In this chapter, the complicated intertextual dynamics that can often be found in Plutarch’s oeuvre is examined through the study of one work, viz. the anti-Epicurean polemic That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible. There, several major sources are combined with other material and introduced into the context of a new and coherent argument. Especially important are (1) the treatise of Colotes (which had itself an obvious intertextual dimension, as it contained an attack against the entire previous philosophical tradition), (2) the perspective of Plutarch’s school, where the whole discussion took place, (3) the works of Epicurus and Metrodorus (the real polemic targets of the work), and (4) the rich tradition attacked by the Epicureans and defended by Plutarch. Next to the input from these four sources, there is, of course, Plutarch himself, who as an author directs and structures the whole piece, adding a wealth of quotations from poets, historians, philosophers, and so on.
By unravelling this multi-layered structure, I will lay bare the different aspects of Plutarch’s modus operandi and of his approach towards and use of literature in That Epicurus actually makes a pleasant life impossible.
Plutarch’s general attitude towards Greek myth is quite complex and involves many different aspects. Sometimes, Plutarch dismissed myths as mere fictions, but on other occasions he appreciated them as interesting and valuable images of a deeper philosophical truth, and, as a Platonist, he also created his own eschatological myths. His position is usually conditioned by the specific context of his work and argument. This chapter examines Plutarch’s use of myth in his anti-Stoic and anti-Epicurean polemics. In these works, myths are relatively seldom mentioned and are almost never thematized for their own sake. As a rule, Plutarch’s position to a large extent depends on the position of his opponent. When the latter is critical of myths, Plutarch defends them, and vice versa. Sometimes myths also provide interesting material that can be used for polemical purposes and occasionally they are appreciated as a vital source for the truth.
This chapter provides a systematic interpretation of a neglected homily of John Chrysostom, viz. Peccata fratrum non evulganda (CPG 4389). A systematic close reading of this sermon throws light on its general argumentative structure and on the different rhetorical strategies which John uses in order to negotiate the response of his listeners. As such it does not merely enhance our understanding of this particular sermon, but also shows the generic value of several statements that John makes about his homiletic approach. Especially remarkable is John’s respect for his audience’s autonomy. This respect is characteristic of an emancipatory approach, the influence of which can be felt both in the moralising and in the exegetic sections of the homily.