53).
19 Born around 130 BCE. Cicero (Ac. 1.13) reports that Antiochus was a student of Philo.

and Polemon, as well as Aristotle and Theophrastus) and the Academic

Skeptics.20 Antiochus began a revival of the dogmatic tradition of Platonism

and focused on the positive doctrines put forth by Plato.21 Ciceros account of the

disagreement between Philo and Antiochus even suggests that Platonism as

understood by Antiochus diverged from the skeptical and aporetic nature of the

Socratic elenchus.22 Antiochus also adopted Stoic doctrines that the Academic

Skeptics were strongly opposed to. He accepted the Stoic idea of the cognitive

impression ( ) as the criterion for certain knowledge, and

Stoic apatheia as the ethical ideal.23 The traditional view of Middle Platonism,24 of

which Plutarch is the prime example, is that, as theological philosophy that

attempts to systematize Platonism, it is fundamentally different from the

philosophy of the New Academy.25 However, Jan Opsomer, in his 1998 book In

Search of the Truth: Academic Tendencies in Middle Platonism, argues against this

20 Dillon (1986) 5556; cf. Cic. Ac. 1.1118, Dillon (1988) 106, and Opsomer (1998) 38.
21 For a full account, see Glucker (1978), which is devoted primarily to conflict between Philo and
22 sed utrique Platonis ubertate completi certam quondam disciplinae formulam composuerunt

et eam quidem plenam ac refertam, illam autem Socraticam dubitanter de omnibus rebus et nulla
affirmatione adhibita consuetudinem disserendi reliquerunt (but both [the Academy and the
Lyceum], furnished with the richness of Plato, formulated a certain sure rule of doctrine, one
indeed full and complete, and left behind the Socratic habit of discussing doubtfully about all
things without admitting any assertion 1.17).
23 Dillon (1996) 64 and 77. Cf. Cic. Ac. II.135.

24 Middle Platonism, as opposed to the Old and New Academies and Neo-Platonism, is usually

defined as anything in the Platonic tradition coming after Antiochus and before Plotinus.
25 Dillon, for example, says in The Middle Platonists, the sceptical tradition has no place in Middle

Platonism (43). Glucker also treats "Platonist" and "Academic" as contrasting terms (262263).
Froidfonde (1987) argues that "Plutarque n'appartenait pas l'Acadmie et qu'il est bien visible
qu'il a pratiqu les uvres de Platon et mme est revenu aux sources mmes de son matre" (230).

view, instead claiming the New Academic spirit continued to exert some

influence over Platonism after Antiochus. There was at least an important

current in Middle Platonism that refused to postulate a discrepancy between

Academic philosophy and religion (14). Plutarch maintained the compatibility

of the skeptical and dogmatic traditions in Platonism. As Opsomer claims, "we

may safely conclude that Plutarch saw no contradiction between his adherence to

the Academy and his being a Platonist. It is indeed more than likely that he was

proud of being called a Platonist (26). Opsomer argues that this compatibility is

one of the chief concerns of Plutarchs philosophy.26 As Karamanolis observes in

his entry on Plutarch in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

the aporetic element in Plato encourages a way of searching for the truth
without prejudices or a priori commitments, and this practically amounts
to a dialectical inquiry, arguing either side of a given question. But this
dialectical spirit does not deny the possibility of reaching firm
conclusions, or even the possibility of achieving secure knowledge ( 2)

Plutarch admits both the suspension of judgment as a method of inquiry, and the

possibility of acquiring true knowledge (Quaest. Plat. 1000C,27 Adv. Col. 1124B 28).

26 [A]bove all in [Plutarchs] works may be discerned a constant preoccupation with the history
of Platonic philosophy, and a concern to define his own position and his interpretations of Plato
in relation to it. Plutarch makes an honest effort to combine harmoniously Platonic with
Academic themes (15).
27 , ,

(So, therefore, if there is nothing capable of being grasped and known by a
man, reasonably god prevented [Socrates] from producing false and unreliable wind eggs. And
god compelled him to question others believing these sorts of things).

Plutarchs belief in the compatibility of these two strands of Platonism can be

inferred from the titles of the lost works

(On the unity of the Academy since Plato) and

(On the difference between

Pyrrhonians and Academics).29

Plutarchs views on suspension of judgment and the unity of the academy

are important for his ethics because accepting the unity of the academy means

admitting Aristotle;30 Plutarchs ethics, while primarily Platonist, also rely on

Aristotles concept of virtue as a mean (EN 1104a). Platonism before Plutarch

showed tendencies towards Stoic ethics, with both Antiochus and the

Alexandrians Philo and Eudorus advocating Stoic apatheia (freedom from

emotion) instead of Academic-Peripatetic metriopatheia (moderation of emotion)

as the ethical ideal.31 Keeping with his general opposition to Stoicism, Plutarchs

28 ,

, ,
(The theory of suspension of judgment
is not a fiction nor a pursuit of empty-headed and reckless young men, as Colotes supposes, but
it is a habit and disposition of men guarding the infallible and not giving over judgment to
deceiving and uncertain perceptions and not being deceived by those who say to have trust in
obscure phenomena, since they see such distrust and uncertainty in those phenomena.)
29 Numbers 63 and 64 of the so-called Lamprias Catalogue, a list of titles attributed to Plutarch,

which can be found in Ziegler 697701.

30 Cf. Cic. Ac. 1.18, 2.15ff.

31 On Antiochus ethics, see Dillon (1986) 6981, esp. 7677; on Eudorus ibid. 122126; on Philo

ibid 146157, esp. 146150.


contribution to Platonist ethics moved the school away from the Stoic influences

of the Alexandrians and back towards Aristotles concept of virtue as a mean.

As with Plutarchs status as a philosopher, the merit of De virt. mor. as a

work of philosophy has often been questioned. Even W. C. Helmbold, editor of

the Loeb Classical Library edition, points out the looseness of the reasoning, the

tediousness of the argumentation, and the absence of anything that might be

called a structure in the treatise, calling it one of the least successful of

Plutarchs works (16, n. a, 17). The only treatment in English devoted solely to

De virt. mor., Etheridges 1961 dissertation, concedes that it might seem to be a

failure, an unhappy attempt to combine two heterogeneous essays.32 Babut,

however, in his 1969 translation and commentary, argues that De virt. mor. in fact

has a clear purpose and structure, which is two-fold: first, to ground Aristotelian

virtue ethics in Platonic metaphysics, and second, to demonstrate the superiority

of Academic-Peripatetic metriopatheia to Stoic apatheia.33 Those who claim that the

treatise is unsuccessful are evaluating it as logical argument directed at the

Stoics. Rather, De virt. mor. should be treated as a popularizing work, like the

practical ethical treatises; its aim is to attract educated non-philosophers to look

to Platonists like Plutarch for ethical advice, rather than to the Stoics. De virt. mor.

32 Etheridge is concerned primarily with Plutarchs source material for De virt. mor. and gives
little analysis to the arguments in the treatise in themselves (171).
33 Babut (1969a) 143, esp. 4243.

also has the function, as Babut and Opsomer (2005) argue, of linking Plutarchs

metaphysics, as described in De animae procreatione in Timaeo, with his ethics.

Viewed in this light, the apparent two-fold structure that Etheridge notes is not a


Plutarch begins, as Aristotle often does, by expressing the ideas that he

wishes to argue against. He briefly surveys some Stoic opinions on virtue, noting

that they differ on whether there are many virtues or just one, but emphasizes

that all of the Stoics agree that a) virtue is a certain disposition of the governing

part of the soul ( ) and a faculty

brought about by reason, or a faculty that itself is reason (

, ), and b) the passionate and

irrational part of the soul ( ) is not distinct from the

rational part, such that the soul is wholly transformed in emotional states

( , 441C). The Stoics are

mistaken, according to Plutarch, in thinking that humans are two-fold only in the

sense of the division of soul and body, and that the human soul is simple and

uncompounded. Rather, as Plutarch says that Plato understood,34 the World Soul

is not simple, uncompounded, or uniform (

, 441F), an idea that he more fully explored in his De animae procreatione

34 cf. Plat. Tim. 36a


in Timaeo, a controversial exegesis of the creation of the soul by the demiurge in

the Timaeus.35 The controversial part of Plutarchs interpretationthat the

ordering of the cosmos happened in time and literally as described in the

Timaeus, and that there is a pre-cosmic world soul governed by , which is

the source of evil in the worldis still a subject of scholarly debate.36 However,

Plutarchs view that there is a pre-cosmic soul and matter and that the demiurge

ordered them is important for his understanding of individual soul and moral

virtue, so this view deserves some attention here.

In Timaeus 34c Plato emphasizes that, although he is giving an account of

the creation of the World Soul after an account of the body, the body is younger

35 Plutarchs concern with the history of Platonism, as observed by Opsomer (cf n. 24 above), and
his awareness that his view of the soul is a potentially controversial one, is evident in his opening
remarks in De an. proc., a treatise which he composed for his sons precisely because he believed
the topic to be difficult and his view controversial. He notes the contrary opinions of Xenocrates
and Crantor of Soli in 1012D, and stresses that his claims are not necessarily held by the majority
of Platonists ( 1012B). It is
important here to note, as does Opsomer (2005), that Plutarchs Unity-of-the-Academy thesis
never implied that all Platonist [sic] always agreed on all issues (177). However, no subsequent
Platonists adopted Plutarchs view. For a summary of ancient criticism of Plutarchs view, see
Opsomer 2001. Drrie (1971) argues for the existence of a Platonist orthodoxy (which he terms
Schulplatonismus), represented by the Didaskalikos and the anonymous commentary on the
Timaeus, which Plutarch positions himself against in De an. proc. Dillon (1988) more convincingly
argues against this view, denying the existence of an orthodoxy as understood by Drrie, and
asserting that Plutarch does not speakas an outsider attacking the establishment, but as the
true interpreter of Platos doctrine correcting the mistakes of predecessors (108).
36 Harold Cherniss, in his LCL edition of De an. proc. (1976) suggests that Plutarch quotes Plato

selectively and even deliberately misquotes Plato to create support for his interpretation (138
139). Dillon (1988) is more charitable, claiming that [i]t may seem to us that promoting his own
doctrines in the guise of an exegesis of the Timaeus is precisely what Plutarch himself is doing,
but that is not, plainly, how he sees it (108). Opsomer (2005) takes the most positive view of
Plutarchs interpretation, saying that he does all he can to reconcile apparently conflicting texts
so as to arrive at a consistent interpretation (178).

than and subordinate to the soul.37 Plutarch begins De animae procreatione in

Timaeo by quoting Tim. 35ab.38 In De an. proc. 1014B Plutarch asserts first that,

while the cosmos was generated by the demiurge, the substance and matter

( ) with which he generated the cosmos were not themselves

generated, but were always underlying for the demiurge (

); he goes on to say that this state before the generation of the cosmos

was disorder () and discord of soul without reason (

). In 1014D, Plutarch explains that the irrational

disorder that existed prior to the demiurges ordering the cosmos was driven by

a disorderly and indeterminate ( ), but self-moved and

motive principle ( ). Plutarch says that

Plato has called this self-moved and motive principle necessity () in

many places (), but that in Laws he calls disorderly and maleficent

soul ( 1014DE).39 Plutarchs definition of

as the disorderly force is uncontroversial, but his claim that Plato makes

37 ,

(34b35a). Cf. Leg. 892a and 714e.
38 The passage as quoted by Plutarch at 1012BC. There are minor differences between Plutarchs

version and the text of Tim. 35ab, which are noted by Cherniss (158161).
39 The many places Plutarch refers to are given later in 1014E and 1015A, and are found in Tim.

(47e48a, 56c, 68e69a, cf. Cherniss 188189 n. c and 189 n. d) and Plt. (272e), where Plutarch
substitutes for , a substitution that Plutarch justifies (according to Cherniss
191 n. c) by Plt. 269d (cf. De an. proc. 1026B).

it a principle and calls this principle a maleficent soul in Laws is.40 However,

despite being maleficent, the pre-cosmic world soul is, as Plutarch says in 1014E,

soul in itself ( ), and soul by its nature can partake in

reason, harmony, and intelligence (

).41 Because it is soul and can partake in reason, the demiurge can make

the World Soul orderly. However, because it also partakes in , there is

always a recalcitrant element in the World Soul. This recalcitrance is the source

of evil and disorder in the world. Since the human soul is a part or copy of the

World Soul ( ),

and the human soul is put together according to the same principles and

proportions as the World Soul (

442), the human soul is not simple or uniform either. For Plutarch,

this notion rules out the Stoic notion of the total transformation of the soul from

rational to irrational in irrational emotional states. Plutarch, while

acknowledging the Platonic tripartite division of the soul into the rational, the

40 Specifically, Leg. 896e, where the Athenian Stranger says: [] ;

. ,
(one soul or many? Ill answer for you: many. Or,
lets at least assume not less than two, one beneficent, and the other capable of accomplishing the
opposite. Dillon (2007) suggests that the good soul and one of the opposite capacity correspond
to the One and Indefinite Dyad of the so-called "Unwritten Doctrines" of Plato, as well as the
Limit and Unlimited of the Philebus (26a ff.) However, the Dyad, according to Dillon, does not
amount to anything more than a source of disorderly motion, and certainly not a principle of
positive evil (39 and n.4).
41 Cf. Plat. Quae. II, especially 1001C.

spirited, and the appetitive, emphasizes that the most important division in the

soul is division into the intelligent and rational part ( ).

The rational part corresponds to the part of the World Soul that partakes in

reason, and passionate and irrational ( ) part, which

contains both the spirited and appetitive, and corresponds to the recalcitrant part

of the World Soul.

At this point (442B) Plutarch names Aristotle, explaining that Aristotle

grouped the spirited part of the soul with the appetitive, and then devotes

several examples to showing that the passionate part (i.e. the spirited and

appetitive), though lacking reason of its own, is equipped by its nature to heed

the rational part and turn towards it and yield to and be conformed to it, if it is

not completely corrupted by foolish pleasure and a life of indiscipline.42 This is

in contrast to the nutritive and vegetative parts, which are wholly irrational and

deaf to reason (442BC). Plutarch seems to be taking an entirely Aristotelian

conception of the soul here, with the two-fold soul having an irrational part that

is itself two-fold, with one part capable of obeying reason and another that is

. Plutarchs examples include lust disappearing when one discovers the
object of desire is a relative (442E) and becoming revolted at food one enjoys eating when it is
discovered to be unclean (442EF). Plutarch also makes analogies with musical instruments,
which, though they lack any soul of their own, can be made to make beautiful and harmonious
sounds (443A) and animals that are able to be trained to obey commands (443B).

totally divorced from reason.43 This turn to Aristotle is strange, as Plutarch

generally tries to emphasize his fidelity to Plato (e.g. De an. proc. passim).

At 443C, Plutarch remarks that moral virtue ( ) is well-named

because moral virtue is a quality of the irrational ( ),

which, having been made subservient to reason, acquires this quality by habit

( ), noting the similarity between

the words moral virtue () and habit ().44 Plutarch emphasizes that

reason does not eradicate passion, but only imposes limit and order on it; it

would be impossible and undesirable to eradicate passion. Reason instead

implants them [ethical virtues] with prudence to render the capacity of the

passionate into a good disposition (

443D). In EN 1105b19, where he begins to

consider the definition of a virtue, Aristotle claims that since there are three

states in the soulan emotion, a capacity, or a dispositionvirtue should be one

of the three.45 Plutarch echoes this when he says, in a close paraphrase of

Aristotle, that those three things are said to exist in the case of the soul.46

Capacity is the starting point and material ( ) of passion, while

passion is a kind of movement of the capacity ( ).

43 cf. EN 1102b29, Dillon (1986) 195 n.1

44 Aristotle makes a similar point in EN 1103a17, where he claims that is derived from .
45 , , .

46 , .

Disposition, however, is a force and condition of the capacity of the irrational

( ), which is vice if it is

brought about by bad habit, but virtue if by good (443D). This argument about

virtue and vice being dispositions also falls in line with Aristotles arguments in

1105b1106a that virtues cannot be emotions or capacities, so they must be

dispositions. Plutarch then makes the distinction between contemplative virtue

and moral virtue, first by saying that there are two types of things that exist:

things that exist absolutely ( ) and things that exist in some

relation to us ( ). Examples of things that exist

absolutely are the earth, the heavens, the stars, and the sea; things that exist in

relation to us are good and bad, desirable and undesirable, and pleasure and

pain (443E). Reason, he says, considers both types of things, but when reason is

concerned with things that exist absolutely, it is called scientific and

contemplative ( ); when it considers things that

exist in relation to us, it is called deliberative and practical (

443E).47 The virtue of contemplative reason is wisdom () and it

47Cf. EN 1139a7: ,
, (Let us assume that
there are two reasons, one with which we contemplate the sorts of things whose first principles
do not permit them to be otherwise, and one with which we contemplate the sorts of things that

considers things that are eternal and unchanging.48 Deliberative or practical

reason, however, must consider things that are material and imperfect, and

subject to chance49 and confusion (443E443F). Checking and moderating the

passions are the tasks of deliberative reason and the virtue of deliberative reason

is prudence (). The impulse () of the passions is necessary for

moral virtue, but it is the task of practical reason to eliminate the defects and

excesses of the passions.50 Achieving this goal is, of course, achieving the mean

( ) that is essential to Aristotles definition of virtue.51 In explaining what

the mean is Plutarch invokes the musical harmony, where the of the octave

is in equal proportion to the (highest note of the octave) above and the

(lowest note) below.52 He proceeds to list some of Aristotles first

48 Plutarchs example (443F) is that a geometer would not deliberate about whether the internal
angles of a triangle add up to two right angles; he simply knows that to be true. Cf. EN 1112a,
where Aristotle says that no one would deliberate about the incommensurability of the diagonal
and the side of a square.
49 Plutarch here and in 443F ( ...) and 444A (

) must be thinking of EN
1140a where Aristotle, having identified art () as a rational activity, says that art and chance
are concerned with the same things ( ),
because in 1112a Aristotle lists the results of chance ( ) among the things that no
one would deliberate. It is odd that in a work where Plutarch so closely and so frequently
paraphrases Aristotle that he would associate deliberation with chance repeatedly when Aristotle
says the opposite.
50 ,

51 , ,

(EN 1106b1107a).
52 Helmbold puts this in modern musical terminology, suggesting that, for example, if A were the

, the D above would be the and the E below the , since both intervals would be
perfect fourths (4243 n. a). For an explanation of how Plutarch likely would have understood the

examples of virtue as a mean (1107ab): courage as the mean between cowardice

and rashness, liberality between parsimony and prodigality, and gentleness

between insensibility and cruelty.

Plutarch next turns to a contrast of temperance () and self-

control (), pointing out that temperance involves the moderation and

redirection of desire to achieve a mean, so it is therefore a virtue; self-control,

however, is simply control: the reason subdues desire. For that reason, self-

control is not strictly a virtue, a point that Aristotle frequently asserts.53 Plutarch

compares self-control to the famous image of the charioteer from Plato (Phdr. 253

c ff.)54 Plutarch continues this contrast at considerable length (445B446D),

employing several literary quotations.55 This section contributes little to the

argument and seems to be included primarily for Plutarch to show off his

erudition; instead the section segues from the description of moral virtue to the

polemic against the Stoic doctrine of apatheia. Plutarch summarizes this doctrine

by saying:

, (some say that

relationship, see Barker, Music. in OCD4 6. Plutarch also uses this analogy in Plat. Quae. IX
53 e.g. EN 1128b, 1145a1146b, 1151a, and EE 1227b, 1237a.

54 Babut suggests that this image is never far from Plutarchs mind, but that it is not totally

appropriate as an illustration of self-control (155 n. 110 and 114).

55 This passage presumably is an example of what Helmbold has in mind when he says that

Plutarch wanders at leisure over the preserves of Aristotelian psychology, and censures
Plutarch for looseness ofreasoning [and] tediousness ofargumentation (16 and n. a).

passion is not other than reason, nor that they enter into disagreement and strife,

but that there is a change of one reason into both). In other words, the rational

faculty turns irrational when the soul is in an emotional state. He goes on to say


, ,

([they say that]

desire and anger and fear and all other such things are base opinions and

judgments, not arising in one certain part of the soul, but are inclinations and

yieldings and assents and impulses of the whole governing faculty 447A).

The arguments presented in this part of De virt. mor. are less text-based

than those in the first half of the treatise, and show more influence of diatribe.

Plutarch introduces a hypothetical interlocutor and relies more on anecdotes to

make his arguments. Plutarchs first argument against Stoic doctrine is that when

desire and reason are in conflict in one person, the person does not alternate

between rational judgment and desire; the judgment and desire co-exist. His

example is a person in love who realizes that his love must not be expressed.

Even though the lover restrains his emotion and chooses not to express it, he

does not cease to love. And if he is overcome by passion and does express his

imprudent love, he still does not fail to recognize his error in doing so. So, rather

than alternating between rational judgment and desire, this man is in between

and participating in both ( 447B). In 447CD,

Plutarch addresses possible Stoic objections by introducing hypothetical

interlocutors, a technique routinely employed in Stoic diatribe. Plutarch uses

simpler syntax in these hypothetical exchanges, which is another feature

associated with diatribe. In this case, the Stoics themselves are the hypothetical

interlocutors. The objection56 is that the deliberative faculty ( )

often forms contrary opinions on the same matter, but remains the same faculty.

The point in this objection is that Plutarch thinks the Stoics regard inner conflict

as an alternation between judgments. Plutarchs reply, which begins with a direct

address to the hypothetical objectors,57 is that they are correct in the case of

purely intellectual deliberation, but that the Stoics have conflated intellectual and

moral reasoning. Passions are completely absent from a purely intellectual

deliberation, and any deliberation that involves the pain of inner conflict must

involve the conflict of, and co-existence of, passion and reason as described in

447B. Any deliberation that seems intellectual, but does cause pain, must

therefore involve passion that is not recognized as passion (

447D). This passion is then treated as a purely rational

judgment. If the Stoic notion of the conflict of reason and passion were true, then

56 ,
; (447CD)
57 Marked by the first person plural: ,


the conflicted lover from the above example ought to be able to make himself

stop loving without any pain. But this is, as Plutarch says, plainly contrary to

what we observe. In 447F448A, he observes that Aristotle, Democritus, and

Chrysippus each changed their opinions about certain doctrines (Plutarch does

not say which) with no pain. However, the hypothetical interlocutor above has,

according to Plutarch, equated such a change of opinion with the rational faculty

exerting control over the passions.

Plutarch next argues that not only does the conflict of reason and emotion

prove that they are two distinct things, with their sources in two distinct parts of

the soul, but that the agreement of reason and emotion also proves that they are

distinct. Examples of the concord of reason and emotion include a man who has

married a woman for practical reasons, but develops a desire for her as they live

together or a student who follows a teacher because of the content of his lessons,

but develops fondness or affection for the teacher during the course of their

studies. In these cases, emotions are reinforcing good judgments, but they are

clearly distinct from those judgments (448DE). In 449A, Plutarch censures the

Stoics for euphemism (), noting that they call shame ( )

modesty ( ), pleasure ( ) joy ( ), and fears

( ) precautions (). He brings up these euphemisms to

begin an attack on the Stoic doctrine of eupatheia, which holds that the wise man,

though he is , does not have complete impassivity. He will experience, in

Senecas words, certain suggestions and shadows of passions, but indeed will

be free of passions themselves.58 Plutarch regards eupatheia as a sophistical trick

for the Stoics to account for the passions without having to acknowledge the

irrational parts of the soul.59 Plutarch regards it patently absurd that any person,

even a Stoic sage, would not experience emotions.

58 Sentiet itaque suspiciones quasdam et umbras affectuum, ipsis quidem carebit (De Ira I 16.7). Seneca
attributes the doctrine of eupatheia to Zeno of Citium. Dillon (1983) thinks that though Zeno may
have expressed the idea, it was likely Chrysippus who named eupatheia and stated it as doctrine
(509). Cf. Long 1986. Plutarch gives a more favorable characterization of this doctrine in De vit.
pud. 529D.



In this treatise Plutarch attacks the vice of talkativeness () and

eulogizes keeping silent. In the first sentence of De garrulitate (502B) Plutarch

observes that philosophy takes on a troublesome and difficult task remedying

talkativeness (

). Readers may wonder why Plutarchs remedying

talkativeness is a task for philosophy. An was the butt of jokes in old

comedy (c.f. Eupolis fr. 352; Ar. Nu. 1485), and was one of Theophrastus

characters (along with the and the ), but Plutarch regards

talkativeness as something more serious. Rather than an annoyance, Plutarch

characterizes as a , equating it with ,

, and (502E). The notion of vice as disease is one that recurs

in Plutarchs ethical writings, and he continues this model in De garr. with two

invented, pseudo-medical terms.60 What makes this disease particularly

insidious, according to Plutarch, is that its remedy (), reason (

), requires listening, and the cannot listen to anyone because he

is always talking (502C).

60 (inability to keep silent), and (inability to listen), both of which are

found only in Plutarch. Helmbold argues that , which follows in 502D, is a
continuation of the pseudo-medical language (396 n. a).

In his monograph Plutarchs Schriften ber die Heilung der Seele (1971), H. G.

Ingenkamp argues that many of Plutarchs essays on ethics follow the pattern of

and , where Plutarch tries to make his reader recognize the

offensive nature of his vicious behavior (), and then offers a program of

behavior modification to remedy the vice (). The purpose of ,

according to Ingenkamp, is to make the reader recognize what is undesirable or

disadvantageous about his behavior. Plutarch accomplishes this purpose

through the use of negative examples (7). Typically, these negative examples

show, as Ingenkamp (74) and van Hoof (159) have observed, the harm ()

and shame () resulting from the behavior.

Ingenkamp refers to Ar. EN 1104b301105a1, where Aristotle contrasts the

motives for choice () and avoidance ():

, ,
, :
, :

There are three things that are the motives of choice and three that are the
motives of avoidance; namely the noble, the expedient, and the pleasant,
and their opposites, the shameful,61 the harmful, and the painful. Now, in
respect of all these, the good man is likely to go right and the bad to go
wrong, but especially in respect of pleasure; for pleasure is common to
man with the lower animals, and also it is a concomitant of all the objects

61 Rackham translates as base.


of choice, since both the noble and the expedient appear to us pleasant
(trans. Rackham, slightly modified).

Ingenkamp argues that since Aristotle opposes and with

and in the first sentence, it follows that just as the noble

and expedient appear pleasant to us, the shameful and harmful likewise would

appear painful. The appearance of shameful and harmful things as unpleasant is

necessary for Ingenkamps model of and because requires

that the person be disgusted by his vicious behavior.

The term describes the damage one does to ones self though

vicious behavior, whereas describes the damage done to ones social

relationships. As Ingenkamp observes, die spielt...die Rolle fr den

Menschen als , die die fr ihn als spielt (76).

However, despite referring to as a , which implies

a great deal of damage to ones self, the in De garr., identified by van Hoof

as 115 (159), mentions very little about and focuses primarily on

. This makes sense on one level, simply because requires

social relationships. However, further examination will show that the

associated with can lead to further .

In De garr., the first element of is the recognition of the inability to

listen or to be heard. De garr. differs from other treatises in that, as Nikolaidas

observes, Plutarch not only censures talkativeness, but he eulogizes keeping


silence (208). In 502E, Plutarch expands on this idea with a quotation from

Sophocles Aleadae: , .62 The two greatest of

the goods found in silence are, according to Plutarch, hearing and being heard

( ). The can achieve neither of these; he

cannot hear because he is talking and he cannot be heard because, according to

Plutarch, everyone runs away from an :

, (Though they

desire listeners, they are unable to obtain any, but rather each person flees

headlong 502EF). Plutarch restates this problem for the in a variety

of ways. First, he says that people will flee the talkative man if he approaches

63 (in some public meeting place) or (in the

colonnade), all those seated or strolling together quickly will signal breaking

camp to each other ( 502F).64 He goes on to say

that whenever a talkative man65 enters a drinking party or meeting (

62 = Nauck Sophocles frag. 78

63 The use of to mean a public meeting place is, in Plutarchs time, unique to him (cf.
Alc. 17 and Nic. 12). Only Porphyry (Vita Pythagorae 9) follows him in this usage.
64 Plutarch uses a military metaphor here (cf. Xen. An. 4.7.24). The noun (from

) is another of Plutarchs coinages.

65 Plutarch here uses instead of . Theophrastus distinguished between the

, who has an (a bad mixture of speech), and thus does not allow
anyone else to get a word in, and the , whose speech is a
(a narration of untimely or long and unconsidered speech).
The main difference between the two is that while the disregards his audience in that he
dominates a conversation by talking too much, the disregards his audience by
introducing irrelevant or uninteresting topics. The lack of regard for ones audience is common to
all of Theophrastus characters with conversational problems, as it is for Plutarch. Plutarch,

), all fall silent, hoping to avoid providing the opportunity for him to

join their conversation. The talkative man when travelling finds no willing

listeners, only those compelled (); all seek to avoid being his tent-

mate or table-companion ( 503A). Plutarch then

provides some quips he attributes to Aristotle to show how someone with good

sense responds to a talkative man (503B). These responses show Plutarch using

the ironic or sarcastic tone that frequently appears in a diatribe.

A second element of the comes in 503D, where Plutarch remarks

that people who never check their speech and let it flow out so that their mouths

are like the unclosed mouth of the Black Sea (

) appear to regard speech as the least valuable of

all things ( ). For this reason,

their words are not believed; and belief, according to Plutarch, is the aim of all

speech. In 503E, Plutarch introduces the comparison between talkativeness and

drunkenness, first by saying that drunkenness is like madness66, then saying that

the fault most associated with drunkenness is loose speech, which he illustrates

by quoting Od. 14.46346667. At 504AB, he continues the association of

however, does not attempt to distinguish between a and an , and uses them
interchangeably in De garr.
66 , (For while anger,

according to some, is next-door to madness, drunkenness lives in the same house.)

67 ... / ... /

, / , . (For wine incites a


drunkenness with talkativeness, saying that while silence is something deep,

mysterious, and sober ( 68 ),

drunkenness is babbling ( ). Having established that

drunkenness can make a man talkative, Plutarch then claims that the

is even worse than the talkative drunk. The drunk is only temporarily talkative

(and some even keep silent when drinking69), but the is always

talkative, and thus behaves like a drunk even when sober. For this reason,

is a greater than drunkenness, because it is continual.70

Plutarch illustrates the annoyance caused by the ceaseless babbler in a pair of

amusing tricola:


, ,


While the drunk talks foolishly where there is wine, the talkative man
talks foolishly everywhere, in the market, in the theater, on a walk, drunk
or sober, morning or night. As a doctor, he is worse than disease, as a

very wise man to sing and compels him both to laugh and dance and he lets slip a word better
68 (like the mysteries), is another Plutarchan coinage. As Beardslee notes,

Plutarch has, having already taken to remedy a foible with philosophy, elevated the stakes
further with religious language (274).
69 , (thus drinking is not censured,

if silence accompanies the drinking 504). Plutarch also illustrates this point with anecdotes
about Bias and Zeno of Citium keeping silent at drinking parties in 504A.
70 Beardslee claims that [h]is rhetoric requires him to say that talkativeness, because it is

continual, is worse than drunkenness, which is occasional (274). However, while this claim is a
rhetorically powerful statement, there is no reason to assume that Plutarch makes it for rhetorical
effect alone. It is at least possible that Plutarch claims this genuinely.

shipmate, more nauseating than sea-sickness, in praise, more grievous

than blame. We consort more pleasantly with a tactful villain than with
an honest babbler (504B).71

Plutarch then states that speech, like wine, when used in moderation, is pleasing

and promotes friendship, but when used in excess, becomes inhuman

() and anti-social () (504E). In 504F, Plutarch returns to

medical language, saying that of the other affections and diseases (

) there are some that are dangerous (), some that are

hateful (), and some that are ridiculous (), but all of these

can be found in . The , as he says,


are mocked for telling well-known stories, are hated for bearing bad news
and endanger themselves because they cannot keep secrets (504F505A).

Keeping with the diatribe feature of using anecdotes to illustrate ones points,

Plutarch follows with several exempla, either of how talkativeness can be

dangerous, hateful, or ridiculous, or of how silence proves to be the opposite:

Anacharsis72 slept with his left hand covering his privates, but his right covering

his mouth, because words require stronger restraint to control than lust (505A).

71 The use of sub-types of isocolon, such as tricolon, and extended parallelism are more diatribe
features that Plutarch uses in this treatise.
72 Anacharsis was a powerful Scythian who traveled in search of knowledge, and visited Athens

c. 597 BCE (Helmbold 411, n. c).


Sulla73 was able to capture Athens because spies informed him of the citys weak

points, which they picked up from barbershop chatter. Sullas anger at Athens

came, according to Plutarch, from the mockery and banter that Athenians

directed at him from the city walls (505BC). Neros would-be assassin divulged,

in an attempt to provide comfort, the plan to kill the emperor to a prisoner about

to be led before Nero. The prisoner then divulged the plan to Nero, who was able

to thwart it (505CD).74 Zeno of Elea participated in a conspiracy against the

tyrant Demylos of Carystus75 and, having been captured, rather than risking

divulging information when tortured, bit out his own tongue and spat it at the

tyrant (505DE). Leaena the courtesan, who was the mistress of Aristogeiton,

was part of the conspiracy of Aristogeition and Harmonius against Hippias and

Hipparchus in Athens. After the failure of the conspiracy, she was tortured to

death by Hippias, but refused to divulge any information. To commemorate her

bravery, the Athenians set up a bronze statue of a lioness with no tongue at the

gates of the Acropolis (505EF).76 After remarking that , ,

(Thus I think

73 cf. Sull. 1314

74 Tacitus account of this plot and its discovery by Nero (Ann. 15.5458) differs greatly from
Plutarchs account. Helmbold conjectures that the man Plutarch says is the would-be assassin is
Subrius Flavus (cf. Ann. 15.50).
75 Demylos is not named as the tyrant in De garr., but Plutarch relates the same story in Adv. Col.

(1126D) and De Stoicorum repugnantiis (1051D), and names the tyrant as Demylos in both.
76 As Pausanias explains, Lenaea became the target for Hippias anger after the murder of

Hipparchus. The statue was only erected after the end of Peisistratid power in Athens (1.23.12).
The story is also related by Athenaeus (596f). Cf. Thuc. 6.5459 and [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 1819.

that we have men as our teachers in speaking, but in keeping silence, the gods,

505F), Plutarch goes on to give examples of how Odysseus, as well as

Telemachus, Penelope, and Odysseus nurse, on many occasions in the Odyssey

exercise self-control and keep secrets (506AC). Plutarch notes that although

Odysseus is the most eloquent () of Homers heroes, he is also the

most reticent (, 506A).77

As van Hoof observes, the people mentioned as chatterers and betrayers

of confidences are all of low status: specifically women, barbers, and slaves. All

examples of reticence are from philosophers or nobility. Given that the audience

is generally agreed to be the educated elite, Plutarch makes part of the the

recognition that leads to behaving like people whom Plutarch and his

audience would consider to be inferior (160161). Van Hoof goes on to point out

that Plutarch is clearly aware of the social concerns of his readers and, rather

than avoiding or dismissing their concerns, he deploys these pre-philosophical

sensitivities strategically in order to win the reader over for his own sake (163


77Plutarch restates this idea in different terms in 506BC, where he tells how Pittacus, ordered by
the king of Egypt to cut out the best and worst meat from a sacrificial animal, cut out the tongue
as both, since, according to Plutarch, the tongue is the
. He tells the same story, only with Bias as the clever butcher, in De
audiendo (38B) and Conv. sept. sap. (146F). As Beardslee observes (277 n.3), in the examples of
Odysseus reason commanding his eyes, tongue, heart, and even his breath and blood (506B),
Plutarch alludes to his explanation from De virtute morali 445B of how reason ( ) must
lead the passionate element in the soul ( ) for a person to exercise self-control

Beginning at 510C, Plutarch switches from to , but he

makes explicit that this is the method he is using:

(We get well by the diagnosis and treatment of our

sicknesses). must preceed , however, because:

. ,

No one is accustomed to avoid and reject from the soul that which does
not disgust him. And we are disgusted at our sicknesses when we
perceive by reason the harm and shame from them (510D).

The first element of that Plutarch recommends is to apply the power of

ones reason to achieving the opposite of the vicious behavior: in this case,

silence and reticence. His first example comes from Plato's Protagoras (342e),

where Socrates compares the laconic man to a javelin thrower, saying that a pithy

statement is like a good throw:

(510E). Plutarch then gives some examples of laconic wit in

511AB, and also notes the brevity of the famous inscriptions (

and ) at the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, where he was a priest.

At 511F, Plutarch begins to describe exercises for remedying talkativeness.

First he suggests that, when someone asks advice of a group, to remain silent

until all others in the group have either declined to speak or offer their advice. If

someone has given good advice, offer approval. Only if no one else has been able

to adequately respond should the person working on improving his

offer his opinion. For his second exercise in 512AB, Plutarch advises (shifting to

first person plural) that we all should be especially on our guard against

answering a question directed to someone else. Interjecting in this way disrepects

both the person being asked because it suggests that he is ignorant, and the

person asking because it suggests that he is too foolish to know that the man he

is asking is ignorant. Another exercise for the is when someone else

is answering a question, never interrupt him to correct a mistake. Showing

someone respect by allowing him to finish his answer is more important than

correcting the mistake. Interruptions, even if the interrupter is correct, are always

unwelcome. Furthermore, this behavior will make others all too keen to correct

the interrupter should he make a mistake himself (512C). This advice at first

seems to be just good manners, and too mundane to be considered philosophy.

However as Plutarch points out at 512B, many of the dialogues of Plato, such as

the Charmides and the Theaetetus, begin as friendly conversations between

Socrates and his interlocutors. For Plutarch, etiquette is essential for good

conversations, and especially for dialectic.

Plutarch next advises on how an can practice answering

questions in a way that is not overly loquacious. When one seeks to remedy a

vicious behavior, it is sometimes necessary to over-correct and err on the side of


reticence. One should never answer a question too quickly, but take time to

consider the nature of the question and formulate an appropriate answer. This

sort of response shows the questioner that the answerer takes his question

seriously and does not consider it just an opportunity to talk at length. This

deliberate approach also helps the from falling prey to malicious

people who pose questions to a babbler only so that they can laugh at his

loquacity (512DE). Plutarch next discusses the types of answers to questions:

("the necessary"), ("the polite"), and

("the superfluous" 513A). gives the minimum of information

required to answer the question, gives an appropriate amount

of information, and far more than required.78

Another method Plutarch offers for avoiding talking too much is to avoid

subjects on which one is likely to babble, using the analogy of Socrates

encouraging people to avoid eating foods that tempt one to eat when not hungry

and drinks that tempt one to drink when not thirsty (513D). These topics will

vary depending on the person: a talkative military man will not cease telling war

stories, a talkative lawyer always retells his victories in court, a talkative lover

78Plutarch gives examples of each answer to the question, "Is Socrates at home?" Although he
praises the laconic in earlier sections of this treatise, here Plutarch regards the bare negative, like
the letter containing only a large that the Spartans sent to Philip of Macedon when he asked
to be received in Sparta, as less than polite (513A). The superfluous answer, which goes on for
more than a whole Stephanus page, begins with the saying that Socrates is at the
bank, and by the end he has "recited at length the whole eighth book of Thucydides" (
, (513BC).

tediously praises his beloved, a well-read talkative man will tell too many stories,

a talkative grammarian carries on technical discussions too long, and a talkative

traveller too frequently revisits his destinations in conversation (513D514B).

However, Plutarch recognizes that the cannot immediately cease his

babbling. So, in addition to the exercises he recommends for talkative people, he

suggests trying to confine one's talk to learned matters, which is, according to

Plutarch, less unpleasant than babbling about trivial things. He also suggests that

writing is an outlet for talkative people that does not bother anyone. He

recommends spending time with superiors and elders, because one is more likely

to be reticent or silent out of respect (514DE). Finally, Plutarch poses three

questions one should ask himself before speaking: What is so important about

what I am about to say? What is the aim? What good will come of saying it or

what bad of not saying it?79 If one cannot answer those questions adequately, it is

best to keep silent.

; ;

; 514E.


Several ancient authors thought it necessary to write on

, a trait that, along with its opposite ,

particularly concerned philosophers and historians.80 The Greek word has posed

a problem for translators81 since Plutarch wrote his ,

usually referred to by its Latin title De curiositate. The English curiosity, which

is the usual English translation of , generally has a neutral or

positive connotation, while is clearly not a positive trait for

Plutarch. LSJ defines as the character and conduct of the

, and as busy after many things, over-busy,

mostly in bad sense, meddlesome, officious, a busybody.82 In addition to the

verb form (), several related terms are used synonymously

with and ; these include the adjectives

and , their corresponding nouns and

80 Victor Ehrenbergs Polypragmosyne: A Study in Greek Politics gives a detailed overview of

the use of the term in fifth and fourth century BCE authors. Matthew Leighs 2013 book From
Polypragmon to Curiosus studies use of and from
Thucydides to Cassius Dio. Walsh (1988) surveys writers from Plutarch to Augustine who treated
the topic. Hense (1890) argues that Ariston of Chios is Plutarchs source for much of this essay.
81 Aulus Gellius (11.16) writes about the difficulty of rendering in Latin,

though curiositas, with curiosus for , is the usual translation. Leigh devotes a whole
chapter (5490) to this difficulty.
82 Ehrenberg opens his seminal study by noting that there is no in ancient Greek,

only and its opposite . This is because, according to Ehernberg,

[s]imple action (), we may assume, does not easily reveal a mans character. It is only
when he acts much or not at all, that a conclusion can be drawn as to his own nature (46).

, and the verb .83 The term

is particularly important for Thucydides, who frequently describes the Athenians

as and regards as a particularly Athenian

trait. For Thucydides, Athenian imperialism was, as Ehrenberg observes, the

main result of Athenian , or to put it the other way round,

was the psychological basis of Athenian imperialism(47).

Thucydides tends to associate democrats and imperialists with

or describe them as , and to associate

aristocrats and anti-imperialists with (4849). Euripides and

Aristophanes make similar associations, but usually apply the terms to

individuals rather than the polis.84 The democrat versus

aristocrat distinction is, of course, not always so simple or

consistent.85 What is consistent, however, is that the is involved in


83 Ancient authors are not in agreement on the semantic difference between the various terms.
Some attempt to draw distinctions while others treat them as simple synonyms. See Leigh 58 for
a discussion of usage in various authors.
84 Ehrenberg sees all portrayals of in Aristophanes and Euripides as negative,

particularly associating it with Aristophanes attacks on demagogues (5455). Leigh, however,

sees elements of patriotic duty reflected in Aristophanes portrayals of ,
particularly in the Acharnians and Plutus (3032).
85 E.g. Ehrenbergs examples of the abandonment of and

in the Melian Dialogue (5152), or Aristophanes characterization of the rich man as

particularly susceptible to demagoguery in Knights (55).

The term is also a significant in Platonism. Plato

repeatedly contrasts the life of the man active in politics and the law courts with

the life of the philosopher, sometimes explicitly contrasting

with and the life of a philosopher.86 However, the use of

is complicated when applied to Socrates. In Apol. 19b,

Socrates summarizes the slanders against him that he says have existed since the

Clouds, beginning ... However, the

depiction of Socrates in the Clouds is generally regarded as a comic exaggeration

of his . Xenophon also regards Socrates as primarily ;

he refers to Socrates (making fun of

his own lack of political engagement Mem. 3.11.16). A resolution may be found

in Apol. 31c, where Socrates says:


Likewise, it might seem strange that in private I go about giving advice

and getting involved in other peoples business, but in public I do not dare
to enter your assembly and give advice to the city.

86E.g. ; (Charm. 161de).

, ,
, , ,
, [ ]
(Gorg. 526c). Cf. Theat. 173c177a.

Socrates characterizes himself as a in private matters but says that

he does not come before the assembly, a behavior that would traditionally be

described as . Ehrenberg suggests that this contradiction in his

character is significant in Athenian attitudes to Socrates: Socrates was an

in the usual sense, and yet a in his own right. It was

largely this strange mixture in the man that caused suspicion and hatred among

his fellow-citizens (60).87

Plato describes as the opposite of justice and health in

the soul in Republic IV. Having established that having and doing what is ones

own as justice,88 Socrates calls an artisans attempt to enter the class of soldiers, or

a soldiers attempt to enter the class of guardians a

, and says that

(The meddlesomeness and

87 Leigh (3335) observes that the apparent of Socrates was also a concern for
Epictetus. In Diss. 3.1.22, his hypothetical interlocutor says to Socrates, ,
, ; ; Epictetus claims, however, that the
Cynic cares for all humanity as he would his own soul, thus making the souls of others as much
his affair as his own soul (, ,
, , .
; ,
3.22.8182), so that when the Cynic examines and berates
others he is not meddling in anothers business, but taking care of his own as a philosopher (

, , 3.22.97).
88 [Socrates]

. [Glaucon] (433e444a).

interchange of the three classes for one another is the greatest harm to the state

and most rightly would be called exceedingly injurious 434bc). In volume 3 of

Order and History, Eric Voegelin identifies pairs of concepts at work in Platos

Republic that point the way by casting their light on both good and evil and

illuminate truth by opposing it to untruth. In developing these pairs, according

to Voegelin, Plato continues the tradition of the mystic-philosophers, as well as

the poets back to Hesiod, who experienced truth in their resistance to the

conventions of society. In addition to societys conventions, Plato also stands in

resistance to sophistry, the destroyer of the philosophers work (117). The first of

these pairs in Voegelins model is justice and injustice. As he observes, justice

and injustice are in the soul, for Plato, what health and disease are in the body

(444c). Order among the parts of the body constitutes health and disorder

constitutes disease, just as order among the parts of the soul constitutes justice

and disorder injustice.89 Voegelin claims that Plato develops this concept of

justice for attacking sophistic disorder, and that is his

designation of this disorder. According to Voegelin, the term :

covers the various violations of the principle [of order], such as the
attempts to practice more than the one craft for which a man is specifically

... , ,
; (444d)

gifted, as well as the desire of the unskilled to rule the polis to its
detriment. When applied to the soul it refers to the inclinations of
appetites and desires to direct the course of human action and to claim
rulership of the soul, which properly belongs to wisdom. Dikaiosyne, on
the other hand, covers right order on all levels in opposition to
polypragmosyne (118).

Thus, for Plato , doing what one is not suited to do, goes far

beyond an irksome quality and indicates injustice, both in the individual soul

and in the polis.

In De curiositate Plutarch describes primarily as

curiosity about the affairs of others and a desire for gossip, which seems at first

glance to be, as Nikolaidis calls it, a minor foible (206). However, in light of the

significance of the term for Plato, the types of described in De

curiositate, while perhaps outwardly minor foibles, must have been for Plutarch

evidence of a graver problem in the soul, and one worthy of the therapy of

philosophy. Despite the fact that he goes on to censure ,

Plutarch makes use of his readers curiosity in the opening paragraphs of the

treatise. Plutarch opens with a vague metaphor about the ill effects of an

unventilated house on its occupants and the salutary effects of opening it up for

more light and ventilation (515B), which he eventually compares with the layout

of his hometown (without naming the town, 515C), and finally with states of

mind (515CD). As van Hoof observes, the reader at this point is twenty lines

into De cur. without any mention of the actual topic. She suggests that Plutarch

is, ironically, arousing the curiosity of his readers (177). Once he does indicate

that is the topic in 515D, he defines it straightaway: there are

(certain diseased and harmful afflictions holding winter and darkness

in the soul 515C), of which is one; it is a

... ,

(a kind of love of learning about the misfortunes of others, a

disease seeming to free from neither envy nor malice 515D). Again, Plutarch

presents vicious behavior as a disease, and focuses on the harm () that it

causes. However, instead of engaging in a detailed before offering the

remedy for the vicious behavior, Plutarch gives a preview of what the

will involve:


Change your curiosity from without and turn it inwards; if you enjoy
pursuing inquiry into misfortunes, you have much to keep you busy at
homeyou will find so great an abundance of faults in your life and
diseases in your soul and oversights in your duties (515DE).

Plutarch restates this central message in various forms throughout the treatise; he

believes that curiosity about the faults, misfortunes, and business of others is a

90 Plutarch here quotes a verse of unknown origin. Helmbold believes the text is corrupt (475 n. c).

way of avoiding ones own faults. Attacking meddlesomeness is a common topic

for Plutarch's predecessors, both in the Platonic tradition and in Cynic/Stoic

diatribe. Again Plutarch assumes that the hypothetical addressee has some sort

of sickness of the soul ( ). The implication of his call to look

inward rather than to seek out the faults and problems of others is that

involves the willful blindness towards ones faults or a desire

to distract attention from them. In this respect Plutarch follows what Epictetus

says in Diss. 3.22.97, where he likens examining ones own business to a general

inspecting his troops, and contrasts this with being a busybody.91 In addition to

being a sickness in itself (he has categorized it as one of the

he mentions in 515B), is a sort of second-order

sickness, in that it depends on the existence of other sickness of the soul.

After he has compared the faults ( , faults stored-up, as

one would with tools) arising from various vices to Xenophons injunction to

keep separate places in the household for various tools,92 Plutarch addresses the

reader directly: [] , (review these

[faults], reexamine these), as opposed to examining the faults of others. He


, , .
92 Oec. 8.1920. Plutarch evidently wants to compartmentalize faults by the vices as one might

organize ones tools according to their use. This is far from his best use of literary allusion.

(block up the windows to your neighbors and passageways of your

curiosity 515EF). The second person imperatives , , and

clearly indicate the influence of the diatribe, as the call to turn ones

attention inward in the previous pages. Plutarch restates this idea with a

quotation from the Carmina Aurea, attributed to Pythagoras:


;93 ; ;

Here this inquisitiveness and meddlesomeness is an activity neither

useless nor malicious, but beneficial and redeeming, assuming each
person asks himself,

Where have I turned? And what have I done? What necessity have
I left undone? (515F)

Like the Lamia who stores her eyes in a jar when at home and puts them in their

sockets when she ventures out, each person when dealing with others puts

meddling ( ) in his malice ( ), but remains blind to his

own faults. Thus the is more useful to his enemies than to

himself, because he points out for them those things they need to correct,94 but

never notices his own shortcomings.

93 Carm. Aur. 42. Plutarch also quotes this line in De superst. 161B, but with ; (how
have I offended) in place of ;
94 This is, of course, one of the ways Plutarch says one can profit from ones enemies in De

capienda ex inamicis utilitate. Enemies can point out faults or shortcomings that one is too proud to

As he gives some examples of the sort of things that a

pries into in 516BC, Plutarch shifts from direct address to the first person plural:

, ,
, ,

Your neighbors grandfather was a Syrian and his grandmother a

Thracian, so-and-so owes three talents and hasnt paid the interest. And
we scrutinize matters such as these: from where so-and-sos wife was
returning, what some people were discussing amongst themselves in the

He contrasts these gossipy pursuits with the intellectual pursuits of Socrates,

who went about considering Pythagoras and his arguments, and Aristippus,

who, having heard of Socrates arguments from others, was so insatiable to hear

them from the man himself that he became physically ill and eventually had to

move from Olympia to Athens (516C). After reiterating his idea that a

seeks out the problems and shortcomings of others so that he will

not have to examine his own, Plutarch adds an additional nuance to his

characterization of a : as a domesticated bird overlooks a pile of

food to scratch in a corner for a single grain,95 a busybody passes over topics in

notice and friends are too polite to mention. Noticing faults in enemies provides one with the
opportunity to ask if one has those faults as well. In both De cur. and De cap. ut., Plutarch
emphasizes that whatever benefit one might gain from seeking out and exposing the faults of
ones enemies is cancelled out by the harm done by making ones self a .
Furthermore, one gains more benefit and does more harm to enemies by improving ones self
instead. Cf. 87BC and 88EF.
95 Plutarch quotes an unattributed verse.

plain view to search out troubles that are hidden. Plutarch then makes a jarring

shift back to the second person singular:

; , . (And why do you

inquire into what has been hidden? If it were not bad, it would not be hidden


At 517D, Plutarch shifts from to , saying that the remedy

for is to shift the focus of ones inquisitiveness to better

subjects. Plutarch suggests natural science as a productive outlet for curiosity

(517DE). For those who cannot bear to inquire into topics without misfortunes

or bad behavior, Plutarch suggests studying history, where one can find an

abundance of evil behavior to look into without causing trouble or pain for ones

acquaintances (517EF).

In 518 and 519, Plutarch returns to a discussion of problems associated

with being a busybody, namely the desires to hear about only misfortunes and to

uncover what is hidden. For this reason, Plutarch says, everyone is reticent and

on his guard around a busybody and puts off any important business until a

busybody is not present. For these same reasons, no one puts any trust in a

busybody; we would rather, according to Plutarch,


(entrust our letters and papers and seals to slaves and strangers

than to friends and kinsmen who are busybodies 519E).

In 520, Plutarch reveals more of the involved in combating

. To turn the away from his inquisitiveness,

one should remind him of all the things he has previously learned though his

inquisitiveness. If he were to examine, Plutarch posits, his

(storehouse of inquisitiveness), and find it

(full of many useless

and empty and joyless things 520A), perhaps this examination would disgust

him enough to deter his . At 520D, Plutarch says that the most

important practice in combating the affliction of is

(beginning from early on to train and teach ourselves towards this

self-control 520D). With the use of rhetorical questions, a common feature of

diatribe, Plutarch introduces his first example of this kind of training: avoiding

reading inscriptions on tombs and other writing on walls. There might not seem

to be harm in this, but Plutarch argues that reading every bit of writing one

comes across reinforces the practice of seeking out other peoples business.

Plutarch likens this practice to how hunters train young hounds not to follow

every scent they pick up. A second example of he gives is avoiding

looking inside other peoples houses when passing them.

One of the most important elements of against

for Plutarch is maintaining control of the senses, and he

devotes much of the later sections of De cur. to control of the senses. Plutarch

observes in 521BC (again using second person),


may observe busybodies led around, necks twisted, by every sight equally,

whenever they develop the habit and practice of casting about glances

everywhere). However, it is necessary that:

the senses not roam about outside like some ill-trained servant girl, but,
when dispatched by the soul, come upon its business and announce its
message quickly to it; then to return in an orderly fashion within reason
and devoted to it.

When the senses have not received the correct training (

), they run wild and drag

the intellect with them (


Those who make the most use of the intellect are those who make least

use of the senses. Helmbold suggests that Plutarch has Phaed. 66a in mind.96

Plutarch then offers an anecdote about Democritus, that he deliberately blinded

himself in order to prevent his senses from distracting his intellect, but makes a

point of saying that the story is false ( ... 521D). Van

Hoof (201) observes that Plutarchs solution for is not the

complete rejection of the senses for pure intellect, but the subordination of the

senses to reason, much like the subordination of the emotions to reason that he

advocates in De virt. mor. Plutarch then provides some practical for

avoiding falling prey to curiosity: avoid fights in the marketplace and do not run

to see something when a crowd does. If you (Plutarch switches to second person)

are lacking in self-control, walk away from these spectacles. The preceding

advice is the easy beginning to (

521E). One can gain no benefit from consorting with busybodies by running to

gawk at public spectacles, whereas one can benefit his soul by avoiding them.

Plutarch then suggests intensifying , advising his readers to skip

popular performances at the theater, racetrack, or circus, and to avoid popular

96507 n. b. Phaed. 65e66a reads:


; , , ;

dancers or comedians (521EF). Van Hoof (205) suggests that Plutarch is not

telling his readers to never attend popular entertainments; as she points out, in

none of his works does Plutarch suggest shunning social activities. Rather, he

wants his readers not to let entertainment draw them away from more important

business: that is, to give in to curiosity. He illustrates his point with historical

exempla, again relying on anecdote to illustrate his point: Socrates, according to

Plutarch, encouraged people to avoid food and drink that would tempt them to

eat and drink when not hungry or thirsty. In the same way, one ought to avoid

entertainment that would tempt one away from important business. He goes on

to bring up Cyrus the Great and Alexander refusing to see beautiful women

because they knew that they would be tempted to see these women again and

again, distracting them from their important business (522A).

Plutarch also advises training ones curiosity beyond what is strictly

necessary as a means of habituating self-control. To that end, he suggests at times

keeping aloof from ones own wife in order not to be stirred by another woman.

He also suggests putting off hearing a report about events in the household

(522B), or putting off opening and reading letters for some time after receiving

them, or discouraging friends from sharing gossip (522D). In between the advice

about hearing reports and reading letters, Plutarch brings up Oedipus,

suggesting that his curiosity is the cause of his tragedy. Invoking Oedipus shows

how Plutarch believes that curiosity about one's self or one's own affairs (e.g.

receiving a report about the activities in the household) is the most pernicious

curiosityprecisely because it seems a prudent pursuit. However, as the

Oedipus example shows, it is also potentially ruinous to one's psyche. Curiosity

about one's own affairs is the most "bittersweet and uncontrollable"

( 522C). Indulging this sort of curiosity is like

scratching an itchy sore ( , ,

522CD); the immediate satisfaction of satisfying the urge leads to further

damage. Van Hoof suggests that Plutarch has structured this section of ,

beginning at 521E, to start with the easiest self-training and move to

progressively more difficult training (200, 202, 205). It is important to get control

of one's curiosity because of the nature of uncontrolled curiosity, which is never

satisfied with what it has, but only what it can get hold of next. Curiosity

nourished by looking into permissible topics and things will soon desire

forbidden things, leading once law-abiding people to pry into friends

correspondence, eavesdrop on sacred rites, tread on holy ground, and try to

involve themselves in the affairs of kings (522EF).

As part of his suggestion to put off reading letters, Plutarch includes an

anecdote about a famous Rusticus, who, while attending one of Plutarch's

lectures in Rome, received a letter from the emperor. Plutarch says that he

paused so Rusticus could read the letter, but Rusticus refused and did not read it

until after the lecture was finished (522E). Van Hoof suggests that this anecdote

is included as part of a clever strategy for self-promotion. Beyond the fact that

Rusticus, an example of virtuous behavior, is presented as Plutarch's student, she

argues that this story of Rusticus is meant to recall the story about Aristippus.

The relationship of Aristippus to Socrates is analogous to the relationship of

Rusticus to Plutarch. This comparison with Socrates also establishes that Plutarch

himself is not guilty of the vices he diagnoses in De cur. Socrates often appears to

be a busybody, but as Plutarch has shown, this apparent meddlesomeness is in

fact Socrates attending to his business as a philosopher. By comparing himself to

Socrates, Plutarch anticipates and indirectly answers the charge that he too is a


Plutarch also invokes Plato in the closing paragraphs of De cur. At 522F,

he brings up tyrants, saying that they have to know everything (

). They are, therefore, the most curious of all, and this makes

them "most detested" (). Plutarchs example of the most detested

tyrants is the Dionysii of Syracuse. According to Diogenes Laertius, when Plato

made a journey to Sicily, the elder Dionysius compelled him to come to his court.

When Plato spoke against tyranny, Dionysius took him prisoner and arranged to

have him sold into slavery (3.1819).97 After he was ransomed and returned to

Athens, Plato visited the younger Dionysius, who, according to Diogenes,

promised land and settlers so that Plato could establish his Republic. Dionysius

then reneged and Plato had to flee, fearing for his safety (3.22). Plutarchs

mention of the Dionysii, along with the remark that tyrants are the most detested

people of all, alludes not only to Platos ordeals with Dionysii, but also to Platos

view on tyranny from Republic VIII and IX, where Socrates and the interlocutors

establish that the city ruled by the tyrant is the

(the most wretched of all cities 578b), and the tyrannical man

who is the (most evil and most unjust) is also the

(most wretched) of all men (580c). clearly was

a serious problem for both Plato and Plutarch; it is injustice in the city and

disease in the soul. So while Plutarch opened De cur. playfully, enticing his

curious readers, he closes the section seriously:



So it is not unprofitable for busybodies to consider this fact, so that they

are ashamed at the likeness and relationship of their habits to these most
hated and unbearable men (523B).

97 On the Dionysius the Elder and in his use of informants see also Arist. Pol. 5 1313b.


De vitando aere alieno ( ) is Plutarchs treatise

advising against borrowing money. The target audience for this advice is not the

poor, but those who want to borrow in order to live even more luxuriously, as

van Hoof observes (26), or those who are at least wealthy enough to have a good

education, as Ingenkamp points out (2011, 23032).98 Ingenkamp, however, does

not group De vit. ae. with the other practical ethical treatises. Initially, he

considered it one of the fragmentarische Seelenheilungsschrift, (1971, 86 n. 19),

but later revised that view, calling it a , or Predigt (2011, 23233),

because he believes that training () is not present in De vit. ae. Nikolaidas

similarly excludes De vit. ae. from his discussion of Plutarch's minor ethics

(which includes De garr., De cur., and De vit. pud.) because he thinks that the

vice as disease model that he observes in the three other treatises is not present

in De vit. ae. He also considers borrowing a dangerous habit rather than an

actual moral failing (206). However, as has been shown in the analysis of De

virt. mor., Plutarch, whose ethics are heavily influenced by Aristotle, regarded

developing good habits as essential to moral virtue, so Nikolaidis'

characterization of borrowing as a bad habit is not enough to differentiate De vit.

ae. from other ethical works. Van Hoof, although she does not devote a chapter to

98Early in the treatise Plutarch notes the paradox that loans are not given to those who are in
need. Only those who have enough property are given credit (827F).

De vit. ae., does consider it a work of practical ethics (26). As will be shown,

Ingenkamp and Nikolaidas' other reservations about grouping De vit. ae. with

other practical ethical treastises can be answered.

Plutarch begins the treatise by referring to Platos Laws (844b), where Plato

says that those who cannot find a source of water on their own land can receive

water from another, but only after they have dug on their own land down to the

layer of potters clay. Similarly, argues Plutarch, there ought to be laws against

borrowing for those who have not exhausted their own property (827EF).99 He

turns to second person address immediately after the introduction, in a transition

Russell calls abrupt, butclear enough (1973b 164):

, ,

Why do you wait upon the banker or broker? Borrow from your own
table;100 you have silver drinking cups, dishes and plates; pawn these for
your need (828A).

By borrowing money, the free man makes himself like a slave. In 828B, Plutarch

equates taking on interest to selling ones property into slavery (

), and that generating money by selling unnecessary items is

preserving freedom ( ). Here Plutarch

99 Ingenkamp refers to this sort of introduction, with a comparison or anecdote that does not
exactly apply to the actual topic, but rather serves as an attention grabber, as a Sprungbrett
(springboard) (2011, 22324).
100 Plutarch plays on the double meaning of (table or bank).

offers alternative behavior (pawning or selling possessions) as a way of avoiding

the vicious behavior he attacks, which should be considered an element of

. He compares selling these unnecessary items to Pericles having the

gold ornaments of the statue of Athena in the Parthenon designed so that they

could be removed to pay for emergency expenses (cf. Thuc. 2.13). Plutarch

continues to develop the metaphor of the lender as military invader and debt as

slavery throughout De vit. ae.

Plutarch next uses historical exempla of citizens relinquishing property to

preserve freedom, which he contrasts with the ways that borrowers enslave

themselves. Roman matrons gave up their gold ornaments to make an offering to

Apollo; Carthaginian women gave their hair to make catapult ropes (828C). The

temple of Artemis at Ephesus gives refuge to debtors, but frugality offers

sanctuary anywhere. Plutarch then tells how the Athenians, heeding the

prophecy of the Delphic oracle, abandoned all their possessions and trusted in

the wooden wall ( ), their ships, and defeated the Persians to

preserve their freedom (cf. Hdt. 7.141). As Russell (1973b, 165) observes, Plutarch

chooses a wooden table ( , as opposed to an adorned one) as

his example of frugality in the next clause, and the association of the wooden

table with the wooden walls continues the city defense metaphor (828D). At

828E, Plutarch again associates the moneylender with the invading Persians,

describing him as enemy and tyrant ( ), who rather

than demanding earth and water, attacks freedom (

) itself. Plutarch closes this section with a series of parallel clauses

that Russell calls a resonant conclusion of the whole carefully constructed

movement (1973b, 165):

, , ,
, ,
, ,
, .

If you will not pay him, he troubles you; if you have the money, he will
not take it. If you sell, he drives down the price; if you will not sell, he
forces you to. If you go to court, he intercedes;101 if you swear an oath, he
commands it.102 If you go to his door, he shuts you out; if you stay home,
he beats down your door (829EF).

Plutarch goes on to ask what good Solon did in eliminating debt slavery,

because those who have taken on debts are effectively slaves. In becoming slaves

to moneylenders, they in fact make themselves slaves to outrageous, barbarous

and savage slaves ( 828F). These

money lenders are like the fiery avengers that Plato describes in Hades (828F

829A, cf. Resp. X, 615d616a). Plutarch returns to his Persian invasion metaphor,

saying that Darius sent Datis and Artaphernes against Athens with chains and

101Russell argues that suggests an unfair intervention (1973b, 165 n. 11).

102Russell offers several possibilities for what this clause means. Given that all of the other pairs
are contrasts, his final suggestionthat the debtor swears an oath that he is unable to appear in
court and the creditor takes legal action to compel his appearanceseems most likely (1973b,

fetters, but moneylenders work against all of Greece with signatures and notes as

their fetters (828A). When debtors are unable to pay interest, moneylenders take

their collateral, but do not even gain any enjoyment or profit from it: they do not

cultivate the fields they confiscate or live in the houses they foreclose on (829D

E). Despite his harsh description of moneylenders, Plutarch makes a point of

saying that this depiction is not because of any animosity to moneylenders or

bankers, but rather to emphasize how much disgrace there is in taking on debt


At 829F, Plutarch uses a return to second person address to distinguish

between two alternatives: ; , . ;

, (Do you have money? Then do not borrow, for you

do not need. Have you no money? Then do not borrow, for you will not pay it

off.). In the case of the person who has no money, Plutarch advises that since

poverty holds so many misfortunes, the poor person should not deprive himself

of the one advantage he has over the rich: the freedom from worry over

borrowing and repaying. Not even the rich can easily bear the burden of debt, so

it is impossible for the poor (830A). How, then, am I to live (

), Plutarch imagines the poor man asking. He responds by saying that

the poor man should seek out any work that he can. He lists various jobs

(teaching letters, leading children to school, being a door-keeper, or working as a


sailor or boatman), and reminds the poor man that none of these is more

disgraceful than being told to pay up by a lender (830AB). Russell identifies this

passage (830AB) as having characteristic formal diatribe features (1973b,

168). Taking on available work also could be considered part of ; again it

is behavior one can undertake to avoid engaging in the vicious behavior of


At 830B, Plutarch relates an anecdote about Rutilius, a well-known Roman

lender, finding fault with Musonius Rufus for borrowing. When Rutilius remarks

that Zeus the Savior, whom Musonius as a Stoic would claim to emulate, is no

borrower, Musonius retorts that he is no lender either. Plutarch says this

anecdote shows the delusion of the Stoics ( ). There is

no need, according to Plutarch, to invoke Zeus the Savior when more ready

examples will suffice. Simple creatures lacking hands, reason, and skills thrive

without having to borrow anything. Human beings with their superior intellect

can support all kinds of animals in addition to themselves. Why, Plutarch asks

his reader, do you think less of yourself than simple creatures, presuming that

you cannot obtain what you need by your skills and intellect, and must resort to

borrowing? (830C). Plutarch then reminds his readers about Cleanthes the Stoic,

who continued to engage in manual labor such as grinding grain while he

studied philosophy, saying that he did such work in order to remain


philosophical.103 Plutarch marvels that the same hand that worked the mill wrote

about the gods and cosmos, but that so many people think such labor is slavish,

yet will make themselves slaves to lenders. These people do this not out of

poverty, but because of extravagance (830D).

Plutarch next remarks that if people were satisfied with the necessities of

life, moneylenders would be as non-existent as Centaurs and Gorgons (

, (830DE).

Luxury, however, gave rise to lenders as it did to gold- and silversmiths,

perfumers, and dyers. The well-to-do incur debt not for food and drink, but for

luxuries, and for putting on unrestrained displays for the city, contending in

pointless and unwelcome rivalries ( ,

830E). What makes

being a debtor so ruinous is that once a man borrows the first time, he often

remains a debtor his whole life, like a horse that, once broken, is never free, but

just exchanges one rider for another (830EF). In a similar fashion, debtors move

from one creditor to another, often taking out new loans to pay off old ones

(831AB). Plutarch then compares chronic debtors to people sick with cholera,

who refuse treatment, vomit up prescribed medicine, and thus become sicker. In

(830D = von Arnim SVF 134). Cf.


Diog. Laet. Life of Cleanthes 2.


the same way, debtors cough up an interest payment104 while more interest

accrues, giving them more nausea and headaches (831B). Although Plutarch does

not refer to borrowing specifically as a or , the comparisons he

makes in this passage show that the vice-as-disease metaphor is, contrary to

what Nikolaidis claims (206), not absent from this treatise.

At 831B, Plutarch returns to addressing wealthier readers specifically

( ). He

imagines such a reader asking Am I to be without slaves, without hearth and

home? ( ;). To this he replies that

it is better to do without slaves than to become a slave oneself, and without

property rather than become the property of another. Plutarch also reminds his

wealthier readers that when they put up their property as collateral on a loan, it

is no longer really their property. He imagines that such a reader might protest

that his father left him that property. Plutarch retorts that his father also left him

liberty and civil rights, which he ought to value more (

831D). He then compares ridding oneself of debts to Odysseus, shipwrecked in a

storm, tearing off the garment given to him by Calypso because it was weighing

... ... (831B). For Plutarch's use of


to mean cough up, cf. Cleom. 15.


him down and keeping him from swimming (831E),105 and then compares the

accumulation of debts to drowning (831F). Plutarch ends the treatise by giving

examples of men who gave up on property altogether and devoted themselves to

philosophy, such as Crates the Theban, or Anaxagoras, but then states that is not

necessary to give up on property entirely. Rather one can be like Philoxenus the

lyric poet who gave up an allotment of land on Sicily because he thought that the

lifestyle there was too luxurious and settled for a simpler life elsewhere (831F

832A). Plutarch closes De vit. ae. by returning to Platos Laws, but less overtly.

People in debt, he says:

, , ,

endure, as Phineus, feeding winged Harpies, which carry off and plunder
their food, buying their grain, not at the right time, but before it is
harvested, and buying the oil before they pick the olives.

As Russell (1973b) notes, the Harpies were commonly used as a metaphor, but

Plutarchs use of Harpies as a metaphor for creditors is unique (170). In the final

sentence, Plutarch continues the idea of creditors taking crops before the harvest:

, ,

105Russell calls this moralizing of Od. V ingenious, but says that it does not play fair with the
story: the after all was a divine gift (1973b, 170).

I have wine, he says, at a certain price, and he gives documentation of

its value; but the grapes still hang and cling to the vine, awaiting the rise
of Arcturus (832 A)

In Leg. 844de, Plato forbids the harvest of grapes (or figs) before the correct

time, which he says coincides with the rising of Arcturus.106 Russell (1973b)

comments that [i]f this is deliberate, it is a remarkable piece of technique (170).

Given Plutarch's propensity for ring-composition (Ingenkamp 1971, 7071), it

seems likely that the link between the opening and closing sentences is


De vitando aere alieno has the most in common with a Stoic/Cynic diatribe

of all of Plutarchs practical ethical works. He makes use of direct address to the

reader frequently, repeatedly uses a hypothetical interlocutor to raise questions,

and relies on anecdotes and exempla to illustrate his points. There are also many

examples of parallelism (e.g. 829EF) and antithesis (830C). There are even

instances of Stoics being used as positive examples, such as Cleanthes at 830D,

and Crates in 831F. The repeated likening of debt to slavery also suggests

Epictetus habit of referring to his interlocutors as slaves. However, despite these

Stoic parallels and allusions, the content of the treatise is still fundamentally

Platonic. Plutarch is critical of the Stoics as frequently as he praises them. Plato

106 ... (844e).


is the first word in De vit. ae., and Plutarch alludes to the Platonic quotation from

the first sentence in the last. He also refers to the Republic at 829A.

There are several Platonic/Aristotelian precedents for condemning

borrowing. In Resp. 555e556b, Socrates proposes banning interest in the ideal

state, because he believes lending with interest encourages the shameless pursuit

of money and all the evils associated with this pursuit. In Leg. XI 921cd, the

Athenian Stranger asserts that loans should be barren; that is, they should

produce no interest.107 Aristotle makes a similar claim in Pol. 1258b, where he

attacks the acquisition of wealth through lending as a livelihood most contrary to

nature. As he does at the end of De cur. (522F) and in De superst. (166D), Plutarch

alludes to Platonic precedents by associating the vicious behaviors he attacks

with tyrants; the association of vicious behavior with tyranny also occurs at 828E,

when he refers to the moneylender as . Plutarch also repeatedly

emphasizes that the free man makes himself like a slave by taking on debt.

Behaving like something one is not is the definition of for

Plato, and is evidence of injustice and disease, both in the soul and the city.

... , ... Plato plays on the


double meaning of the Greek , which means both offspring and interest. Aristotle
explains the double meaning in Pol. 1258b.


De vitioso pudore is the Latin title given to Plutarch's treatise

. As noted by De Lacy and Einarson in their introduction to the Loeb

edition, is, like , a Greek word that is difficult to

translate. LSJ defines it as confusion of face or shamefacedness. Plutarch

defines it as an excess of shame, hence the inclusion of vitioso in the Latin

title.108 De Lacy and Einarson give a paraphrase: indicates the

embarrassment that compels us to grant an unjustified request, and their

attempt to render it in a single English word is compliancy (42). Though it is

vicious, Plutarch opens the De vit. pud. by suggesting that is evidence of

a good nature. His analogy is that certain plants, though useless themselves, are

evidence to a farmer that the soil they grow in is rich and fertile (528D).

arises when someone's fear of possible censure is so great that

he fails to do what is right or necessary. The opposite extreme, indifference to the

opinions of others, is also undesirable, so there is a mean, modesty (),

between the extremes of shamelessness and (528F529A). In this

categorization, Plutarch has an Aristotelian precedent. Modesty, like other

108 . Plutarch also acknowledges the connection

of the face to : ,
(528 EF). De Lacy and Einerson note that there is no
equivalent term in Latin, English, French, Italian, or German, and give examples of attempts to
translate into each of those languages (42 n. a).

emotions, is not a virtue, as Aristotle says in EN 1108a, but nevertheless as the

mean between the extremes of bashfulness and shamelessness, it is praiseworthy.

is especially difficult, because it is often praised as if it were modesty.

Flatterers, as Plutarch says in 529D, are apt to praise because they are

trying to take advantage of the excessively modest.

Despite the fact that it often is praised, Plutarch states clearly that

although comes from good impulses, there is nothing good or

praiseworthy about it.109 Like many of the other vicious behaviors Plutarch tries

to remedy, he characterizes it as a disease of the soul.110 Excessive modesty makes

people incapable of refusing any request, no matter how harmful. It prevents

people from giving good advice, and compels them to say and do things that go

against their will (530A). It causes people to lend money to the untrustworthy

(530B). Lest anyone doubt the severity of , Plutarch gives some

historical examples of lives lost due to it. Two of Alexander the Great's

successors, Antipater and Alexander's son Heracles, were assassinated at dinner

because, not wanting to seem distrusting, they accepted invitations from


109 ,
, (529E).
110 As observed by Nikoladis (2011), he refers to it as a disease or affection seven times in De vit.

pud. (207).
111 Antipater was killed by Demetrius, and Heracles by Polypechon (530CD). On Antipater, cf.

Plutarch's life of Demetrius 36.


As with other vices, Plutarch characterizes as a disease

(), and he is explicit in saying that it must be remedied by training. 112 He

begins describing the , as he does in other treatises, with the simplest

and easiest exercises first. He shifts to second person address at this point. The

first examples include refusing to drink when you have had your fill, even if

another is trying to toast you, and refusing to allow another to taunt you into

participating in an activity you do not want to participate in, such as a dice game

over drinks (530F). Another example is, if you should be seized upon by an

, to cut him off and not let him delay you from going about your

business (530F531A). Plutarch reminds his readers that such refusals will lead to

discomfort and dissatisfaction, but that these minor refusals condition us to be

able to refuse when the stakes are higher (531A). He illustrates this with a

rhetorical question:

, , ,

For what will you do in great affairs, put to shame in the presence of a
king or public assembly, if you are unable to reject a drinking cup offered
by an acquaintance or to escape the clutches of a babbler, but allow him to
trample you with silly talk, because you are unable to say, I will see you
another time, now I am busy? (531AB).


Plutarch sees opportunity for training ourselves against in how we

offer praise or blame to others. If a performer at banquet sings poorly or an actor

butchers a great play ( ), rather than applaud, just remain

silent (531B). How will you, asks Plutarch, be able to advise or correct a man who

errs in his personal or public life if you cannot refrain from flattering him for a

poor performance? (531C). Similar training should be applied to lending money

and giving gifts. Many people give money or gifts not to deserving people,

kinsmen, or those in need, but instead to those who are the most persistent in

their requests (531E).

At 532B, Plutarch returns to describing some of the dangers of ,

which include rejecting experts. Examples of this include refusing to call a doctor

who is an expert in a particular malady in order to avoid offending ones usual

physician, entrusting a childs education to someone who begs for employment

rather than the best-qualified teacher, or letting a friends son, rather than an

experienced lawyer, try a case out of obligation to the friend. Not even those who

claim to be philosophers are immune from ; Plutarch points out that

there are many Epicureans and Stoics (not Platonists, of course) who join those

schools not from choice or judgment, but because of pressure from friends and

relations. For these situations, Plutarch again suggests practicing when there is

less at stake. If one can refuse to patronize a bad barber, fuller, or inn even

though the barber, fuller, or innkeeper has greeted him before in public, then it

will be easier to refuse the bad doctor, teacher, or philosopher, even when

pressured to do so (532C).

Plutarch states that he has finished discussing training (

) at 532D.113 He continues with some observations.

First of these is an observation similar to one offered in De sup.: avoidance often

leads to the very suffering one is trying to avoid. Just as the superstitious man

often makes himself more anxious and fearful by performing superstitious

rituals to try to appease gods, the excessively modest man will often, in his

efforts to avoid embarrassment, cause himself even greater embarrassment.

Someone who grants requests to unreasonable and bad petitioners often will be

rightly criticized by good men. One who repeatedly loans money seeking to

avoid the embarrassment of refusing his friends will very often have to endure

the greater shame of being in need of money himself. Avoiding the private

discomfort of refusing to support a friend or family members frivolous lawsuit

will lead to public embarrassment when the suit is laughed out of court (532D


113As Nikoladis (2011) observes, though Plutarchs practical ethical treatises generally fall into a
three-part structuredefinition of the vicious behavior, examples of how the vicious behavior
harms the individual, and steps for fixing the vicious behaviorthat structure is never clearly
demarcated, and that Plutarch, for rhetorical effect, will move freely between the three elements
throughout the treatises (209).

Though he says that he has finished with , Plutarch has more

advice. He reminds readers who struggle to say no that they can refuse requests

even in silence with the appropriate facial expression (532F). He also suggests

rehearsing stock replies and clever ways of saying no, suggesting that an

eloquent or witty reply can soften the blow of a refusal.114 , more than

any other sickness of the soul, causes regret even before any action. Those

compelled by are vexed even as they give, ashamed even as they

testify, and disgraced even as they collaborate with an unworthy petitioner

(533E). Very often compels a person to promise things beyond his

power, and he experiences even greater disgrace when his inability to deliver is

exposed (533EF). There is no disgrace in being honest about ones limitations; it

is disgraceful, however, to have to renege on a promise undertaken with full

knowledge that one is incapable of fulfilling it (533F). Plutarch reminds his

readers that it is good to give reasonable and proper services to those who need

them, but by choice rather than compulsion. He also reminds readers that those

who seek to take advantage of anothers are being unjust and unfair.

He then quotes Zeno of Citium, who asks a young man avoiding an acquaintance

who asked the young man for false testimony on his behalf why he would not

Plutarch uses examples from Thucydides (2.40), Euripides (Nauck frag, 595), Hesiod (Op. 371),

an unknown tragic fragment (Nauck ad. 389), and his own Life of Phocion (30.3) (533 AB).

stand up to a man who shows him no respect.115 Plutarch uses this quotation to

emphasize that no one does anyone any benefit by acting unjustly, even if the

person asking for the unjust action would make it seem so.

It is much easier, Plutarch acknowledges, to refuse an unreasonable

request from someone of no authority or reputation. However, it is often the case

that even those with power and prominence will try to exploit the of

others for unjust or unreasonable requests. To help readers cope with such

pressure, Plutarch suggests reminding oneself of examples of good men refusing

the unjust requests of powerful men. In each of the examples that he gives, the

man refusing the unjust request turns the notion of shame on the requester

(534EF).116 Plutarch advises if the requester lacks a sense of justice, to appeal to a

notion of propriety that he will understand and draw an analogy. If an orator

lobbies you (Plutarch returns to second person) for an unjust consideration when

you sit on a council, suggest that he include a solecism or barbarism in his

oration. If a prominent citizen asks for an unreasonable favor, suggest that he

115 ; ,
; (534A = Von Arnim SVF i. 313).
116 The younger Cato, when serving as quaestor, was pressured by Catulus the censor to overlook

a fine. Cato told Catulus how unseemly it would be for the censor to have to remove himself
from office (cf. Life of Cato the Younger 16). Agesilas, king of Sparta, refused his fathers request
to render an illegal verdict, saying that since it was his father who taught him from childhood to
obey the laws, that he was in fact obeying by refusing (similar incidents are related in Plutarchs
Life of Agesilas). Themistocles refused an illegal request by the poet Simonides, saying that just as
Simonides would be a bad poet if he ignored the rules of music, he would be a bad magistrate if
he ignored the laws (cf. Life of Themistocles 5).

dance his way through the marketplace. When the requestors refuse to do so,

then ask what is really the worse offence: inelegant speech and dancing, or illegal

and unjust favoritism? (534F535A).

At 535EF, Plutarch observes that it is impossible to avoid all reproach or

censure when dealing with others. Inevitably everyone will offend someone. It is

better, therefore, to offend the unjust and inconsiderate than the wise and just.

He closes the treatise with the admonition that his readers never forget the

trouble that has caused them in the past. Readers will find that the

discomfort caused by refusing an unreasonable or unjust request will always be

less painful than the embarrassment caused by carrying out such an

unreasonable or unjust request.

De vit. pud., like De superst., shows how a fundamentally good impulse,

reverence for the gods in the case of superstition, desire to avoid censure in the

case of , can lead to vicious behavior if not guided by reason. As in

other practical ethical treatises, Plutarch offers many examples of the harm and

shame that are caused by the vicious behavior, and many exercises for putting

reason back in control. There is much evidence for the influence of Stoic/Cynic

diatribe in this treatise, as the frequent use of direct address to the reader shows.

Plutarch also relies heavily on rhetorical questions to make his points, and

anecdotes and exempla to illustrate the harm that excessive modesty causes. He

also uses parallelism (e.g. 533E) and antithesis (e.g. 532C). However, while the

form resembles Stoic/Cynic diatribe, the content is drawn from Plutarchs

understanding of Platonic and Aristotelean ethics.117 His characterization of

healthy modesty as a mean between and shamelessness is clearly

Aristotelian. Furthermore, the idea that leads reason astray, and that

fixing involves beginning with easier exercises and moving to more difficult

ones, is incompatible with his understanding of Stoic ethics. 118

117 Which Plutarch saw, as argued in the chapter on De virt. mor., as fundamentally the same
118 Even though, as commentators such as Dillon (1983), Helmbold, and Babut have argued,

Plutarchs understanding of Stoic ethics, especially regarding progress toward virtue, was


As with De curiositate, the Latin title De superstitione (and the English

derivative superstition) does not reflect the exact meaning of the vice Plutarch

attacks in this treatise. means literally fear of divine beings, and

the behaviors of a are not limited to what is commonly thought of

as superstition. Smith (2) and Moellering (42) argue that superstition is a

misleading translation. Smith considers fear of divine beings the best

translation (3), while Moellering defines as fear of the gods

stemming from ignorance.119 Xenophon uses the word twice as a

positive trait,120 and Aristotle uses it to describe how a clever tyrant simulates the

religious piety of a good king.121 Theophrastus Character 16, with its comic

descriptions of a who treats every animal sound as a portent and

resorts to magic and ritual to repair a sack with a hole in it, marked a shift in the

connotation of the term from generally positive to generally

negative. However, as Koets shows, never became a uniformly

119 61. Mollering does note, however, that superstitio and are used as roughly
equivalent pejorative terms for an opponents beliefs in pagan and early Christian religious
polemics (5360).
120 In the first, Xenophon describes Agesilaus as ,

, (Ages.
11.8). In the second, he describes pious soldiers joining Cyrus in a paean as they ready for battle,
because (Cyr. 3.3.58).
121 Men less afraid, says Aristotle, of suffering misfortunes at the hand of a ruler

(Pol. 5 1315a). It should be

noted, as Moellering does, that Aristotle does not condemn the tyrants in itself,
but objects to its being adopted as a ruse to placate the people (4546).

negative term; its connotation usually depended on the theological views of the

author (98). Philosophers tended to view it as a negative. Epicureans criticized

Stoic views on Providence as ,122 while the Stoics considered

a perversion of religion, because it treats divine with fear rather

than reason.123 The philosophically inclined historian Polybius regarded nearly

all traditional religion as and claimed that it was Romans

that held the Republic together, because religious fear kept the

common people in check (Plb. 6.56).

Plutarch, as a priest of Apollo, was a defender of traditional religion, but

always interpreted traditional religion through the lens of Platonism, as Jones

observes (23). So the Plutarch attacks in De sup. is not the tool of

the powerful described by Aristotle and Polybius. Like Theophrastus, he focuses

on the individual and how his superstitious behavior harms him.

Unlike Theophrastus, Plutarch does not portray the as a comic

figure, but a sick and wretched person in need of philosophical therapy. Plutarch

opens by noting the vicious extremes caused by ignorance concerning the gods:

atheism on the one hand, and superstition on the other. Atheism is found in

hardened characters and it is like soil that is too dry (

(Origen, C. Cels. I.13 = Usener fg. 369).
123 Stobaeus Ecl. II.92 = SVF 408.

), and superstition is found in

soft characters and is like soil that is too moist (

164E). Both of these extremes are bad, but

superstition is especially bad as it involves emotion. Plutarch characterizes

atheism as a poor judgment ( ) that leads to a sort of apatheia

( 165B); it is mistaken reasoning ( ).

Superstition, however, is an emotion arising from mistaken belief about the

nature of the gods ( 165C). It is a fear,

and fear is unique among emotions in that it is not only irrational, but engenders

a helpless and hopeless irrationality (...

(165D). And of all the fears, superstitious fear is the

most helpless and hopeless, because whereas other objects of fear can be

avoided, the superstitious man can never escape his because gods are found




He does not fear the sea he who does not sail, nor war he who does not
fight, nor pirates he who stays at home, nor informers he who is poor, nor
jealousy he who is a private citizen, nor earthquakes he who lives in Gaul,
nor lightning he who lives in Ethiopia; but he who fears gods fears all
things, earth, sea, air, sky, darkness, light, sound, silence, dreams.

Ending on dreams drives home the inescapability of superstition, because even

slaves and prisoners can forget their condition in sleep and there is even relief

from great pain in sleep; the dreams of the superstitious, however, are filled with

horrifying images and monstrous apparitions (

) of various punishments (165F). These fears persist in waking, causing

the superstitious to engage in bizarre magic rituals such as smearing with mud,

wallowing in filth, immersions, falling on one's face, shameful sitting around,

and unwelcome prostrations (, ,

, , )124.

Plutarch closes his opening description of the superstitious man with an

inversion of sleep and wakefulness: ,

, (while his reason is

dreaming, his fear is ever awake, and there is neither escape nor removal 166C).

In 166D, Plutarch again uses tyrants125 as an example of extreme vicious

behavior, but also observes that one can escape tyrants by fleeing the lands they

rule. This is not true of the superstitious man, because he treats the gods as if

124 As suggested by the Euripides quotation ( , Eur. Tro.

764) that introduces the list of rituals, superstition causes one to behave like a barbarian.
and seem to be Plutarch's own coinages, with
echoing the from the previous line. He also refers to in 166 B.
suggests behaving like a barbarian as well, and Plutarch's attitude toward
is clear from his life of Alexander (54).
125 In this case, Polycrates of Samos (Cf. Hdt. 3.3960) and Periander in Corinth, who despite being

considered one of the Seven Sages was also the first tyrant (Diog. Laert. 1.7).

they were tyrants, and there is no place a man can flee the gods, a point that he

illustrates with a series of rhetorical questions that end with a switch to second


, ,
; ,
, ;

He who fears the rule of the gods as if it were a sullen and inexorable
tyranny, where would he remove himself, where would he flee? What
god-forsaken land would he find, what sea? What part of the universe will
you sink into and hide yourself, wretched man, believing that you have
escaped god? (166D)

Rhetorical questions and second person address continue in 166E:

(How much more fearfully do you suppose they suffer for

whom there is no flight, no running away, no revolt?) Plutarch then observes

that sanctuaries, temples, and statues of gods are refuges for most men, even for

robbers and outlaws, but that they are the most fearful things for the

superstitious man. The superstitious man shuns that which ought to comfort

him. At 167B, Plutarch offers an insight often applied to anxiety generally in

current psychiatry:

(Thus unhappy superstition, by excessive caution towards that which seems

fearful, unknowingly throws itself into every sort of dread). Plutarch then

reiterates his characterization of atheism as a void where there ought to be

feelings, and of superstition as a perversion of those feelings. As an analogy, he

remarks that Tiresias was unfortunate not to be able to see his children, but the

misfortune was so much greater for Athamas, Agave, or Heracles, who in

madness killed their children because they believed them to be something other

than who they were (167D).

Beginning at 168A, Plutarch contrasts the reactions of the atheist and the

superstitious man in various circumstances. The atheist of a moderate

temperament will accept misfortune and try to find help or comfort for himself.

An atheist given to emotion will complain about fortune or lament at the

disorder of the world. The superstitious man, however, will declare himself

hated by the gods at the slightest setback and will complain not at fortune, but

lay the blame on the gods (168B). The atheist, when ill, will consider his diet and

daily routine or changes in the weather as possible sources. If he is embarrassed

publicly or has offended a ruler, he will consider in what way he might have

erred in his conduct. The superstitious man, however, considers every illness,

loss of property, or failure in public life to be punishment sent from the gods.

Because of this belief, he rejects doctors, philosophers, or any other experts who

could aid him with illness, grief, or misfortune (168C). Rather than acknowledge

his ability to better his own situation, he turns to superstitious rite and rituals,

putting himself in the hands of silly old women who administer such rituals. 126

Plutarch continues to emphasize that reasonable people, even atheists, fight

desperately against misfortunes, but the superstitious give up when faced with

any sort of misfortune (168EF). In 168F169D, Plutarch provides examples from

myth and history of people ruined by their superstitions. These include Midas,

who committed suicide by drinking bulls blood after being disturbed by

portents in his dreams; Aristodemus, the king of the Messenians, who, disturbed

by signs on the eve of a battle with Sparta, lost heart and committed suicide

rather than go into battle; and Nicias, the Athenian general, whose fear and

hesitation played a major role in Athens heavy losses in the Sicilian

Expedition.127 He also notes that the Jews were captured by their enemy when

they took no action to prevent the attack because it was the Sabbath.128

Having discussed how superstition makes misfortune worse, Plutarch

turns to discussion of how superstition prevents enjoyment of pleasurable things.

According to Plutarch, the most enjoyable things are feast days, religious

mysteries, and adoration of the gods. Obviously, the atheist cannot enjoy these

pleasures, but he does not suffer from missing them. They are worse for the

126 Plutarch quotes Bion, the founder of the diatribe, in his description of the old women and their
rituals (168E).
127 Nicias put aside all military matters and spent several days sacrificing and divining to

determine the portent of the lunar eclipse, which gave the forces of Syracuse time to surround
and lay siege to his camp. See Plutarchs Nicias 2334.
128 It is not clear what battle Plutarch refers to here. Babbit suggests that it is either the capture of

Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE or the capture of Jerusalem by Antony in 38 BCE (481 n. f).

superstitious man, however, because what ought to be a joyful experience for

him is filled with fear (169DF). Plutarch then wonders why atheists are called

impious, but superstitious people are not. Directly addressing the reader again

( ;), he asks why the reader would think this is so. He would rather

have people say that there is no Plutarch than say that Plutarch is an inconstant,

fickle man, given to anger, vengeful over accidents and vexed at trifles.129 He

then quotes some examples of things that have been written about the gods that

he believes are superstitious and impious, including poems about Artemis being

manic and eager for vengeance (170BC), Leto desiring the death of Niobes

children (170C), and Hecuba desiring to eat a liver (170D). The superstitious may

continue to worship and sacrifice to the gods, but saying these terrible things

about the gods is evidence that they hate and fear the gods. Plutarch compares

this behavior to people who welcome, praise, and give statues to tyrants, but

hate them in their hearts, again associating vicious behavior with tyranny (170E


129He goes on: if you should invite others to dinner, or leave him out, or do not have the time
and do not go to see him or call on him when out, he will bite your body and cling on, or seize
your little child and murder him, or he will send the beast he has into your crops and ruin your
harvest ( , ,
, ,
170A). This kind of exaggeration for rhetorical effect and ironic tone is not
unexpected in a diatribe.

For Plutarch, another problem caused by superstition is that it helps to

spread atheism. Atheists do not cause people to be superstitious, but the

behavior of the superstitious gives atheists arguments (that are not without

merit, Plutarch remarks) that religion is bad and harmful (171A). Atheists see the

behavior of superstitious people and think not only that there are not gods, but

that it is better that there are not gods (171B). In fact, Plutarch thinks that it

would better for the Gauls, Scythians, and Carthaginians to have no conception

of the divine at all than for them to believe that their gods demand human

sacrifice (171C). The treatise ends abruptly, with a short admonition not to rush

into atheism as an escape from superstition (171EF).

In De superst., Plutarch clearly is more focused on , diagnosing the

harm and shame that come from vicious behavior, than with , giving

exercises to remedy the vicious behavior. Plutarchs empasis on pointing out the

harmfulness of superstition may also suggest that De sup. was intended for a

broader audience than other ethical treatises. The elements of diatribe, such as

informal language and direct, second person address, use of anecdotes and

exempla to show the harm caused by superstition, and rhetorical figures like

isocolon (e.g. 165DE) appear frequently in De superst. This suggests that

Plutarch was trying to provoke a reaction in his audience moreso than in other

works, so rhetorical effect was more important than particular advice. The

possibility that De superst. was intendend for a broader audience may also

account for the lack of allegory in De superst. Moellering notes that Plutarch

never resorts to allegory to account for stories about the gods that give rise to

superstition. In De Iside et Osiride, for example, Plutarch allegorizes several

features of traditional Egyptian religion, both to make them conform to his

Platonism and to explain problematic features, such as the theriomorphic

Egyptian deities (96106). Moellering contends that allegory does not fit the tone

of sober rationalism Plutarch strives for in De sup (105). Perhaps Plutarch thought

the tendency towards mysticism in a work like De Is. et Os. was inapproprite for

a broader audience with less philosophical or religious instruction, especially if

the target members of that audience were already struggling with .

Despite his brief warning against the other extreme, his surprisingly

positive (for a Delphic priest) portrayal of atheism may be in anticipation of the

criticism that he is a himself. As Koets points out, it is not unlikely

that philosophers more hostile to traditional religion would consider Plutarchs

Delphic priesthood and its associated rituals (69). Preferring

atheism to superstition could be a tactic to distance his beliefs and practices from

those of the truly superstitious. Plutarch elsewhere shows awareness that he may

be accused of having the very vices he attacks, as van Hoofs analysis of De cur.

shows (see chapter 4 above). Plutarchs suprising preference for atheism over

superstition may also suggest that part of the treatment for superstition is to use

some of the atheists skepticism. As was shown in the chapter on De virt. mor.,

Plutarch considered skepticism a tool for arriving at the truth. While none of the

Academic skeptics whose theory of suspension of judgment influenced Plutarch

were atheists, the invocation of a different, opposing view to undermine

assumptions (as Plutarch does here by repeatedly bringing up the atheist) was a

tactic used by the Academic skeptics.130 In this case, the repeated reminders that

there are other views of the gods is an element of . Also, again despite

his warning at the end of the treatise, Plutarch does in other treatises (cf. De garr.

and De cur.) say that over-correction is often necessary to begin combating

vicious behavior. In this case, it may be necessary for the superstitious man to

subject his views of religion to the atheists doubt in order to arrive at a better

and heathier conception of the divine.

130 Cic. Acad. II. 60 and Tusc. IV.5 and Long (9294).


A common goal in much of the scholarship quoted in this study is to

classify the works of Plutarch that fall under the broad category Moralia. Several

authors have attempted to develop terminology for referring to Plutarchs works

on specific ethical topics aimed at educated elites who are not professional

philosophers. First Zeigler proposed popularphilosophisch-ethische Schriften,

then Ingenkamp identified them as Seelenheilungsschrift, and more recently

Nikolaidis and van Hoof have used the terms minor ethics and practical

ethics, respectively. Each of these scholars groups most, but not all, of Plutarchs

treatises considered in this dissertation into their chosen category. Van Hoof, for

example, does not consider De virt. mor. a practical ethical work (259), while

Nikolaidis and Ingenkamp exclude De vit. ae. from their respective categories

(see above). I have chosen to consider these six works together because they

show two common features: first, they follow a general Platonic/Aristotelian

model of moral virtue (as described in De virt. mor.); second, they all show the

influence of Stoic/Cynic diatribe in their presentation. Although one may infer

from the titles of Plutarchs extant and attested polemical works131 against the

131These include the extant works (Lamprias catalogue 76, 77, and 79)
(On Stoic Inconsistancies) and (On
Conceptions, against the Stoics). The manuscripts of the latter give the title as
.), and
(That the Stoics talk more paradoxically than the poets), and the non-extant but attested
("3 books on Justice, against Chrysippus," Lamprias 59),

Stoics that Plutarch is entirely hostile to the Stoics, his relationship to the Stoics

was multifaceted. As Babut describes in detail, Plutarch had in-depth knowledge

of Stoic works and doctrines from Zeno up to his own time (1969a, 183270).

Plutarch also, as Hershbell points out, had many Stoics in his circle of friends

(3339). While he is frequently dismissive of Epicurean ideas and philosophers

(Opsomer 2013, 89 and n. 4), Plutarch often treats Stoic thinkers with respect,

considers their ideas valuable contributions to philosophical discourse (Babut

1969a, 176180), and includes Stoic speakers in his dialogues.132

While it is clear that he considered Chrysippus to be the foremost Stoic

figure and addresses most of his criticism directly to Chrysippus, Plutarch also

shows familiarity with writers of diatribe. Plutarch quotes or refers to Bion

Borysthenites eleven times in extant Moralia,133 including once in De sup. (168D)

and twice in De vit. pud. (531E and 536A). Musonius Rufus appears in De vit. ae.

(830B), as well as De cohibenda irae (453D, cf. Helmbold and O'Neil 52). Dion of

Prusa is not quoted in extant Moralia, but the Lamprias catalogue contains two

(On common usage, against the Stoics, Lamprias 78),

("Extracts from and Refutations of Stoics and
Epicureans," Lamprias 148), ("Explanations of current Stoic
doctrines," Lamprias 149), ("On the First
Consequent, against Chrysippus," Lamprias 152), and
("What is in our power, against the Stoics, Lamprias 154).
132 Although, as Opsomer (2013) point out, Stoic speakers usually appear early in the dialogue

and their views are subsequently criticized (90).

133 In addition to those listed in text, cf. also 7 C, 22 A, 59 A, 82 E, 396 E, 561 C, 770 B, 965 A, 1126

A, and Helmbold and O'Neil 13.


works, (The Reply to Dion delivered at

Olympia, 204) and (Discourse against Dion, 227).134

Plutarch appropriates from diatribe the conceit that a written text is a

dialogue between writer and reader. This conceit is most often established by

shifts of person, from third person to second person or first person plural, and

use of rhetorical questions. These pseudo-conversational elements appear in each

of these works to varying degrees, and even appear in the more theoretical De

virt. mor. In De virt. mor. Plutarch employs an unnamed, hypothetical Stoic

interlocutor to pose questions that Plutarch then answers. Plutarch fills these

treatises with anecdotes and historical exempla, both to give examples of the

harm caused by vicious behavior, and to support the arguments that he makes.

He also repeatedly uses the rhetorical figures isocolon and antithesis.

Though it does not appear in De virt. mor., use of medical language and

characterizations of vice as disease and philosopher as doctor are common

features of diatribe (Seidel 1906, 19). Plutarch characterizes talkativeness as a

disease throughout De garr. and addresses the reader directly when giving

advice for controlling talkativeness. He incorporates similar elements of diatribe

into De cur., again characterizing as a disease, and shifting to

direct address when trying to draw attention to the harm and shame that

Sandbach (1969) believes that the Dion in these titles could be Dion of Prusa (27 n. c), and

Pernot (2007) makes the case that these works do refer to Dion of Prusa (106107).

causes the reader and offering practical steps to overcome it.

Plutarch uses direct address most frequently in De vit. ae., and also relies heavily

on rhetorical questions. Although some commentators argue that medical

language is absent in De vit. ae., Plutarch does use illness and cure as a metaphor

for debt and paying off debts. Plutarch turns to direct address at crucial points in

De vit. pud. and De sup. as well. Although the vices of excessive modesty and

superstition arise from good impulses, he nevertheless characterizes these too as

diseases. Plutarch writes in many different genres, and diatribe is just one

method of presentation available to him. For more technical or theoretical works

of philosophy, he uses more text-based arguments (De an. proc., De Is. et Os., Plat.

Quae.). He writes dialogues for other philosophical topics. Other philosophers

are the target audience for his dialogues and technical treatises. Diatribe offers a

method of argument that targets the educated man who is not an expert in

philosophy. Plutarch uses diatribe to broaden the audience for his ethics.

Adopting the diatribe from the Stoics also gives Plutarch the ability to try to

better the Stoics at a style that was so closely associated with their school.

In De virt. mor., Plutarch establishes links between the theoretical and

practical sides of his philosophy. Though his concept of moral virtue may bear

superficial similarities to that of the Stoics, and his treatises may bear rhetorical

similarities to Stoic/Cynic diatribe, Plutarchs ethics are fundamentally Platonic.


It is clear that he believes that the theory behind ethics matters, even in practical

ethical works. Thus, the process of bringing irrational desires under the control

of reason that he describes in De virt. mor. can be linked both to Platonic

metaphysics and practical ethics. In developing moral virtue by practicing habits

that subordinate irrational desires to reason, the individual mirrors in his own

soul what the demiurge does on a cosmic level in giving order and rationality to

the World Soul. The process of developing particular virtues also follows the

general model of putting reason in control of desires. Although his professed

allegiance is Platonism, Plutarch considers Aristotle part of the Platonic tradition.

Therefore he follows Aristotle in describing the process of bringing desires under

the control of reason as deliberative (as opposed to contemplative) reasoning,

which involves achieving a mean between excess and deficiency. All of the

vicious behaviors Plutarch describes in the practical ethical treatises involve

excess: of talk, of shame, or of fear of divinities. In the case of curiosity there is an

excess of desire to know information, and an excessive desire to appear affluent

drives borrowing.

To restore reason to control of the soul, the individual must first recognize

the harm and shame caused by a vicious behavior, and then practice habits that

help restore reason to control. Thus in the case of talkativeness (), the

talkative man first must recognize that he behaves like a drunkard when he talks

too much and that his talkativeness makes others not want to be with him. He

then must practice pausing and thinking before he speaks in order to consider

the purpose and value of what he will say. A must recognize that

his desire to involve himself in others affairs causes him to be unjust and

unhealthy. He must restore his reason to control by practicing delaying learning

about his own affairs and not satisfying his curiosity about the affairs of others at

all. Those who borrow money because they desire to display their fine

possessions to others make themselves slaves to creditors. Plutarch recommends

that these people use their reason to content themselves with what they have and

look to sell unnecessary items or find work if necessary. An irrational desire to

please others and avoid censure drives the man with excessive shame ()

to do things that are contrary to his values. He must restore rationality by

practicing refusing requests where reasonable to do so. A superstitious person is

driven to bizarre and impious behavior by his irrational beliefs about the gods.

To escape these superstitions, Plutarch recommends applying a rational

skepticism to the irrational beliefs.

The works of practical ethics examined here are, as van Hoof points out,

not technical or particularly rigorous works of philosophy. They are meant for

educated men who are acquainted with philosophy, but have not studied it on

an advanced level (255). Scholars of previous generations have taken the lack of

rigor in these treatises as evidence that Plutarch was an inferior philosopher.

Viewed within the context of all of his philosophical work, however, they show

that Plutarch, as van Hoof says:

wrote philosophical discourses on different levels. By answering fellow

philosophers with technical polemics, proposing to the elite of his time a
kind of philosophy that would help them realize their ambitions, and
giving the masses sophistic showpieces they went mad for, he not only
managed to meet the needs and expectations of different audiences, but he
also showed himself in different guises to different audiences (265).

In other words, the practical ethical treatises, rather than diminish his status as a

philosopher, highlight his skill as an author, because, as this analysis has shown,

his practical ethical treatises are grounded in his technical philosophical works.

Plutarch uses his rhetorical skill and knowledge of diatribe to promote Platonism

to an audience wider than had ever experienced it previously.



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