Macquarie University
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Re(dis)covering imperial biography and reconstructing Plutarch’s Life of Augustus

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posted on 2022-03-29, 02:32 authored by Amanda Louise Drummond
Plutarch’s series of imperial biographies, the Lives of the Caesars, have not often been well-regarded in past scholarship. To my mind, this is an unfair assessment. Unfortunately, what has survived of the series does not immediately serve to recommend it as a work of scholarly depth; the two Lives which are extant, the Galba and Otho, are naturally compared to Plutarch’s paired Greek and Roman Lives and are nearly always judged to be inferior, with regards to both content and style. It has been generally supposed that the seven lost βίοι from the Lives of the Caesars—theAugustus-Nero sequence and the Vitellius—were composed in a similar manner to the two which have survived. Yet this need not be—and indeed, probably was not—the case. Inasmuch as it concerns two separate, but inter-connected, problems, the following study has been undertaken in two halves. The first, comprising Chapters One to Three, re-examines—and in some respects, redefines—the memorial literature of the ancient world. A particular focus has been given to literature from the fifth century BCE to the second century CE, as it is this material which most shaped the tradition in which Plutarch (and Suetonius) wrote. The first chapter discusses the past and current scholarship that has been devoted to ancient biographical literature, with the intention of isolating areas that require further research or consideration; the second analyses the general shape and purpose of our extant biographical texts, as well as the various ways in which their readers—both immediate and future—received and interpreted their contents. The third chapter then focuses upon our two most prominent biographers from antiquity, Plutarch and Suetonius, providing an overview of their contexts and methodologies, before examining in detail their aims and the portrayal of character within their respective βίοι and vitae. The second half of the study, Chapters Four to Six, is devoted to a close analysis of Plutarch’s understanding of personality, and the methods by which he constructed (both consciously and unconsciously) character, or ἦθος,throughout his Lives. The application of personality theory to ancient biographical literature is discussed in the fourth chapter; this provides an overview of the development of the repertory grid technique, and its use in the behavioural sciences and other fields, before moving to determine how it may be suitably applied to Plutarch’s Lives. The fifth chapter examines the results of the analysis and their implications as regards Plutarch’s general methodology and the composition of his imperial βίοι. The sixth, and final, chapter combines the findings of the repertory grid study with those of a comparative literary analysis to reconstruct a possible framework for Plutarch’s Life of Augustus, which inaugurated the series.


Table of Contents

Chapter One. Imperial biography and the biographic tradition-- Chapter Two. Historicism and the biographic form -- Chapter Three. Plutarch, Suetonius, and the applications of historicism -- Chapter Four. Personality theory and biography -- Chapter Five. Interpreting Plutarch’s implicit theory of personality -- Chapter Six. Reconstructing Plutarch’s Life of Augustus -- Afterword.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 405-451

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

T. W. Hillard


Copyright Amanda Louise Drummond 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




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