Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies
Plutarch of Chaeronea, an eminent figure among the Platonists of the early Roman Empire, built his philosophy by continuously drawing frameworks and models from Plato’s dialogues, both in his works dedicated solely to exegesis and his own lively philosophical dialogues. He both interprets Plato and adapts various models from the Platonic dialogues. Each philosopher was especially concerned with problems posed by myth, yet each also employed their own elaborate and imagistic narratives. In this study, I argue two main points. First, Plutarch’s treatment of mythic narratives, in their dangers and their potential uses, is carefully modelled after Plato. Both are concerned not only about the educational ramifications of stories for the young, but also the problem of how unreal images can lead the audience to reality. Plutarch nevertheless develops his myths, especially in the dialogues De sera numinis vindicta and De facie in orbe lunae, to fulfill similar functions as Plato’s, whether to emphasize a predominate ethical point in the rest of the dialogue, such as in the myth of Er, or to provide a teleological sketch for how the arrangement of the world might be good, such as in the Timaeus. Imagistic narratives such as these, for Plutarch as for Plato, do not transcend the reach of rational discourse, as much of the scholarship holds, however, but rather form likely accounts. Second, I argue that Plutarch constructs his own Platonic mythmaking as a distinctive kind of discourse that acts in parallel to dialectic interpretation. Whether interpreting traditional religious material, such as from the cults of Delphi and Isis, or explaining the complicated meanings of Plato’s Timaeus through appeal to the other dialogues, these dialectical discourses also yield likely accounts. Given the epistemic difficulties posed by both theology and physics, for different reasons, Plutarch cannot transcend beyond such accounts. The complementary use of these two modes of discourse, dialectical exegesis and imagistic mythmaking, illuminates some central workings of Plutarch’s Platonism.
Hilton, Collin Miles. 2020. "Plutarch reading Plato: Interpretation and mythmaking in the early Empire." Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr College.