Plutarch’s Lives Volume 3, Plutarch
Plutarch’s Lives Volume 3
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Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans is a series of 48 biographies of famous men, arranged in pairs to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century AD. The surviving Parallel Lives comprises 23 pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman of similar destiny, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, or Demosthenes and Cicero. It is a work of considerable importance, not only as a source of information about the individuals described, but also about the times in which they lived.

Plutarch’s Lives Volume 3

Roman Lives Part 1


The Life of Aemilius

1​ I began the writing of my “Lives” for the sake of others, but I find that I am continuing the work and delighting in it now for my own sake also, using history as a mirror and endeavouring in a manner to fashion and adorn my life in conformity with the virtues therein depicted. For the result is like nothing else than daily living and associating together, when I receive and welcome each subject of my history in turn as my guest, so to speak, and observe carefully “how large he was and of what mien,”​ and select from his career what is most important and most beautiful to know.

“And oh! what greater joy than this canst thou obtain,”​

and more efficacious for moral improvement? Democritus says we ought to pray that we may be visited by phantoms which are propitious, and that from out the circumambient air such only may encounter us as are agreeable to our natures and good, rather than those which are perverse and bad, thereby intruding into philosophy a doctrine which is not true, and which leads astray into boundless superstitions. But in my own case, the study of history and the familiarity with it which my writing produces, enables me, since I always cherish in my soul the records of the noblest and most estimable characters, to repel and put far from me whatever base, malicious, or ignoble suggestion my enforced associations may intrude upon me, calmly and dispassionately turning my thoughts away from them to the fairest of my examples. Among these were Timoleon the Corinthian and Aemilius Paulus, whose Lives I have now undertaken to lay before my readers; the men were alike not only in the good principles which they adopted, but also in the good fortune which they enjoyed in their conduct of affairs, and they will make it hard for my readers to decide whether the greatest of their successful achievements were due to their good fortune or their wisdom.

2 That the Aemilii were one of the ancient and patrician houses at Rome, most writers agree. And that the first of them, and the one who gave his surname to the family, was Mamercus, a son of Pythagoras the philosopher, who received the surname of Aemilius for the grace and charm of his discourse, is the statement of some of those writers who hold that Pythagoras was the educator of Numa the king. Now, most of this family who rose to distinction by their cultivation of virtue, were blessed with good fortune; and in the case of Lucius Paulus, his misfortune at Cannae gave testimony alike to his wisdom and valour. For when he could not dissuade his colleague from giving battle, he took part with him in the struggle, though reluctantly, but would not be a partner in his flight; nay, though the one who had brought on the peril left him in the lurch, he himself kept his post and died fighting the enemy.

This Paulus had a daughter, Aemilia, who was the wife of Scipio the Great, and a son, Aemilius Paulus, whose Life I now write. He came of age at a time which abounded in men of the greatest reputation and most illustrious virtue, and yet he was a conspicuous figure, although he did not pursue the same studies as the young nobles of the time, nor set out on his career by the same path. For he did not practise pleading private cases in the courts, and refrained altogether from the salutations and greetings and friendly attentions to which most men cunningly resorted when they tried to win the favour of the people by becoming their zealous servants; not that he was naturally incapable of either, but he sought to acquire for himself what was better than both, namely, a reputation arising from valour, justice, and trustworthiness. In these virtues he at once surpassed his contemporaries.

3 At all events, when he sued for the first of the high offices in the state, the aedileship, he was elected over twelve competitors, all of whom, we are told, afterwards became consuls. Moreover, when he was made one of the priests called Augurs, whom the Romans appoint as guardians and overseers of the art of divination from the flight of birds and from omens in the sky, he so carefully studied the ancestral customs of the city, and so thoroughly understood the religious ceremonial of the ancient Romans, that his priestly function, which men had thought to be a kind of honour, sought merely on account of the reputation which it gave, was made to appear one of the higher arts, and testified in favour of those philosophers who define religion as the science of the worship of the gods. For all the duties of this office were performed by him with skill and care, and he laid aside all other concerns when he was engaged in these, omitting nothing and adding nothing new, but ever contending even with his colleagues about the small details of ceremony, and explaining to them that, although the Deity was held to be good-natured and slow to censure acts of negligence, still, for the city at least it was a grievous thing to overlook and condone them; for no man begins at once with a great deed of lawlessness to disturb the civil polity, but those who remit their strictness in small matters break down also the guard that has been set over greater matters.

Furthermore, he showed a like severity in scrutinising and preserving his country’s military customs and traditions also, not courting popular favour when he was in command, nor yet, as most men did at this time, courting a second command during his first by gratifying his soldiers and treating them with mildness; but, like a priest of other dread rites, he explained thoroughly all the details of military custom and was a terror to disobedient transgressors, and so restored his country to her former greatness, considering the conquest of his enemies hardly more than an accessory to the training of his fellow-citizens.

4 After the Romans had gone to war with Antiochus the Great, and while their most experienced commanders were employed against him, another war arose in the West, and there were great commotions in Spain. For this war Aemilius was sent out as praetor, ​ not with the six lictors which praetors usually have, but adding another six to that number, so that his office had a consular dignity. Well, then, he defeated the Barbarians in two pitched battles, and slew about thirty thousand of them; and it would seem that his success was conspicuously due to his generalship, since by choosing favourable ground and by crossing a certain river he made victory easy for his soldiers; moreover, he made himself master of two hundred and fifty cities, which yielded to him of their own accord. He left the province in peace and bound by pledges of fidelity, and came back to Rome, nor was he richer by a single drachma from his expedition. And, indeed, in all other ways he was a rather indifferent money-maker, and spent generously and without stint of his substance. But this was not large; indeed, after his death it barely sufficed to meet the dowry due to his wife.

5 He married Papiria, a daughter of Maso, who was a man of consular dignity, and after he had lived with her a long time he divorced her, although she had made him father of most glorious sons; for she it was who bore him that most illustrious Scipio, and Fabius Maximus. No documentary grounds for the divorce have come down to us, but there would seem to be some truth in a story told about divorce, which runs as follows. A Roman once divorced his wife, and when his friends admonished him, saying: “Is she not discreet? is she not beautiful? is she not fruitful?” he held out his shoe (the Romans call it “calceus”), saying: “Is this not handsome? is it not new? but no one of you can tell me where it pinches my foot?” For, as a matter of fact, it is great and notorious faults that separate many wives from their husbands; but the slight and frequent frictions arising from some unpleasantness or incongruity of characters, unnoticed as they may be by everybody else, also produce incurable alienations in those whose lives are linked together.

So then Aemilius, having divorced Papiria, took another wife; and when she had borne him two sons he kept these at home, but the sons of his former wife he introduced into the greatest houses and the most illustrious families, the elder into that of Fabius Maximus, who was five times consul, while the younger was adopted by the son of Scipio Africanus, his cousin-german, who gave him the name of Scipio. Of the daughters of Aemilius, one became the wife of the son of Cato, and the other of Aelius Tubero, a man of the greatest excellence, and one who, more than any other Roman, combined the greatest dignity with poverty. For there were sixteen members of the family, all Aelii; and they had a very little house, and one little farm sufficed for all, where they maintained one home together with many wives and children. Among these wives lived also the daughter of that Aemilius who had twice been consul and twice had celebrated a triumph, and she was not ashamed of her husband’s poverty, but admired the virtue that kept him poor. Brethren and kinsmen of the present day, however, unless zones and rivers and walls divide their inheritances and wide tracts of land separate them from one another, are continually quarrelling. These, then, are considerations and examples which history presents to those who are willing to profit by them.

6 Aemilius, then, having been appointed consul, made an expedition against the Ligurians along the Alps, whom some call also Ligustines, a warlike and spirited folk, and one whose proximity to the Romans was teaching it skill in war. For they occupy the extremities of Italy that are bounded by the Alps, and those parts of the Alps themselves that are washed by the Tuscan sea and face Africa, and they are mingled with Gauls and the Iberians of the coast. At that time they had also laid hold of the sea with piratical craft, and were robbing and destroying merchandise, sailing out as far as the pillars of Hercules. Accordingly, when Aemilius came against them, they withstood him with a force of forty thousand men; but he, with eight thousand men all told, engaged their fivefold numbers, and after routing them and shutting them up in their walled towns, gave them humane and conciliatory terms; for it was not the wish of the Romans to extirpate altogether the Ligurian nation, since it lay like a barrier or bulwark against the movements of the Gauls, who were always threatening to descend upon Italy. Accordingly, putting faith in Aemilius, they delivered their ships and cities into his hands. Their cities he restored to them, either doing them no harm at all, or simply razing their walls; but he took away all their ships, and left them no boat that carried more than three oars; he also restored to safety those whom they had taken captive by land or sea, and these were found to be many, both Romans and foreigners. Such, then, were the conspicuous achievements of this first consulship.

Afterwards he often made it clear that he was desirous of a second consulship, and once actually announced his candidacy, but when he was passed by and not elected, he made no further efforts to obtain the office, giving his attention to his duties as augur, and training his sons, not only in the nature and ancestral discipline in which he himself had been trained, but also, and with greater ardour, in that of the Greeks. For not only the grammarians and philosophers and rhetoricians, but also the modellers and painters, the overseers of horses and dogs, and the teachers of the art of hunting, by whom the young men were surrounded, were Greeks. And the father, unless some public business prevented, would always be present at their studies and exercises, for he was now become the fondest parent in Rome.

7 As to public affairs, that was the period when the Romans were at war with Perseus, ​ the king of Macedonia, and were taking their generals to task because their inexperience and cowardice led them to conduct their campaigns ridiculously and disgracefully, and to suffer more harm than they inflicted. For the people which had just forced Antiochus, surnamed the Great, to retire from the rest of Asia, driven him over the Taurus mountains, and shut him up in Syria, where he had been content to buy terms with a payment of fifteen thousand talents; which had a little while before set the Greeks free from Macedonia by crushing Philip in Thessaly; and which had utterly subdued Hannibal, to whom no king was comparable for power or boldness; this people thought it unendurable that they should be compelled to contend with Perseus as though he were an even match for Rome, when for a long time already he had carried on his war against them with the poor remains of his father’s routed army; for they were not aware that after his defeat Philip had made the Macedonian armies far most vigorous and warlike than before. This situation I will briefly explain from the beginning.

8 Antigonus, who was the most powerful of Alexander’s generals and successors, and acquired for himself and his line the title of King, had a son Demetrius, and his son was Antigonus surnamed Gonatas. His son in turn was Demetrius, who, after reigning himself for a short time, died, leaving a son Philip still in his boyhood. The leading Macedonians, fearing the anarchy which might result, called in Antigonus, a cousin of the dead king, and married him to Philip’s mother, calling him first regent and general, and then, finding his rule moderate and conducive to the general good, giving him the title of King. He received the surname of Doson, which implied that he was given to promising but did not perform his engagements. After him Philip succeeded to the throne, and, though still a youth, flowered out in the qualities which most distinguish kings, and led men to believe that he would restore Macedonia to her ancient dignity, and that he, and he alone, would check the power of Rome, which already extended over all the world. But after he was defeated in a great battle at Scotussa by Titus Flamininus, ​ for a time he took a humble posture, entrusted all his interests to the Romans, and was content to come off with a moderate fine. Afterwards, however, his condition oppressed him, and thinking that to reign by the favour of the Romans was more the part of a captive satisfied with meat and drink than of a man possessed of courage and spirit, he turned his thoughts to war, and made his arrangements for it in secrecy and with cunning. Thus, those of his cities which lay on the highroads and the seashore he suffered to become weak and rather desolate, so as to awaken contempt, while in the interior he was collecting a large force; he also filled the fortresses, strongholds, and cities of the interior with an abundance of arms, money, and men fit for service, in this way preparing himself for the war, and yet keeping it hidden away, as it were, and concealed. Thus, he had arms to equip thirty thousand men laid up in reserve, eight million bushels of grain had been immured in his strongholds, and a sum of money sufficient to maintain for ten years ten thousand mercenaries fighting in defence of the country.

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