The twenty-year reign of Trajan, A.D. 98-117, inaugurated the longest period of stability and good government the Roman Empire ever saw, and witnessed the production of one of the most influential literary works of antiquity, Plutarch's Parallel Lives. This collection of essays explores, from several perspectives, Plutarch's relation to the ideas of government in his day. The focus is on Plutarch, because of the importance of his writings, the number and eminence of his Roman friends and the problematic nature of his relation with Trajan. Plutarch's position at Delphi made him a spokesman for the cultural memory of Greece. His friends were among the most important in the empire; some were close associates of Trajan. His Lives and political essays form the largest single body of political writing from the early empire.
The nineteen essays in this book, by leading European and American Scholars, address three questions: What was the social and intellectual context in which Plutarch wrote? What did this philosopher-author have to say to contemporary statesmen; whether civic leaders, Roman imperial officials, or the emperor himself? How did his philosophical inquiry address contemporary issues?
The overall objective is to establish the context of Plutarch's work in the society and the historical circumstances for which it was written; to see Plutarch not writing in a vacuum but for readers whose ambitions, virtues and weaknesses he recognized and whom he wished to help achieve a more philosophically based life.
The first part considers the Greek social and cultural world of Plutarch's day, examining the role of philosophers and literary figures, the influential cultu of Isis described by Plutarch and the effect of the times on Plutarch's choice of heroes. Thereafter a segment on Plutarch's suggestions for the contemporary statesmen is followed by a third on his relation to the emperors. This latter part treats specifically his relation to Trajan and the ways in which his Lives do and do not address the specific issues of Trajan's reign and imperial ideology. A fourth part considers Trajan's Policy in Stone: his presentation of himself on the Column of Trajan and his building program outside Rome in Italy and the Provinces. In the final chapter Plutarch's philosophy is examined in the context of his times, looking at how the philosopher addresses the issues of political exile and the education of the young.
Thanks to the inclusiveness of the issues addressed, and the original and provocative ideas of the contributors, this book should be of interest to all those who wish to understand the Plutarch's Parallel Lives and the works of other writers of this period in their fuller social and political context.