Studying the less honourable (The Plutarch Project Volume Nine)

Why study Alcibiades?

Even scholars who have studied Alcibiades for years are still trying to decide if his accomplishments outweigh his mistakes and faults.For Plutarch, there are two “telling details” about Alcibiades: the sight of him flouncing along the street in a purple robe; and the extra-soft bed that he had fitted out on his warship. Neither of these examples, in Plutarch’s opinion, showed the right kind of dignity, resolve or courage for a virtuous leader. In the case of Alcibiades, his double-dealing and lack of personal restraint (including his involvement with the wife of a Spartan king) eventually led to a horrible death.

So why study Alcibiades, particularly in our context of character and citizenship studies? Do we read it only as a negative example of what not to do? Do we admire his intelligence, if not his ethics?

I would like to suggest at least two reasons. First, when we look at Alcibiades himself, we learn something about the qualities necessary for leadership, and see how those qualities were or weren’t apparent in his life. What mistakes did he make? How did he become powerful, and how did he abuse that power?

Second, we can consider the role that citizens play in civil affairs. How can we choose our leaders carefully? What basis do we have for following someone or turning against him? How do we react if we think our leaders have done wrong? There is much to consider here about crowd behaviour and the effects of propaganda.

A Dividing Line.—Both Shakespeare and Scott use, as it were, a dividing line, putting on the one side the wilful, wayward, the weak and the strong; and on the other, persons who will…To make even a suggestive list would be to range over all history and literature. Let me say again, however, that here is a line of study which should make our reading profitable, as making us intimate with persons, and the more able for life. (Charlotte Mason, Ourselves)

(From The Plutarch Project Volume Nine, now available on

2 thoughts on “Studying the less honourable (The Plutarch Project Volume Nine)”

  1. Anne,
    We follow AO. My son 10 is doing year 4. We finished Stories of the History of Rome. Here are my questions:
    Can he read on his own Plutarch’s Lives for boy and girls? (his level of reading is high) 🙂
    Is Publicola just for me?
    After he finished Plutarch’s lives Do I read to him The Plutarch Project Volume Six? Thanks

    1. Hi Tayde,

      If you’re finished Mrs. Beesly, you should be ready to move on to one of the AO Plutarch studies rather than a children’s version. You might want to start with the Publicola study as it’s relatively simple and there are a few more “helps” for the parent/teacher. Or, if you prefer, you can move on to this year’s studies, or any of the others in the rotation that appeal to you. You can read them all on the AO website, before making up your mind whether or not to buy a print or Kindle copy. You can also print out the “text only” version of any of the studies for your student, if you want (they’re on the website).

      For most students of that age, it’s probably a good idea if you work through the study together.

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