PLUTARCH (CA. 50-CA. 120 )
Greek eclectic philosopher and biographer. Widely traveled in the Mediterranean, this noble, who became a priest at Delphi but resided at his native Chaeronea in Boeotia, knew many leading creeks and Romans and may have received appointments from Trajan and Hadrian. He advocated partnership between Greeks and Romans. An ancient catalogue of his works listed 227 items, of which 87 survive, most lumped together under the title MoraLia, in addition to 50 biographies in Parallel fives of Famous Greeks and Romans. His "On Moral Virtues" is Aristotelian and anti-Stoic: piety being a mean between superstition and atheism. In his dialogues, Plutarch, essentially aplatonist, discussed the fate of the soul after death. His antiquarian works are a mine of information about paganism, music, and education.
Plutarch's "Dialogue on Love" presents an imaginary debate [an example of contest literature), between a pederast and an advocate of the love of women. Declaring that "the one true love is the love of youths," the pederast, reciting a list of famous heterosexual lovers, attacks heterosexual love as self-indulgent, vulgar, and servile. The advocate of the love of women, equally cutting, condemns pederasty as unnatural and innovative in the bad sense. With passionate arguments on both sides, this example reveals that the days when the superiority of pederasty could be taken for granted had longpassed.
In a vivacious sketch, Plutarch sets forth a conversation between Odysseus and one of his men who, through enchantment, has been turned into a pig [Gryllos). To the hero's surprise the pig who was once a man does not want to return to his human state: he prefers to remain a beast because, in his view, animals live a life in conformity with nature, while human beings do not. According to Gryllos, one evidence of the superiority of animals is the supposed fact that they do not practice male or female homosexuality.
While this claim has been disproved, over the centuries Plutarch's little dialogue exercised a good deal of influence as a touchstone of the "happy beast" conceit (see Animal Homosexualityj, which argued that human conduct could be reformed for the better by adopting the "natural, healthy" standards of animals. In his vivid and gripping fives, Piutarch stressed the vices and virtues in the personalities of the great as well as their family, education, personality, and changes of fortune. Their accuracy varies according to the sources available to him. Many portray pederasty flatteringly, particularly in the case of heroes of Sparta and Thebes, sometimes unflatteringly as in Otho and other Roman emperors, and amusingly as in the case of Demetrios Poliorcetes. They were extremely influential and muchread from the Italian Renaissance through the Napoleonic era, when they were central to the Exemplar Theory of history-the concept that history teaches through the lives of great men who excelled either in virtue or vice. With the emergence of the idea of history as a supraindividual process, the accomplishment above all of the nineteenth-century German school, the centrality of Plutarch's biographies faded.
Plutarch shows that if pederasty was an ambivalent and disputed subject in late pagan antiquity, stillno general taboo on the discussion or even more, the practice of it existed before the Christian church began to exert its influence on law and public opinion.
R. H. Barrow, Plutarch and His Times, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967; Curt Hubert, De Plutarchi amatoria, Kirchhain: Max Schmersow, 1903.
William A. Percy