– Marcus Aurelius
|my little Plutarch notebook|
On an airplane trip a few years ago I was reading Howards End is on the Landing. The distinguished gentlemen next to me struck up a conversation about literature after asking what I was reading. I eventually learned that he knew a bit about Plutarch since he was a classics professor at UC Berkeley. I just kept asking him questions and loved listening to his stories, his love of Plutarch since childhood, his archeology excursions, and more. The flight was too short. How much of who he is now was inspired by his reading of Plutarch? I don’t know for sure, but listening to his passion on the topic was a treat for me.
Since I wrote about some of the whys and hows in Part 1 and Part II, I will share some resources that I use to prepare for teaching Plutarch.
1. 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.
2. Retellings are sometimes nice for the teacher to read first. My favorite is by Charles Robinson, 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. Ambleside Online has a detailed Plutarch page with all sorts of helps, including Anne White’s updated study guides.
4. North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives. I do think this is important if your aims are the same as CM’s when it comes to Plutarch and I touched on that in Part I. Personally, I don’t care for the Wordsworth Classics of World Literature edition. It’s too big and unwieldy, the formatting doesn’t break the text up nicely, there are no notes at all. I’m just not a fan. You can find nice editions online at the Online Library of Liberty and the Hathi Trust digital library.
5. Here is a book that Sara Dalton put together for teaching Timoleon. She formatted North’s translation and added a few pictures. She recommends that you use the “booklet” setting when printing. Really, you could do this for any of the Lives to make it more convenient to read. (Make sure you tinker with the settings to get it right before printing!)
That’s about all I want to recommend because I don’t want you to get bogged down in the planning, preparing, and presentation of Plutarch. Just remember that this is a mind-to-mind thing. A little scaffolding, reading, and then narrating. You can do this! And who knows what your student will take away from it. He might just want to be a classics professor someday.
Here is a post about the Blackie editions Mason used.
Mary J Atkinson says
Hi Nancy! I really appreciate this guide, and LOVE your little Plutarch notebook! Would you mind sharing where you bought the notebook or how you made it? I’d love to have one like it to take notes in myself! Thank you!
Hello, Mary! I purchased the notebook from https://www.maydesigns.com/. This was a while ago and they were having a special, so I purchased a Plutarch notebook, a Shakespeare notebook, and some for my children’s commonplace entries!
Jennifer Swearingen says
Hi Nancy, I went to CMI's Lake District Retreat and I believe it was Dr. Thorley who advised us not to use North's but Puffin? He said CM used North because it was the best available to her at the time. I know you advise North's but what do you make of this advice? Maybe some of us were a bit surprised? Thanks!
Great question! I have discussed this with Dr. Thorley in the past and have landed on using North's. Here are a few snippets from our conversation:
Dr. Thorley: Now translations: Plutarch actually wrote in the standard Greek of his day, in a fairly simple style, so to his contemporaries he certainly sounded 'modern'. The penguin editions were done by Rex Warner and Ian Scott-Kilvert, some years ago now, but they are in modern English and they are good translations. So if you want to know what Plutarch said, these are probably still the best available. North is of course in elizabethan English, and it is a free translation of a translation, so you get the feel of elizabethan England rather than of Plutarch. I haven't checked, but I would doubt if North translates some of the technical political vocabulary of the Greek and Roman world very well.
It all depends what you want to get out of Plutarch. In Charlotte's day there were no good modern translations available, and it was anyway the style of 19th century translations to use archaic English, on the grounds that it sounded more 'classical'. North is now well known essentially because he was Shakespeare's source for Julius Caesar, Coriolanus etc. It still sounds good, because many of us like elizabethan English. But if we want to get the feel of the Greek and Roman world a modern translation is better. I would also add that some of the lives are a lot more interesting than others. Pericles, Themistocles, Alcibiades, and Julius Caesar and Mark Antony are a lot more entertaining, and historically more significant than Fabius Maximus or Marcellus.
Interesting. Your points help clarify for me why she thought so highly of North. I think for us, we would be using Plutarch for Mason’s reasons which have to do with character formation, magnanimity, stories of heroism, etc. – not solely to get a feel for the Greek and Roman world. I can see where some of the more straight forward translations might not “inspire” in the manner she thought North’s would.
That should give you some insight into the debate.
Maple Grove Mom says
Thank you for the tips, Nancy. We had the pleasure of hearing you speak at a conference in Peoria, IL a couple years ago. Wishing you all the best.
Maple Grove Mom says
Oops. I believe it was Antony and Cleopatra and the life of Antony that you mentioned formatting for your own use. I would like to do both these and Julius Ceasar. if you are able to help with either of these lives (which correspond to Shakespeare plays, but do not yet have notes by Anne White), I would greatly appreciate it. I understand if not, but I thought I would ask. Thanks!
No notes (boy, do I wish here and a million other places that I did keep detailed notes!) I would get a big head start with Plutarch as it seemed awfully long compared to the play.
Maple Grove Mom says
I enjoyed listening to your interview on the delectable education podcast. I would like to do Julius Ceasar (both Shakespeare and Plutarch) with my kids, but am nervous to do a life without Anne White's notes. Do you have any notes that you made on this life you would be able to share? Thank you.
I did not make notes and we did read the whole thing. I do remember that there was only 1 line in the entire life that I needed to edit – something about a dream. ??? Just keep in mind that the Plutarch reading will encompass a much greater time span than the Shakespeare play.
Have you ever used Dryden's translation? I was leaning towards it because of the Ambleside Online notes.
Nancy, I have that Howard's End book in my Wish List on Amazon; indeed, it is one of many 'books about books' on my List. (geek alert!!!) 🙂 I adore reading about how literature/reading has influenced someone's life; it can be and truly is transformative. And I need not mention the superbly sublime advantage of gaining MANY "what to read next" ideas after reading this type of book (or, perhaps, it's "what to BUY next"!). 😉 I continue to enjoy your blog. Happy Homeschooling! We are just getting back at it here in Sioux Falls.
I really enjoyed it! And same with me, I get all sorts of "what to read next" ideas from these books. Naturally, I suppose. I hope your school year is full of vitality and beauty!
You sat next to THAT professor. The Lord is in charge of your days! Thanks for all these posts.
You bless us.
...they call me mommy... says
Thank you! How neat for you to end up next to that professor!!!
It really was! I emailed him the post with a note and he was gracious and remembered our chat on the plane. For all my debacles with the airlines, I have plenty of fond memories, too!