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Plutarch's Critique of Plato's Best Regime

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Current scholarship all but unanimously depicts Plutarch as a straightforward Platonist. The Lives of Lycurgus and Numa in particular are regularly cited as evidence of Plutarch's adherence to Platonic political doctrines, because in both Lives Plutarch makes explicit reference to the 'best regime' of Plato's Republic. In this article, I question the consensus opinion through an examination of Plutarch's Lycurgus and Numa. I argue that far from unreflectively applying a Platonic paradigm, Plutarch develops a subtle critique of Plato's best regime. Plutarch shows himself to be more sensitive to the political utility of honour and more wary of the benefits of 'philosopher-kings' than the Socrates of the Republic. I conclude by suggesting how the recognition of Plutarch's departure from Plato might influence one's general approach to the Parallel Lives.

Keywords: Lycurgus; Numa; Philosopher-King; Philotimia; Plato; Platonism; Plutarch; Republic; Rome; Sparta; ambition; best regime; founder; honour; parallel lives; philosophy; timocracy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago, 1130 E. 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637. liebert@uchicago. Edu

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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