Chapter 5 Fine-Tuning Portraits in the Lives: Omissions that Clarify the Lessons in Leadership

In: Plutarch’s Unexpected Silences
Author: Susan G. Jacobs

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Plutarch’s portraits of leaders in the Lives reflect a careful blending of incidents from a hero’s personal life and his political and military career, which together provide exempla to guide readers in cultivating moral character and effectiveness in managing public affairs. Designing these portraits required being selective about the details of a person’s life. As Plutarch indicated at Cimon 2.4–5, a representation had to retain the undesirable elements of a man’s character without giving them undue prominence. On this basis, it seems reasonable that Plutarch might have omitted key incidents which, if included, would have over-emphasized one virtue or vice. Similarly, a balanced portrait of a man’s successes and failures in managing political or military matters might also necessitate selective exclusion of episodes described by historians. Against this backdrop, the question arises: to what extent can Plutarch’s omission of key incidents from a Life be viewed as purposeful fine-tuning of his narrative to clarify certain lessons in leadership? This issue is here investigated in the context of the Alcibiades, Agesilaus and Fabius Maximus. It will be shown that Plutarch’s silences and omission of well-known episodes impact the ethical and pragmatic lessons in these Lives, and serve to sharpen the focus on the specific lessons in leadership that each Life was designed to convey.

Plutarch’s Unexpected Silences

Suppression and Selection in the Lives and Moralia



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