Transnational Research Associates

Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans

The Dryden Translation, The Great Books, Volume 14

R.M. Hutchins, Editor in Chief, William Benton, Publisher

Chicago-London, 1952. AC1.G7 1952b, v. 14., pp. 577-604.

A Brief Analysis of Plutarch's Historical Depiction of Caesar

It would be appropriate to state that Plutarch's opening passages demonstrate great sympathy for the boy Caesar who, when in the hands of the Cilicians, for example, courageously treated them as if they were his guards, not his keepers (577). In fact, the favorable impression which the reader develops of Caesar's early years is created skillfully by Plutarch who, using facts and details, draws an extremely appealing picture of Caesar's rise to prominence.

In the initial sequences of Plutarch's account, Caesar is often shown to be surrounded by friends and admirers who give him advice and thrust him, gradually but steadfastly, toward higher social status. The death of his young wife, and Caesar's eloquent eulogy of her, placed Caesar in an increasingly strategic position in the eyes of his public who "looked upon him as a man of great tenderness and kindness of heart." (578)

The confrontations between Cicero and Caesar later in the Senate are handled by Plutarch with seeming favoritism toward Caesar. Cicero is portrayed with harshness, but is nonetheless shown to be merciful when Caesar's life, long before he became Emperor, is at risk after a rhetorical exchange in the Senate (580). In these types of sequences, there are definitely facts and events recounted by Plutarch which could be used to "rewrite" certain passages related to Caesar's life, perhaps to the advantage of Caesar's enemies.

The beneficence of Caesar when promulgating laws pertaining to debtors and creditors is portrayed objectively by Plutarch (581), and, as an historian, the writer seems quite competent. Surely, the Dryden translation reflects the intent, style and tone of Plutarch's eloquent account and bolsters the modern American's positive impression of his logical and easily absorbed account of events. Indeed, Plutarch juxtaposes people and events effectively and seems to attempt to maintain objectivity and impartiality throughout his 27 pages dealing with Caesar.

The final three pages recounting Caesar's assassination at the hands of those who wished to restore the power of the Senate are a masterpiece of rhetoric and historical narration, particularly for Plutarch's era. Details such as the "dimness of the sun" (604) following Caesar's death may not be considered, by modern historiographical standards, either necessary or proper, but they do demonstrate insight into the importance of the Emperor's death and impart a distinct sense of drama. These qualities have appealed to readers of all eras. Personally, as a result of his lucidity, attention to accuracy, and narrative skill, I would place Plutarch among the greatest of all historians.