An Opaque Mirror For Trajan

A Literary Analysis and Interpretation of Plutarch's 'Regum et Imperatorum Apophthegmata'

Laurens van der Wiel

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The first full in-depth analysis and interpretation of Plutarch’s Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata in its entirety as a literary piece of art.

Plutarch’s Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata (Sayings of Kings and Commanders) holds a peculiar position in his oeuvre. This collection of almost 500 anecdotes of barbarian, Greek, and Roman rulers and generals is introduced by a dedicatory letter to Trajan as a summary of the author’s well known and widely read Parallel Lives. The work is therefore Plutarch’s only text that explicitly addresses a Roman emperor and is likely to shed light on his biographical technique. Yet the collection has been understudied, because its authenticity has been generally rejected since the nineteenth century. This book restores its reputation and provides a first full literary analysis of the letter and collection as a genuine work of Plutarch, wherein he attempts to educate his ruler by means of great role models of the past. Plutarch’s thinking about the function of role models (exempla) is not only relevant for Plutarchan research, but also for our knowledge of exemplarity, a key feature both in Greek and Latin literature in the early imperial period in general. Therefore An Opaque Mirror for Trajan is also of interest for literary and historical scholars who study the broader context of ancient literature of the first centuries CE.

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

Format: Monograph - hardback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

500 pages

ISBN: 9789462703902

Publication: January 15, 2024

Series: Plutarchea Hypomnemata

Languages: English

Laurens van der Wiel is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Warsaw. He is part of the project “Thinking of Thinking. Conceptual Metaphors of Cognition in the Plutarchan Corpus”.

Van der Wiel’s thoughtful, detailed, and meticulous study breaks new ground, and greatly enhances our understanding of the relationship between Plutarch’s dedication letter to Trajan and the 'Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata' collection. He forcefully and persuasively argues for the authenticity of both the letter and the collection. This is unquestionably the most important interpretation of this somewhat neglected aspect of Plutarch’s oeuvre yet published.
Mark A. Beck, University of South Carolina


Superbly thorough and in many ways ground-breaking reading of an understudied work by Plutarch. The ethical programme and historical scope of 'Sayings of Kings and Commanders' are vigorously reappraised.
Alexei V Zadorojnyi, University of Liverpool