|image from Parallel Lives, Amyot translation 1565|
|Roman fort that Mason’s students visited – and so did we!|
|“Watersheds, hills, lakes, valleys, contours, were studied out of doors as well as places of local interest such as old streets and houses and the Roman fort at Waterhead.” – The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 72|
Before I begin an immersion session with Plutarch, I usually hear these comments:
in the fifth grade. Plutarch is rightly
hailed as the “prince of biographers” by Boswell (1791/1987, p. 3).
Many great writers have drawn from his well;
William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Francis Bacon, Montaigne, Ralph
Waldo Emerson, David Hume et al. The children in a relational school are put
into direct contact with the moral biographer’s work. Plutarch tells delightfully descriptive
stories of great men of the past. Even
though he was not writing for children, his stories are well suited for them
because he was concerned with families, education, and the responsibilities of
citizens and statesmen. Through vivid
and dramatic writings, Plutarch instructs students about friendship, obedience,
self-control, justice, humility, and other characteristics of great citizens,
yet he avoids pointing the moral in his accounts and fills his writing with
lesser-known incidents which often reveal the true character of the
was born c. 46 A.D. and was a Roman citizen. His book Parallel Lives consists of 23 paired biographies, a Greek with a
Roman, with 4 unpaired biographies. His
emphasis was not necessarily on history, but on the character and conduct of
famous men. Perhaps no one inspires and instructs the children in the duties
and difficulties of statesmanship quite the same way as Plutarch. Mason (1925/1989) states:
We find Plutarch’s Lives
exceedingly inspiring. These are read by the teacher (with suitable omissions) and narrated with
great spirit by the children. They learn to answer such questions as,––”In what ways did Pericles make
Athens beautiful? How did he persuade
the people to help him?” And we may hope that the idea is engendered of preserving and increasing the beauty of their
own neighbourhood without the staleness which
comes of much exhortation. (p.186)
used North’s translation, an example of Elizabethan prose and the translation
Shakespeare used for his historic plays.
Three biographies of famous Greeks or Romans are read per year for a
total of 15 lives over the course of five years. These stories are always read by the teachers
so omissions can be made of unsuitable sections. Plutarch quietly shows the student that
character is of paramount importance and that the quality of his service to his
country depends on that character. Citizenship’s
aims of personal conduct, history and government are all met in Plutarch’s Lives.
In speaking of Lives, Mason
they will answer,––”How did Pericles manage the people in time of war lest
they should force him to act
against his own judgment?” And from such knowledge as this we may suppose that the children begin to
get a sympathetic view of the problems of statesmanship.
Then, to come to our own time, they are enabled to answer,––”What do you know of (a) County Councils, (b)
District Councils, (c) Parish Councils?”–– knowledge
which should make children perceive that they too are being prepared to become worthy citizens, each with his
several duties. (p. 186)
Reading children’s versions
of Plutarch or long commentaries is not advised. North’s is the recommended translation. While the text is perhaps challenging at
first, the children soon adapt and do surprisingly well. The following is an
observation of the accessibility of Plutarch to the children by H.W. Household,
for Education, Gloucestershire:
We turn to Plutarch’s “Lives”
in Thomas North’s Elizabethan version. I
remember when teachers foretold that
the children would not read him – themselves underrating the ability of the workers’ children. Triumphantly the children dispelled their
unfounded pessimism. If there are two authors who have asserted and
established their sovereignty in the elementary
school, they are Shakespeare and Plutarch (as North rendered him), read without commentary, or any more
explanation than the child itself demands.
The half that the children
take of themselves with joy, is far greater than the whole that ultra- conscientious teachers, stuffed with the notes
of commentators would fain force upon them.
(Household, c.a. 1953, p. 6)
Samuel Johnson, ll.d.. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc (Original
work published in 1791).
pamphlet]. Charlotte Mason Digital Collection (call number ARMITT Box CM16, File CMC107, Items
i1p1cmc107I-i4p19cmc107II) . Redeemer University College, Ancaster, ON.
C. M. (1989). A philosophy of education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work
published in 1925).