Chapter 8 A Life in Pieces: Plutarch, Crassus 12.1–16.8

In: Plutarch’s Unexpected Silences
Author: James T. Chlup

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Abstract

In his Crassus, Plutarch furnishes a peculiarly brief narrative (five chapters, chs. 12–16 inclusive; approximately six pages of the Teubner text) for the career of M. Licinius Crassus from the end of the Spartacan War to his departure for Syria (70–55 BCE). These chapters constitute a particularly noticeable example of telescoping, which appears especially conspicuous given the excruciatingly detailed narrative that comes next: the Parthian misadventure, to which Plutarch devotes the second half of the Life (chs. 17–33). The unevenness of pace and detail raises questions of Plutarch’s rationale for writing Crassus, and how it frames the interpretation of other Lives, in particular Pompey and Caesar. Evidence internal and external to Crassus intimates that Plutarch could have produced a more substantial biography should he have so desired to write it. There are two possible reasons for this extreme selectivity. First, the text is not Plutarch’s final version, but a draft (hypomnema). Second, the text is, in fact, as the biographer intended: the gaps reflect the biographer’s genuine opinion of Crassus’ perceived lack of a role, direct or indirect, in this crucial historical period.

Plutarch’s Unexpected Silences

Suppression and Selection in the Lives and Moralia

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