Preview of Solon (638-558 B.C.)

Solon was an Athenian statesman, poet, and lawgiver. He is best known for reforming his city’s laws and economic policies, beginning an era of political, economic and cultural growth that would culminate in the “Golden Age of Athens.”

The top ruler of Athens was the eponymous archon (archon eponymos), who was elected for a term of one year. The word is often translated “chief magistrate,” but North also translates it as mayor or provost. Solon was an archon in Athens in the year 594 or possibly 592 B.C.

If you have a world timeline, look at the period around 600 B.C. Solon lived during the same years as Nebuchadnezzar, Assur-bani-pal, King Josiah, the prophet Jeremiah, Daniel, and even Æsop.

Read more in The Plutarch Project Volume Six (coming soon).

Preview of Aristides (530-468 B.C.)

Aristides (nicknamed Aristides the Just) was an Athenian statesman and general during the Persian Wars. He led the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon; fought at Salamis; and then led the Athenian forces at Plataea, the final battle against the Persians. Aristides was a creative and gifted leader, whose concern with justice led him to solve problems in unusual ways.

Plutarch begins this Life with a question: was Aristides rich or poor, and what evidence do we have on either side? For instance, someone says that Aristides must have been rich because he sponsored theatrical performances. Plutarch answers that it wasn’t uncommon in those days for someone like Aristides both to receive gifts of money and to spend them on something for the public benefit.

As another example, Aristides was ostracized at one time; and, as Plutarch says, ostracism (oddly enough) was considered too good for common people; so some would think that Aristides must have belonged to a wealthy family. But Plutarch says that “everyone was liable to it whom his reputation, birth, or eloquence raised above the common level.”

So was Aristides one of the privileged upper class, or someone who rose by his own merits (or by the hand of “Fortune”)?  This story will attempt to answer that question.

Read more in The Plutarch Project Volume Six (coming soon).

Preview of Aemilius Paulus (229-160 B.C.)

“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.

A quote for thought: learning as joy

“The thing that sets children apart from adults is not their ignorance, nor their lack of skills. It’s their enormous capacity for joy. Think of a 3-year-old lost in the pleasures of finding out what he can and cannot sink in the bathtub, a 5-year-old beside herself with the thrill of putting together strings of nonsensical words with her best friends, or an 11-year-old completely immersed in a riveting comic strip. A child’s ability to become deeply absorbed in something, and derive intense pleasure from that absorption, is something adults spend the rest of their lives trying to return to.”

Susan Engel, “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack,” in The Atlantic (2015)