Apologiai, supplication and moral characterisation in Plutarch’s Lives

  • James Day

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    The thesis is a study of Plutarch’s selective use of apologia and supplication in the Eumenes, Cato the Younger, Themistocles and Coriolanus. The main aim of this dissertation is to establish Plutarch’s authorial intentions in the protagonists’ apologiai. I argue that Plutarch’s main intention in all four apologiai was an inquiry into whether statesmen should be motivated by self-interest or by moral justice and community interests. The issue of supplication is integral because the protagonist’s misfortune, i.e. defeat or exile marks a moment where these motivations conflict. Plutarch’s judgement of the protagonist’s speech and action is connected to his representation of their emotional state, specifically whether anger dominates the spirited part of their soul. Plutarch uses these apologiai and the supplication scenes which they belong to, as part of a dialectical and sceptical strategy. I demonstrate that this was Plutarch’s main intention by conducting a textual analysis of each apologia, comparing Plutarch’s characterisation approach with surviving sources’ accounts of the protagonist’s defence speeches. The protagonists deliver their apologia at a moment of great political and moral crisis. In chapters one and two, Eumenes and Cato deliver their apologia in the situation of defeat where they face the difficult choice of supplicating their antagonists or committing suicide. In chapters three and four, Themistocles and Coriolanus use their apologia to reconcile with their enemies after suffering exile. The problem with Themistocles and Coriolanus’ apologiai concerns how they use their enemies since Coriolanus acts from a selfish motivation to satisfy his vengeance and he does not care for the interests of his enemy Tullus and the Volscians. Themistocles though he similarly speaks from self-interest, instead supplicates to calm the passion of anger in his enemy the Persian king’s soul. His supplication has a positive and philanthropic effect on the king and his court.
    Date of Award31 Aug 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorMarta Garcia Morcillo (Director of Studies), Shushma Malik (Co-Supervisor) & Trevor Dean (Co-Supervisor)


    • Plutarch
    • Supplication
    • Apologia

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