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Plutarch’s and Pliny the Elder’s Greek Artists: Two intellectuals of the Empire and their perspectives on Greek art

Eva Falaschi

Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and Moralia are studded with anecdotes on Greek artists such as Polignotus, Pauson, Zeuxis, Pheidias, Nicomachus, Apelles, Protogenes of Kaunos, Nikias, Nealkes, Lysippus. On the other side, it is well known how books 33-37 of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia are rich in stories, anecdotes and information on the lives and carriers of Greek artists. In some cases, the two authors refer the same anecdotes, in other occasions, they select different information on artists.

This paper aims at pointing out the reception of some Greek artists in Plutarch’s and Pliny’s works. A careful study of passages in their context of transmission will help to emphasize the peculiar point of view of each author on ancient artists. Differences and analogies in literary genre, finalities, interests, personality, social role and relations will be taken into account to show how these factors influence the artists’ image transmitted by the two writers. Moreover, the paper will focus on Plutarch’s and Pliny’s knowledge and use of previous treatises on art, as well as on the spread and reinterpretation of some anecdotes in other fields, which were familiar to these two intellectuals, such as philosophy and rhetoric.

Through this comparison the paper intends to point out how two intellectuals of the Empire, who belonged to the same elite, but came from different regions and had different social and political roles, could interpret and appropriate the image of Greek artists, and differently elaborate the same artistic knowledge they shared. It also allows to understand how their personal experience as politicians as well as intellectuals and writers determines their choices and pushes them sometimes in the same, other times in opposite directions. 

Session/Panel Title

The Intellectual World of the Early Empire (organized by the International Plutarch Society)

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