Billeder på siden




SURELY among all those that ever have taken upon them to write the lives of famous men, the chief prerogative, by the judgment of such as are clearest sighted, is justly given to the Greek philosopher, Plutarch, borne in the city of Chæronea in the country of Bæotia, a noble man, perfect in all rare knowledge, as his works may well put men out of doubt, if they list to read them through: who all his life long, even to his old age, had to deal in affairs of the common weal, as he himself witnesseth in divers places, specially in the treatise which he entitled, Whether an old man ought to meddle with the government of a common-weal or not: and who had the hap and honour to be schoolmaister to the Emperor Trajan, as is commonly believed, and as is expressly pretended by a certain epistle set before the Latin translation of his matters of state, which (to say the truth) seemeth in my judgment to be somewhat suspicious, because I find it not among his works in Greek, besides that it speaketh as though the book were dedicated to Trajan, which thing is manifestly disproved by the beginning of the book, and by divers other reasons. Yet notwithstanding, because methinks it is sagely and gravely written, and well beseeming him, I have set it down here in this place. ‘Plutarch unto Trajan sendeth greeting. I know well that the modesty of your nature was not desirous of sovereignty, though you have always endeavoured to deserve 1 Jacques Amyot was born at Melun, France, in 1513, and died at Auxerre, 1593. He was tutor of Charles IX and Henry of Anjou, and attained high honors, becoming Grand Almoner Bishop of Auxerre, and Commander of the Order of the Holy Ghost. He translated the classic Greek novels Theagenes and Chariclea (1547), and Daphnis and Chloe (1559), the works of Diodorus Siculus (1554), Plutarch's Lives (1559), and Plutarch's Morals (1572).

it by your honourable conversation: by reason whereor you have been found the further off from all ambition. And therefore I do now rejoice in your vertue and my fortune, if it be so great as to cause you to administer that thing with justice, which you have obtained by desert. For otherwise, I am sure you have put your self in hazard of great dangers, and me in peril of slanderous tongues, because Rome cannot away with a wicked emperor, and the common voice of the people is always to cast the faults of the scholars in the teeth of their schoolmaisters: as for example: Seneca is railed upon by slanderous tongues, for the faults of his scholar, Nero: the scapes of Quintilian's young scholars are imputed to Quintilian himself: and Socrates is blamed for being too mild to his hearers. But as for you, there is hope you shall do all things well enough, so you keep you as you are. If you first set your self in order, and then dispose all other things according to vertue, all things shall fall out according to your desire. I have set you down the means in writing, which you must observe for the well governing of your common weal, and have showed you of how great force your behaviour may be in that behalf. If you think good to follow those things, you have Plutarch for the director and guider of your life: if not, I protest unto you by this epistle, that your falling into danger to the overthrow of the empire, is not by the doctrine of Plutarch.' This epistle witnesseth plainly that he was the schoolmaister of Trajan, which thing seemeth to be avowed by this writing of Suidas; Plutarch being born in the city of Chæronea in Beotia, was in the time of the Emperor Trajan, and somewhat afore. But

But Trajan honoured him with the dignity of Consulship, and commanded the officers and magistrates that were throughout all the country of Illyria, that they should not do any thing without his counsel and authority. So doth Suidas write of him. And I am of opinion, that Trajan being so wise an emperor, would never have done him so great honour, if he had not thought himself greatly beholding to him for some special cause. But the thing that maketh me most to believe it true, is, that thic same goodness and justice appeared to be naturally imprinted in most of Trajan's sayings and doings, whereof the pattern and mould (as a man might term it) was cast and set down in Plutarch's Morals, so as men may perceive expressly that the one could well skill to perform rightly, that which the other had taught wisely. For Dion writeth, that among other honours which the Senate of Rome gave by decree unto Trajan, they gave him the title of the Good Emperor. And Eutropius reporteth that even unto his time, when a new emperor came to be received of the Senate, among the cries of good handsel, and the wishes of good luck that were made unto him, one was: Happier be thou than Augustus, and better than Trajan. Howsoever the case stood, it is very certain that Plutarch dedicated the collection of his Apothemes to him. But when he had lived a long time at Rome, and was come home again to his own house, he fell to writing of this excellent work of Lives, which he called Parallelon, as much to say, as a coupling or matching together, because he matchetli a Grecian with a Roman, setting down their lives each after other, and comparing them together, as he found any likeness of nature, conditions, or adventures betwixt them, and examining what the one of them had better or worse, greater or less, than the other: which things he doth with so goodly and grave discourse everywhere, taken out of the deepest and most hidden secrets of moral and natural philosophy, with so sage percepts and fruitful instructions, with so effectual commendation of vertue, and detestation of vice, with so many goodly allegations of other authors, with so many fit comparisons, and with so many high inventions: that the book may better be called by the name of the Treasury of all rare and perfect learning, than by any other name. Also it is said, that Theodorus Gaza, a Grecian of singular learning, and a worthy of the ancient Greece, being asked on a time by his familiar friends (which saw him so earnestly given to his study, that he forgat all other things) what author he had leverest choose, if he were at that point that he must needs choose some one to hold him to alone, did answer that he would choose Plutarch: because that if they were all put together, there was no one both so profitable, and so pleasant to read, as he. Sosius Senecio to whom he dedicateth his work, was a Senator of Rome, as witnesseth Dion, who writet!

that the three persons whom Trajan most loved and honoured, were Sosius, Parma, and Celsus, insomuch that he caused images of them to be set up. True it is that he wrote the lives of many other men, which the spitefulness of time hath bereft us of, among which he himself maketh mention of the lives of Scipio Africanus and Metellus Numidicus. And I have read a little epistle of a son of his, whose name is not expressed, copied out of an old copy in the Library of S. Mark in Venice, wherein he writeth to a friend of his, a register of all the books that his father made: and there among the couples of lives he setteth down the lives of Scipio and Epaminondas, and lastly the lives of Augustus Cæsar, of Tiberius, of Caligula, of Claudius, of Nero, of Galba, of Vitellius, and of Otho. But having used all the diligence that I could in searching the chief libraries of Venice, and Rome, I could never find them out.



THE profit of stories, and the praise of the Author, are sufficiently declared by Amyot, in his epistle to the reader: so that I shall not need to make many words thereof. And indeed if you will supply the defects of this translation, with your own diligence and good understanding: you shall not need to trust him, you may prove your selves, that there is no profane study better than Plutarch. All other learning is private, fitter for universities than cities, fuller of contemplation than experience, more commendable in students themselves, than profitable unto others. Whereas stories are fit for every place, reach to all persons, serve for all times, teach the living, revive the dead, so far excelling all other books, as it is better to see learning in noble men's lives, than to read it in philosophers' writings. Now for the author, I will not deny but love may deceive me, for I must needs love him with whom I have taken so much pain: but I believe I 1 Sir Thomas North was a translator from the Romance languages during the latter half of the sixteenth century. He translated Amyot's French version of Plutarch's Lives in 1579.

« ForrigeFortsæt »