Ancient History & Civilisation


All dates are BC unless stated otherwise. Dates expressed in the form 323/2 refer to the single administrative year running from, in this case, summer 323 to summer 322.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Artaxerxes

Antelami, V., Manfredini, M., Orsi, D. P. (eds.), Plutarco. Le Vite di Arato e di Artaserse (Milan: Mondadori, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1987).

Binder, C., Plutarchs Vita des Artaxerxes: ein historischer Kommentar (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008).

Mossman, J., ‘A life unparalleled: Artaxerxes’, in N. Humble (ed.), Plutarch’s Lives: Parallelism and Purpose (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2010), pp. 145–68.


Briant, P., From Cyrus to Alexander: History of the Persian Empire (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2002).

Cook, J. M., The Persian Empire (London: Dent, 1983).

Hornblower, S., ‘Persia’, in CAH vi, pp. 45–96.

Kuhrt, A., The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period (London: Routledge, 2007).

Waterfield, R., Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia and the End of the Golden Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Notes to the Life of Artaxerxes

1.     Artaxerxes: Artaxerxes I, who reigned from 465 to 424/3 BC.

2.     Xerxes: Xerxes I, who reigned from 486 to 465 BC. He led a failed attempt to conquer Greece in 480.

3.     Darius: Darius II, illegitimate son of Artaxerxes I, reigned from 423 to 405 BC. He came to the throne after a power-struggle with his brother, Sogdianus.

4.     For Darius and Parysatis had four sons … Oxathres: This sentence is almost a verbatim quotation of the opening of Xenophon’s Anabasis, but Xenophon mentioned only two sons, and Plutarch corrects him.

5.     Cyrus … Persian word for sun: This is almost certainly incorrect, though the sun was important in Persian court rituals. The earlier Cyrus is Cyrus II the Great, who ruled from about 559 to 530 BC and founded the Persian empire.

6.     Deinon: A Greek historian of the fourth century BC, who wrote a history of Persia. His work does not survive, though Plutarch refers to it often in Artaxerxes.

7.     Ctesias: A Greek who served at the Persian court under Artaxerxes. He wrote a long work on Persia, famous in antiquity for portraying the Persian court as rife with intrigue, jealousy and cruelty (see chs. 6, 11, 13, 18).

8.     expectation … successor to the throne: Cyrus had since 407 or 408 been supreme commander in western Asia Minor, where he outranked the existing local Persian governors, including Tissaphernes, satrap of Sardis, and Pharnabazus, satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia. He pursued a policy of support for Sparta in its war with Athens and provided her with much-needed financial aid (see Xenophon, Hellenica 1.4.1–7 and Anabasis 1.9.7).

9.     she had given birth … a king: Plutarch is alluding to a story recorded in Herodotus 7.3: Demaratus, the exiled king of Sparta, advised Xerxes to argue that he should take the throne rather than his older brother, because, unlike his brother, he had been born after his father, Darius I, had become king. Herodotus adds, ‘But it seems to me that he would have become king even without this advice, for Atossa [Xerxes’ mother] held complete sway.’

10.   Artaxerxes: Artaxerxes II, the subject of this Life, acceded to the throne in 405 BC.

11.   commander of the coastal provinces: That is, Cyrus’ earlier command in western Asia Minor was confirmed.

12.   warrior goddess … liken to Athena: Anahita, whose worship seems to have come to special prominence under Artaxerxes.

13.   figs … terebinth … sour milk: The food taken at this initiation rite was perhaps meant to symbolize the frugal, pastoral life of the Persians of old under the elder Cyrus (cf. Strabo 15.3.18). Terebinth is probably the fruit of the Pistacia atlantica (not to be confused with the modern pistachio).

14.   Persian education: Described by Strabo as consisting in, among other things, archery, throwing the javelin, riding and speaking the truth (15.3.18–19). Xenophon imagines the young Cyrus as excelling in these lessons and in self-control and hunting (Cyropaedia 1.2; cf. also Anabasis 1.9).

15.   the Magi: Perhaps originally a Median tribe, who appear in Greek sources as Persian teachers and advisers, experts in Persian lore and in interpreting dreams. They seem also to have had a religious function. The figures Plutarch here calls priests are probably to be seen as Magi.

16.   revenue … for his daily meals: Satraps levied a tax to supply them with food, which they then in turn used to feed troops and retainers and reward subordinates (see n. 59).

17.   as Xenophon has reported: Anabasis 1.1.6–11. Xenophon himself served as a mercenary commander with Cyrus on his ill-fated expedition to unseat Artaxerxes.

18.   gave greater honours … deserved: The giving and receiving of gifts was central to the ideology of Persian kingship. The gifts of the king, conferred as rewards for services rendered, were expected to outdo in value the service so rewarded; on the other hand, tribute or tax was often seen in terms of gift-giving.

19.   when a certain Omises … offered it to him: These two anecdotes also appear in Aelian’s Historical miscellany 1.31–3, where he comments that it was a rule that peasants present the king with gifts when he travelled, according to their means.

20.   darics: Persian gold coins, so called probably because they were thought to have been first minted by Darius the Great.

21.   king’s robe … golden necklaces … not permitted: Robes and jewellery of different colours and kinds both bestowed and declared status and were frequently given as rewards or tokens of favour by Persian kings. The king’s own attire, including his robe (kandys), was, of course, distinctive, hence the onlookers’ anger at Tiribazus’ donning of it.

22.   with the curtains open … great affection by the masses: The issue here may be that Stateira could receive petitions and pleas. Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.3.19, describes petitions being brought to Cyrus as he travelled. For the usual picture of female seclusion while travelling, see Artaxerxes 27.

23.   dispatch-roll: A narrow strip of leather, called in Greek a scytale, wound round a stick and used by the Spartans for sending messages; the recipient would have to have a stick of the same size to read the message (see Lysander 19).

24.   Clearchus: Plutarch here presents Clearchus as the official Spartan representative, but both Xenophon (Anabasis 2.6) and Diodorus (14.12) claim that, on the contrary, Clearchus was a rebel under sentence of death; Xenophon (1.4) and Diodorus (14.19) name the official Spartan commander as one Cheirisophus. Clearchus commanded the Greek mercenaries in Cyrus’ pay.

25.   Cyrus … expedition: Cyrus began his expedition in spring 401; the battle of Cunaxa took place in the same year. Cyrus was born after his father acceded to the throne in 424 and so was now at most twenty-three years old.

26.   this event … by Ctesias: See Artaxerxes 19.

27.   ditch … Babylon itself: Xenophon describes these defences in Anabasis 1.7.14–17, which linked up with an older construction that he calls the Median wall. Artaxerxes had in effect pursued a scorched-earth policy up to this point. Xenophon describes Cyrus’ confidence that, having passed the ditch, the king would not attack.

28.   take refuge in Persia: I.e., withdraw south-eastwards, into the heart of the old Persian empire, in what is now southern Iran.

29.   scythed chariots: I.e., with scythes attached to the axles and underneath (see Xenophon, Anabasis 1.8.10). In Hellenica 4.1.17, Xenophon describes an incident in 395 when a charge by two hundred Persian scythed chariots scattered Greek infantry and left them prey to cavalry.

30.   Xenophon’s account: Anabasis1.8.

31.   actually happening before their eyes: The notion that events might be made to appear ‘as though actually happening before the eyes’ was standard in Greek discussions of vividness of writing.

32.   eunuchs: This term is used by Greek writers in two senses: either for castrated men, who served as palace servants, or for certain high-ranking officials, who bore the title but may not have been castrated.

33.   King’s Eye: Apparently a high-ranking Persian official who observed and reported on the satraps and other officials. The term is known only from Greek sources.

34.   foul, dirty water … tasted so pleasant: Usually the king only drank water from one river, the Choaspes, and it was boiled before use; supplies of it in silver vessels were taken along wherever he went, including on campaign (see, e.g., Herodotus 1.188).

35.   Persian law: Strabo 15.3.17 records in his discussion of Persia that ‘They are ruled by hereditary kings, and anyone disobedient has his head and arms cut off and his body cast out’.

36.   Xenophon … much higher: Anabasis (1.7) talks of Artaxerxes’ forces numbering 900,000, the figure which Plutarch uses in Artaxerxes 7.

37.   dagger: Akinakes, a long dagger or short-sword with decorated scabbard. It was awarded by the king as a sign of favour, and worn by the king or noblemen.

38.   there is truth in wine: A well-known Greek proverbial saying, sometimes in the form ‘There is truth in wine and in children’, i.e., when men drink they tend to be less guarded in what they say – as are children (see, e.g., Alcaeus, fragment 366 Voigt; Theocritus, Idylls 29.1; Plato, Symposium 217e).

39.   guardian spirit: Plutarch uses the Greek term daimon (‘espirit’, ‘god’) to represent a Persian term which implies the good fortune or splendour of the king. Athenaeus 252b also suggests that Persians might do obeisance to the king’s good fortune at banquets, even setting a separate place at table for it.

40.   tricked by Tissaphernes: Xenophon in Anabasis 2.5 describes how, after Cyrus’ defeat at Cunaxa, Clearchus and other Greek commanders who had marched with Cyrus were tricked into coming to the Persian camp under truce, and there captured.

41.   a comb: The Spartans were famous for their long hair, which they combed before battle (see Herodotus 7.208 and Plutarch, Lycurgus 22).

42.   Caryatids dancing: Caryae was a town near Sparta, where maidens danced in honour of Artemis (Pausanias, Guide to Greece 3.10).

43.   managed to escape: The story of the escape of the surviving Greek forces from Persian territory is told by Xenophon, who participated himself, in Books 3–7 of the Anabasis.

44.   arrogant façade with no substance: Plutarch looks forward here to Alexander the Great’s invasion in 334 BC. He may be influenced by Isocrates (Panegyric 145–9), who used the fact that the Greek forces hired by Cyrus were able to make it back home safely to argue that a Greek invasion of Asia would be successful. Arrian in hisAnabasis(2.7.8–9) puts the same thought in Alexander’s mouth in a speech to his men before the battle of Issus. Cf. Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.7 and 26, and Polybius 3.6.10–11.

45.   Thibron … Greek cities: Thibron commanded Spartan forces in Asia Minor from 400 to 399 and Dercyllidas from 399 to 396, when he was relieved by Agesilaus. The battle referred to here took place at Sardis in spring 395 (see Agesilaus 10; Xenophon, Hellenica 3.4.20–24; Diodorus 14.80; Hellenica Oxyrhynchia 11).

46.   Timocrates of Rhodes … into turmoil: Timocrates arrived in Greece in 396. The following year hostilities broke out between Sparta on the one side and an alliance of Athens, Thebes, Corinth and various smaller states on the other. The funds distributed by Persia may have played a role, but the most important cause of the war, known to modern historians as the Corinthian War, was resentment at Spartan aggression.

47.   recall Agesilaus from Asia: Agesilaus, king of Sparta between 400 and 359 BC, was on campaign against Persia in Asia Minor from 396 to 394. On his return to Greece, he won a strategically indecisive victory over Sparta’s Greek enemies at Coroneia in Boeotia in 394 (see Agesilaus 6–19).

48.   Conon … sea-battle at Aegospotami: The Athenian fleet had been annihilated at Aegospotami by the Spartans in 405, an event which led directly to Athens’ surrender the following year. Conon, one of the Athenian commanders, escaped with a few ships to Cyprus (Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.29); there he was appointed commander of the Persian fleet in 398 or 397 (Diodorus 14.39).

49.   sea-battle off Cnidus … at sea: In 394.

50.   the Peace of Antalcidas: Also known as the King’s Peace, concluded in 387/6. The treaty involved the surrender of the Greek cities in Asia Minor to Persia, and stipulated that all Greek cities should be autonomous. Crucially, this did not apply to Sparta’s control of Messenia, and the Peace in effect underwrote Spartan dominance of mainland Greece.

51.   abandon to Artaxerxes … islands off the Asian coast: This is exaggerated for effect. As Plutarch knew from Xenophon, Hellenica 5.1.31, of the islands only Cyprus and the small island of Clazomenae were to be under Persian control.

52.   danced away … Callicratidas: Leonidas, king of Sparta (490–480 BC), led the Greek defence against the Persian invasion of 480, and died fighting at Thermopylae. Callicratidas, as commander in the Aegean in 406/5, famously refused to pay court to Cyrus; he died in the battle of Arginusae against Athens (Lysander 5–7). The phrase ‘danced away’ alludes to Herodotus 6.129, where Hippocleides of Athens is said to have ‘danced away’ his chance of marriage with the daughter of the tyrant of Sicyon by his unbecoming conduct at the marriage banquet. Antalcidas’ conduct was, it is implied, equally unbecoming.

53.   battle of Leuctra … Spartans lost their hegemony: Sparta was decisively defeated by Thebes at Leuctra in Boeotia in 371, a blow from which she never recovered (see Pelopidas 20–23). ‘Medizing’ was a common Greek term meaning ‘collaborate with the Medes’ (i.e. with the Persians). ‘Laconizing’ was coined on the basis of ‘medize’, and meant either ‘imitate the Spartans’ or, as here, ‘support’ them.

54.   Antalcidas travelled … to help the Spartans: It is not clear whether Antalcidas’ mission to Persia was related to the conference of 367/6 (described in the next chapter) or, more likely, whether this is a separate, later mission to be dated to 361. Agesilaus’ mercenary service in Egypt (Agesilaus 28, 36–40), which took place in the context of Sparta’s backing of the so-called Satraps’ Revolt, certainly took place after 367, when Persia had switched its support to Thebes.

55.   ephors: The five ephors were annually elected Spartan officials, who had wide powers which included negotiating with foreign states and the ability to prosecute other officials in trials over which they presided (see, e.g., Agesilaus 5).

56.   travelled up to the king: Sparta, Athens and Thebes all sent envoys to Persia in 367; the terms of the draft treaty, effectively dictated by Persia, were favourable to Thebes. See Pelopidas 30, where some of the same material is repeated, and Xenophon, Hellenica 7.1.33–8.

57.   obeisance: Persian court ritual involved proskynesis (‘obeisance’) before the king, which seems, depending on relative social status, to have ranged from a kiss to a bow to full prostration (Herodotus 1.134). The Greeks interpreted this (wrongly) as worship, such as one should do only before a god (cf. Alexander 45).

58.   Timagoras the Athenian: Athenian envoy to Persia in 367; his fellow-envoy Leon accused him of treason and corruption on their return to Athens.

59.   Artaxerxes was so pleased … banquets sent to him: Persian kings conferred and displayed status and favour by giving gifts, sometimes of great value. High-ranking officials might be invited to eat at the king’s table; food, sometimes in massive quantities, might also be sent to those favoured, along with valuable accoutrements.

60.   executed Tissaphernes … which his mother … seconded: This was in 395 (see Xenophon, Hellenica 2.4.25, and Diodorus 14.80.6–8).

61.   waged war on Egypt … one another: Egypt was in constant revolt throughout Artaxerxes’ reign. In 374/3 the Persians attempted to retake it and Athens sent its commander Iphicrates to fight on the Persian side at the head of a force of mercenaries. Note that Plutarch does not follow chronological order here.

62.   expedition against the Cadusii … cavalry: In 385. The Cadusii lived to the south-west of the Caspian Sea. They provided Artaxerxes with troops at Cunaxa (Artaxerxes 9). Persian kings frequently campaigned against them, but this may have been more about reaffirming alliances than putting down revolts. Diodorus (15.8.5) mentions an expedition in 385, but there may have been several in Artaxerxes’ reign.

63.   Tiribazus … overlooked: After his service at Cunaxa (see chs. 7 and 10), Tiribazus had been commander of Persian forces in Asia Minor in the late 390s and then in Cyprus. However, according to Diodorus 15.8, shortly before the war with the Cadusii, an accusation against him by Orontes over his conduct in Cyprus had led to his fall from favour.

64.   parks: Persian royal parks (in Greek, paradeisoi) were used for hunting and recreation, and contained lodges at which the king stayed when on journeys. Parks and their trees were considered inviolable.

65.   fifty years old: This seems to date Darius’ designation as successor to around 375. However, the story that follows, which concerns a concubine captured soon after Cunaxa, suggests an earlier date.

66.   wear upright the so-called ‘tiara’: The tiara (kitaris) was a sort of turban, usually worn flat, but worn upright and pointed by the Persian king (see Xenophon, Anabasis 2.5.23 and Cyropaedia 8.3.13, and Plutarch, Themistocles 29). Darius is here in effect appointed king-designate.

67.   Aspasia: In Pericles 24, Plutarch says that her real name was Milto but that Cyrus named her Aspasia after Pericles’ famous mistress of that name. Her story is told in much greater depth by Aelian, Historical miscellany 12.1.

68.   royal concubines … conveyed: Plutarch makes this point in Themistocles 26, where he describes the covered carriages used to prevent concubines from being seen while travelling. Cf. Artaxerxes 5 where Stateira does not travel in the seclusion Plutarch here describes. In actual fact, aristocratic Persian women probably had more freedom than Greek prejudices allowed.

69.   360 concubines of surpassing beauty: The figure for the number of royal concubines is recorded in, e.g., Diodorus 17.77. The number 360 (sometimes 365) seems to have had special significance in Persian religion, in which the sun played a central role.

70.   Artemis … whom they call Anaïtis: Anahita (see n. 12).

71.   Tiribazus … impetuous: See Artaxerxes 5.

72.   young Darius: Darius can only be called young in comparison with his father; in Artaxerxes 26 he is said to be fifty years old.

73.   ‘Swiftly treads persuasion unto evil conduct’: From an unknown Sophoclean tragedy (TrGF IV fragment 870).

74.   For smooth … desire: Probably an allusion to Hesiod, Works and days 288.

75.   Cypriote Aphrodite … blameless: This seems to be part of a poetic quotation, perhaps from an epic poem.

76.   Oromazes: I.e., Ahura-Mazda (also Ahurumazda, Auramazda), the supreme god of the Persians.

77.   had lived ninety-four years and reigned for sixty-two : Plutarch’s figures seem to be taken from Deinon (see pseudo-Lucian, On long lives 15) and are incorrect, as Artaxerxes ascended to the throne in 405 and died in late 359 or early 358, a reign of forty-six years. But he may be counting from the date when he was designated future king by his father (cf. Artaxerxes 26).

78.   Ochus: Artaxerxes III Ochus, who reigned from 359/8 until 338 BC.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Pelopidas

Buckler, J., ‘Plutarch on the trials of Pelopidas and Epaminondas (369 BC)’, Classical Philology 73 (1978), pp. 36–42.

Georgiadou, A., ‘Bias and character-portrayal in Plutarch’s Lives of Pelopidas and Marcellus’, ANRW 2.33.6 (1992), pp. 4222–57.

Georgiadou, A., Plutarch’s Pelopidas: A Historical and Philological Commentary (Beiträge zur klassischen Altertumskunde 105) (Stuttgart and Leipzig: Teubner, 1997).

Pelling, C. B. R., ‘Parallel narratives: the liberation of Thebes in De Genio Socratis and in Pelopidas’, in A. G. Nikolaidis (ed.), The Unity of Plutarch’s Work (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2008), pp. 539–56.

Westlake, H. D., ‘The Sources of Plutarch’s Pelopidas’, CQ 33 (1939), pp. 11–22.


Buck, R. J., Boiotia and the Boiotian League, 432–371BC (Edmonton, Alta.: University of Alberta Press, 1994).

Buckler, J., The Theban Hegemony, 371–362 (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1980).

Buckler, J., and Beck, H., Central Greece and the Politics of Power in the Fourth Century BC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Cawkwell, G., ‘Epaminondas and Thebes’, CQNS 22 (1972), pp. 254–78.

Munn, M. H., ‘Thebes and Central Greece’, in L. A. Tritle (ed.), The Greek World in the Fourth Century: From the Fall of the Athenian Empire to the Successors of Alexander (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 66–106.

Roy, J., ‘Thebes in the 360s BC’, in CAH vi, pp. 187–208.

Seager, R. J., ‘The King’s Peace and the Second Athenian Confederacy’, in CAH vi, pp. 156–186.

Notes to the Prologue to the Lives of Pelopidas and Marcellus

1.     elder Cato: M. Porcius Cato, or ‘Cato the Censor’ (234–149 BC).

2.     Antigonus’ soldiers: It is not clear which Antigonus is intended here: Antigonus I Monophthalmus (‘The One-eyed’, c. 382–301 BC), general of Alexander the Great, major participant in the wars following Alexander’s death, and father of Demetrius Poliorcetes; or Antigonus II Gonatas (c. 320–239), Demetrius’ son, who established the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia. The precise identification is irrelevant for the point of the story: true courage does not consist in being reckless with one’s life because one has little desire to go on living.

3.     Sybaris: Greek city in southern Italy, often used as a byword for luxury and soft-living.

4.     Not seeing … honour: Plutarch quotes the same epitaph in his Consolation to Apollonius 110c. The location of the monument on which this epitaph was inscribed, and its author, are unknown.

5.     Iphicrates: Athenian general active in the first half of the fourth century. He was famous for employing light troops much more aggressively than had been customary (Xenophon, Hellenica 4.5.11–18; Diodorus 15.44).

6.     Callicratidas … ‘Sparta … does not depend on one man!’: Callicratidas was a Spartan commander who died in the sea-battle off Arginusae in 406. A slightly different version of the incident mentioned here is given by Xenophon (Hellenica 1.6.22): the helmsman of his ship warned Callicratidas not to fight while outnumbered; he replied that his death would cause Sparta no harm, but flight would be a disgrace. In Spartan sayings 122e–f Plutarch has both the helmsman and the seer warn him, and he actually hands over command to a subordinate so that he can fight. More information on Callicratidas is given in Lysander 6–7.

7.     Antigonus the old … sea-battle off Andros: This is almost certainly Antigonus II Gonatas. Plutarch tells the same story about this king in Sayings of kings and commanders 183c–d, though there talking of a battle off Cos (Antigonus’ defeat of the fleet of Ptolemy II either in c. 261 in the Chremonidean War or in c. 255). It is possible that there was also a battle off Andros, but this may well be a mistake.

8.     Chares … great force: Chares and Timotheus were both successful fourth-century Athenian generals. Timotheus, acting in support of the rebel satrap Ariobarzanes, took Samos and expelled a Persian garrison after a ten-month siege in 366/5.

Notes to the Life of Pelopidas

9.     Most rich men … pleasures: The saying is from a lost work of Aristotle (fragment 56 Rose). Plutarch seems to draw on the same passage in his On the love of wealth 527a.

10.   ‘Abundant … pride’: Suppliant women 861Ó2. The quotation is not merely ornamental. In the play Adrastus is describing Capaneus’ character as he stands over Capaneus’ corpse: Capaneus died in battle, just as Pelopidas will. Adrastus continues in words which, Plutarch implies, might be applicable to Pelopidas too: ‘He was a true friend to his friends, whether they were present or absent … He had a guileless character, was approachable in speech, and behaved with moderation to servants and citizens’ (867–71).

11.   Themistocles and Aristides … Cimon and Pericles … Nicias and Alcibiades: Pairs of fifth-century BC Athenian generals and statesmen who famously clashed with each other; Plutarch wrote Lives of them all. He expands on the importance of harmony and cooperation among statesmen in his treatise Political advice.

12.   campaign at Mantineia: Presumably in 385, when Sparta attacked Mantineia to punish it for not providing adequate support in the Corinthian War; the city was broken up and its democracy dismantled (Xenophon, Hellenica 5.2; Pausanias, Guide to Greece 9.13.1).

13.   Phoebidas … with a body of troops: Phoebidas was on his way to northern Greece to campaign against the city of Olynthus in the Chalcide in 382.

14.   the Cadmeia: The acropolis of Thebes.

15.   festival of the Thesmophoria … seized the acropolis: The Thesmophoria was a festival in honour of the goddess Demeter and was celebrated exclusively by women. Xenophon, Hellenica 5.2.29, says that Phoebidas’ coup took place in the summer (of 382), and that the acropolis was deserted except for the women celebrating the festival.

16.   deprive Phoebidas of his command … approving the offence: Plutarch makes the same point in Agesilaus 23 (see also Xenophon, Hellenica 5.2.32; Diodorus 15.20). Phoebidas was in fact later appointed harmost, or governor, of Thespiae, where he was killed (ch. 15).

17.   jointly responsible … on their way to attack the tyrants: In 403 the Athenian Thrasybulus had taken refuge with a small group of supporters on Theban territory. It was from here that he launched the expedition which led to the unseating of the so-called Thirty Tyrants, the oligarchs imposed upon Athens by the Spartans.

18.   no Boeotian should see or hear them: I.e., the Athenian exiles should be allowed to operate from Boeotian territory against the Spartan-backed oligarchy in Athens without hindrance from the Thebans or other Boeotians.

19.   Thriasian plain: The plain north-west of Athens on the direct route to Thebes.

20.   set out: Winter 379/8. Plutarch gives a longer narrative of the liberation of Thebes in his On the sign of Socrates.

21.   This phrase has become a proverb … to this day: Plutarch mentions Archias’ remark in On the sign of Socrates 596f and Table talk 619e. It is not found elsewhere.

22.   women’s gowns … garlands of pine and fir which shaded their faces: Garlands were often worn for parties. In On the sign of Socrates 595d, Plutarch speaks of two groups of conspirators: those disguised as women and those dressed for a party.

23.   Boeotarch: An elected federal official, who commanded the Boeotian army and served for one year. At this period there were probably seven in number.

24.   liberation of Athens: See ch. 6.

25.   invaded Boeotia: In winter 379/8.

26.   capture Piraeus: Sphodrias’ attack on Piraeus took place in 378. Plutarch describes it in more detail in Agesilaus 24. See also Xenophon’s Hellenica 5.4.

27.   accepted the alliance … to revolt: Plutarch is here referring to the Second Athenian Confederacy, a network of alliances begun early in the 370s and aimed at combating Spartan power (see Phocion, n. 20).

28.   the Sacred Band: An elite, professional Theban infantry unit, three hundred strong, formed soon after the liberation of Thebes (see ch. 18).

29.   battle of Tegyra: In 375.

30.   Orchomenus: In Boeotia, like Tegyra. It was often antipathetic to Thebes and now resisted Theban domination of the newly re-formed Boeotian League.

31.   battalions: Morai, a Spartan term for the six units into which the Spartan army was divided, each commanded by a polemarch (see the next chapter and Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans 11).

32.   Leto … between two trees: As in the story of the birth of Apollo and Artemis on the island of Delos (see Callimachus, Hymn to Delos 210, 262).

33.   dragon Python and the giant Tityus: Legends had it that the giant Tityus was sent by Hera to kill Leto after she had given birth to Apollo and Artemis, and that Apollo killed the dragon Python when he founded his oracle at Delphi. Plutarch discusses the second story at On the decline of oracles 417f–418d.

34.   a trophy: A display of captured weapons and armour set up by a victorious army on the battlefield.

35.   Eurotas … Babyce and Cnacion: The Eurotas was the river of Sparta; Babyce and Cnacion may have been tributaries of it (see Lycurgus 6).

36.   That clans … aid one another: Homer, Iliad 2.363. Plutarch also quotes Pammenes’ criticism of the Homeric line at Table talk 618d and Dialogue on love 761b. Pammenes was an important Theban general, active in the period after Leuctra.

37.   Aristotle says: In a lost work, perhaps his Eroticus (this is fragment 97 Rose).

38.   ‘inspired by God’: Plato, Symposium 179a and Phaedrus 255b.

39.   battle of Chaeronea: In 338, when Philip of Macedon inflicted a crushing defeat on Thebes and Athens (see Demosthenes 19–20, Alexander 9).

40.   passion of Laius … Thebes: Laius was a mythical king of Thebes, and father of Oedipus. One tradition had him fall in love with Chrysippus, the son of Pelops.

41.   common peace with the rest of Greece: Concluded at a conference in Sparta in the summer of 371. Thebes was excluded from the treaty because, against Spartan demands, Epaminondas insisted that he was representing Boeotia and not merely the city of Thebes. The Spartan invasion of Boeotia was aimed at breaking up the Boeotian League and punishing Thebes (see Agesilaus 27–8).

42.   Menoeceus … Salamis: The sacrifices of Menoeceus and Macaria are related in Euripides’ Phoenician women and Children of Heracles respectively. It is not clear who the Pherecydes mentioned here is. Leonidas died at the battle of Thermopylae in 480. Themistocles’ sacrifice of Persian youths was said to have taken place shortly before the battle of Salamis in the same year. Plutarch records the story in Themistocles 13, where he ascribes it to Phanias of Lesbos, and Aristides 9; Herodotus does not mention it.

43.   Artemis demanded his daughter as a sacrifice … ingloriously: See Agesilaus 6, though there Plutarch does not attribute the ultimate failure of Agesilaus’ expedition to Asia (396–394) to his failure to sacrifice a virgin.

44.   when the Thebans invaded the Peloponnese: Winter 370/69.

45.   united the whole of Arcadia into one state: The Arcadian League, a federation of various Arcadian cities, including Mantineia and Tegea, which was set up after Leuctra.

46.   freed the territory of Messenia … Ithome: Messenia had been subjugated by the Spartans in the eighth century BC, and its inhabitants were forced as helots to work the land for their Spartan masters. The liberation of Messenia, which deprived Sparta of a large proportion of its fertile land, was a decisive blow from which Sparta never fully recovered. The city of Messene was built on Mt Ithome, scene of several attempts in the previous centuries to throw off Spartan rule.

47.   Cenchreae: The port of Corinth situated on the Saronic Gulf. The Athenians, who had made an alliance with Sparta soon after Leuctra, tried, perhaps half-heartedly, to block the Boeotian route back to the Peloponnese (see Xenophon, Hellenica 6.5.51–2).

48.   Pherae: City in eastern Thessaly. Jason, the first tyrant of Pherae, had dominated much of Thessaly. His assassination in 370, and the subsequent seizure of power by his nephew Alexander of Pherae, had thrown the region into confusion.

49.   Epaminondas was fully occupied in the Peloponnese: In 369.

50.   Alexander, the king of Macedon: Alexander II of Macedon succeeded his father Amyntas in 370. His brother-in-law, Ptolemy of Alorus, led an uprising against him and had him murdered, probably in 368.

51.   Philip: Later Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

52.   After this: That is, in the following year, i.e., 368.

53.   dispatched Epaminondas with another army: In 367.

54.   ‘Tychon’: Luck.

55.   ‘He cowered … feathers droop’: The reference is to cock-fighting. The author of this iambic trimeter (TrGF I 3 fragment 17 = TrGF II fragment 408a) may be Phrynichus (see Aristophanes, Wasps 1490). Plutarch also quotes it in Alcibiades 4 and Dialogue on love 762e.

56.   dispatched Pelopidas on a similar mission: In winter 367/6 (see Artaxerxes 22).

57.   Mount Taygetus: The Taygetus range formed Sparta’s western boundary and the limit of its power after the loss of Messenia.

58.   made war … for the possession of Susa and Ecbatana: An exaggerated way of talking about Agesilaus’ campaign in Asia in 396–394; it was not aimed at overthrowing Persia but at excluding Persian power from the seaboard of Asia Minor.

59.   Antalcidas: Chief Spartan negotiator at the conference of 387/6 where the King’s Peace, or Peace of Antalcidas, which was highly favourable to Sparta, was agreed. The incident described here probably relates to that earlier conference (see Artaxerxes 22).

60.   the Greeks should be left independent … Messene … king’s hereditary friends: This meant the Greeks of the mainland and Aegean islands not those of Asia Minor or Cyprus, which were to be under Persian control. This Theban proposal was in effect to renew the Peace of Antalcidas, with the crucial difference that it insisted on the independence of Messenia, as well as the beaching of the Athenian navy. It was not ratified by Sparta or Athens.

61.   marched at once against Alexander: Pelopidas marched against Alexander of Pherae for the last time in 364.

62.   the Thessalians … went further than this: In fact the Thessalians set up, perhaps after his death, a statue of Pelopidas at Delphi, the base of which survives (Harding 49).

63.   Philistus: Sicilian Greek historian. His work is now lost, though it was regarded with great respect in antiquity. He was a supporter of Dionysius I and II of Syracuse, the former of whom died in 367 (see Dion, esp. 35–6).

64.   Alexander the Great, when Hephaestion died … former beauty: See Alexander 72.

65.   To die in the hour of triumph … beyond the reach of fortune: Plutarch here alludes to the Greek saying, ‘call no man happy until his death’. It was given its most famous expression in Herodotus 1.30–32, where Solon declares the most blessed man of all to be Tellus of Athens, who, after living a happy life, died fighting bravely on the battle-field and was buried at public expense where he fell.

66.   Diagoras … Olympus: Diagoras of Rhodes was an athlete, and the subject of Pindar’s Seventh Olympian ode. Mount Olympus in northern Greece (to be distinguished from Olympia in the Peloponnese) was held to be the home of the gods; the Spartan meant, ‘You cannot become a god’.

67.   suffered a fate to match his own lawless crimes: Alexander of Pherae was murdered in 358.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Dion

Brenk, F. E., In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in Plutarch’s Moralia and Lives (Leiden: Brill, 1977), pp. 106–11.

De Blois, L., ‘Political concepts in Plutarch’s Dion and Timoleon’, Ancient Society 28 (1997), pp. 209–24.

Dillon, J., ‘Dion and Brutus: philosopher kings adrift in a hostile world’, in A. G. Nikolaidis (ed.), The unity of Plutarch’s Work (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), pp. 351–64.

Dreher, M., and Scardigli, B. (eds.), Plutarco. Vite Parallele: Dione–Bruto (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2000).

Pelling, C. B. R., ‘Do Plutarch’s politicians never learn?’, in L. De Blois, J. Bons, T. Kessels and D. M. Schenkeveld (eds.), The Statesman in Plutarch’s Works (Leiden: Brill, 2004), vol. 1, pp. 87–103.

Porter, W. H. (ed.), Plutarch: Life of Dion (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis and Co., 1952).


Finley, M. I., A History of Sicily: Ancient Sicily to the Arab Conquest (London: Chatto and Windus, 1968; rev. edn, 1979), chs. 6–7.

Lintott, A. W., Violence, Civil Strife and Revolution in the Classical City (London: Croom Helm, 1982), ch. 5.

Sanders, L. J., The Legend of Dion (Toronto: Edgar Kent, 2008).

Talbert, R. J. A., ‘The Greeks in Sicily and South Italy’, in L. A. Tritle (ed.), The Greek World in the Fourth Century: From the Fall of the Athenian Empire to the Successors of Alexander (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 167–88.

Westlake, H. D., ‘Dion and Timoleon’, in CAH vi, pp. 592–622.

Notes to the Prologue to the Lives of Dion and Brutus

1.     Sosius Senecio: The dedicatee of the Parallel Lives. He was an important Roman, known to have held the ‘ordinary’ consulship in 99 and 107 AD. Plutarch mentions him in the opening sentences of Theseus and in both the opening and closing sentences of Demosthenes, as well as in several works of the Moralia.

2.     Simonides tells us … Corinthian: Simonides, fragment 572 Page. Simonides (c. 555–467) was one of the most famous Greek poets. His work survives only in fragments, so we do not know the context in which he made this remark. The details about the Trojan War are based on Homer, Iliad 2.570 and 6.145–211.

3.     wisdom and justice must be accompanied by power … substance: A reference to Plato’s theory that good government would only be brought about when philosophers have power (see, e.g., Republic 473c; Epistle 7, 326a–c).

4.     Those who utterly deny the existence of such phenomena … superstition: This is a summary of Epicurean doctrine. Plutarch wrote a treatise entitled On superstition in which he attacks both those overly frightened of the divine and those who do not believe in the divine at all.

5.     warned by the gods of their approaching death … envious spirits themselves: This passage, in which Plutarch seems to accept the existence of malevolent spirits (daimonia), has puzzled scholars, as it does not seem to accord with his views as expressed elsewhere, especially in On the decline of oracles. Phantoms do indeed appear to both Dion (ch. 55) and Brutus (Brutus 36 and 48); in Brutus’ case the phantom predicts his death in the battle of Philippi. But they do not seem to play the role described here, of diverting the two men from virtue. In each passage Plutarch emphasizes the lateness of the hour or the viewer’s lack of sleep, leaving it unclear whether the phenomenon might have been imagined. At any rate, Plutarch uses the notion of the spectres to add an undefined supernatural element to both Lives, as well as perhaps to characterize the emotional state of the two men. See also Alexander 50 and n. 126.

6.     twelfth book: Elsewhere Plutarch says that Demosthenes–Cicero was the fifth book (Demosthenes 3) and Pericles–Fabius the tenth (Pericles 2).

Notes to the Life of Dion

7.     Dionysius the elder … master of Syracuse: In 405. Syracuse had been a democracy until Dionysius made himself tyrant.

8.     eldest son: Dionysius II, who was born c. 396 and later succeeded to the tyranny (ch. 6).

9.     Plato arrived in Sicily: About 388.

10.   Plato himself has written … judgement: Plato, Epistle 7, 327a. A little earlier in the same letter Plato talks of his arrival in Syracuse as having come about ‘possibly by luck, but it seems likely that one of the greater powers was contriving to lay the foundation for what happened with Dion and Syracuse’ (326d–e).

11.   life of the just … misery: A common philosophical doctrine, expounded in, for example, Book 1 of Plato’s Republic.

12.   as a just man … slave: Dionysius thus took Plato’s doctrine that the good man is always happy to its logical extreme. It was in Plutarch’s time a common philosophical conceit that the wise man would be happy, even if he were a slave.

13.   Aegina … at war with Athens: Between 389 and 387; hostilities were ended by the Peace of Antalcidas. Sparta was also at war with Athens in this period.

14.   Gelon: One of the most illustrious of the Greek tyrants of Sicily. He became tyrant of Gela in c. 491 and of Syracuse shortly afterwards, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Carthaginians in 480, which brought him immense prestige. He was succeeded by his brother Hieron.

15.   Gelon … laughing-stock: A pun on Gelon and the Greek word for laughter, gelos.

16.   Timaeus: Timaeus (c. 350–260 BC) was a Sicilian himself (Timoleon 10) and wrote a long work on Sicilian history, which now survives only in quotations in later writers. He was an important source for Diodorus in his Sicilian books and for Plutarch in both Dion and Timoleon. He was critical of tyrants, including the two Dionysii.

17.   Dionysius … died without ever regaining consciousness: In 367.

18.   danger from Carthage: After a long war in the 390s, a peace treaty of 392 had limited Carthaginian dominance to the west of Sicily. Dionysius I led an unsuccessful offensive against Carthage in 368, the year before he died.

19.   ‘adamantine chains’: Perhaps an allusion to Aeschylus’ Prometheus bound 7, where Power gives Hephaestus, the god of fire, the task of keeping Prometheus bound with ‘adamantine chains’. The phrase, which is found also in Diodorus 16.5, may go back to Dionysius himself. He certainly had pretensions as a tragic poet, and was said to have bought the writing-tablet on which Aeschylus composed in the hope of drawing inspiration from it (Lucian, To an uneducated book collector 15). If so, Dionysius I seems to have implicitly compared himself with Hephaestus and presented his task of ruling Syracuse as divinely inspired.

20.   seem offensive … youthful folly: This is what Plato says in Epistle 7, 327b, though he dates the poor reception of Dion’s virtue to before Dionysius I’s death.

21.   guard against stubbornness, the companion of solitude: Plato, Epistle 4, 321b (see also ch. 52). Plutarch also applies Plato’s advice to Coriolanus (Coriolanus 15 and Comparison of Coriolanus and Alcibiades 3), and mentions it in Political advice 808d, where he discusses the importance of a statesman’s helping his friends.

22.   Plato … bravest man alive: See ch. 5.

23.   fatherly mode of government: Possibly an allusion to Plato, Laws 680e.

24.   king … tyrant: Technically, kings were monarchs who came to power constitutionally, while tyrants were monarchs, or the successors of monarchs, who seized power unconstitutionally. But by Plutarch’s period, and already in Plato, the two words were being used in a moral sense: the king was a virtuous monarch, the tyrant a wicked one.

25.   as he has written: Plato, Epistle 7, 328a–c.

26.   theory … action: Plato argued that a monarch, imbued with correct philosophical thinking, would be an ideal ruler (see n. 3).

27.   Philistus: Philistus of Syracuse (c. 430–356 BC) had been exiled in c. 386. He was recalled in the same year that Plato arrived for the second time (367 or 366). He wrote a history of Sicily down to 363 in thirteen books; this has not survived but was highly regarded in antiquity.

28.   Leptines’ wife: Some editors argue that the text here is corrupt, and that Plutarch must mean Leptines’ daughter, who had married Philistus (see Timoleon 15).

29.   when Plato arrived in Sicily: Plato arrived on his second visit in 367 or 366. He stayed until 365.

30.   dust: Geometry was practised by drawing with sand on the floor, as happens, for example, in Plato’s dialogue Meno. Cf. Nicias 12, where some Athenians, before the invasion of Sicily, draw maps of the island in the sand.

31.   Athenians … invaded Sicily … take Syracuse: The Athenians invaded in 415 and were annihilated in 413.

32.   tyranny of Dionysius: Dionysius had greatly extended his power and that of Syracuse during his reign. He controlled most of Sicily except for the small Carthaginian enclave in the west; he also dominated much of the heel and south-eastern coast of Italy and planted colonies across the Adriatic.

33.   ineffable good: This notion may be derived partly from Plato’s Epistle 7, 341b–e, where he talks about the impossibility of expressing his doctrines in words.

34.   put … ashore on the Italian coast: In 366.

35.   demanded that Plato should respond to his love alone … corrupt him: Based partly on Plato, Epistle 7, 330a–b.

36.   war had broken out … summer: Plato was sent away in 365. The war is perhaps that against the Lucanians in southern Italy mentioned in Diodorus 16.5. Plutarch’s source here is Plato, Epistle 3, 317a; Epistle 7, 338a.

37.   Speusippus: Plato’s nephew, who later succeeded his uncle as head of the Academy.

38.   Timon’s Lampoons: Timon of Phlius (c. 320–230) was a sceptic philosopher and poet. In his Lampoons (Silloi) he ridiculed all other philosophers except Pyrrhon, the founder of Scepticism.

39.   staunch ally against the Thebans: Xenophon (Hellenica 7.4.12) talks of Sicilian troops sent by Dionysius to assist the Spartans in 365.

40.   Archytas: Archytas of Tarentum was the leader of the Pythagorean philosophical school; he was also a powerful political figure in his own right.

41.   gathered at his court … much could be expected if he did: This whole section is based heavily on Plato, Epistle 7, 338b–340a.

42.   Scylla … Charybdis: Mythical sea-monsters said to guard the straits between Sicily and Italy. Avoiding one meant sailing too close to the other. The quotation, from Odyssey 12.428, is taken over from Plato, Epistle 7, 345d–e. Plato’s third visit to Sicily was in 361/0.

43.   Aristippus of Cyrene: A former associate of Socrates and supposed founder of the Cyrenaic school of philosophy. Xenophon represents him as loving the life of pleasure.

44.   eclipse of the sun: Securely dated to 12 May 361.

45.   Plato’s own version … this account: Plato, Epistle 7, 350a–b, which does not really contradict what Plutarch says, but neither does it contain Dionysius’ remark or Plato’s reply.

46.   letter to Dionysius: Epistle 13 (362e) of the Platonic corpus; modern scholars generally doubt its authenticity, but Plutarch seems to have accepted it as genuine.

47.   prepare for war: In 360. The expedition finally sailed in 357.

48.   Plato himself refused … because of his age: Plato, Epistle 7, 350b d.

49.   On the soul: This work, often known as Eudemus, is lost, though Cicero in his On divination 1.25 summarizes some material from it. It should not be confused with another work by Aristotle of the same title, the extant On the soul (De anima).

50.   only twenty-five joined the expedition … shrank from it: In fact, as Plutarch admits later (ch. 32), another force was led by Heracleides.

51.   soldiers assembled: Plutarch avoids stating here that these were hired mercenaries.

52.   midsummer: 357 BC. The eclipse mentioned in the next chapter took place on 9 August 357.

53.   Etesian winds: Seasonal winds which blow from the north in summer in the Mediterranean.

54.   past middle life, as in Dion’s case: He was by then around fifty-one.

55.   Dion and his friends found nothing surprising in this … sun: Dion’s rational attitude to eclipses is, in Plutarch’s view, to his credit. Contrast Nicias, who in his expedition to Sicily had reacted superstitiously to an eclipse in 413 (Nicias 23).

56.   Theopompus: An important fourth-century historian, author of a work called Philippica (History of Philip), which seems to have been a more general history of the fourth century than the name implies. Diodorus 16.71 tells us that Theopompus devoted three books to Sicily, which covered the period of the reigns of the two Dionysii.

57.   lying in wait … off Iapygia: That is, off Apulia in the heel of Italy.

58.   Arcturus: A bright star which becomes visible in September and was associated by the Greeks with storms.

59.   Cercina: Situated off the coast of Tunisia, opposite the modern Sfax, and under Carthaginian control.

60.   Great Syrtis: The bay of Benghazi.

61.   guest-friend: (Greek, xenos) A person in a foreign city with whom one has formed a bond of ritualized friendship, which brought with it obligations of hospitality, loyalty and support. These obligations would be passed to one’s heirs.

62.   acropolis … wall: The acropolis was on Ortygia, a virtual island connected to the rest of Syracuse by a narrow causeway, which could easily be walled off.

63.   barbarians: The Greek term barbaros originally meant simply non-Greek, but by Plutarch’s time it might, as here, have had distinctly negative connotations, similar to English ‘barbarian’.

64.   a hundred minas: A mina was a unit of weight and of coinage. Its exact value differed from city to city, but one mina often equated to 100 drachmas or almost a pound of silver.

65.   fallen out … command: This is probably unfair to Heracleides. Diodorus 16.16.2 says that Dion left him in the Peloponnese as commander of the fleet but he was delayed by bad weather.

66.   they defeated Philistus: Spring or early summer 356.

67.   Ephorus: Ephorus (c. 405–330 BC) wrote a history of the world from earliest times to his own day. It was arranged geographically, and several books seem to have been devoted to Sicily. Ephorus’ work survives only in quotations in later authors.

68.   Gyarta: The place is unknown and the name may be corrupt.

69.   midsummer: Of 356.

70.   allies: It is not entirely clear who these allies were; perhaps they were citizens of other Sicilian Greek states recently liberated. Plutarch also talks of allies loyal to the Syracusans in ch. 42, so his claim here that all the allies supported Dion is misleading (cf. also ch. 49).

71.   Nypsius of Naples: Perhaps a mercenary commander.

72.   founded by … fellow-countrymen: Syracuse was originally a colony of Corinth.

73.   Dionysius: Some editors emend here to ‘Dionysius’ son’.

74.   their saviour and their god: It is possible that we should read here ‘their father, their saviour and their god’ to match the address to the mercenaries as ‘brothers’. Cf. ch. 39 (‘in a paternal fashion’) and Pelopidas 33 (‘their father, their saviour and their teacher’). In Diodorus 16.20 the Syracusans grant Dion honours as a hero and address him as ‘saviour’.

75.   sully his virtue by giving way to anger … weakness: The criticism here of acting in anger can be paralleled elsewhere in Plutarch’s work, especially in his treatise On control of anger, where he argues that anger must be controlled by reason. See also Coriolanus 15 and Comparison of Coriolanus and Alcibiades 2.

76.   Gylippus … before him: The Spartans sent Gylippus in 414 to direct the defence of Syracuse against the Athenians (see Thucydides 6.93; Plutarch, Nicias 18–19).

77.   Plato … eyes of the whole world were now fixed upon him: Plutarch has in mind Plato, Epistle 4, 320d.

78.   ‘stubbornness is the companion of solitude’: See ch. 8 and n. 21.

79.   for not having demolished the acropolis … casting out his body: See Timoleon 22 and Comparison of Dion and Brutus 2.

80.   to use Plato’s phrase: Republic 8, 557d, where Plato is criticizing democracy.

81.   blend of democracy and monarchy … model: The idea is Platonic (see, e.g., Plato, Laws 6, 756e–757a; Epistle 8, 356b–357a).

82.   according to Plato: Epistle 7, 333e.

83.   the Mysteries: An Attic cult based at Eleusis, into which individuals, both Athenian and foreign, might be initiated in a secret ceremony. See also Phocion, n. 18.

84.   Furies on the stage: In Aeschylus’ Eumenides, the Furies, or avenging spirits, pursue Orestes for murdering his mother. Plato talks of Furies in his Epistle 8, 357a, apparently referring to Dion’s murderers. The appearance of a Fury here suggests Dion’s coming doom (see prologue, ch. 2).

85.   committed the murder: June 354.

86.   Catana … cheese-grater: A pun on katane, which is both the name of the city of Catana and the Sicilian word for cheese-grater.

87.   These events I have described … in my Life of Timoleon: Timoleon 33.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Timoleon

Barzanò, A., Sordi, M., and Pennati, A. (eds.), Plutarco. Vite Parallele: Emilio Paolo–Timoleonte (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1996).

De Blois, L., ‘Political concepts in Plutarch’s Dion and Timoleon’, Ancient Society 28 (1997), pp. 209–24.

Holden, H. A., Plutarch’s Life of Timoleon with Introduction, Notes and Lexicon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1889).

Swain, S. C. R., ‘Plutarch’s Aemilius and Timoleon’, Historia 38 (1989), pp. 314–34.

Teodorsson, S.-T., ‘Timoleon, the fortunate general’, in L. De Blois, J. Bons, T. Kessels and D. M. Schenkeveld (eds.), The Statesman in Plutarch’s Works (Leiden: Brill, 2005), vol. 2, pp. 215–26.

Westlake, H. D., ‘The Sources of Plutarch’s Timoleon’, CQ 32 (1938), pp. 65–74 (though his conclusions are unconvincing).


Finley, M. I., A History of Sicily: Ancient Sicily to the Arab Conquest (London: Chatto and Windus, 1968; rev. edn, 1979), ch. 8.

Lintott, A. W., Violence, Civil Strife and Revolution in the Classical City (London: Croom Helm, 1982), pp. 213–17.

Talbert, R. J. A., Timoleon and the Revival of Greek Sicily (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974). Ch. 1 discusses Plutarch’s Timoleon specifically.

Talbert, R. J. A., ‘The Greeks in Sicily and South Italy’, in L. A. Tritle (ed.), The Greek World in the Fourth Century: From the Fall of the Athenian Empire to the Successors of Alexander (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 167–88.

Westlake, H. D., ‘Dion and Timoleon’, in CAH vi, pp. 693–722.

Notes to the Life of Timoleon

1.     Life of Timoleon: The second in its pair of Lives. A prologue to the Lives of Aemilius and Timoleon precedes Aemilius.

2.     Dion … treacherously murdered: In 354 (see Dion 57).

3.     exchanged one tyrant for another: The tyrant Dionysius II was expelled by Dion in 356. After Dion’s murder his assassin, the Athenian Callippus, held power from 354 to 353, when he was ousted by Dionysius II’s half-brother Hipparinus. He in turn was assassinated in 351 and succeeded by his brother Nisaeus, who was driven out in 346, when Dionysius II returned to power.

4.     by a very small force: I.e., by Dion’s expedition.

5.     kinship with the Corinthians: Syracuse had been founded by Corinth in c. 734 BC.

6.     Corinth … cause of freedom … liberty of Greece: An exaggeration, perhaps reflecting a pro-oligarchic bias in Plutarch or his source.

7.     troubled state of Greece … commitments at home: The Third Sacred War had been fought between 356 and 346 (see n. 43). Corinth was not directly involved in it.

8.     Cleonae: Small city between Corinth and Argos. In the battle of Cleonae (c. 369), Corinth was allied with Sparta and Athens against Argos and Thebes. Dionysius I sent troops to fight on the Spartan side at this time (Xenophon, Hellenica 7.1.20).

9.     treachery of their allies: The earlier incident of treachery refers to the union of Corinth and Argos in the late 390s to form a short-lived democratic state; Plutarch thus presents here the view-point of the oligarchs.

10.   decree … Timophanes in command of it: In c. 366. According to Xenophon, Hellenica 7.4, the Corinthians also asked the Athenian troops then present on Corinthian territory to leave, as they feared the Athenians were about to stage a coup.

11.   Phocion … given the advice that he did: See Phocion 23.

12.   twenty years … enterprise: That is, he stayed out of politics from c. 366 until c. 346.

13.   Timoleon set sail: In 344.

14.   ‘the island’: Ortygia, which was joined to the mainland by a narrow causeway.

15.   filled with indignation at the insult they had suffered: Syracuse had been founded by Corinth, and so the Corinthians felt some right to intervene. Cf. the Corinthians’ sensitivity in the run-up to the Peloponnesian War over Athens’ interference in the Corinthian colonies of Corcyra, Epidamnus and Potidaea (described in Thucydides 1.24–88).

16.   He had made himself … hostile to tyrants: The extravagant praise of Andromachus here is almost certainly derived from the account of his son Timaeus, who was one of Plutarch’s sources for both Dion and Timoleon (Dion, n. 16). In reality, Andromachus’ position was probably much like that of a tyrant, but he secured his own future by supporting Timoleon.

17.   despite being Phoenicians: Carthage was originally founded by Phoenician settlers. Both Phoenicians and Carthaginians are stereotyped as untrustworthy and treacherous in many Greek and Roman writers.

18.   Callippus: See Dion 54–8.

19.   Pharax: See Dion 48–9.

20.   Adranum: This city had been founded in the late fifth century by Dionysius I. It was situated on the south-westerly slope of Mt Etna.

21.   Dionysius had been born and bred … acts of tyranny: Dionysius II succeeded his father in 367. He abandoned Syracuse in c. 356, leaving behind a garrison in Ortygia commanded by his son Apollocrates, which withdrew soon after. Dionysius was at some point expelled from Locri, where he had been living, and his wife and children were murdered. But in 346 he staged a return to Syracuse. He surrendered the city to Timoleon c. 344.

22.   fully described in my Life of Dion: This seems to be a mistake. Plutarch does describe similar events in Dion 58, but they concern Aristomache and Arete, the wife and daughter of Dionysius I. The fate of the wife and children of Dionysius II is described in Plutarch, Political advice 821d, Aelian, Historical miscellany 6.12, and Strabo 6.259–60.

23.   Philip of Macedon … ‘He can do it … wine-bowl ’: Philip was notorious for his fondness for drinking (see Alexander 9).

24.   Plato … arrived in Corinth: Plato died in 347. Dionysius arrived in Corinth in c. 344 or 343.

25.   Diogenes of Sinope: A cynic philosopher, who spent most of his life in Corinth and Athens. He rejected convention and lived a life of poverty Many of the statements attributed to him attack, as this one does, the wealthy and powerful (see, e.g., Alexander 14).

26.   Philistus … daughters of Leptines … life: See Dion 11.

27.   This stroke of fortune … Sicily: The motif of Timoleon’s good fortune is prominent throughout the Life, often linked, as here, to the notion of divine protection or sanction (see p. 147).

28.   Pillars of Heracles: The land on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar.

29.   Dion’s mistake … cost to build: See Dion 53.

30.   sailed for Syracuse: In 343. Diodorus does not mention the arrival of colonists from Greece at this time. It is probable that most of these early settlers came from other parts of Sicily rather than, as in the second round of colonization after the battle of Crimisus, from Corinth and elsewhere in Greece.

31.   Athanis: He seems to have been a contemporary Syracusan historian and statesman. Only a few fragments of his work survive. Archaeological evidence suggests that his figure for the number of settlers here (‘60,000’) is probably on the low side.

32.   victory … at Himera: In 480 BC.

33.   invaded the territory of these rulers: In the summer of 342.

34.   Leptines: Different from the Leptines (brother of Dionysius II) mentioned in ch. 15.

35.   Meanwhile: The date is uncertain. The landing, and the subsequent battle of Crimisus, took place sometime between 342 and 339.

36.   Lilybaeum: A port on the extreme west of Sicily.

37.   Crimisus: Near Segesta, deep into territory long dominated by Carthage in the west of Sicily.

38.   Isthmian … Nemean Games: Athletic contests, held as part of a religious festival every other year. The former were controlled by Corinth, the latter by the small neighbouring city of Cleonae.

39.   two eagles … flew: Cf. a similar portent in Iliad 12.200–229, though there the fact that the eagle drops the snake is a sign that initial success would not lead to ultimate victory.

40.   many prisoners were secreted away by the soldiers: As Plutarch said happened after the defeat of the Athenians in 413 (Nicias 27). His wording here recalls that earlier Syracusan victory.

41.   trophy: A display of captured weapons and armour set up by a victorious army on the battlefield.

42.   the memorial proclaimed … to the gods: Part of what may be this inscription, although it does not name Timoleon in the extant section, has been found at Corinth (R&O 74). Another inscription found at Delphi records Timoleon’s dedication of a chariot to Apollo (cf. ch. 8).

43.   seized Delphi … sacred treasures: In the Third Sacred War (356–346 BC). The war began with the refusal of the Phocians to pay a fine imposed by the Delphic authorities on the grounds that they had tilled land sacred to Apollo. The Phocians, who received financial support from the Athenians and Spartans and were opposed by the Thebans, Locrians and Thessalians, plundered the Delphic treasury, an act of gross sacrilege.

44.   justice exacted her penalty … stroke of retribution: The text may be corrupt here.

45.   ensured that no harm … wicked: The fact that God may sometimes delay punishment of the wicked in order to achieve some wider goal is discussed in Plutarch’s On God’s slowness to punish.

46.   These gilded … shields: TrGF I 87 Mamercus.

47.   Calauria: The text is uncertain at this point and the identity of the place mentioned unclear.

48.   Damurias: Once again, the text is uncertain here.

49.   ‘Corinthian women … from their homes’: A parody of Euripides’ Medea 214, where the heroine says to the chorus, ‘Corinthian Women, I have come out from my home.’

50.   as I have related in my Life of Dion: Dion 58.

51.   treaty was negotiated: Perhaps in 339.

52.   Lycus: This is probably the River Halycus, which had earlier been the boundary of Carthaginian territory agreed in a treaty made with Dionysius I.

53.   the war with Athens: Referring to the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415–413. The Carthaginians had taken Acragas and Gela in 406/5.

54.   master-craftsman: Possibly an allusion to the picture in Plato’s Republic (500b ff.) of the philosopher who, if he turns his attention to politics, would prove an excellent craftsmen in moulding the constitution and the characters of men, in accordance with the divine models which he perceives.

55.   Timotheus: Distinguished Athenian commander of the first half of the fourth century.

56.   Agesilaus: Spartan king who ruled between 398 and c. 360. Plutarch wrote a Life of Agesilaus, whom he paired with Pompey.

57.   ‘O gods … in this?’: From an unidentified tragedy (TrGF IV fragment 874).

58.   Antimachus … Dionysius … Nicomachus: Respectively, an epic poet and elegist of the later fifth and early fourth centuries BC, much admired by Plato; a portrait-painter of the fifth century; and a painter of the fourth century.

59.   insatiable pursuit of honours and power: Plutarch often criticizes excessive and uncontrolled ambition, especially where it leads to disharmony and conflict between statesmen (e.g., Lysander 23 and Sulla 4). See his comments in Pelopidas 4, Flamininus 11 and Political advice 805e–810a.

60.   every lark … crest: Simonides fragment 538 Page. Plutarch cites the same passage in How to profit from one’s enemies 91e and Political advice 809b.

61.   speeches at the great festivals … exhorting his countrymen to attempt: Plutarch is probably thinking particularly of the speech delivered by Lysias at the Olympic Games of 388, in which he urged the Greeks to unite against Dionysius I and Artaxerxes II. Several years after that, also at the Olympic Games, Isocrates urged the Greeks to unite in a war against Persia.

62.   end his life: In the mid or late 330s.

63.   buried him in the market-place: An exceptional privilege, showing that Timoleon was accorded honours reserved for heroes, that is, a class of individuals regarded as semi-divine. The Greeks usually buried their dead outside the city.

64.   lived for a long time: For about twenty years, after which Agathocles overthrew the oligarchy left behind by Timoleon and made himself tyrant in all but name in 316.

Notes to the Comparison of Aemilius and Timoleon

65.   putting an end … in its seventh generation: Aemilius Paulus defeated Perseus of Macedon, son of Philip V and descendant of Antigonus I Monophthalmus, at the battle of Pydna in 168 (see Demetrius 53).

66.   dismissed Gylippus … avarice and greed in command: See Nicias 28. Gylippus was the Spartan commander sent out in 414 to assist the Syracusans to resist the Athenian siege. He was later banished from Sparta for embezzlement of state funds (see Lysander 16–17 and Pericles 22).

67.   Pharax … Callippus: See ch. 11 and the passages cited in the notes there.

68.   neither looked upon … treasures … bestowed large amounts on others: See Aemilius 28.

69.   over-sensitivity … not truly great: Plutarch elsewhere expresses the belief that a statesman should not be overwhelmed by private grief (see Demosthenes 22 and n. 74). He also criticizes statesmen who enter public life without sufficient thought and are then put off by disgrace or danger (Political advice 798c–799a).


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Demosthenes

Geiger, J., Ghilli, L., Mugelli, B., and Pecorella Longo, C. (eds.), Plutarco. Vite Parallele: Demostene–Cicero (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1995).

Holden, H. A., Plutarch’s Life of Demosthenes with Introduction, Notes and Lexicon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1893).

Moles, J. L. (ed.), Plutarch: The Life of Cicero (Warminster: Aris and Philips, 1988), pp. 19–26 on the pairing of Demosthenes and Cicero.

Mossman, J. M., ‘Is the pen mightier than the sword? The failure of rhetoric in Plutarch’s Demosthenes’, Histos 3 (1999), pp. 77–101.

Zadorojnyi, A., ‘King of his castle: Plutarch, Demosthenes 1–2’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 52 (2006), pp. 102–27.


Cawkwell, G., ‘Demosthenes’ policy after the peace of Philokrates’, CQNS 13 (1963), pp. 120–38; reprinted in S. Perlman (ed.), Philip and Athens (Cambridge: Heffer; New York: Barnes and Noble, 1973), pp. 145–78.

Pickard-Cambridge, A. W., Demosthenes and the Last Days of Greek Freedom 384–322BC (New York: G. P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1914; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1978; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2003).

Sealey, R., Demosthenes and his Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Worthington, I. (ed.), Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator (London: Routledge, 2000).

Notes to the Prologue to the Lives of Demosthenes and Cicero

1.     Sosius Senecio: The dedicatee of the Parallel Lives (see Dion 1 and n. 1 there).

2.     ‘famous city’: In Alcibiades 11 Plutarch quotes more of the poem and attributes it to Euripides. The mention of Alcibiades in the opening words of Demosthenes’ Life is significant, as Plutarch will twice compare Demosthenes to Alcibiades (ch. 27 and Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero 4).

3.     ‘the eyesore of Piraeus’: Elsewhere (Pericles 8) Plutarch attributes this saying to Pericles.

4.     Iulis … Ceos … Aegina … poet: Iulis in Ceos was the birthplace of the lyric poets Simonides and Bacchylides, Aegina of the actor Polus.

5.     small city … smaller: Plutarch lived in Chaeronea in Boeotia, some 60 miles north-west of Athens. The battle of Chaeronea is central to this Life (chs. 19–20).

6.     fifth book: See Dion 2 and the note there.

7.     As Ion puts it: Ion of Chios, a poet and prose writer of the fifth century BC. This is TrGF I 19 fragments 55 and 58.

8.     ‘The dolphin’s strength … dry land’: In other words, one should not venture out of one’s natural element.

9.     Caecilius: Caecilius of Cale Acte, a Greek orator and critic who worked in Rome in the time of Augustus.

10.   ‘Know yourself’: A famous maxim, inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Notes to the Life of Demosthenes

11.   as Theopompus tells us: See Dion, n. 56. Book 10 of Theopompus’ Philippica was an excursus on the demagogues of Athens, and this piece of information may be derived from that.

12.   As for the charge … slander: Aeschines’ story was that Gylon had betrayed Nymphaeum, an Athenian possession on the Chersonese, and had become an exile from Athens; he married a Scythian woman, whose daughter was Demosthenes’ mother (Against Ctesiphon 171–2). The accusation, which would cast doubt on Demosthenes’ own citizenship, is unlikely to be true.

13.   Demosthenes’ father died … tutors: This and much of what follows is derived from Demosthenes’ own speeches, e.g., the first speech Against Aphobus 4 and 46.

14.   Batalus: Demosthenes, in his On the crown 180, refers to this nickname as one given him by Aeschines; Aeschines uses it several times in his extant works. It probably referred to Demosthenes’ lisp, but there may be an obscene meaning.

15.   Antiphanes: A comic poet of the fourth century BC. Plutarch cites him in ch. 9.

16.   the question of Oropus: In 366 Athens lost control of Oropus to Thebes owing to the intervention of Themison, tyrant of Eretria. The Athenian commanders, Chabrias and Callistratus, seeing the strength of Theban forces, agreed to put the matter to arbitration; they were later prosecuted for misleading the people (see Demosthenes, Against Meidias 64). If, as Plutarch seems to imply, Demosthenes, who was born c. 384, was still a child at the time of the trial, the case must have been heard very soon after the event.

17.   Isaeus … Hermippus … Isocrates … Alcidamas: Isaeus and Isocrates were important Athenian speech-writers of the first half of the fourth century BC; the latter was also famous as a teacher of rhetoric. Alcidamas, from the same period, taught rhetoric and wrote about the art of speech-making. Hermippus of Smyrna lived in the third century and wrote, among other things, biographies of literary and intellectual figures. His work on Demosthenes seems to have been a source for Plutarch’s Life.

18.   come of age: Athenian young men became adults when they were eighteen, at which point they had to undertake two years’ military service as ‘ephebes’. Demosthenes’ cases first came to trial c. 364/3.

19.   speeches attacking them: Five of these speeches survive: three against Aphobus (Orations 27–9) and two against Onetor (Orations 30–31).

20.   ‘by running risks … effort’: A very loose quotation of Thucydides 1.18.3.

21.   left the assembly … met another orator … gifts wither away: Plutarch records a briefer version of this incident in Old men in politics 795d, where the interlocutor is an unnamed old man who had once heard Pericles speak (some seventy years earlier); his words there are also more encouraging to Demosthenes. The story also occurs in Lives of the ten orators 845a.

22.   On another occasion …: Much of the material in chs. 7–11 is also found in Plutarch’s general discussion of political speeches in Political advice 801c–804b. The two passages are probably based on the same sources, though Plutarch does not seem to have had access to Demetrius of Phaleron’s work when composing Political advice.

23.   drunken sailors: Possibly a reference to Demades, who had been a sailor (see n. 25).

24.   underground study … even if he wanted to: Other, similar stories, such as that he used to practise speaking on the seashore above the sound of the waves, are recorded in Lives of the ten orators 844d–f; cf. the story that Euripides used to retreat to a cave by the sea (Satyrus of Callatis, Life of Euripides 62–4), though this is put down to his wish to avoid the public.

25.   Demades: A powerful orator and contemporary of Demosthenes. After Athens’ defeat at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 he favoured cooperation with Macedonia. He was famous for his skills in improvisation, and a collection of witty sayings ascribed to him has survived (see Phocion 1).

26.   Python of Byzantium … abuse against them: A quotation from On the crown 136. In 343 Philip sent Python to Athens with the offer to renegotiate the Peace of Philocrates which had been agreed between Athens and Macedon three years earlier. Python’s speech in the assembly included attacks on Philip’s opponents in Athens; in the debate which followed Demosthenes replied by opposing both Python and Philip. Persuaded by Demosthenes the Athenian assembly approved an amendment to the Peace which demanded Philip’s surrender of Amphipolis, and sent an embassy to Philip to inform him. Philip rejected it out of hand. See the speech preserved as Oration 7 in the Demosthenic corpus (On Halonnesus), 18–26.

27.   Lamachus of Myrrhine … from the festival: The incident took place in 324 at Olympia when Nicanor, Alexander’s envoy, conveyed the latter’s wishes that the Greek cities take back their exiles.

28.   Eratosthenes: Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a prominent scientist and intellectual active in Alexandria in the third century BC. Among his interests was literary criticism.

29.   Demetrius of Phaleron: A Peripatetic philosopher (i.e., a follower of the school of Aristotle) and governor of Athens on behalf of Cassander from 317 to 307 (see Demetrius 8). He wrote numerous literary works and is frequently cited in Demosthenes.

30.   ‘By earth … floods’: This line is also quoted in Lives of the ten orators 845b, where the writers of Middle Comedy Antiphanes and Timocles (fragments 288 and 41 K–A respectively) are said to have used it to make fun of Demosthenes’ habit of swearing pompous oaths. The oath may originally have been taken from a tragedy or satyr play (it is listed as TrGF II fragment 123a). A similar oath is found in Aristophanes, Birds 194.

31.   ‘In taking … take up’: Antiphanes (see n. 15) fragment 167 K–A.

32.   speech on Halonnesus … ‘retake’ it as a right: On Halonnesus 7, though the speech, which is preserved in the Demosthenic corpus (Oration 7), is not in fact by Demosthenes. Halonessus (now Agios Efstratios) was a small island lying south-west of Lemnos (not to be confused with modern Alonnisos).

33.   ‘Athena … lessons from a sow!’: Apparently this was a proverbial expression (see Theocritus 5.23).

34.   Phocian War: That is, the Third Sacred War (356–346), in which Athens and Sparta backed Phocis against Thebes, the Delphic Amphictyony (a group of states in central Greece that controlled the sanctuary) and, eventually, Philip of Macedon. Athens narrowly prevented Philip from seizing Thermopylae in 352. Plutarch’s phrasing here is drawn from Demosthenes, On the crown 18.

35.   speeches he made against Philip … connected with it: Plutarch is thinking especially of the Olynthiacs and the Philippics, as well as On the peace and On the Chersonese.

36.   prosecution of Meidias … thirty-two: The speech Against Meidias survives and contains the information about Demosthenes’ age (section 154). The alleged crime, Meidias’ assault of Demosthenes, took place in 348.

37.   ‘He was not … opponents’: Iliad 20.467, where Homer describes Achilles’ refusal to spare or have pity on his defeated opponents.

38.   … King Philip … distinction: See chs. 16 and 20 for the respect of Philip and Darius for Demosthenes.

39.   Cassander … Demetrius: Cassander, son of Antipater, controlled Athens from 317 to 307 by installing Demetrius of Phaleron as governor. In 307 Demetrius Poliorcetes, the Demetrius mentioned here and the subject of a Life by Plutarch, took Athens and claimed to have liberated it (see Demetrius 8).

40.   unchangeable harmony … start: For a similar musical metaphor, see Pericles 15.

41.   in the one … taxation: That is, the speech Against Leptines (Oration 20).

42.   Thucydides: Not Thucydides son of Olorus, the historian, but Thucydides son of Melesias, the aristocratic statesman and opponent of Pericles (see Pericles 11 and 14).

43.   Ephialtes … Aristides … Cimon: Fifth-century Athenian leaders, famous for their integrity. Plutarch wrote Lives of the latter two. Cf. Cimon 10, where the same three men are mentioned as uncorrupted.

44.   overwhelmed by the Persian gold … torrent: See chs. 20 and 25. Plutarch’s phrasing here perhaps echoes Aeschines 3.173.

45.   Theopompus: See Dion, n. 56. One manuscript here has ‘Theophrastus’, but ‘Theopompus’, the reading of most manuscripts, makes perfectly good sense. Theopompus’ Book 10 focused on Athenian demagogues, whom he tended to present in a negative way.

46.   in the case of Antiphon: According to Demosthenes (On the crown 132–3), a certain Antiphon had been bribed by Philip to burn the Athenian dockyards in the late 340s.

47.   Council of the Areopagus: After the reforms of Ephialtes (462), the council which met on the Areopagus functioned only as a court dealing with cases of homicide, arson and wounding, and some religious matters. In the 340s it seems to have gained greater influence and powers. It should not be confused with the democratic Council of 500 mentioned in ch. 22.

48.   Apollodorus … against Stephanus and Phormion: Apollodorus was the son of the banker Pasion and was extremely wealthy. The speech Against Timotheus in a matter of debt (Oration 49) is now thought to have been composed by Apollodorus himself. He brought several suits against Phormion, the man who had managed his father’s business after his death. Demosthenes wrote one speech in defence of Phormion (Oration 36), but later wrote for, or assisted Apollodorus to write, two speeches Against Stephanus, in which the real target was Phormion (Orations 44 and 45).

49.   from the same knife-shop: Apparently a punning reference to the family business (see ch. 4).

50.   thirty-two or thirty-three years of age: The best manuscripts give Demosthenes’ age here as twenty-seven or twenty-eight. But the older age, recorded in another manuscript, fits better with what we know of the chronology of the speeches.

51.   Idomeneus: Idomeneus of Lampsacus, a philosopher of the late fourth and early third centuries BC, who wrote a work, now lost, On popular leaders.

52.   visited Macedonia as one of a delegation of ten: There were in fact two embassies, with the same participants, both in 346. The peace-treaty that was negotiated with Philip was known as the Peace of Philocrates, after one of its main Athenian proponents. The peace was later seen as a disaster at Athens and Philocrates fled into exile. Demosthenes in his On the false embassy and Aeschines in his On the embassy later traded accusations over their respective roles in the negotiations.

53.   Demosthenes could not refrain from belittling … a king: This seems to be derived from Aeschines, On the embassy 51–2 and esp. 112, where, according to Aeschines, Demosthenes made some such remark before the assembly in Athens, but denied it to Philip’s face.

54.   he urged … invade Euboea: The speech in question is Demosthenes’ Third Philippic of 341. The Athenians intervened in Euboea in 341 and deposed Philistides, tyrant of Oreus, and Cleitarchus, tyrant of Eretria.

55.   the Social War: 357–355, when Chios, Cos, Rhodes and Byzantium revolted against Athens.

56.   relieving both cities: In 340.

57.   an army of 15,000 infantry … to pay these soldiers: Closely based on Demosthenes, On the crown 237.

58.   persuade Thebes to join the alliance: Theban territory also lay on the direct route to Athens; securing her alliance meant that the war might be kept out of Attica.

59.   Phocian War: That is, the Third Sacred War (n. 34).

60.   petty quarrels … between the two cities: Plutarch may have in mind the dispute over possession of Oropus, which had been taken by Thebes in 366 (ch. 5 and n. 16).

61.   Amphissa: The Delphic Amphictyony had accused Amphissa of cultivating sacred land and in winter 340/39 declared war (known to modern historians as the Fourth Sacred War). When Amphissa refused to comply, Philip was delegated to use force. This enabled him to occupy Amphissa and Elateia in the autumn of 339.

62.   Elateia: The principal town of Phocis, which controlled the route south to Boeotia and central Greece. Its fall to Philip in 339 was a decisive moment. In his speech On the crown Demosthenes describes the mood in Athens when news arrived that Elateia had been taken by Philip; this paragraph is partly based on sections 169–79 of that speech, as is much of chs. 17–21.

63.   making overtures for peace: Spring 338.

64.   Sibylline books: Collections of prophecies of various dates, ascribed to a legendary prophetess or prophetesses called Sibyl. Sibylline prophecies are referred to as early as the fifth century BC, and were well known in Rome.

65.   Douris: Douris of Samos (c. 340–270 BC), philosopher and historian, and also tyrant of Samos. His huge Macedonian history survives only in quotations in later authors. Plutarch cites him frequently in his Greek Lives, sometimes criticizing him for an over-dramatic approach, e.g., Pericles 28 and Alcibiades 32.

66.   Thermodon … Amazon in his arms: In mythology the Amazons were said to have invaded Greece and been defeated by Theseus. This Thermodon must be the personification of the River Thermodon in the country of the Amazons (cf. Pompey 35).

67.   the battle: At Chaeronea, in summer 338. Philip won a decisive victory over the forces of Thebes and Athens.

68.   to risk … single day: Based on Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 148.

69.   Philip died soon afterwards: He was assassinated in 336 (see Alexander 10).

70.   Council: The democratic Council of 500, whose members were chosen by lot from the demes (districts) of Attica.

71.   reported by Aeschines: In Against Ctesiphon 77.

72.   treated them with such tolerance and humanity: After his victory Philip had freed his Athenian prisoners without ransom and had offered the city generous peace terms.

73.   find consolation … dignity: Some editors think that there is a lacuna in the text at this point.

74.   I believe … misfortunes of the individual: Plutarch commends statesmen who do not show emotion in the face of private grief (see, e.g., Pericles 36, Brutus 15, Aemilius 36 and Comparison of Aemilius and Timoleon 2). In his treatise On tranquillity of mind (469a ff.), Plutarch advises that one should, when in misfortune, focus one’s mind on the good things that one still possesses.

75.   attacked the Macedonian garrison … killed many of them: In 335. The Macedonian garrison had been installed on the Cadmeia after the battle of Chaeronea.

76.   wrote letters to the Macedonian king’s generals in Asia … declare war on Alexander: Diodorus 17.3 and 5 records that the Athenians entered into secret communication with Attalus, one of the two generals commanding Macedonian forces in north-western Asia Minor. Attalus was assassinated soon after on Alexander’s orders.

77.   Margites: An idiot, the hero of a mock epic. The remark may have been intended to puncture Alexander’s own self-identification with the Homeric hero Achilles. Plutarch’s source is Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 160.

78.   Thebans … lost their city: Thebes was razed to the ground in October 335 (see Alexander 11).

79.   Polyeuctus, Ephialtes, Lycurgus, Moerocles, Damon, Callisthenes and Charidemus: The best known of these to posterity were Lycurgus the famous orator, and Charidemus and Ephialtes, both soldiers who were banished from Athens and later took service under Darius. The latter was killed at the siege of Halicarnassus, the former executed by Darius before the battle of Issus for opposing offensive operations.

80.   lone wolf of Macedon: Lone wolves, as opposed to those that hunt in packs, were considered particularly dangerous (see Aristotle, History of animals 594a). The term was evidently used here as an insult.

81.   Aristobulus of Cassandreia: Aristobulus accompanied Alexander on his campaigns in the East and later wrote a history about him, which is now lost. Plutarch used it in his Life of Alexander.

82.   eight men … terms of peace for the city: See Phocion 17 and n. 40 there.

83.   when Agis the Spartan organized a revolt against Macedonia: While Alexander was fighting in Asia, Agis III, king of Sparta, launched a war against Macedonia (331), with funds from Persia. He was defeated by Antipater and killed at Megalopolis in the Peloponnese.

84.   indictment against Ctesiphon … archonship of Aristophon: In spring 336 Ctesiphon had proposed that Demosthenes should be awarded a golden crown for public services. Aeschines denounced the proposal as illlegal and instituted a prosecution of Ctesiphon. But the case remained in abeyance for over six years (not ten, as Plutarch says), and it was possibly the defeat of Agis which encouraged Demosthenes’ enemies to proceed in late summer 330, during the archonship of Aristophon (that is, in the year when Aristophon held the office of ‘eponymous’ archon, one of the chief magistracies of Athens). The trial was the occasion for one of Demosthenes’ most famous orations,On the crown, in which he defended his own record. In dating the initial indictment to the archonship of Chaerondas (338/7), Plutarch has followed the spurious version of the indictment transmitted with Demosthenes’ speech (On the crown 54); the indictment was in fact made in the archonship of Phrynichus (337/6).

85.   a fifth of their votes: Accusers in public trials who did not obtain at least a fifth of the votes had to pay a fine of 1,000 drachmas and were debarred from bringing similar cases. Aeschines went into voluntary exile.

86.   Harpalus: A Macedonian nobleman who was in charge of Alexander’s treasury. In 324, expecting punishment for embezzlement, he fled Asia, taking with him a huge sum of money and a force of mercenaries. He had earlier been granted Athenian citizenship for lavish gifts to the city but was now at first refused entry to Athens. Later, however, when he appeared as a suppliant, he was allowed in. When envoys from Antipater and Olympias demanded his surrender, Harpalus was arrested on Demosthenes’ proposal and his money deposited for safe-keeping in the acropolis. He escaped soon after and fled, whereupon it was discovered that half the treasure was missing.

87.   ‘won’t you give a hearing … cup in his hand?’: The joke alludes to the custom at Greek drinking-parties whereby the cup was passed from hand to hand, and the person holding it had the right to speak or sing a song.

88.   He tells us: In the second of the letters attributed to Demosthenes (Epistle 2.17).

89.   owl … snake: Both sacred to Athena.

90.   if … he had been offered … death: This recalls the well-known story of the ‘choice of Heracles’, where the hero must choose between the easy path that leads to destruction and the hard path to virtue.

91.   Alexander died: In Babylon in June 323. See Alexander 75–6.

92.   Phylarchus: A third-century historian. Polybius (2.56) criticized him for love of the sensational in his work.

93.   more honourably than Alcibiades … welcome him back: In 408 or 407, as the tide of the Peloponnesian War flowed against Athens, the Athenian general Alcibiades was recalled from exile. After having first aided the Spartans and Persians against Athens, he had later taken command of the fleet, and had won a series of much needed victories; Demosthenes implies here that the Athenians really had no choice but to recall such a successful commander (see Alcibiades 32–3). In the Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero 4, Plutarch notes that Demosthenes behaved better in exile than Alcibiades, who betrayed his country.

94.   battle of Crannon: The forces of Athens, Aetolia and their allies were decisively defeated in Thessaly by the Macedonian generals Antipater and Craterus. A passage in the Life of Camillus (ch. 19) dates the battle to 7th Metageitnion (i.e., August) 322. The Athenian fleet was defeated at Amorgos around the same time. Even before Crannon the tide had turned against the Greeks, as Macedonian reinforcements had crossed from Asia and raised the siege of Lamia (see Phocion 26).

95.   Boedromion … garrison entered Munychia … in Pyanepsion Demosthenes met his death: In Phocion 28 Plutarch dates the entry of the garrison into Munychia, a strategic hill overlooking the Piraeus, to the 20th of Boedromion, that is, October 322. Demosthenes’ death took place just under one month later, on the 16th of Pyanepsion (see ch. 30).

96.   Cleonae: For the location, see Timoleon, n. 8.

97.   Calauria: An island in the Saronic Gulf (the modern Poros); it is some 12 miles from the island of Aegina. The temple of Poseidon there seems to have been considered particularly inviolable.

98.   speaking like the … oracle: In other words, expressing your real sentiments.

99.   Creon … without burying it: The allusion is to Sophocles’ Antigone, in which Creon decrees that the body of Polynices, Antigone’s brother, is to be left unburied.

100.  breathed his last: The phrase probably contains an allusion to Orestes’ words in Euripides, Orestes 1171. Readers who knew the play would find significance in this quotation: Orestes was vowing to do what was right (take vengeance on the murderers of his father), even if it should cost him his life. If not, he claimed, ‘I will breathe my lastas a free man.’ By recalling this speech of Orestes, then, Plutarch suggests the nobility of Demosthenes’ death.

101.  what he had swallowed was gold: The notion that Demosthenes might have swallowed gold reinforces the sense of his love of wealth and corruptibility. Swallowing gold need not be fatal.

102.  Thesmophoria: An annual festival dedicated to the goddess Demeter and celebrated exclusively by women. At Athens the festival was held in the autumn and lasted three days. The second of the three days involved fasting.

103.  statue in bronze: In the Athenian agora. Pausanias, writing later in the second century AD, mentions seeing the statue (Guide to Greece 1.8).

104.  prytaneum … public expense: The prytaneum was the official building of the prytaneis, the executive committee of the Council of 500. The grant of the privilege to dine here regularly at public expense (sitesis) was a great honour, given to victorious athletes and generals and, from the fourth century, to benefactors of the city. This is the first certain example of the award of sitesis on a hereditary basis since it had been granted to the descendants of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton some time after the establishment of democracy in 508/7.

105.  If only … Ares: In Lives of the ten orators 847a, these lines are ascribed to Demetrius of Magnesia.

106.  arrived in Athens: Plutarch studied in Athens, probably in the 70s AD. He must subsequently have visited frequently.

107. Demades … Perdiccas … Antipater: Perdiccas, who had been designated supreme commander of Alexander’s armies in 323, had fought Antipater and others for mastery of the empire, and been killed in 321 or 320 (see Eumenes 3–8). Demades’ embassy to Antipater took place in late summer 319. Plutarch gives a slightly different version of Demades’ death in Phocion 30.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Phocion

Bearzot, C., Geiger, J., and Ghilli, L. (eds.), Plutarco. Vite Parallele: Focione–Catone Uticense (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1993).

Duff, T. E., Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), ch. 5.

Lamberton, R., ‘Plutarch’s Phocion: melodrama of mob and elite in occupied Athens’, in O. Palagia and S. V. Tracey (eds.), The Macedonians in Athens 322–229 bc (Oxford: Oxbow, 2003), pp. 8–13.

Trapp, M. B., ‘Socrates, the Phaedo and the Lives of Phocion and Cato the Younger’, in A. Pérez Jiménez, J. García López and R. Ma Aguilar (eds.), Plutarco, Platón y Aristóteles (Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas, 1999), pp. 487–99.

Tritle, L. A., ‘Plutarch’s Life of Phocion: An Analysis and Critical Report’, ANRW 2.33.6 (1992), pp. 4258–97.


Bearzot, C., Focione tra storia e trasfigurazione ideale (Milan: Pubblicazioni dell’ Università Cattolica di Milano del Sacro Cuore 37, 1985).

Gehrke, H.-J., Phokion. Studien zur Erfassung seiner historischen Gestalt (Zetemata 64) (Munich: Beck, 1976).

Tritle, L. A., Phocion the Good (London, New York and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1987).

Notes to the Prologue to the Lives of Phocion and Cato the Younger

1.     Demades the orator: See Demosthenes, n. 25. Demades is often contrasted with Phocion in this Life. The saying ‘by the time he came to the helm, the ship of state was already a wreck’ (Demades fragment 17 De Falco) is also recorded in Political advice 803a.

2.     tongue and stomach: I.e., Demades was only interested in giving speeches and eating. The comparison of Demades to a dismembered, slaughtered animal is highly charged, as it looks forward to his brutal death in ch. 30.

3.     ‘Reason … troubles come’: Sophocles, Antigone 563–4. The speaker is Ismene addressing Creon.

4.     menoeikes: See, e.g., Homer, Odyssey 5.165–6, where the word is applied to wine ‘which gladdens the heart’.

5.     Cicero tells us … dregs of Romulus: Cicero, Letter to Atticus 2.1.8, though Cicero’s comment is not directed specifically to Cato’s campaign for election to the consulship.

6.     two men may possess the same attribute in different forms: Plutarch makes this point in Virtues of women 243c–d, though with a different set of examples. Here, while accepting the general validity of the proposition that the same virtue may be manifested in different ways in different people, he claims that, in fact, Phocion and Cato were particularly similar.

Notes to the Life of Phocion

7.     Cato’s origins … as shall be described later: At the start of Cato the Younger, which was paired with Phocion and immediately followed it.

8.     Idomeneus: See Demosthenes, n. 51. References to his work in Plutarch and elsewhere show that he was fond of this kind of anecdotal material.

9.     Douris: A historian of the late fourth and early third century (see Demosthenes, n. 65).

10.   take his hand from under his cloak: Keeping one’s hands inside the cloak seems to have been seen as a mark of dignity and self-control. Spartan youths were expected to walk this way (Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans 3.4), and a statue of Solon was famously shown in this pose (Demosthenes 19.251, Aeschines 1.25).

11.   public bath … hard winter: Phocion’s habits are meant to be reminiscent of those of Socrates, who did not normally bathe, wear shoes, or dress warmly (see Plato, Symposium 174a and 220b).

12.   Zeno: Zeno of Citium (335–263 BC), the founder of Stoic philosophy.

13.   Chabrias: One of Athens’ most successful fourth-century generals, active from at least the early 370s to his death at Chios in 357.

14.   what happened at Chios: In 356 during the Social War (357–355), when Chios, Cos, Rhodes and Byzantium revolted from Athens’ Second Confederacy.

15.   sea-battle off Naxos: In 376. The Athenians under Chabrias defeated a Spartan fleet.

16.   command of the left wing … decided: The role of Phocion, who would only have been twenty-six at the time of the battle of Naxos, may be exaggerated here. Diodorus 15.34.5 names Cedon as the commander of the left wing, and does not mention Phocion. But Cedon was killed in the battle, and it is possible that Phocion, who may have captained a trireme, distinguished himself.

17.   first sea-battle … capture of their city: On Athens’ surrender in 404 at the end of the Peloponnesian War, her fleet had been reduced to twelve ships. The Athenian general Conon had defeated the Spartans off Cnidus in 394, but he was then acting as commander of the Persian fleet. Shortly after Naxos the Athenians defeated the Spartans again at sea off Alyzia near Leucas (375).

18.   Great Mysteries: An initiation festival which began in Athens and ended in Eleusis and took place over nine days between the 15th and 23rd of Boedromion. It included a public procession of initiates in which the god Iacchus was escorted from Athens to Eleusis (see ch. 28).

19.   The battle … Boedromion: September 376. In Camillus 19 Plutarch gives the date of the battle of Naxos as ‘about the full moon of Boedromion’.

20.   contributions … due … islands: From 379/8 onwards Athens built on its bilateral alliances with individual allies to form an organized alliance, known to modern scholars as the Second Athenian Confederacy. An inscription of 377 records a promise not to levy tribute on allies, as the Athenians had done in the fifth century (Harding 35 = R&O 22); instead, sources talk of allied states making voluntary ‘contributions’ for common defence.

21.   ‘both a servant … Muses’: Archilochus, fragment 1 West. Plutarch has adapted the quotation for his own use; in the original poem, which is quoted also in Athenaeus 627c, Archilochus was talking about himself (‘I am a servant …’).

22.   both war and politics … addressed as such: Athena, the patron deity of Athens, had the epithets ‘Promachos’ (champion) and ‘Polias’ (guardian of the polis).

23.   ‘A cowardly man … “You may croak … meal of me” ’: This story is also found in Aesop, Fables 47 (the coward and the crows).

24.   territorial dispute with Boeotia: The dispute in question is probably that of 366 over Oropus (see the note on Demosthenes 5). Phocion’s reply here exploits the well-known Athenian prejudice that Boeotians were stupid.

25.   ‘The Athenians … again’: Plutarch records the same story in Political advice 811a, but there it is Demades, not Demosthenes, who is Phocion’s interlocutor.

26.   Alexander … ten orators should be surrendered to him … request: See ch. 17 and Demosthenes 23. The episode took place in 335 after the sack of Thebes by Alexander.

27.   Archibiades … his face: This description of Archibiades is based on Demosthenes’ description of him in his speech Against Conon 34.

28.   ‘you might just as well have shaved this off’: I.e., not tried to cultivate a Spartan appearance if he was not willing to adopt their toughness and straightforward way of speaking, but preferred to pander to the people.

29.   Phocion was sent out … support: In 348. In response to the appeal by Plutarch, tyrant of Eretria, the Athenians sent out an expedition to assist him against Cleitarchus, exiled tyrant of Eretria, and Callias of Chalcis (see Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 86–8). It is doubtful whether the expedition was really aimed at countering Philip: Plutarch or his source may have projected the motivation for the later expedition to Euboea in 341 back to this earlier one.

30.   captured by the enemy: In 348. The Athenians were forced to pay 50 talents to ransom the soldiers taken captive, and lost control of almost the whole of Euboea.

31.   Philip reached the Hellespont: In 340.

32.   people of Megara appealed … for help: About 344 or 343. The only other evidence for this episode is a brief statement in Demosthenes’ Fourth Philippic 8 that at some unspecified date ‘Megara was almost captured’. Cf. also Demosthenes 19.87 and 295.

33.   two long walls … from the city: Like the Long Walls at Athens. Megara had had such walls in the fifth century, but they were destroyed in 424 in the Peloponnesian War.

34.   as far away from Athens as possible: That is, in Boeotia rather than in Attica. Demosthenes himself took pride in this (see his speech On the crown, 195 and 230).

35.   when Athens was defeated: At Chaeronea in Boeotia in 338, when Philip crushed the armies of Athens and Thebes.

36.   congress for all the states: Philip organized a meeting in Corinth, in which he set up an alliance, known to modern scholars as the League of Corinth; members swore not to oppose Macedonia and not to alter the constitution of other members.

37.   When Philip was assassinated: In 336 (see Alexander 10). For Athenian rejoicing at the news, see Demosthenes 22.

38.   ‘Foolhardy man … savage?’: Odyssey 9.494, where Odysseus’ comrades urge him not to insult the Cyclops as they make their escape.

39.   After Thebes had been destroyed: By Alexander in 335 (see Alexander 11).

40.   Phocion then rose to his feet … resentment against the Athenians: Contrast Demosthenes 23, where it is Demades who goes to Alexander and, on the basis of personal friendship with him, successfully pleads for the lives of the orators. In Arrian, Anabasis 1.10.3, and Diodorus 15.15 it is Demades who proposes the motion to send an embassy; in Diodorus, Phocion is actually ejected from the assembly for saying that the orators ought to sacrifice themselves for the city. In Phocion Plutarch consistently chooses the version more favourable to the subject of the Life.

41.   chairein: Literally, ‘rejoice’, a common way to start a letter, in the form, e.g., ‘X [bids] Y rejoice’.

42.   Chares: Originally from Mytilene, he was prominent at Alexander’s court, and later his master of ceremonies. He wrote a work entitled Histories of Alexander, which seems to have contained anecdotes of court life. He is not to be confused with the Athenian general, Chares, mentioned in chs. 5 and 14.

43.   sent Craterus back to Macedonia: In 324. Craterus had been ordered to bring back some of Alexander’s veterans to Macedonia.

44.   revenue … he might choose: A gift typical of a Persian king and reminiscent of the gift of three cities made to Themistocles (see Themistocles 29).

45.   Spartan discipline: Spartan males underwent a tough programme of state-regulated education, known as the agoge, from the age of seven, designed to prepare them for life as a soldier. Plutarch discusses it in Lycurgus 16–21. Xenophon’s sons are the only other known examples of foreigners allowed entry to the agoge.

46.   Lycurgus … state-controlled dining halls: Lycurgus was the semi-mythical founder of the Spartan constitution. (He is to be distinguished from the Athenian politician of the same name, who is mentioned in this Life.) One of the features of the Spartan system was that all adult male citizens, including the two kings, had to eat in common messes.

47.   send him triremes: Probably in 333, when Alexander was campaigning in Asia Minor and the Persian fleet was active in the Aegean (see Curtius Rufus 3.1.19–20).

48.   Harpalus, Alexander’s treasurer: He absconded in 324 with large sums of money and sought refuge in Athens. The problem of what to do with him caused great debate (see Demosthenes 25 and the note there).

49.   When Pythonice died: In fact, Pythonice’s death occurred while Harpalus was still in Asia.

50.   broke the news of Alexander’s death in Athens: In 323.

51.   the Greek War: Of 323–2 BC, often known as the Lamian War because the allied Greek forces besieged Antipater, Alexander’s regent, in the town of Lamia in south-eastern Thessaly (see Demosthenes 27–8). The term ‘Greek War’ would normally mean ‘war against the Greeks’ (cf. ‘Peloponnesian War’, ‘Persian War’), but its use here, paralleled in inscriptions and in Diodorus, reflects contemporary Athenian attempts to present the war as Panhellenic and so induce Sparta to join in.

52.   the force which Leosthenes had assembled: Acting as a private citizen, Leosthenes had taken command of 8,000 mercenaries who had returned from Asia to the Peloponnese. He was elected Athenian general for 324/3 and 323/2, and on Alexander’s death successfully advanced into central Greece, where the Aetolians supplied another 7,000 troops. The Athenians dispatched more troops to him, including both citizen hoplites and mercenaries.

53.   ‘good enough for a sprint … hoplites’: In the pseudo-Plutarchan Lives of the ten orators 846e, the same statement is attributed to Demosthenes.

54.   when Leosthenes was killed: In winter 323/2, while laying siege to Lamia.

55.   When the Athenians were eager to invade Boeotia: It is not clear when exactly this was; the period after the battle of Crannon is perhaps more plausible than the period before.

56.   under the age of sixty … disagreement: Citizens between the ages of fifty and sixty were liable for military service, but only in defence of Attica itself.

57.   Micion … Rhamnus: It is not clear whether Micion’s landing was made before or after the defeat of the Greek allied army at the battle of Crannon, which Plutarch mentions in the next chapter. Plutarch’s Sayings of kings and commanders 188e–f places it before.

58.   battle was fought at Crannon … Greeks were beaten: In Thessaly in August 322 (see Demosthenes 28). The Greek fleet was also defeated at Amorgos around the same time.

59.   Phocion was sent to Antipater: In fact, we know from Diodorus 18.18 that Demades also took part in the delegation to Antipater; in that account, it is to Demades that the people turn, and Phocion is mentioned only as an afterthought.

60.   Cadmeia: The acropolis of Thebes.

61.   Antipater told the Athenians … Lamia: Antipater’s statement is also recorded by Diodorus 18.18.3.

62.   Xenocrates: Then head of the Academy where he had succeeded Plato and Speusippus.

63.   property qualification: Diodorus 18.18.4 records that the property qualification was set at 2,000 drachmas. This severely restricted the influence of the poor, but democratic institutions were not abolished.

64.   Munychia: A strategically important hill to the east of the main harbour of Piraeus. The Macedonian garrison fortified it, perhaps for the first time.

65.   Callimedon: See Demosthenes 27.

66.   twentieth day of … Boedromion … celebrated: October 322.

67.   Mysteries … Iacchus … Eleusis: See n. 18.

68.   mystic apparitions … into the hearts of their enemies: E.g., before the victory over the Persians at Salamis (Themistocles 15, itself based on Herodotus 8.65).

69.   ‘heights of Artemis’: There was a sanctuary of Artemis at Munychia.

70.   Cantharus: The main harbour of Piraeus. Candidates for initiation in the Mysteries had to offer piglets, presumably for sacrifice; both candidate and piglet were ritually purified in the sea. Cf. Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 130, which refers to the death of an initiate in 339; the ancient scholiast explains that he was killed by a shark while undergoing purification.

71.   twelve thousand: Diodorus 18.18.5 gives a figure of 22,000 poor Athenians deprived of their citizen rights.

72.   which I have described elswhere: Demosthenes 28–30.

73.   Ceraunian mountains or Cape Taenarus … Greek cities: Cape Taenarus is at the southern tip of the Peloponnese and the Ceraunian mountains are in Epirus; these exiles were, then, in effect banned from mainland Greece.

74.   Antigonus: In the version in Demosthenes 31, it is Perdiccas to whom Demades’ letter had been addressed.

75.   blood … filled them: The image of the blood of his murdered son drenching Demades’ clothing suggests the image of perverted sacrifice as in, e.g., Aeschylus’ Oresteia, and fulfils the notion, introduced in ch. 1, of Demades as a sacrificial victim.

76.   Antipater appointed Polyperchon … Cassander second in command: Antipater died in 319 at the age of seventy-nine. Cassander was his son; Polyperchon was a contemporary of Antipater and had held command under Alexander.

77.   Nicanor: Possibly identical with the Nicanor who commanded Alexander’s fleet in 334, or with a relative of Aristotle of the same name, who proclaimed Alexander’s Exiles Decree in 324.

78.   president of the games: In Greek, agonothetes. The exact role envisaged here is unclear, but the funding of festivals by a foreign general was unprecedented.

79.   the king: That is, Philip III Arrhidaeus, who succeeded Alexander in 323, together with Alexander’s infant son, Alexander IV, though neither exercised power. Philip suffered from some kind of mental disability and was used as a pawn by those pressing competing claims to Alexander’s empire until his murder in 317 (see Alexander 10, 77 andEumenes 3, 12 and 13).

80.   Nicanor … began to surround Piraeus with a trench: Winter 319/18.

81.   Hagnonides: On whose behalf Phocion had earlier intervened with Antipater: see ch. 29.

82.   Callimedon and Charicles: Supporters of Antipater, and therefore hostile to Polyperchon (see chs. 21–2, 27 and Demosthenes 27).

83.   Deinarchus of Corinth: Denounced by Demosthenes as a traitor who supported Philip (On the crown 295). He should be distinguished from the Deinarchus, originally from Corinth, who was an orator and speech-writer in Athens and a supporter of Cassander’s agent, Demetrius of Phaleron, and who died c. 290. There is a third Deinarchus of Corinth mentioned in Timoleon 21 and 24.

84.   Hegemon: Probably to be identified with the Hegemon mentioned by Demosthenes (On the crown 285), alongside Demades, as an advocate of accommodation with Macedonia at the time of Chaeronea.

85.   Cerameicus: An area of Athens, north-west of the Agora, through which the road from the north-west passed.

86.   ‘I propose the penalty of death for my political actions’: According to Athenian law, in cases where the penalty was not legally fixed, the accuser proposed a penalty and the accused had the right to propose a counter-penalty; the court then chose between them. This was the procedure which was followed at the trial of Socrates. In general, Plutarch constructs the death of Phocion in such a way as to recall that of Socrates.

87.   when they were in the prison … the fee: The scene of Phocion’s death by hemlock while in prison, surrounded by his friends, is reminiscent of that of Socrates, as described in Plato’s Phaedo.

88.   Phocion’s death … Munychion: May, probably 318.

89.   not to postpone the execution … while a festival was being celebrated: There is an unspoken contrast here with Socrates’ execution, which, barbaric as it was, was delayed for thirty days to avoid a festival (in that case, the visit of the sacred delegation to Delos). See Plato, Phaedo 58a–c, and Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.8.

90.   set up a statue of him and gave his bones a public burial: In 317, the year after Phocion’s death, when Demetrius of Phaleron had been installed in Athens by Cassander. The poorest Athenians were again excluded from citizen rights (the property qualification was now set at 1,000 drachmas).

91.   reminded the Greeks … of Socrates … almost identical: See nn. 86, 87 and 89. In the Life of Cato the Younger, which is paired with Phocion, parallels with Socrates’ death are developed further.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Alexander

Buszard, B., ‘Caesar’s ambition: a combined reading of Plutarch’s Alexander–Caesar and Pyrrhus–Marius’, Transactions of the American Philological Association 138 (2008), pp. 185–215.

Cook, B., ‘Plutarch’s use of λε´γεται: narrative design and source in Alexander’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 42 (2001), pp. 329–60.

Duff, T. E., Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 14–22.

Hamilton, J. R., Plutarch, Alexander: A Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969; 2nd edn, London: Bristol Classical Press 1999).

Hammond, N. G. L., Sources for Alexander the Great: An Analysis of Plutarch’s ‘Life’ and Arrian’s ‘Anabasis Alexandrou’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Mossman, J. M., ‘Tragedy and epic in Plutarch’s Alexander’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 108 (1988), pp. 83–93; reprinted in B. Scardigli (ed.), Essays on Plutarch’s Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 209–28.

Pelling, C. B. R., ‘Plutarch, Alexander and Caesar: Two New Fragments’, CQ NS 23 (1973), pp. 343–4.

Sansone, D., ‘Plutarch, Alexander and the Discovery of Naphtha’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 21 (1980), pp. 63–74.

Stadter, P. A., ‘Anecdotes and the thematic structure of Plutarchean biography’, in T. E. Duff (ed.), Oxford Readings in Ancient Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Wardman, A. E., ‘Plutarch and Alexander’, CQNS 5 (1955), pp. 96–107.

Whitmarsh, T., ‘Alexander’s Hellenism and Plutarch’s textualism’, CQNS 52 (2002), pp. 174–92.


Bosworth, A. B., Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

Bosworth, A. B., and Baynham, E. J. (eds.), Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Green, P., Alexander of Macedon, 356–323BC: A Historical Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

Hammond, N. G. L., Alexander the Great: King, Commander and Statesman (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1981; 2nd edn 1989).

Hammond, N. G. L., The Genius of Alexander the Great (London: Duckworth, 1997).

Heckel, W., The Conquests of Alexander the Great (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Heckel, W., and Yardley, J. C., Alexander the Great: Historical Sources in Translation (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

Lane-Fox, R., Alexander the Great (London: Allen Lane, 1973).

O’Brien, J. M., Alexander the Great, The Invisible Enemy: A Biography (London and New York: Routledge, 1992).

Pearson, L., The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great (American Philological Association: Philological Monographs, 1960).

Roisman, J. (ed.), Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2002).

Stoneman, R., Alexander the Great (London: Routledge, 1997).

Worthington, I. (ed.), Alexander the Great: A Reader (London: Routledge, 2003).

Notes to the Life of Alexander

1.     Caranus: The legendary first king of Macedonia according to one tradition (e.g., Theopompus, FGrHist 115 F 393).

2.     Aeacus: The legendary king of Aegina and grandfather of Achilles.

3.     betrothed himself to her: The marriage took place in 357 or earlier. Philip was polygamous and had already been married several times before. His marriages served dynastic purposes; the one with Olympias cemented an alliance with the Molossian royal house in Epirus.

4.     Aristander of Telmessus: Prominent later as a seer (see chs. 14, 25, 33, 50, 52, 57).

5.     Klodones and Mimallones: These seem to be Macedonian names for Bacchantes, female followers of Dionysus. See Callimachus fragment 503 Pfeiffer; Strabo 10.3.10; and Ovid, Art of love 1.541.

6.     threskeuein: Plutarch associates the Greek verb threskeuein (‘worship’) with Thressai (‘Thracian women’).

7.     ‘making Hera jealous of me’: I.e., implying that Alexander’s father was the god Zeus. Hera was Zeus’ wife.

8.     sixth day … temple of Artemis at Ephesus was burned down: That is, 20 July 356 BC. Miraculous stories were often attached to the births of great men in antiquity; at any rate, it will have suited Macedonian propaganda to associate Alexander’s birth with the fire which destroyed the temple of Artemis. Cf. the notes on chs. 4 and 35.

9.     goddess … birth of Alexander: The goddess Artemis was thought to preside over childbirth.

10.   Magi: See Artaxerxes, n. 15.

11.   poise of the neck … face and chest: Plutarch seems to assume knowledge here of what was known as ‘physiognomics’, that is, the theory that character could be deduced from appearance.

12.   sweet-smelling … permeated the clothes he wore: A sweet smell was regarded as a mark of divinity (e.g., Euripides, Hippolytus 1392); this detail probably derives from pro-Alexander propaganda. Aristoxenus was a pupil of Aristotle, and so roughly contemporary with Alexander.

13.   Theophrastus’ ideas: Theophrastus was a pupil of Aristotle and author of numerous scientific treatises, including two on botany.

14.   heat … fond of drinking: Plutarch is here drawing on the theory that the body’s mix (‘temperament’) of the elements of cold and dry, hot and wet, affected character. Alexander, whose birth was announced by fire (chs. 2–3), will later in the Life be particularly associated with heat (chs. 35, 38, 77) and with excessive drinking, which Plutarch links to the god Dionysus (ch. 13).

15.   energetic: The term translated ‘energetic’ here (thymoeides) is Platonic. It refers to that part of the soul which is unreasoning but from which necessary emotions arise; it suggests energy, ambition and also anger – passions that are vital spurs to action but which, when not controlled by reason, can lead to megalomania and obsession.

16.   pancration: A violent form of athletic contest combining wrestling and boxing, in which only biting and scratching were banned.

17.   attendant: In Greek paidagogos; normally a servant or slave who accompanied and watched over a child, though Leonidas was plainly of higher status than the word implies.

18.   Peleus … Achilles … Phoenix: Peleus was Achilles’ father and Phoenix helped bring him up. Phoenix is called Achilles’ paidagogos in, e.g., Plato, Republic 390e, but he was, like Leonidas, of noble birth.

19.   13 talents: Thessaly was known for its fine horses, but this is a stupendous sum.

20.   ‘The rudder’s guidance and the bit’s restraint’: From an unknown play by Sophocles (TrGF IV fragment 869). Plutarch cites the same line in Dialogue on love 767e, and seems to allude to it in On Isis and Osiris 369c and Political advice 801d.

21.   sent for Aristotle: In 343, when Alexander was thirteen. Aristotle was in fact not yet very well known.

22.   ‘casket copy’: See ch. 26.

23.   Philistus: Author of a history of Sicily (see Pelopidas 34 and n. 63, Dion 11 and n. 27).

24.   Anaxarchus: Cf. ch. 28.

25.   Xenocrates: He became head of the Academy at Athens in 339 but declined to accompany Alexander on his expedition to Asia. See also Phocion 4 and 27.

26.   Dandamis and Calanus: See chs. 65 and 69.

27.   expedition against Byzantium: In 340 BC (see Phocion 14).

28.   Maedi: A Thracian tribe.

29.   battle of Chaeronea: In 338, where Philip smashed Theban and Athenian resistance, and thereby established control of most of mainland Greece(see Demosthenes 20 and Phocion 16).

30.   Sacred Band: An elite Theban infantry unit (see Pelopidas 18–19).

31.   decided to marry: The marriage probably took place in 337. Philip had not divorced Alexander’s mother, Olympias: Macedonian tradition did not require the king to be monogamous.

32.   legitimate heir to the throne: This probably means one born of a Macedonian mother, unlike Alexander, whose mother, Olympias, came from Epirus. At any rate, a marriage with Cleopatra threatened Alexander’s prospects of succession.

33.   Demaratus: He had recently been sent by the Corinthians to assist Timoleon in Sicily (see Timoleon 21, 24, 27, where Plutarch calls him Demaretus).

34.   persuaded him to return: It is not clear how long Alexander remained in exile. It may have been several years.

35.   Pixodarus … military alliance: Pixodarus may have wanted to ally himself to Philip in view of the latter’s planned invasion. He later withdrew his marriage offer and married his daughter to a Persian, Orontopates. Pixodarus died in 335, before Alexander’s invasion, and was succeeded by Orontopates.

36.   Arrhidaeus: An illegitimate son of Philip by Philinna of Larissa. He later succeeded Alexander (see Alexander 77 and Eumenes 3). The fact that Alexander could believe the story suggests how precarious he thought his position had become. Philip’s wife Cleopatra gave birth to a girl shortly before his death.

37.   went to Alexander’s room: The text is in doubt here.

38.   humiliated by Attalus: Attalus was the uncle of Philip’s new bride, Cleopatra (see ch. 9). Diodorus 16.93–4 explains how eight years earlier Attalus had arranged for Pausanias to be assaulted by his muleteers, in revenge for his having brought about the death of a kinsman of Attalus.

39.   ‘The father, bride and bridegroom all at once’: Quoting Medea 288 and implying that Alexander should kill Attalus, Cleopatra and Philip. In the play, Medea wishes to murder Creon, Creon’s daughter, and her own husband Jason, who now planned to marry Creon’s daughter. The murder of Philip took place on the day of the wedding of Philip’s own daughter, also named Cleopatra, to Alexander of Epirus in October 336.

40.   horrible revenge which she took upon Cleopatra: That is, on Cleopatra, Philip’s widow. According to the second-century AD writer Pausanias (Guide to Greece 8.7), Olympias had Cleopatra and her infant child roasted over a brazier. Alexander himself ordered the execution of Attalus, who was then one of the commanders of Philip’s expeditionary force to Asia, for allegedly treasonable correspondence with Athens (Demosthenes 23).

41.   arrived before Thebes: In September 335.

42.   actions of the Thebans against them: Thebes had attacked and destroyed Plataea in the Peloponnesian War in 427, and again in 373. Thebes and Phocis had clashed in the Third Sacred War (356–346), which ended in Phocian humiliation.

43.   murder of Cleitus … refusal of the Macedonians to cross the Ganges: See chs. 50–51 and 62.

44.   Dionysus: The god of wine was supposedly born in Thebes. In Alexander, Dionysus and drink are often associated with negative traits of Alexander’s character, or with his destruction (chs. 4, 50, 67, 75).

45.   The Greeks gathered at the Isthmus of Corinth: The congress at Corinth took place the year before the revolt of Thebes, that is, in 336; Philip had set up the League of Corinth in 337, and it had declared him its leader and its general for an attack on Persia. The decisions of the representatives were hardly free, as after Chaeronea opposition in Greece had been effectively subdued.

46.   set out: In early spring 334.

47.   Orpheus: A mythical figure associated with song and music. Pindar called him ‘the father of songs’ (Pythian ode 4.176–7).

48.   size of his army … cavalry: Similar figures are given by Plutarch in On the fortune or virtue of Alexander 327d–e and by Polybius 12.19, Diodorus 17.17.3–5 and Arrian, Anabasis 1.11.3. From these other passages it appears that the lower figure Plutarch quotes was probably given by Aristobulus, the higher by Anaximenes. The difference between the higher and lower figures could be partly explained by conjecturing that the lower figure did not include the 10,000 men sent by Philip as an advance force.

49.   companions: An elite group who acted as the Macedonian king’s advisers and entourage and who were often appointed to high office. On the battlefield they formed a cavalry unit, known as the royal squadron. The term ‘companion’ was also used to designate a member of a larger cavalry unit, of which the royal squadron formed a part.

50.   faithful friend … great poet to sing of his deeds after his death: Achilles’ friend was Patroclus, whose death was mourned deeply by him. Homer sang of Achilles’ deeds in the Iliad.

51.   Alexander of Troy: That is, Alexander, son of Priam, who is portrayed in the Iliad; he was also known as Paris.

52.   sang of the glorious deeds of brave men: A paraphrase of Iliad 9.189. Alexander thus identifies himself not with his Asian namesake, who was associated in the Greek tradition with soft-living and womanizing, but with his enemy, the Greek Achilles, whom Homer presents as the fiercer fighter and more noble figure and from whom Alexander’s family claimed ancestry. Alexander certainly cultivated a connection between himself and Achilles (see, e.g., ch. 5), and Plutarch introduces other parallels as well as stressing Alexander’s love for Homer (chs. 8, 26, 63, 72). The comparison is in Alexander’s favour, and suggests his bravery and martial prowess, his semi-divine status and his Greekness.

53.   Darius’ generals had gathered a large army: Arrian, Anabasis 1.14, says that the Persian forces at Granicus numbered about 20,000 cavalry and slightly fewer foreign-mercenary infantry. There must have been locally levied infantry too, but Diodorus’ figure (17.19) of at least 100,000, along with 10,000 cavalry, is too high.

54.   never made war during the month of Daesius … Artemisius: Daesius in the Macedonian calendar is roughly May/June; Artemisius immediately preceded it. The original reason for avoiding fighting in that month may have been the need to gather the harvest.

55.   crossing at such a late hour of the day: Diodorus (17.19) gives a different version, in which Alexander crossed the river at dawn before the enemy could stop him and was only then engaged by the Persians.

56.   ‘Black’ Cleitus: Commander of the royal squadron of Companion Cavalry, called ‘Black’ to distinguish him from Cleitus the White, an infantry commander.

57.   only thirty-four soldiers … infantry: According to Arrian, Anabasis 1.16.4, the overall losses were somewhat higher, but twenty-five of the companions fell in the first charge; it was these men, he says, whose statues, carved by Lysippus, were set up at Dion in Macedonia.

58.   except the Spartans: Sparta had refused to send delegates to the congress at Corinth. In 331 the Spartans, under the leadership of Agis III, and with financial support from Persia, would launch a war against Macedonia and be quickly defeated by Antipater.

59.   Halicarnassus: An important Persian naval base (modern Bodrum). Both it and Miletus were defended by large numbers of Greek mercenaries. Unlike Miletus, Halicarnassus was not entirely subdued at this point, as a Persian garrison held out in two fortified citadels until early 332 (see Arrian, Anabasis 1.20–23, 2.5.7, 2.13.4).

60.   His advance through Pamphylia … waves receded to make way for him: Such accounts may go back in part to Callisthenes, who accompanied Alexander and was later executed by him (chs. 53–5). He wrote an extremely laudatory account of Alexander which included such miraculous tales.

61.   Like Alexander … path for me: Menander fragment 598 K–A. The play is lost and the title unknown.

62.   Climax: ‘Ladder’, through the mountains north of Phaselis. Arrian, Anabasis 1.26.1, mentions the construction of the road and says that one part of the army used it but that Alexander himself led another part along the sea-shore.

63.   Theodectas: A successful tragic poet at Athens. His relationship with Aristotle is unclear.

64.   captured Gordium: Spring 333.

65.   Memnon: A Greek commander from Rhodes who had long experience in Persian service and was now commander of Persian operations in the Aegean. In 333 he captured Chios, overran most of Lesbos and laid siege to Mitylene, where he died (Arrian, Anabasis 2.1).

66.   this battle: The battle of Issus in November 333.

67.   ‘So this … is what it is to be a king’: An ironic remark intended to express not admiration but pity for Darius, for thinking that royalty consisted of mere wealth and luxury.

68.   ‘These Persian women are a torment for the eyes’: I.e., because they incite the body to rebel against the discipline imposed by reason. The story recalls an incident in Herodotus 5.18 where Persian ambassadors to Macedonia call the royal Macedonian women ‘torments to their eyes’ and proceed to lay hands on them. Alexander’s restraint stands in contrast.

69.   Ada: The sister of Pixodarus, former satrap of Caria (see ch. 10). Pixodarus had in fact ousted her from power but he had died by the time Alexander arrived and she submitted to him and was reinstated. She made Alexander her heir.

70.   sitting down: That is, not reclining as was the custom for a banquet.

71.   battle of Issus: November 333 (see ch. 20).

72.   besieged Tyre for seven months: February to August 332.

73.   satyr: Satyrs were mythological male creatures, often represented as half-man and half-horse or -goat. The commonest place to meet them was at fountains or wells. The god Dionysus was often depicted as accompanied by revelling satyrs, and these associations with Dionysus and with drink may be intended here (see chs. 4 and 13).

74.   laid siege to Gaza: September to October 332.

75.   to found a … Greek city there, to be called after him: The modern Alexandria, which, like many of the cities Alexander founded, was named after Alexander himself. Alexandria in Egypt grew in the centuries after Alexander’s death to be one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean world.

76.   Out of … Pharos: Homer, Odyssey 4.354–5.

77.   Pharos … an island: It was later the site of a famous octagonal lighthouse connected to the city by a causeway.

78.   temple of Ammon: At the oasis of Siwah, 350 miles south-west of Alexandria. The local god Ammon was identified with the Egyptian sun-god Amun-Ra, and with the Greek Zeus. The temple of Ammon had been known to the Greeks for several centuries, and was considered an important oracular shrine.

79.   Cambyses: The son of Cyrus the Great, and king of Persia 530–522 BC. He reconquered Egypt in 525 after it had revolted. Herodotus 3.26 records the disappearance of the expedition sent by Cambyses to Siwah.

80.   welcomed him … as a father greeting his son: I.e., implying that Alexander was the son of Zeus-Ammon. Cf. the portents indicating Alexander’s divine birth in chs. 2–3.

81.   wrote to the Athenians on the subject of Samos: Since 365 the Athenians had held Samos and had installed a large number of settlers there. This letter may have been written after Alexander’s conquest of the coast of Asia Minor. Some scholars date it instead to the last year of Alexander’s life, when he decreed that all Greek cities must receive back their exiles: this would have meant the evacuation of Athenian settlers from Samos, as well as the return to Samos of those expelled by the Athenians.

82.   ‘who was called my father’: There is some debate about the meaning of Alexander’s words. Plutarch takes it that Alexander was implying that his father was not Philip but, presumably, Zeus. But, if the letter is genuine, it is possible that Alexander meant merely ‘the one you refer to [rightly] as my father’.

83.   ‘ichor, which flows in the veins of the blessed gods’: Homer, Iliad 5.340. Aphrodite has been wounded in battle: ‘The immortal blood of the goddess flowed, ichor, which flows in the veins of the blessed gods. For they do not eat bread nor drink shining wine, so they are bloodless and called immortal.’ Alexander implies that he is mortal and not immune to harm.

84.   Hephaestion: A childhood friend of Alexander, and particularly close to him (see, e.g., chs. 39, 41, 72; Eumenes 1–2).

85.   enslave others: Presumably, the barbarians.

86.   On his return from Egypt to Phoenicia: In 331 BC.

87.   Darius wrote Alexander a letter: Plutarch gives no chronological context for this incident. According to Arrian (Anabasis 2.25), it had taken place at the time of the siege of Tyre, and Alexander’s reply was the conclusion of a more arrogantly phrased letter.

88.   evil god of the Persians: Persian religion was in some sense dualistic. In On Isis and Osiris 369d, Plutarch talks of a good and an evil force in the universe, called by the Persians Ahura-Mazda and Areimanus respectively; he claims that some people called the latter a daimon – the Greek word Plutarch uses here. On the other hand, in On the fortune of the Romans, he talks of ‘the daimon of the Romans’, which seems more akin to providential protection.

89.   Lord Oromazes: That is, Ahura-Mazda, the supreme god of the Persians (see Artaxerxes 29).

90.   ‘how can a young man’s treatment of his enemy’s wife be virtuous … such tributes?’: I.e., Darius assumes that Alexander must have seduced or raped his wife.

91.   a million men: The figure here is almost certainly inflated, though the Persian army at this point did undoubtedly outnumber Alexander’s.

92.   Boedromion … eclipse of the moon: The eclipse is securely dated to 20 September 331 BC. Plutarch therefore dates the battle at Gaugamela to 1 October, as he does also at Camillus 19.

93.   all tyrannies … under their own laws: A misleading statement, as Macedonian-backed tyrannies existed in various states in mainland Greece.

94.   To the Plataeans … common freedom: In the Persian Wars. The combined Greek forces won a decisive victory near Plataea in 479 BC. On Plataea’s subsequent fate, see n. 42.

95.   Phaÿllus … danger: The story is told in Herodotus 8.47.

96.   Ecbatana: The name is almost certainly corrupt, as Ecbatana is in Media not Babylonia.

97.   naphtha … afterwards: The digression on naphtha is probably meant to express something about Alexander’s ‘fiery’ nature (ch. 4). He, like it, is brilliant, fast-moving and destructive.

98.   Medea … Creon’s daughter: See n. 39.

99.   Greek plants … all except ivy … killed it: The successes and failures of transplanting Greek plants to Babylonia are probably meant to be symbolic of the successes and difficulties in transplanting Greek customs to Asia. In addition, the fiery soil of Babylonia may also suggest Alexander’s fiery nature (ch. 4); the inability of ivy, the plant of Dionysus, to grow there suggests Dionysus’ hostility to Alexander (ch. 13).

100.  purple from Hermione … 190 years: Cloth dyed with purple, obtained from the sea-snail (murex), was extremely expensive; assuming talents here refers to weight, this is an incredible amount of it (c. 130 tonnes). The cloth mentioned here would have been obtained around the time when Darius I came to the throne in 522 BC. Hermione was a city in the eastern Peloponnese.

101.  Deinon: See Artaxerxes, n. 6.

102.  Persis: The old Persian homeland, across the Zagros mountains in modern Iran (Fars province).

103.  a guide … short diversion: Plutarch does not narrate here the forcing of the pass known as the Persian Gates, which was guarded by a large army (see Arrian, Anabasis 3.18).

104.  fire to be put out: For Alexander’s fiery nature, and its ambiguities, see chs. 4 and 35.

105.  Paeonians: Cavalry from Paeonia, which lay to the north of Macedonia.

106.  wrote to Phocion … favours: See Phocion 18.

107.  bodyguards: Perhaps referring here to the high-ranking noblemen, seven in number, who received the title of bodyguards (somatophylakes) from the Macedonian king and formed an inner circle of trusted officers.

108.  Mazaeus … governor of a province … add an even larger one to it: Mazaeus, who had been satrap of Cilicia and Syria under the previous Persian kings and had fought at Gaugamela, had been appointed by Alexander to the satrapy of Babylon. This marked a new policy: henceforth, Alexander appointed or confirmed in their old appointments members of the Persian nobility, though in each satrapy Macedonians were also appointed to command the army. One of Mazaeus’ sons surrendered to Alexander in 330 (Arrian, Anabasis 3.21.1; Curtius 5.13.11); two others were admitted to the Companion Cavalry in 324 (Arrian 7.6.4).

109.  wrote to Antipater … plots against his life: Antipater had been left behind to govern Macedon. Plutarch does not specify whom Alexander suspected of plotting against Antipater, but it may have been his mother Olympias, who was on bad terms with Antipater.

110.  Craterus: One of Alexander’s most important generals and, with Hephaestion, his second-in-command after the execution of Philotas. Following Alexander’s death he was killed in battle against Eumenes (see Eumenes 5–7 and Biographical Notes).

111.  hunting scene represented in bronze … at Delphi: The base of the statue group, which measures more than 45 feet in length, and the dedicatory inscription which accompanied it, have been found at Delphi.

112.  Harpalus had deserted: See Demosthenes 25.

113.  He was marching against Darius at this time: In spring 330. Plutarch here takes up the chronological narrative again which he had left off in ch. 38. Darius retreated east from Ecbatana, but was assassinated in a coup led by several of the eastern satraps.

114.  2,000 talents, besides their regular pay: Other sources explain that he gave one talent to each man – a huge sum.

115.  Lake Maeotis: The Sea of Azov, linked to the Black Sea by a narrow channel.

116.  outer sea: According to the beliefs of Plutarch’s time, the ‘outer sea’ encircled the world. Alexander planned an expedition to determine whether the Caspian Sea was a gulf of this ocean, but did not live to carry it out (Arrian, Anabasis 7.16).

117.  obeisance: See Artaxerxes 22 and n. 57. Alexander was seen by many of his non-Greek subjects as the successor to the kings of Persia, and adopted this and other aspects of Persian court procedure and dress, much to the annoyance of some of his Macedonian officers.

118.  tiara: On the Persian tiara, see Artaxerxes, n. 66.

119.  Lysimachus: Not Alexander’s tutor, but one of Alexander’s generals, who later declared himself king (see Demetrius, n. 34, and Biographical Notes).

120.  Philotas, the son of Parmenion … Macedonians: Parmenion had served Philip, and was one of Alexander’s most experienced generals. Philotas, his son, commanded the Companion Cavalry.

121.  Dimnus: The manuscripts of Plutarch have Limnus, but Dimnus is the spelling used by Arrian and Curtius Rufus.

122.  put to death: Parmenion and Philotas were killed in the autumn of 330.

123.  dreaded … above all by Antipater: Antipater’s son-in-law, Alexander, of the royal house of Lyncestis, had been arrested in 333 and was now put to death.

124.  Aetolians … not by the sons of the Oeniadae but by him: Alexander’s threat to Aetolia for occupying Oeniadae, a town in Acarnania, was contained in the Exiles’ Decree of 324. Antipater’s negotiations with them, forestalled by Alexander’s death, should be dated to around that time.

125.  Not long after this: Two years later, in the autumn of 328, at Marakanda (Samarkand).

126.  evil genius: Plutarch occasionally elsewhere speaks of spirits (daimones or daimonia) associated with each individual (see Caesar 69; Dion 2, 55; Brutus 36, 48; On the decline of oracles 593d–594a; and On tranquillity of mind 474b–c).

127.  Spithridates’ sword: See ch. 16.

128.  Aristophanes: Perhaps Aristonous is meant, as no bodyguard called Aristophanes is attested. On the bodyguards (somatophylakes), see n. 107.

129.  corps of guards: Hypaspists (literally, shield-bearers), an elite infantry unit responsible for guarding the king.

130.  in Macedonian … a signal that this was an extreme emergency: The detail that Alexander shouted in Macedonian (rather than standard, Attic Greek) would have been suggestive for Plutarch’s original readers: when in the grip of emotion he is portrayed as reverting to a less sophisticated self.

131.  ‘Alas, what evil customs reign in Greece’: Andromache 693. The context of the quotation is significant: in the play, Peleus is lamenting that Menelaus, the commander, is taking the honour won by the army at large. The passage continues: ‘When the army sets up victory-trophies over the enemy, people do not regard this as the deed of those who have done the work, but rather the general receives the honour. He brandished his spear as one man amongst ten thousand others and did no more than a single man, yet he gets more credit’ (694–8).

132.  Olynthus: A Greek city in the Chalcidice, which had been destroyed by Philip in 348.

133.  ‘A wise man … own interests’: A line from an unknown play of Euripides (TrGF V fragment 905).

134.  ‘On noble subjects … speak well’: Bacchae 267. In the play, these words are addressed by Teiresias, the seer, to Pentheus, the tyrannical king of Thebes, who has been insulting and deriding the worship of Dionysus. Readers who remember the play may wonder whether Alexander is acting more like the tyrant than the prophet.

135.  ‘Once civil strife … honoured’: This line is quoted also in Nicias 11 and Sulla 39, but its provenance is not known (Adespota elegiaca fragment 12 West).

136.  ‘Braver by far … death did not spare him’: Homer, Iliad 21.107, where Achilles is speaking to Hector. Elsewhere in the Life, Alexander is associated with Achilles; Callisthenes’ point here is that Alexander is not immortal.

137.  Demaratus of Corinth: On Demaratus, who had fought at the Granicus, see ch. 9 and n. 33. The placing of this episode here contrasts Alexander’s treatment of him with his treatment of Callisthenes.

138.  cross into India: Late spring 327.

139.  refreshment for their labours: A quotation of Plato, Menexenus 238a.

140.  besieging the fortress … Sisimithres: This operation took place in the winter of 328/7. In this chapter Plutarch describes various incidents without chronological link in order to illustrate Alexander’s character.

141.  Taxiles: The ruler of the great city of Taxila about 20 miles north-west of the modern Rawalpindi.

142.  the philosophers: The Brahmans of Sind.

143.  campaign against Porus: In 326.

144.  crossing the Ganges: Alexander did not in fact reach the Ganges. The river where the troops mutinied was the Hyphasis; the upper Ganges was some 250 miles further east. There is much dispute as to his real intention: in Arrian, Anabasis 5.25–6, Alexander gives a speech at the Hyphasis where he talks of pressing on to the Ganges and the ‘eastern sea’, which he assumes is part of the outer sea (see n. 116).

145.  Sandrocottus: The Hellenized form of Chandragupta, whose accession probably took place around 322. He later wiped out the Macedonian garrisons in India.

146.  altars for the gods of Greece: Arrian, Anabasis 5.29.1–2, specifies that there were twelve huge altars (i.e., one for each of the twelve Olympian gods) and Diodorus 17.95 that they were 75 feet high.

147.  a dazzling sheet of flame … his body: This suggests Achilles’ shining armour in Iliad 19.369–83. For Alexander’s association with Achilles in Plutarch, see ch. 15, and with fire, chs. 4 and 35.

148.  reached the ocean: In July 325.

149.  ordered them … keeping India on their right: The plan was that the fleet should sail up the Persian Gulf and rejoin Alexander at the mouth of the Euphrates.

150.  terrible privations … 15,000 cavalry: Alexander may well have chosen this route to enhance his reputation by surpassing earlier rulers (Cyrus and the mythical queen Semiramis) who had famously failed to cross the Gedrosian desert with an army (Arrian, Anabasis 6.24.2–3, and Strabo 15.1.5). The troop numbers given here are exaggerated, and anyway represent the total Alexander had earlier on his campaigns, not on his march through Gedrosia.

151.  as though the god himself were present to lead the revels: Plutarch’s description of the revels in Carmania in fact recalls the myth of the triumphant return of Dionysus from India. This may have been Alexander’s own purpose, but for Plutarch Dionysus represents a threat to Alexander (ch. 13).

152.  Gedrosia: Probably a mistake for Carmania.

153.  Nearchus … voyage: Arrian’s Indica describes Nearchus’ voyage. In December 325 he landed at Harmozeia, near the strait of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, and joined Alexander after five days’ march inland.

154.  fill the whole coastline with cities: Or ‘with wars’. The text is uncertain here.

155.  the custom of the Persian kings: In Virtues of women 246a–b, Plutarch records that Cyrus the Great instituted the custom when, after a defeat, the Persian women had shamed the troops into fighting again and winning. See also Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.5.21.

156.  Ochus never set foot there at all: On Ochus, see Artaxerxes, n. 78. The claim that Ochus never entered Persis is unlikely to be true.

157.  whom … he would soon see in Babylon: A prophecy of Alexander’s death.

158.  the so-called Indian’s tomb can be seen there to this day: Strabo 15.886 describes the tomb and its inscription, which Plutarch had probably seen. The Indian had come as an ambassador to Augustus, c. 20 BC.

159.  marriages of his companions at Susa: In April 324. According to Athenaeus 538b, Chares, Alexander’s chamberlain, claimed that ninety-two of the companions married Persian women. Many repudiated them after Alexander’s death.

160.  arranged to send … to the sea-coast: I.e., in order to return them to Macedonia.

161.  arrived in Ecbatana in Media: In late summer 324.

162.  horses should be shorn: Arrian, Anabasis 7.14.4, claims Alexander cut his own hair too; cutting the hair of horses or humans as a sign of mourning was a Persian practice (Herodotus 9.22) but also apparently a Thessalian one (see Pelopidas 33–4 on mourning for Pelopidas, where Plutarch criticizes Alexander’s actions). Alexander may here also, as Arrian claims, be imitating Achilles’ mourning for Patroclus in the Iliad, which involved cutting the hair (23.135).

163.  sacrifice to him as a hero: ‘Heroes’ were mortals who were thought to have become semi-divine and who were honoured after death (see Timoleon 39 and n. 63).

164.  Cossaeans: A mountain tribe who made their livelihood from brigandage. They had not been subdued by the Persians.

165.  grief was uncontrollable … sacrifice to the spirit of Hephaestion: This recalls Achilles’ mourning for Patroclus in Iliad 23.175–83, and his sacrifice of twelve Trojans at Patroclus’ tomb.

166.  on the way to Babylon: Spring 323.

167.  ravens … pecking one another: The fighting of birds was customarily regarded as an ominous sign.

168.  called Dionysius: The name of this man, whose mysterious appearance seems to predict Alexander’s death, suggests the god Dionysus (see n. 44).

169.  the palace was filled … slave to his fears: The text is corrupt at this point. Plutarch wrote a work entitled On superstition, which criticizes both atheism and (more strongly) superstition, and advocates a middle course of traditional piety.

170.  Heracles’ cup … to embellish the occasion: Plutarch is here arguing against a version preserved in Diodorus 17.117 in which Alexander had been engaged in heavy drinking to commemorate the death of Heracles, and was finally taken ill after drinking a huge cup of unmixed wine; ‘suddenly he groaned loudly,’ Diodorus claims, ‘as though struck a hefty blow.’

171.  thirtieth day of the month of Daesius: Daesius corresponds with May/June. In the next chapter, Plutarch reports that the royal journal gave the date of Alexander’s death as the twenty-eighth of Daesius. A Babylonian astronomical tablet establishes the date of Alexander’s death as 11 June 323.

172.  ice-cold water … Nonacris: Nonacris was a city in northern Arcadia in the Peloponnese. The river that flowed near the town was called the Styx and seems to have been thought to have had deadly powers (Herodotus 6.74). The reference to the coldness of the water is significant: Alexander’s nature has been described as fiery (ch. 4) and he has been consistently associated with heat (e.g., chs. 4, 35).

173.  her accomplice was Perdiccas: Perdiccas was himself killed by his own officers a few years later as he marched against Alexander’s former general Ptolemy (Eumenes 8).

174.  It is possible that the Life of Alexander did not originally end here and that the final part of it has been lost. It is also possible that the Byzantine writer Zonaras (4.14) preserves a summary of that lost ending:

It is said that, when he realized that his life was leaving him, he wanted to drown himself secretly in the Euphrates, in order that by disappearing he might cause a rumour that he had gone to live with the gods, since he had come from them. But Roxane found this out and prevented the attempt, and he said with a groan, ‘So you begrudged me the reputation of having become a god and not died.’


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Eumenes

Bosworth, A. B., ‘History and Artifice in Plutarch’s Eumenes’, in P. A. Stadter (ed.), Plutarch and the Historical Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 56–89.

Geiger, J., ‘Plutarch on Hellenistic politics: the case of Eumenes of Cardia’, in I. Gallo and B. Scardigli (eds.), Teoria e prassi politica nelle opere di Plutarco (Naples: M. D’Auria, 1995), pp. 173–85.

Landucci Gattinoni, F., and Konrad, C. F. (eds.), Plutarco. Vite Parallele: Sertorio–Eumene (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 2004).


Anson, E. M., Eumenes of Cardia: A Greek Among Macedonians (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Bosworth, A. B., The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare and Propaganda under the Successors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

Heckel. W., ‘The politics of distrust: Alexander and his successors’, in D. Ogden (ed.), The Hellenistic World: New Perspectives (London: Duckworth, and Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2002), pp. 81–95.

Schäfer, C., Eumenes von Kardia und der Kampf um die Macht im Alexanderreich (Frankfurt am Main: Buchverlag Marthe Claus, 2005).

Westlake, H. D., ‘Eumenes of Cardia’, Hellenica, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 37 (1954), pp. 309–27; reprinted in idem, Essays on the Greek Historians and Greek History (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1969), pp. 313–30.

Wheatley, P., ‘An introduction to the chronological problems in early diadoch sources and scholarship’, in W. Heckel, L. Tritle and P. Wheatley (eds.), Alexander’s Empire: Formulation to Decay (Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2007), pp. 179–92.

Notes to the Life of Eumenes

1.     Life of Eumenes: The second in its pair of Lives. A prologue to the Lives of Sertorius and Eumenes precedes the Sertorius.

2.     Cardia: A Greek city on the Thracian Chersonese (the Gallipoli peninsula).

3.     Douris: See Demosthenes, n. 65.

4.     cart-driver: Given Eumenes’ education, and the antipathy between his family and that of Hecataeus, the tyrant of Cardia (ch. 3), it seems unlikely that his father was a mere cart-driver. The detail may come from hostile propaganda.

5.     Philip … in the vicinity: Possibly in 342, when Philip was campaigning in Thrace, and when Cardia received a Macedonian garrison.

6.     After Philip’s death … force under his own command: Philip was assassinated in 336, and succeeded by his son Alexander (Alexander 10). Eumenes served under Alexander in his Asian campaigns.

7.     Hephaestion’s position on the latter’s death: Hephaestion, one of Alexander’s most trusted friends, died of fever in 324 (Alexander 72).

8.     Artonis: The manuscripts say ‘Barsine’, which is almost certainly a mistake. ‘Artonis’ is the name found in Arrian, Anabasis 7.4.

9.     distributed the other Persian women … to his companions: See Alexander 70.

10.   disputes with Hephaestion: Arrian also comments on the enmity between the two men at Anabasis 7.13–14.

11.   Nearchus … outer sea: See Alexander 66 and 68 and n. 116.

12.   honours … construction of his tomb: For the honours paid to Hephaestion after his death, see Alexander 72.

13.   When Alexander died … companions: Alexander died in Babylon in June 323 without an heir. The Macedonian nobles, here designated ‘companions’, wished to wait for the birth of Alexander’s child to see if it were male; the rank and file, on the other hand, preferred to designate as king Alexander’s half-brother Arrhidaeus, who suffered from some kind of mental disability (see Phocion 33, Alexander 77). In the end, a compromise was reached whereby both would be designated king, and Perdiccas assume command of the empire and of the royal armies in their names (see Introduction to Eumenes).

14.   as a foreigner … disputes of Macedonians: Eumenes was not a Macedonian. Diodorus (18.60.1–3, 62.7; 19.13.1) and Nepos (Eumenes 1) make the point that Eumenes’ Greek origins were a disadvantage to him in dealing with his Macedonian troops, as does Plutarch in the Comparison with Sertorius, ch. 20(1). This may have meant that he was unable to address his troops in their native Macedonian language. Cf. ch. 18, where the Silver Shields call him a ‘pest from the Chersonese’.

15.   Leonnatus: He had accompanied Alexander in Asia (Alexander 21 and 40), and is said by Arrian (Anabasis 6.9, 6.11, 7.5), by Curtius Rufus (9.5.15) and by Plutarch (On the fortune or virtue of Alexander 344d) to have saved Alexander’s life among the Malli (cf. Alexander 63). He was now satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia.

16.   Antigonus: Antigonus Monophthalmus, one of Alexander’s most trusted generals, had under Alexander been satrap of Phrygia; he now governed much of western Asia Minor.

17.   escort … region: In 322 BC.

18.   Antigonus took no notice of Perdiccas’ written instructions: In fact, Antigonus joined Craterus and Antipater in Europe after disobeying Perdiccas’ instructions to cooperate with Eumenes in the conquest of Cappadocia.

19.   besieged in Lamia: On Alexander’s death the forces of Athens, Aetolia and several other states attacked Antipater, who had been left by Alexander as his regent in Macedonia, and besieged him in Lamia. He was relieved by Leonnatus, and, with reinforcements from Craterus, defeated Athens at the battle of Crannon in 322 (see Phocion 23–6).

20.   Cleopatra: Alexander’s sister (Alexander 68), who was now a widow after the death of her husband, Alexander of Epirus; her hand was eagerly sought by various of the competing generals.

21.   the kings: That is, the infant Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus.

22.   Neoptolemus: He had received Armenia in the distribution of provinces but it was probably not fully under Macedonian control.

23.   Craterus: Sent by Alexander back to Europe with the veterans who wanted to return home in 324, though on Alexander’s death he was still in Cilicia. He had then crossed over to Greece and assisted Antipater in the Lamian War.

24.   planning to invade Cappadocia: In 321 or 320. Perdiccas was now faced with an alliance of Craterus, Antipater, Antigonus, Lysimachus and Ptolemy.

25.   on campaign against Ptolemy: In Egypt, where Ptolemy was satrap. Perdiccas had with him Philip Arrhidaeus and Alexander’s infant son, Alexander.

26.   Alcetas: Perdiccas’ brother.

27.   deploying … for battle: Summer 321 or 320 BC.

28.   oaths … serve under him: A papyrus fragment (PSI xii, 1951, 1284), perhaps from Arrian’s History of the Successors, may describe negotiations after this battle.

29.   enmity with Antipater was long standing: The quarrel with Antipater is also mentioned in ch. 3. We have no evidence for its cause.

30.   If either one became greedy: The Greek is odd here and there may be a lacuna in the manuscripts. One editor suggests ‘<As long as they kept their oaths he would eagerly fight as an ally to both, but> if either one …’

31.   flat cap: The kausia, a distinctive hat worn by Macedonian soldiers from at least this period onwards.

32.   opposing him in his rush to imitate Persian manners … pride: See Alexander 47.

33.   like triremes ramming: A similar metaphor is found at Xenophon, Hellenica 7.5.23: ‘Epaminondas led his army forward, prow-on, like a trireme, thinking that wherever he rammed and broke through …’

34.   Meanwhile, Neoptolemus encountered Eumenes … harm: Plutarch’s description of the duel between Neoptolemus and Eumenes has many elements reminiscent of such scenes in the Iliad. Eumenes is thus presented here in a heroic light.

35.   Perdiccas had been killed … Antipater: In 321 or 320. Eumenes was condemned by the army in Egypt, partly because he was responsible for Craterus’ death, and partly because of his alliance with Perdiccas. The new distribution of powers took place at Triparadeisus in Syria. Antipater became regent of the whole empire and guardian of the kings.

36.   Mount Ida: In Hellespontine Phrygia, in the north-west corner of Asia Minor.

37.   Cleopatra: Alexander’s sister, who was now living in Sardis, having refused offers of marriage from Cassander, Lysimachus and Antigonus.

38.   He promised … arrears of pay: These efforts of Eumenes to pay his men are described in the Göteborg Palimpsest, which first came to light in the 1970s and appears to be a fragment of Arrian’s Events after Alexander.

39.   able to distribute purple caps … royal gift: Probably because Eumenes presented himself as acting in the name of the kings and with the blessing of Cleopatra.

40.   where the battle … ashes: Possession of the battlefield after a battle, and the ability to bury one’s dead without having to seek a truce or ask permission from the opponent, was considered a sign of victory.

41.   Eumenes kept on the move … unnoticed: Plutarch ignores here the major defeat inflicted on Eumenes by Antigonus (described in Diodorus 18.40), after which many of his men deserted him.

42.   took refuge in Nora: Spring 319 BC.

43.   ‘I count no man … sword’: An ominous statement which looks forward to his betrayal by his troops (ch. 17), when his dagger is snatched from him.

44.   Ptolemaeus: Also known as Polemaeus. He is not to be confused with Alexander’s general Ptolemy, who was now satrap of Egypt.

45.   Antipater had died … hostility between Cassander and Polyperchon: Antipater died of illness in autumn 319. He named Polyperchon as regent, not his son, Cassander. In the war which followed (the Second War of the Diadochi), Eumenes supported Polyperchon, as did Olympias, Alexander the Great’s mother, whereas Antigonus, Ptolemy and Lysander supported Cassander (see Phocion 31).

46.   Hieronymus: Hieronymus of Cardia (c. 364–260 BC) came from Eumenes’ own city. He was the author of a historical work on the period after Alexander’s death, which was an important source for Plutarch in Eumenes, Demetrius and Pyrrhus. See Introduction to Eumenes, and cf. Demetrius 39 and Pyrrhus 17.

47.   He left … siege continued: Eumenes left Nora in spring 318. Plutarch’s account implies that no sooner was the siege lifted than he fled, but Diodorus 18.53 and 58 suggests there was a period when Eumenes was at peace with Antigonus; the latter only marched against him once Eumenes had been appointed commander of the royal armies.

48.   Alexander’s son: He must now have been five years old.

49.   Antigenes: Since Triparadeisus, satrap of the province of Susa.

50.   Silver Shields: An elite infantry unit, originally known as Hypaspists, but renamed Silver Shields (Argyraspides) because Alexander, shortly before the invasion of India, had awarded them armour and weapons decorated with silver (Diodorus 17.57.2, Justin 12.7.5, Curtius Rufus 8.5.4).

51.   As they advanced … joined forces with them: The date is now autumn 318 and Eumenes is moving inland towards Babylon. Peucestas was satrap of Persis; the other satraps mentioned here were in charge of other eastern provinces. They had formed a coalition against Peithon, the satrap of Media, who seems to have been trying to extend his domains. They turned to Eumenes for support, and Peithon to Seleucus (Diodorus 19.14).

52.   just like in a democracy: This derogatory comparison with a democracy may have originated in Plutarch’s source, Hieronymus. But it is just as likely Plutarch’s own comment. Plutarch was suspicious of democracy and of unfettered popular power; a firm leader like Pericles or Phocion might assert his moral authority and control the people, but there was always, in Plutarch’s view, the risk that demagogues might manipulate them through pandering to their desires.

53.   Antigonus … with a large force: He had moved inland into Mesopotamia in the winter of probably 318/17; in summer 317 he entered Babylonia at the invitation of Peithon and Seleucus.

54.   Pasitigris: Now known as the Karun, east of Susa, which Eumenes had evacuated as Antigonus advanced on it. After his failure to cross the Pasitigris, Antigonus pushed north-eastwards into Media. Diodorus 19.21 records that Eumenes wished now to march back to the Mediterranean, but had to give way to the wishes of the satraps of the interior who wanted to defend their possessions, and so marched instead to Persepolis. Diodorus also claims that on the march Peucestas provided the army with generous provisions, as well as giving a magnificent feast in Persepolis.

55.   a few days later: This and the next episodes took place after Antigonus had moved south from Media, in the days leading up to the battle of Paraetacene in probably late 317 (though some scholars place it in 316), which is not itself described by Plutarch. A fuller account can be found in Diodorus, 19.24–32.

56.   dangerously ill: According to Diodorus 19.24, after drinking heavily.

57.   golden weapons: Alexander had begun the practice of awarding elite troops weapons decorated with precious metals (see n. 50).

58.   elephants: The Macedonians first encountered elephants on the battlefield at Gaugamela in 331. They were subsequently utilized in the armies of the successors.

59.   Gabiene: In the hills of central Persia, south-west of modern Isfahan.

60.   his mind remained versatile … reverses of fortune … suffered: The description here, especially the use of the word ‘versatile’ (polytropos), suggests a comparison with Odysseus, whose cunning as well as his long wanderings were famous.

61.   draw up his forces: The battle of Gabiene took place in January of probably 316 (though some scholars date it one year later). It is described in Diodorus 19.39–43.

62.   ‘It is against your fathers … you scum!’: Diodorus 19.41 records, perhaps more plausibly, that this message was shouted to Antigonus’ Macedonian infantry by a single cavalryman sent for the purpose.

63.   pest: The term translated as ‘pest’ here (olethros, literally, ‘ruin, destruction’) is the same as that used by Eumenes himself in ch. 8 when he quotes the proverb ‘No account is made of ruin’. His words are here fulfilled.

64.   sleep for the third night in a row with the enemy: Eumenes’ baggage train had been captured in the battle a few days before (ch. 16), and with it not only his men’s possessions but their families had fallen into the hands of Antigonus’ army.

65.   Demetrius: Demetrius Poliorcetes (see the next Life in this volume).

66.   Nearchus the Cretan: Alexander’s admiral (ch. 2).

67.   murder him: Probably early in 316, though some scholars date it to 315.

68.   Arachosia: In the far east of Alexander’s empire, in what is now south-east Afghanistan, the area around Kandahar.

69.   exterminate and destroy them … behold the Greek sea: Plutarch, like Diodorus, makes the fate of the Silver Shields a moral lesson about betrayal and punishment; in fact, the truth is likely to be more mundane: that as elite troops they were sent east where their presence was now needed.

Notes to the Comparison of Sertorius and Eumenes

70.   Sertorius: See Introduction to Eumenes.

71.   in command of Macedonians: See n. 14.

72.   begging and pleading for his life … his body: This judgement on Eumenes’ death is much less favourable to Eumenes than the narrative in chs. 17–19 had been. In several other Comparisons, deaths are treated rather less favourably than they had been in the Life itself: cf., e.g., Nicias 26 with the Comparison of Nicias and Crassus 5, andAntony77 with the Comparison of Demetrius and Antony 6.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Demetrius

Andrei, O., and Scuderi, R. (eds.), Plutarco. Vite Parallele: Demetrio Antonio (Milan: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1989).

De Lacy, P., ‘Biography and tragedy in Plutarch’, American Journal of Philology 73 (1952), pp. 159–71; reprinted in T. E. Duff (ed.), Oxford Readings in Ancient Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Duff, T. E., ‘Plato, tragedy, the ideal reader and Plutarch’s Demetrios and Antony’, Hermes 132 (2004), pp. 271–91.

Harris, B. F., ‘The Portrayal of Aristocratic Power in Plutarch’s Lives’, in idem (ed.), Auckland Classical Essays Presented to E. M. Blaiklock (Auckland: Auckland University Press, and Wellington: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 185–202.

Pelling, C. B. R. (ed.), Plutarch: Life of Antony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 18–26 on the pairing of Demetrius and Antony.

Santi Amantini, L. C., Carena, C., and Manfredini, M. (eds.), Plutarco. Le Vite di Demetrio e di Antonio (Milan: Mondadori, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1995).

Sweet, W. E., ‘Sources of Plutarch’s Demetrius’, Classical Weekly 44 (1981), pp. 177–81.


Billows, R., Antigonus the One-eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic state (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

Hammond, N. G. L., and Walbank, F. W., History of Macedonia, vol. 3: 336–167 BC (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

Wheatley, P., ‘The lifespan of Demetrius Poliorcetes’, Historia 46 (1997), pp. 19–27.

Wheatley, P., ‘The young Demetrius Poliorcetes’, Ancient History Bulletin 13.1 (1999), pp. 1–13.

Will, É. ‘The succession to Alexander’, in CAH vii, pp. 23–61.

Will, É. ‘The formation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms’, in CAH vii, pp. 101–17.

Notes to the Prologue to the Lives of Demetrius and Antony

1.     the ancient Spartans … to be drunk: See, e.g., Lycurgus 28. Helots were inhabitants of Laconia, and especially Messenia, who had been reduced to a form of slavery or serfdom by the Spartans.

2.     Antony the Imperator: Mark Antony, Julius Caesar’s lieutenant. He was finally defeated by Octavian in 31 BC.

3.     Plato’s saying that great natures … great virtues: Plato, Republic 6, 491b–495b. Plutarch alludes to the same passage in Coriolanus 1 and On God’s slowness to punish 522c–d.

Notes to the Life of Demetrius

4.     Antigonus: Antigonus I Monophthalmus, general of Alexander and major player in the power-struggles after Alexander’s death.

5.     Philip: Philip V of Macedon, who killed his son Demetrius in 180 BC (see Aratus 54 and Aemilius 8).

6.     eight generations later by the Romans: In 66–63 BC, when Pompey campaigned against Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus, who was finally forced to commit suicide by his son (see Pompey 30–41).

7.     Empedocles: A pre-Socratic philosopher (fifth century BC), who saw the universe as made up of four elements: fire, air, water and earth. He explained the attraction and repulsion of these elements by forces which he called respectively ‘love’ and ‘strife’. Plutarch refers to him frequently; a list of Plutarch’s works from the fourth century ADcalled the Lamprias Catalogue mentions a long treatise in ten books on Empedocles, though this is now lost (Lamp. Cat. no. 43).

8.     sent his son Demetrius … as the supreme commander … at stake: In 314/13. Demetrius had in fact already participated in his father’s campaign against Eumenes several years earlier, though had not there held absolute command.

9.     Demetrius was crushingly defeated near the city of Gaza: In 312 BC.

10.   reversals of fortune: The theme of the mutability of fortune recurs frequently in Demetrius: (see Introduction and chs. 1, 5, 31, 35, 38, 42, 45, 47–50 and 52).

11.   Celaenae: A city in southern Phrygia, Antigonus’ base at this time.

12.   Nabataeans: The Nabataeans occupied a region in Arabia Petraea, south of Petra and east of the Gulf of Aqaba.

13.   Seleucus: (c. 358–281 BC) Founder of the Seleucid dynasty, who had accompanied Alexander to Asia and distinguished himself in the expedition to India. He became governor of the province of Babylonia in 321 but was driven out of it in 316 or 315. He then took refuge with Ptolemy, returning to Babylon in 312 or 311.

14.   liberate the whole of Greece: The notion of ‘liberating’ Greece from Cassander, the son of Antipater, was a key part of Antigonid propaganda, already declared in 315 (Diodorus 19.61). Cassander had installed garrisons in Piraeus and Munychia, and Ptolemy in Corinth and Sicyon; the two agreed a peace treaty in 308.

15.   Demetrius of Phaleron: Demetrius, of the deme of Phaleron in Attica, governed Athens from 317 to 307 on behalf of Cassander. He was also a Peripatetic philosopher and a historian. When Demetrius Poliorcetes took Athens in 307, Demetrius of Phaleron took refuge with Ptolemy in Egypt.

16.   twenty-fifth … of Thargelion: June 307 BC.

17.   ancestral constitution: Used in this case to mean full democracy, in contrast to the restricted franchise set up by Cassander under Demetrius of Phaleron.

18.   Cratesipolis: A powerful figure in her own right. After the death of her husband in 314, she maintained control of Sicyon and Corinth with the support of Polyperchon. In 308 she surrendered them to Ptolemy.

19.   Patrae: This should possibly be emended to Pagae.

20.   When Megara was captured: In 307. It had been taken by Ptolemy the previous year.

21.   Munychia … demolished the fortress: In August 307.

22.   Lamian War and the battle of Crannon: After Alexander’s death, Athens fought a short but disastrous war, known as the Lamian War after one of its main theatres, in an attempt to free itself from Macedonian control (323–2). It ended with defeat on land at Crannon in Thessaly and at sea off Amorgos and the installation of a Macedonian garrison (see Demosthenes 27–8 and Phocion 23–8). Plutarch here ignores the oligarchy led by Phocion (321–318) and the short-lived restoration of democracy in 318–17.

23.   the Phalerean: That is, Demetrius of Phaleron (see ch. 8). Plutarch’s phraseology here recalls Thucydides’ famous statement, said with approval, that in the time of Pericles, Athens was ‘in theory a democracy but in reality ruled by its first citizen’ (Thucydides 2.65).

24.   confer … title of king: Perhaps in 306, after the battle of Salamis in Cyprus (ch. 18).

25.   saviour-gods … ‘eponymous’ archon: An exaggeration. Athenian inscriptions of this time refer to them as saviours, not saviour-gods, and continue to give the names of the eponymous archons.

26.   sacred robe of Athena: At the Panathenaic festival, which took place every four years, a sacred robe was carried in procession as an offering to Athena.

27.   the Descending: An epithet of Zeus and Hermes, who ‘came down’ from heaven. These last honours were probably not granted to Demetrius until 304.

28.   created two new tribes … fifty councillors: Athenaeus 252f–254c lists various other extravagant honours voted to Demetrius by the Athenians, including addressing him as a god, and quotes the text of a hymn sung to him.

29.   Cleon: A popular leader in the period of the Peloponnesian War, and much satirized by the comic poet Aristophanes, especially in the Knights. He died in 422 BC.

30.   naval battle off Amorgos: In 322, during the Lamian War. The defeat marked the end of Athenian naval resistance to Antipater and Craterus.

31.   ‘there are some things even hotter than fire’: Aristophanes, Knights 382. The quotation continues, ‘and speeches more shameless than the most shameless of speeches’. In the play, this line is said by the chorus and refers to the fact that the ‘Paphlagonian’, a thinly disguised alias for Cleon, has been outdone in a shouting-match by the ‘Sausage-seller’, both of whom are presented as shameless, corrupt and vulgar demagogues. Plutarch has already compared Stratocles with Cleon in the previous chapter; now, just as Cleon was outdone by the ‘Sausage-seller’ in the Knights, so Stratocles is outdone by this demagogue, likewise unnamed.

32.   changed the name of the month Munychion … renamed the festival of the Dionysia the Demetria: In fact inscriptions show that the festival entitled the Dionysia did not disappear, and the Demetria occurs only after 294 BC; it was only from that date that the month Demetrion appeared. But Plutarch is working thematically here, and does not claim that all these events took place in 307.

33.   It was because … people: Philippides fragment 25 K–A; more of the same passage is quoted in ch. 26. A comedy by Philippides had won the competition at the City Dionysia in 311. See Dialogue on love 750f for another attack by him on Stratocles.

34.   Lysimachus: One of Alexander’s generals, who had received Thrace as his province after Alexander’s death and was confirmed in it in 311; in the settlement after the battle of Ipsus in 301 he received much of Asia Minor. He declared himself king c. 305, and had close ties with Athens. He was defeated and killed by Seleucus at Corupedium in 281.

35.   favours from the king: An Athenian decree of 283/2 (after Demetrius’ surrender) honours Philippides for obtaining various favours for Athens from Lysimachus in the previous decade and a half, including a gift of grain, and the release of Athenian prisoners taken at Ipsus (Austin fragment 54).

36.   consecration of the shields … oracular response from Demetrius: The date is unknown. The shields may possibly be from the spoils mentioned in ch. 17. Plutarch refers to the fact that Demetrius’ replies were treated as oracles in On the fortune or virtue of Alexander 338a.

37.   May it be propitious: A formula prefixed to official inscriptions.

38.   Craterus … greatest affection by the Macedonians: See Eumenes 6. Craterus died in 321 or 320; Demetrius married Phila shortly afterwards, when he was fifteen.

39.   Euripides’ words: Phoenician Women 395. Polynices, the speaker, is describing the ills that exile brings. Readers who know the play may therefore see this quotation as suggesting Demetrius’ troubled years after being expelled from Athens.

40.   battle which then followed: The battle of Salamis in Cyprus, which took place in 306.

41.   Lamia: She is discussed in Athenaeus 577c–f; cf. also 253a–b.

42.   acclaimed Antigonus and Demetrius as kings: In 306 BC.

43.   tragic actors … address: Demetrius is often compared to a tragic actor in this Life (see Introduction and chs. 25, 34, 41, 44 and 53).

44.   launched another expedition against Ptolemy: In winter 306/5. The intention was to invade Egypt.

45.   Chios … Thasos: Two islands famous for their wine.

46.   ‘city-takers’: Siege-engines.

47.   besieging … Soli in Cilicia: Possibly in 299 (see ch. 32).

48.   war with the people of Rhodes: In 305–4 BC.

49.   the greatest of his ‘city-takers’: Diodorus 20.91 gives a detailed description. He claims that the siege-engine was nine storeys high and was moved by 3,400 men.

50.   Ialysus … destroyed by fire: Ialysus was one of the legendary heroes of Rhodes. The painting was brought to Rome by Cassius, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar, and placed in the Temple of Peace.

51.   Athenians … besieged by Cassander: In 304. Cassander had since 307 been waging war on Antigonid interests in Greece.

52.   Demetrius marched into the Peloponnese: In 303 BC.

53.   married Deidameia … sister of Pyrrhus: See Pyrrhus 4.

54.   congress … at the Isthmus: In 302 at Corinth, during the celebration of the Isthmian Games.

55.   proclaimed commander-in-chief of the Greeks, as Philip and Alexander had been before him: See Alexander 14.

56.   ‘Penelope’: In Homer, the wife of Odysseus, who was said to have waited faithfully for his return. Lysimachus’ wife was Arsinoe II Philadelphe, daughter of Ptolemy I; unlike the loyal Penelope, she intrigued against her husband with her half-brother Ptolemy Ceraunus.

57.   Mysteries … Epopteia: There were several stages of initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries: first one attended the Lesser Mysteries in the spring; ordinary initiation followed at the Great Mysteries in the autumn; initiation into the final stage, the epopteia (‘seeing’), was completed a full year later at the next Great Mysteries.

58.   torch-bearer: One of the leading priests responsible for the Mysteries at Eleusis.

59.   ‘Who cut the year … virgin-goddess’: Fragment 25 K–A (see ch. 12).

60.   Lynceus of Samos: Brother of Douris of Samos, and a comic writer. Athenaeus 128a–b also refers to Lynceus’ account of this extravagant dinner.

61.   ‘city-taker’: See ch. 20–21, and n. 46.

62.   like the myth … Lamia: Lamia was also the name of a mythical female monster, supposed to eat children.

63.   Bocchoris: That is, Bakanrenef, pharaoh of Egypt in the eighth century BC, famous for his wisdom and justice.

64.   alliance against Antigonus … forces: In 302 BC.

65.   not chosen ‘Alexander and victory’ for his password: Cf. Eumenes 6.

66.   the battle began: The battle of Ipsus, in which Antigonus and Demetrius were defeated by Seleucus, Cassander and Lysimachus. The battle took place in 301 in Phrygia (western Asia Minor).

67.   Antiochus, Seleucus’ son: The future Antiochus I Soter. He would be co-regent with his father Seleucus from 292 BC and accede to the Seleucid throne in his own right in 281.

68.   Not long after this … Stratonice: c. 300 BC. The marriage took place in 299.

69.   1,200 talents … still intact: The remains of a royal treasury, probably sent there for safe-keeping from Susa. It had fallen into Antigonus’ hands after Eumenes’ defeat in 316 (see Eumenes 13).

70.   the man who wishes to be really rich … poverty and want: Plato, Laws 5, 736e.

71.   when Demetrius entered it: In 295 or 294 BC.

72.   appointed as magistrates … most acceptable to the people: Plutarch’s wording here may reflect Demetrius’ propaganda. In fact, he made Athens less democratic by changing the Council from a body chosen by lot to an elected one.

73.   Dromocleides the orator: See ch. 13.

74.   Hill of Muses: The Mouseion, a hill overlooking the city of Athens; control of it gave Demetrius a firmer hold on Athens than the garrisons at Piraeus and Munychia did.

75.   Mantineia … invaded Laconia: Probably in 294 BC.

76.   no enemy had ever captured it: Sparta had for the first time in its history been hastily fortified with a ditch and palisade in c. 317 against a feared attack by Cassander. The defences had now been repaired against Demetrius’ attack.

77.   ‘It is you who fan … burn me!’: Or, ‘It was you who sired me, and now …’. The quotation is from an unknown play of Aeschylus (TrGF III fragment 359). Plutarch also quotes it as a saying of Demetrius in his On democracy, monarchy and oligarchy 827c.

78.   ‘treacherously … other’: Archilochus, fragment 184 West. The same passage is also quoted in On the principle of cold 950f and Against the Stoics on common perceptions 1070a.

79.   death of Cassander: In 297. His son Philip reigned for four months.

80.   Thessalonice: She had acted as regent after the death of her and Cassander’s eldest son, Philip. She had divided the kingdom into two for her remaining sons; the elder, Antipater, killed her, drove his brother Alexander out and seized power in 294 (see Pyrrhus 6).

81.   hailed Demetrius as king … to Macedonia: In 294 BC.

82.   crimes … against the family of Alexander the Great: Cassander had put to death Alexander the Great’s mother Olympias in 316 and the young king Alexander IV and his mother Roxane in 310/9.

83.   barbarians of the interior: That is, the satrapies of the Iranian plateau and Central Asia (the ‘Upper Satrapies’).

84.   the symptoms which Sappho describes … pallor: Sappho, fragment 31 Voigt. Plutarch paraphrases the same poem in his Dialogue on love, 763a, and quotes part of it in Progress in virtue 81d.

85.   when Demetrius … surrounded the city: In 293 BC.

86.   the historian Hieronymus: See Eumenes, n. 46.

87.   marched against Pyrrhus: See Pyrrhus 7.

88.   twice within ten years: Demetrius captured Thebes in 293 (ch. 39) and 291. Plutarch’s calculation seems erroneous here, as Cassander began rebuilding Thebes in c. 316, after its destruction by Alexander (335). But the process may have taken a number of years.

89.   Pythian Games … held: In 290 BC. The Pythian Games, which included contests in music and athletics, were held every four years at Delphi, in honour of Apollo.

90.   expedition against the Aetolians: Probably in 289 BC.

91.   Pyrrhus fell upon Pantauchus … like actors on a stage: See Pyrrhus 7–8.

92.   River Axius: The Axius flows past Pella, capital of Macedonia.

93.   as Timotheus tells us: Timotheus of Miletus (c. 450–360 BC) was a lyric poet. Plutarch quotes more of the same line (fragment 790 Page) in Agesilaus 14: ‘Ares is a tyrant, but Greece does not fear gold.

94.   Law … is the monarch of all things: Pindar fragment 169.1 Maehler. The same line is also quoted in To an uneducated ruler 780c and in Plato’s Gorgias 484b.

95.   Zeus entrusts kings … inviolate: Homer, Iliad 1.238–9.

96.   Zeus’ confidant and disciple: Homer, Odyssey 19.179.

97.   Ptolemy Philopator: Ptolemy IV Philopator, ruler of Egypt from 222 to 204 BC.

98.   drawn into a war … complete: In 288 BC. See Pyrrhus 10–12.

99.   ruled securely for seven years: Demetrius had ruled Macedonia from autumn 294 to perhaps autumn 288. Plutarch may have arrived at seven years by counting the archon years with which his reign overlapped. Eusebius has Demetrius ruling for six years (FGrHist 260 F 3).

100.  Cassandreia: Situated on the westernmost of the three peninsulas of Chalcidice; it had earlier been known as Potidaea. It was refounded, with its new name, by Cassander in 316.

101.  But my fate … nothingness: The quotation is from an unknown play (TrGF IV fragment 871). Plutarch uses the second half of the passage quoted in Roman questions 282b and On talkativeness 517d.

102.  ‘Changing his godhead … Dirce’s stream’: Euripides, Bacchae 4–5, except that ‘I come’ has been changed to ‘He comes’. The lines described the arrival of the god Dionysus in Thebes, disguised as a man.

103.  restored to the Thebans their constitution: That is, Thebes was made autonomous, i.e., self-governing (287 BC). This marks a return to Demetrius’ earlier declared policy of allowing the Greek cities to be ‘free’.

104.  Athenians … revolted from him: Spring 287 BC.

105.  Demetrius raised the siege: In fact, Ptolemy had sent troops to Attica to support the Athenians, and was involved in the negotiations. Demetrius left Attica but retained his garrisons in Piraeus and Munychia.

106.  assembled all the ships he possessed: See ch. 43.

107.  sailed for Asia: Probably 286 or winter 286/5 BC.

108.  betrothed … several years before: See ch. 32.

109.  Child of the blind old man … find ourselves?: These are the opening words of Oedipus at Colonus. In the original, the question is put to Antigone, the daughter of the blind Oedipus, as they wander in exile. Plutarch has cleverly transformed this so that it refers to Demetrius as son of Antigonus, likewise now wandering about. Antigonus was blind in one eye.

110.  Cataonia: A region north of Cilicia, in the south-eastern part of Cappadocia. It had been granted to Seleucus after the battle of Ipsus.

111.  Cyrrhestica: In northern Syria. The mountains of the Amanus range separate Cilicia and Syria.

112.  Caunus: In western Asia Minor, opposite Rhodes.

113.  put himself into his hands: Probably early 285 BC.

114.  Syrian Chersonese: Probably situated in a bend of the River Orontes in the neighbourhood of Antioch, and later known as Apameia.

115.  Demetrius’ daughter Stratonice: She had earlier been married to Seleucus and was now married to Seleucus’ son, Antiochus (ch. 38).

116.  this was the kind of life he had really desired … real thing: Plutarch wrote a treatise advocating contentment with what one has called On tranquillity of mind. He also explores the danger of discontent in the Lives of Pyrrhus and Marius (see especially Pyrrhus 14).

117.  died in his fifty-fifth year: Probably early in 282 BC.

118.  Demetrias: A city in Thessaly, on the Gulf of Pagasae, founded by Demetrius c. 290.

119.  Romans subdued Macedonia: In 168 BC, when Aemilius Paulus defeated Perseus at the battle of Pydna.

120.  bring the Roman on to the stage too: That is, to begin the Life of Antony, which is paired with that of Demetrius.


Further Reading

Plutarch’s Pyrrhus

Braund, D., ‘Plutarch’s Pyrrhus and Euripides’ Phoenician Women: biography and tragedy on pleonectic parenting’, Histos 1 (1997), pp. 1–8.

Buszard, B., ‘The decline of Roman statesmanship in Plutarch’s Pyrrhus’−Marius’, CQNS 55 (2005), pp. 481–97.

Buszard, B., ‘Caesar’s ambition: a combined reading of Plutarch’s Alexander –Caesar and Pyrrhus–Marius’, Transactions of the American Philological Association 138 (2008), pp. 185–215.

Duff, T. E., Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), ch. 4.

Mossman, J. M., ‘Plutarch, Pyrrhus and Alexander’, in P. A. Stadter (ed.), Plutarch and the Historical Tradition (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 90–108.

Mossman, J. M., ‘Taxis ou barbaros: Greek and Roman in Plutarch’s Pyrrhus’, CQNS 55 (2005), pp. 498–517.

Nederlof, A. B., Plutarchus’ Leven van Pyrrhus: Historische Commentaar (Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1940).

Schepens, G., ‘Plutarch’s view of Ancient Rome: some remarks on the Life of Pyrrhus’, in L. Mooren (ed.), Politics, Administration and Society in the Hellenistic and Roman World (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), pp. 349–64.

Schepens, G., ‘Rhetoric in Plutarch’s Life of Pyrrhus’, in L. Van der Stockt (ed.), Rhetorical Theory and Praxis in Plutarch (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), pp. 413–42.


Garoufalias, A. P., Pyrrhus King of Epirus (London: Stacey International, 1979).

Lévêque, P., Pyrrhos (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1957).

Franke, P. R., ‘Pyrrhus’, in CAH vii, pp. 456–85.

Notes to the Life of Pyrrhus.

1.     Life of Pyrrhus: There is no common prologue to the Lives of Pyrrhus and Marius of the kind that begins many books of Parallel Lives.

2.     Thesprotians and Molossians: Two of the most powerful tribes that inhabited Epirus in north-west Greece.

3.     Deucalion and Pyrrha: The mythical survivors of the great flood, which, according to Greek legend, overwhelmed the world.

4.     Dodona: A famous sanctuary and oracle of Zeus, located in Epirus, near the modern Ioannina.

5.     Tharrhypas: A Molossian king in the late fifth century BC.

6.     Menon … Lamian War … Leosthenes among the allies: The Lamian War, which broke out on the news of Alexander’s death in Asia, was fought in 323–2 BC between various Greek states and the forces of Antipater of Macedon. The most important Athenian commander was Leosthenes; the Thessalian cavalry was led by Menon of Pharsalus (see Demosthenes 27–8 and Phocion 23–6).

7.     Aeacides was driven out … restored to power: Aeacides supported Polyperchon against Cassander in the war which broke out after Antipater’s death in 319. He was driven from power in 317 or 316, and Neoptolemus II was put on the throne.

8.     set him on the throne there: In 307 or 306 BC. Aeacides had regained the throne in 313 but had been defeated and killed by Cassander shortly afterwards.

9.     reached the age of seventeen: In 302.

10.   made Neoptolemus their king: Neoptolemus II, who had already ruled from c. 317 to 307, with an interlude in 313 when Aeacides was in power.

11.   nominally been married to Alexander … Demetrius married her: See Demetrius 25. Alexander’s son Alexander IV, who was born after his death in 323, was murdered in 310 or 309, at the age of thirteen or fourteen. Although nominally joint-king with his uncle Philip Arrhidaeus, he never exercised power.

12.   battle of Ipsus: In 301 (see Demetrius 28–30).

13.   cities … entrusted to his command: See Demetrius 31.

14.   Philip: This Philip is otherwise unknown.

15.   sent to Epirus to recover his kingdom: In 297, when Pyrrhus was twenty-two. Pyrrhus had support from Ptolemy.

16.   city … Epirus: Near the modern Preveza, on the site of the future Nicopolis.

17.   Cassander’s two sons … into exile: Cassander died in 297. For the power-struggle after his death, see Demetrius 36.

18.   Ambracia, Acarnania and Amphilochia: Ambracia (modern Arta) was a city in southern Epirus, north of the Ambracian Gulf; Pyrrhus made it his capital. Amphilochia and Acarnania were regions to the south of Epirus, east and south respectively of the Ambracian Gulf.

19.   Lysimachus: See Demetrius, n. 34, and Biographical Notes.

20.   proclaimed king of Macedonia: In 294 BC (see Demetrius 36).

21.   death of Deidameia: In 299.

22.   set out to attack Pyrrhus: Probably in 289 (see Demetrius 41).

23.   hand-to-hand combat … face Pantauchus: Descriptions of single combat or of exchanges of insults before battle are common in the Iliad, but the practice was rare in the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Plutarch’s Pyrrhus engages in both (chs. 16, 24, 30 and 31). This may be the result of Epirot custom or of a deliberate policy of presenting himself as heir to his supposed ancestor, Achilles. But by describing such episodes at length, Plutarch suggests a comparison with the Homeric heroes, and also that Pyrrhus failed to act with reason and forethought.

24.   compared … Alexander the Great: Cf. Demetrius 41.

25.   Hannibal’s verdict … Life of Scipio: Scipio Africanus the elder (consul in 205 BC), who fought Hannibal. Plutarch records a slightly different version of Hannibal’s comment in Flamininus 21, where he names as the best generals Alexander, Pyrrhus and himself, in that order. According to a fourth-century AD list of Plutarch’s works (the Lamprias Catalogue), Plutarch wrote Lives of two Scipios, one paired with the lost Epaminondas, and one free-standing.

26.   Antigone’s death: In 295 BC.

27.   Paeonians: The northern neighbours of Macedonia.

28.   ‘would divide … not by lot’: Euripides, Phoenician women 67–8.

29.   After this battle: That is, the battle described in ch. 7. The material in chs. 8–9 is not a chronological narrative but, rather, designed to illustrate Pyrrhus’ character.

30.   led an army into Macedonia: See Demetrius 43.

31.   began sending … letters to Pyrrhus: For the alliance between Pyrrhus, Seleucus, Ptolemy and Lysimachus, and Demetrius’ expulsion from Macedonia, see Demetrius 44.

32.   Ptolemy sailed to Greece … Lysimachus … pillaged the country: In 288 BC.

33.   Pyrrhus … entered Athens: In 287. The Athenians had revolted from Demetrius. Pyrrhus’ arrival and pressure from Ptolemy caused Demetrius to lift his siege (see Demetrius 46 and n. 105).

34.   Demetrius … defeat in Syria: Winter 286/5 (see Demetrius 49).

35.   lost Macedonia: In 285.

36.   ‘but heartsick … battle’: Homer, Iliad 1.491–2.

37.   Romans … Tarentum: From 281, when Tarentum had attacked a Roman naval flotilla and then the city of Thurii. The Tarentines had shortly before assisted Pyrrhus in recovering Corcyra (Pausanias 1.12).

38.   moderate man named Meton … assembly: This incident has a parallel with the attempt of another Meton to prevent the Athenians from attacking Sicily in 415 BC or to have his son released from military service (Nicias 13 and Alcibiades 17). It is possible that the incident described in Pyrrhus was invented with that earlier one in mind. At any rate, Plutarch exploits the parallel to suggest that disaster will follow for Pyrrhus and the Tarentines, just as it did for the Athenians.

39.   ‘Words … hope to win’: Euripides, Phoenician women 517–18.

40.   started the following conversation …: Cineas is presented here in the role of a ‘wise adviser’, a wise man who gives advice to a tyrant, often on where happiness lies, but is ignored (e.g., Solon and Croesus in Herodotus Book 1, or Artabanus, who warns Xerxes not to invade Greece, in Book 7). Disaster always follows. The Cineas episode thus suggests Pyrrhus’ ignorance and arrogance, and leads one to expect that no good result will come of his overseas ventures.

41.   Agathocles is dead: Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, died in 288. Pyrrhus had married his daughter Lanassa, and so may have considered that he had some claim on Sicily (ch. 9). As Pyrrhus himself notes later in this chapter, Agathocles had landed in Africa in 310, while Syracuse was itself under attack by the Carthaginians.

42.   sent Cineas … with 3,000 soldiers: In 280. Pyrrhus followed in the same year.

43.   Iapygian cape: Probably the modern Cape Leuca in south-eastern Apulia.

44.   Leonnatus the Macedonian: Possibly the son of Alexander’s general Leonnatus (on whom, see Phocion 25; Alexander 21, 40; Eumenes 3).

45.   Dionysius: Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote in Greek in the first century BC. Books 19 and 20 of his historical work, Roman antiquities, were an important source for Plutarch in Pyrrhus, though they survive now only in excerpts. One of these excerpts contains part of Dionysius’ account of this battle (Dionysius 19.12).

46.   Hieronymus: On Hieronymus of Cardia, see Eumenes, n. 46.

47.   dancing attendance on … Alexander’s bodyguards: A sarcastic allusion to Pyrrhus’ dealings with Ptolemy, Demetrius and Lysimachus.

48.   Lernaean Hydra: A mythical many-headed monster, killed by Heracles. When one head was cut off, two more would grow back.

49.   consuls of Rome: In 278. Later in the chapter Plutarch narrates the battle of Asculum which took place in the previous year, that is, in 279.

50.   Dionysius’ account: His detailed account of this battle survives (20.1–3).

51.   Daunians: The manuscripts of Plutarch here read ‘Samnites’, but the passage of Dionysius which Plutarch is summarizing (20.3) has ‘Daunians’ and that is probably what Plutarch wrote.

52.   Ptolemy Ceraunus: Ptolemy ‘the Thunderbolt’ was the son of Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt. After the defeat of Lysimachus by Seleucus at the battle of Corupedium in Lydia in 281 BC, he murdered Seleucus and was proclaimed by the army king of Macedon. He was killed in battle against the Gauls, who launched an invasion of mainland Greece in 280. The Gauls attempted to take Delphi, but were defeated by the Aetolians in perhaps 279 and by Antigonus Gonatas in Thrace in 277.

53.   landed in Sicily: In 278 BC.

54.   Eryx: In the extreme west of Sicily, near the modern Trapani.

55.   drove the barbarians back … dead bodies: This episode seems to recall Alexander’s similar feat in the country of the Malli (Alexander 63).

56.   Homer … divine possession and frenzy: See Iliad 5.185, 6.101 and 9.238, where Homer seems to connect rage in battle with divine inspiration.

57.   not long before … fulfilled: Pyrrhus left Sicily in 276 or 275. The First Punic War began eight or so years later in 264.

58.   Beneventum: The battle of Beneventum took place in 275. Part of Dionysius’ account is preserved (20.10–12).

59.   rest of Italy … Sicily as well: The fall of Tarentum in 272 marked the completion of the Roman conquest of Italy. After defeating Carthage in the First Punic War of 264–241, Rome turned most of Sicily into a Roman province.

60.   squandered six years: 280–274 BC.

61.   Antigonus, the son of Demetrius: Antigonus II Gonatas, who reigned in Macedonia c. 277–239 BC.

62.   Aeacidae: The ‘sons of Aeacus’, the ancestor of Achilles from whom Pyrrhus claimed descent.

63.   Pyrrhus … with the spear: The Palatine anthology 6.130 ascribes this epigram to Leonidas of Tarentum.

64.   moved to occupy the cities of Macedonia: In 273 BC.

65.   Aegae: Modern Vergina, near Beroea, and the site of the Macedonian royal tombs.

66.   Cleonymus … Areus: Areus I was one of the two kings of Sparta from 309 to c. 265 BC. Cleonymus was Areus’ uncle, and the son of Cleomenes II, but had been bypassed in the succession to the throne.

67.   led him to bring Pyrrhus to Sparta: In 272.

68.   cities which Antigonus was holding in subjection: Antigonus II Gonatas, son of Demetrius Poliorcetes, had taken control of Macedonia in 277 and maintained a firm hold on mainland Greece by means of garrisons in Corinth, Megara, Troezen, Epidaurus, Piraeus, Chalcis, and elsewhere. His supporters were in power in other Peloponnesian cities.

69.   trench … elephants: A palisade and ditch had in fact already been thrown around Sparta c. 317 and repaired, probably in 294, to resist an attack by Demetrius (Demetrius 35).

70.   Lysimachus: Not the well-known Lysimachus, one of the successor kings.

71.   ‘One omen is best, to fight for Pyrrhus!’: The line is adapted from Hector’s words at Iliad 12.243, ‘One omen is best, to fight for one’s country.’ In the Iliad, Hector has just disregarded a portent which prophesied disaster and has refused to heed the words of his comrade Polydamas, who urged him not to go on fighting. His own death follows. Plutarch’s use of this quotation here suggests Pyrrhus’ noble qualities, but that he, too, will soon be killed.

72.   liver … lose a relative: The entrails, especially the liver, of animals killed in sacrifice were examined for omens about the future. This was done especially on campaign and immediately before battles, where signs of the gods’ favour were sought (see, e.g., Phocion 13 and Alexander 25). The lack of a liver was considered particularly portentous (e.g., Agesilaus 9 and Alexander 73).

73.   his companions: Perhaps designating the ‘Companion Cavalry’, companions being a term used by Hellenistic kings for their elite cavalry corps. Cf. Alexander, n. 49.

74.   challenging … for the throne: Pyrrhus has already fought several times in single combat (chs. 7 and 24).

75.   an eagle … was gone: Cf. ch. 10, where Pyrrhus was given the name ‘the Eagle’.

76.   Alcyoneus: The son of Antigonus II Gonatas.

77.   grandfather Antigonus and his father Demetrius … just such vicissitudes of fortune: Antigonus I Monophthalmus died in 301 at the battle of Ipsus. Plutarch presents the life of his son Demetrius, who died in 282, as a case-study in the ups and downs of fortune (see p. 400 and Demetrius, n. 10).

78.   burned with due ceremony: But see the end of ch. 3, on how part of his body survived the flames.

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