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In: Socrates and the Socratic Dialogue
In: Plato and Xenophon
In: Xenophon: Ethical Principles and Historical Enquiry
Author: Noreen Humble


Plutarch’s portrait of Sparta, primarily but not solely in his Lycurgus, has been enormously influential and continues not just to capture our attention more than any other ancient description of Sparta, but also to be regarded as an accurate reflection of life in Classical Sparta. Indeed, in Western literature and culture over the past 500 years, references to Sparta are almost invariably to Plutarch’s Sparta: e.g., from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s assertion that Sparta banished arts and artists from their walls to the current appropriation of the catchphrase molôn labe by the American far right. Yet Plutarch’s Sparta is a hybrid utopia, in the creation of which Plutarch not only drew on sources from multiple time periods but also was influenced by the growing idealisation and distortion of Classical Sparta, which can be traced through the fragmentary Hellenistic sources. This chapter, therefore, will first examine two aspects of Plutarch’s Sparta—disdain for wealth and children being the property of the state—to show which sources he chose and which he silenced to create this portrait. Then it will present some examples of how the reception of Plutarch’s Sparta has aided in continuing to silence pre-Plutarchan sources on these issues, and what the repercussions have been for our understanding of Classical Sparta.

In: Plutarch’s Unexpected Silences
Suppression and Selection in the Lives and Moralia
The act of recording anything is at the same time an act of silencing. Choices are made at every step about what to keep and what to discard. Examining what Plutarch has left out enriches our understanding of what he has chosen to say, and both deepens our knowledge of the literary practices of this influential writer and opens new and fruitful lines of enquiry about Plutarch, his work, and his world.
In: Plutarch’s Unexpected Silences