Charlotte Mason had students start reading Plutarch in Year 4 in order to both gain a familiarity with the ancient world and to learn about the character of leaders.
What are the Parallel Lives?
Plutarch designed his parallel lives to highlight the moral character of leaders. Each section contains the biography of a Greek and a Roman leader, as well as a comparison of their conduct. We have lost several of these comparisons to the ravages of history, including the one comparing Alexander and Caesar.
Which Plutarch’s Parallel Lives?
Many of us own and use the Loeb editions, and that is where the page numbers used in the week by week schedule come from. It looks like more pages than it actually is, as the Loeb Books are very small. These are in the public domain and out of print, so be careful when buying from Amazon. A lot of fly by night publishers have printed terribly hard to read copies. We’ve had some luck finding them at used bookstores. There are six very small volumes, and we use all of them except Volume 5.
The Loeb editions can often be found in libraries, but are sometimes hard to find used online. The Modern Library version is also okay.
If you want to read them online, Bill Thayer hand typed and meticulously copyedited all of the Loeb edition. For any of you who added Attic Greek to your curriculum, he also includes links to the original Greek texts.
Why only two lives per year?
Charlotte Mason and other CM homeschooling programs schedule three lives a year, but because Plutarch meant for his lives to be read in parallel, we only schedule two and we include the comparison in the second term’s reading where it is available.
For many of us, one of the perks of homeschooling our kids was to indulge in our own inner autodidact. Before writing Lives, Plutarch wrote On Moral Virtue. This work is the intellectual foundation on which he wrote the Lives. It’s a great read for parents the term before your child gets to Plutarch, or an excellent addition to the the Philosophy and World Religions thread for a senior student, and it clocks in at under 20 pages so it’s not a huge commitment.
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