If in a few schools the children have difficulty in narrating Plutarch’s Lives, it will almost certainly be found that the teacher (as one excellent teacher frankly confesses) does not like the book: he may or may not understand why Plutarch wrote it, why Miss Mason with her wonderful insight adopted it as an inspiration to Citizenship, or indeed why it is one of the world’s great classics. Next to Shakespeare it is probably the book that is most enjoyed by the children, and it is one of the best for narration.-From Notes for the Conference of July 18th, 1925
on P.N.E.U. Methods
Once you understand why Plutarch wrote the Lives, why Charlotte Mason used it in her curriculum and why it is a world classic, you can move into teaching Plutarch with confidence. Over the decades I have found certain helpful resources for teaching Plutarch and today I have compiled them in this post for you! But before you read this, please keep in mind that The Thing is the Thing and keep your focus on Plutarch and the character of the men he writes about.
#1 Teacher Prep
-I like to listen to the late Professor J. Rufus Fears. He has two lecture series that are part of The Great Courses – Famous Greeks and Famous Romans. He weaves historical, archaeological, and literary scholarship with a life from Plutarch, nicely blending it all together and providing me with a fabulous and interesting overview. Not all of the lives are covered in this series, but most are. Preview them from your public library or buy them from The Great Courses. Famous Greeks has some handy maps, too.
-Incorporating art can really help our students understand and internalize Plutarch. This website is a treasure trove of Plutarch’s Lives in art!
–The Plutarch Podcast with show notes by Tom Cox is helpful.
-Maps! Here is a great resource to help find maps when teaching Plutarch.
-Retellings are sometimes nice for the teacher to read first. My favorite is by Charles Robinson (Plutarch – Ten Famous Lives), but it only covers 10 lives. You can read some children’s retellings at the Baldwin Project for free – Plutarch’s Lives For Boys and Girls and Our Young Folks’ Plutarch.
#3 Reading the Lives
-Honestly, I don’t think you can get much better than Anne White’s guides. You can download them for free here or purchase hard copies at Amazon (The Plutarch Project). She has great introductions, she splits the readings into 12 lessons for you, and includes discussion questions. And she makes the “necessary omissions” so you don’t have to.
-For a gorgeous set of North’s translation of the Lives, try to find the slip covered set by Heritage Press. (See the cover in the picture up above.)
-If you own the Blackie Editions, you have one of the editions that Mason’s teachers used. But they are very difficult to find.
#4 Focus Questions
Here are some general questions to always keep in mind when reading the Plutarch lesson in order to keep the main focus on character. (Please don’t use this entire list after every reading with your student.)
*How does __________ compare to the man we read about last term? In what ways is he alike? Different?
*Does __________ show himself to be a good leader in this reading? Say why or why not.
*What have you learned about __________’s character from the events of the reading?
*Can you think of another leader that you would compare __________to and why?
*What lesson might you learn from __________’s decision to __________?
*What do you think will happen in the end based on the events of this reading?
#5 Interesting and Helpful Posts about Teaching Plutarch
A Programme for Plutarch – if you read one post of mine on Plutarch, make it this one. It will answer so many questions!
Plutarch and Living Ideas – a fabulous and insightful article by Dawn Duran.
Plutarch, Polio, and Philopoeman – a sweet story from a classics professor.
My interview on how I teach Plutarch over at A Delectable Education – I recorded this many years ago but it still holds true!