Plutarch’s Cosmological Ethics

Bram Demulder

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A groundbreaking and wide-ranging presentation of Plutarch’s ethics based on the cosmological foundation of his ethical thought

Plutarch of Chaeronea (c. 45-120 CE) is the most prolific and influential moral philosopher in the Platonic tradition. This book is a fundamental reappraisal of Plutarch’s ethical thought. It shows how Plutarch based his ethics on his particular interpretation of Plato’s cosmology. Our quest for the good life should start by considering the good cosmos in which we live. The practical consequences of this cosmological foundation permeate various domains of Greco-Roman life: the musician, the organiser of a drinking party, and the politician should all be guided by cosmology. After exploring these domains, this book offers in-depth interpretations of two works that can only be fully understood by paying attention to cosmological aspects: Dialogue on Love and On Tranquillity of Mind.

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

Abbreviations, titles, editions 


Chapter 1 Reading Plato
1. In search of irrational soul
2. Chaos and providence: flexible consistency and the Timaeus 
2.1. Macro level: selection, arrangement, and function
2.2. Micro level: Plutarch’s interpretation of Timaeus 53b
3. Moralising the cosmic soul: Plato’s ‘development’ and Laws 10
3.1. Invisible soul and soul as self-moved motion
3.2. Priority of soul
3.3. Maleficent soul
3.4. Consistency and ‘development’
4. Cosmic cycles: literalness and the Statesman myth
4.1. Proclus on combining Timaeus and Statesman: introducing the problem
4.2. On the Generation of the Soul: facing the problem
4.3. Who or what is the cause for cosmic reversal?
4.4. In what period are we now?
4.5. What is Plutarch doing?
5. Concluding remarks 

Chapter 2 Music
1. The demiurge and the musician
2. Music in heaven? The song of the Muses
3. Divine harmony on earth? The limits of inspiration
4. Concluding remarks

Chapter 3 Symposium
1. God and the symposiarch: Sympotic Questions 1.2 and 7.6
2. The cosmos and the symposium: Sympotic Questions 7.4 and 2.10
3. The χώρα and the venue: Sympotic Questions 5.5
4. Concluding remarks 

Chapter 4 Politics
1. The Timaeus in the Phocion 
2. The ruler and the demiurge in the historical works
3. The ruler and the sun: To an Uneducated Ruler 
4. Concluding remarks 

Chapter 5 On Tranquillity of Mind 
1. Κρίσις (§ 1–5): how to deal with τύχη?
1.1. What is the problem?
1.2. How is the problem presented?
2. A shift in the ἄσκησις (§ 14–15): from internal to external synthesis
2.1. Beginning the ἄσκησις (§ 6–13): internal synthesis
2.2. Time and the self: memory (§ 14)
2.3. Becoming and the self: dualism (§ 15)
2.4. Looking back (§ 8) and continuing the ἄσκησις (§ 16–18): external synthesis
2.5. Interlude: time and becoming in Consolation to My Wife 
3. ‘The cosmos is a temple’ (§ 19–20)
3.1. Intertextuality
3.2. Imagery
3.3. Contrasting images and intertexts? On Exile and Plutarch’s ‘cosmopolitanism’
3.4. Similar images and intertexts? Θεωρία and Second Sophistic cosmic festivals
4. Concluding remarks 

Chapter 6 Dialogue on Love 
1. The Platonist and the body
2. Eros and Aphrodite as cosmic gods (755e–757a)
2.1. A doxography of cosmic love
2.2. Euripides’ Hippolytus: a threat to the erotic cosmos
3. Eros, the sun, and the cave: rewriting Plato’s Republic (764a–766b)
4. Interlude: reflecting the intelligible
5. Cosmic and human love (770a–b)
6. Concluding remarks 

Concluding remarks 


Index locorum 

General index 


Format: Monograph - hardback

Size: 234 × 156 × 28 mm

440 pages

ISBN: 9789462703292

Publication: July 05, 2022

Series: Plutarchea Hypomnemata

Languages: English

Stock item number: 149304

Bram Demulder is postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University and research associate at KU Leuven.

Based on texts written in the early decades of the Roman Empire, this brilliant analysis by Demulder is an essential text for anyone researching Greco-Roman cosmological thought. Clifford Cunningham, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Volume 26, Issue 1: 271 - 273 (2023)