“When I first began to write these lines, my intent was to profit other[s]: but since, continuing and going on, I have much profited myself by looking into these histories, as if I looked into a glass, to frame and fashion my life to the mould and pattern of these virtuous noblemen.” —Plutarch
Who was Aemilius?
Lucius Æmilius Paulus Macedonicus was usually called Aemilius or Aemilius Paulus. He was a Roman statesman, consul, and general during the Third Macedonian War, which lasted from 171 to 168 B.C., and which takes up a large part of the story. However, Aemilius had a long career in Roman government before his election as consul and his accompanying duties as military general. The first few lessons follow him through his positions as aedile, praetor (with special honours), and consul (twice). He had a second, separate position as an augur, an omen-reading priest. Plutarch says that Aemilius took the job of being an augur so seriously that he raised it to an art form.
He also took his role as military commander very seriously. Plutarch finds it noteworthy that he personally taught (instructed, coached) the soldiers under his command. We get a picture already of an extra-ordinary man; perhaps one who made an art form of “being a Roman.”
About his name
The first Aemilius (his ancestor) was given that name because of “the sweetness and pleasant grace of his tongue.” The word “aemulus” is the root of our word “emulation,” which means striving to do well, often with a sense of trying both to imitate or match and then to outperform others. (The names Amelia and Emily are English derivatives.) Name books also use the word “industrious” or “eager,” and you will see that Plutarch’s subject Aemilius Paulus was both.
“If we are learning to skate, we have no peace till we skate as well as a boy we know who learned last winter; then we want to outdo him; then, to skate as well as another better skater; then, to outdo him; and so on, and when we go to bed at night we dream of the day when we shall skate better than anyone in the neighbourhood; nay, we think how glorious it would be to be the very best skater in the whole world.” (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves)
Read more in The Plutarch Project Volume Six: coming soon.