In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Plutarch's Moralia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Editions and Translations
  • Bibliographies and Reference Resources

Classics Plutarch's Moralia
Lieve Van Hoof
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0089


The non-biographical output of Plutarch of Chaeronea (b. c. 45–d. c. 120 AD) is traditionally grouped together under the label “Moralia” (alternative titles include “Moral Works,” “Morals,” “Ethika,” and “Ethica”). Although by no means all works within the group deal with ethics, an important subgroup, placed at the head of the collection since the late 13th century, does, and has given the collection its title. In modern editions, the Moralia comprise seventy-eight texts, thirteen of which, including the famous texts On the Education of Children and On Music, are generally taken to be spurious (see Lost Works, Fragments, and Spuria). As can be seen in the so-called Lamprias catalogue, a late antique list of Plutarchan works, Plutarch’s non-biographical output was originally much larger, and so was the preponderance of ethics within it. Among the extant Moralia, one finds essays, dialogues, and letters on topics as diverse as peace of mind, the face that can be seen on the moon, and the fortune or virtue of Alexander the Great. In line with ancient rhetorical theory, these texts can be divided according to the aim or aims they pursue: their primary aim is to move, to teach, or to entertain the reader. Although these different aims go hand in hand with distinctive argumentative strategies and authorial self-presentation, the boundaries between these groups are by no means strict. In modern scholarship, Plutarch’s Moralia have received much less attention than his biographical output. In the last few years, however, several monographs and edited volumes on important texts, subgroups, and themes of the Moralia, as well as on the Moralia as a text corpus have significantly enhanced our understanding and appreciation of this multifarious group of texts. While many studies on Plutarch’s Moralia are in English and widely available, a considerable number of publications on the topic have appeared in languages other than English and may be hard to find in British or American libraries, except in universities where Plutarch studies are high on the agenda.

General Overviews

Given that the Moralia do not constitute a unified corpus, there are no general studies of “the Moralia” as such. Yet several publications include discussion of all or most of the texts involved. Ziegler 1951 is still the definitive starting point, detailing the contents of each text paragraph by paragraph, surveying all previous work done on each text, and offering some discussion of the literary genres, classical sources, and philosophical ideas represented in the Moralia. Gréard 1912, one of the first studies to have drawn attention to Plutarch as a moralist rather than as a biographer, does not go much further than paraphrasing the contents of several important texts among the Moralia. Although Jones 1971, Russell 1973, and Sirinelli 2000 offer no in-depth discussion of the Moralia, these biographies of Plutarch can help to situate some of the works within the context of the author’s life. The chronology of the Moralia is discussed in Jones 1966, their method of composition in Van der Stockt 1999 (cited under Sources). Hirsch-Luipold 2002 discusses the use and function of images throughout the Moralia.

  • Gréard, Octave. 1912. De la Morale de Plutarque. Paris: Librairie Hachette.

    Study of Plutarch’s ethics, mostly explaining his ideas by reference to his life. Seminal work that contributed to awakening scholarly attention to Plutarch’s Moralia as opposed to his biographical output, but that is now out of date in respect of its contents and methodology. The original 1866 edition was followed by several more recent editions into the 20th century.

  • Hirsch-Luipold, Rainer. 2002. Plutarch’s Denken in Bildern: Studien zur literarischen, philosophischen und religiösen Funktion des Bildhaften. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.

    Study of the rhetorical and pedagogical role, as well as of the philosophical and religious background, of the use of images throughout Plutarch’s oeuvre, with emphasis on the religions and philosophical writings.

  • Jones, Christopher P. 1966. Towards a chronology of Plutarch’s works. Journal of Roman Studies 56:61–74.

    DOI: 10.2307/300134

    Thorough study of the chronology of Plutarch’s works, including the Moralia. On the Control of Anger, which Jones dates between 92 and 100 CE, and On Peace of Mind, which he dates after 107 CE, are discussed in most detail.

  • Jones, Christopher P. 1971. Plutarch and Rome. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Brief and eminently readable book that places Plutarch’s life and works in the historical context of the early Roman Empire. While most attention goes to Plutarch’s biographical output, chapter 12 deals with the political treatises among the Moralia, showing how Plutarch adapted his political advice to suit the needs of his upper-class, Greek readers administering their cities under the Empire.

  • Russell, Donald A. 1973. Plutarch. London: Duckworth.

    Excellent introduction to Plutarch, briefly touching upon most of the Moralia. A new edition, with foreword by Judith Mossman, was published by Bristol Classical Press in 2001, but most libraries have the original edition.

  • Sirinelli, Jean. 2000. Plutarque de Chéronée: Un philosophe dans le siècle. Paris: Fayard.

    The most extensive biography of Plutarch on the market, dealing with his life, friends, and ideas, but also offering a presentation of many individual texts, including most of the Moralia. Contains a useful chronological table situating Plutarch’s works within the context of his life and times.

  • Ziegler, Konrad. 1951. Plutarchos von Chaironeia. Realencyclopädie 21.1: 636–962.

    The definitive starting point for anybody wishing to work on Plutarch. Discusses Plutarch’s life, offers a detailed survey of all of the Moralia and modern scholarship on them, and briefly considers his literary and philosophical sources, his rhetorical style, his philosophical and religious ideas, and his reception. Originally published as a monograph in 1949, it is this updated 1951 Realencyclopedie version that scholars usually refer to.

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