a greek historian and philosopher. Born in Chaeronea in Boeotia, Plutarch was educated in Athens, mainly by the Platonist Ammonius, who had an Egyptian name and came to Athens from Egypt. Plutarch spent some time in Rome and also in Alexandria, but the small town of Chaeronea remained his permanent home. There, he filled various public posts and was a priest at nearby Delphi. His family life was very happy; his wife Timoxena bore him five children, while a circle of friends and pupils acted as a little academy under his lead.

Plutarch was a prolific writer, and his many biographical works included Parallel Lives, about Greeks and Romans. His Moral Essays covered a wide variety of themes, such as greed, flattery, loquacity, superstition, education, and marriage; his style was popular, being both lively and instructive. In other essays a more ambitious approach appeared, in that themes were tackled that interested Stoics, Epicureans, and Platonists. As an avowed Platonist, Plutarch was in some ways open to Stoic influence; for example, in his emphasis on Providence.

His intense interest in religious beliefs and practices in addition to his vast reading on the whole field have led to the considered claim by Jean Hani (1976) that Plutarch is antiquity's best historian of religions. The claim is strongly supported by Plutarch's superb treatise On Isis and Osiris (the De Iside et Osiride—although written in Greek, the Moral Essays are traditionally called by their Latin titles). In this work, a distinction should be made between the accounts given of myths and rites and the often added interpretations. The accounts showed, on the whole, a remarkable reliability when compared with the evidence of the Egyptian sources; the interpretations, in contrast, were often colored by Pythagorean, Platonic, Stoic, Gnostic, and even Iranian ideas; in chapters 46, 47, and 48 the dualistic basis of Zoroastrianism was presented in an exposé, which has often been quoted as authoritative.

For evidence on the contemporary cult of the Egyptian deities, Plutarch relied to some extent on his friend Clea, who held a double priesthood at Delphi—that of Isis and that of Dionysus. His book is dedicated to Clea. (It is possible, though not certain, that Plutarch was also an initiated devotee of Isis.) On a wide range of information about Egyptian religion, Plutarch was greatly indebted to a large number of Greek writers, whose compilations he probably used. Their quality varied, but most important among them to Plutarch was Manetho, a bilingual Egyptian and a high priest at Heliopolis under the first two kings of the Ptolemaic dynasty.


  • Brenk, Frederick E. In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in Plutarch's Moralia and Lives. Suppl. Mnemosyne, 48. Leiden, 1977. An able overview of Plutarch's approach to religion; perhaps the role of demonology is underrated.
  • Griffiths, John Gwyn. Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride. Cardiff, 1970.
  • Griffiths, John Gwyn. “Plutarch of Chaeronea.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 2: 1065–1067. Wiesbaden, 1982.
  • Hani, Jean. La Religion Egyptienne dans la pensée de Plutarque. Paris, 1976. Not a line-by-line commentary, but a thorough discussion, arranged thematically, of the many remarks on Egyptian religion in the De Iside et Osiride and also in parts of Plutarch's other works.
  • Hopfner, Theodor. Plutarch über Isis und Osiris, part 1: Die Sage and part 2: Die Deutungen der Sage. Monographien des Archiv Orientalni, 9. Prague, 1940 and 1941. The two parts were republished in one volume by Georg Olms (Hildesheim, Zurich, and New York, 1991). Only in part 1 does Hopfner provide a Greek text (based mainly on that of Sieveking [Teubner, 1935]); but he provides a translation throughout and a detailed commentary, which is enhanced by his thorough knowledge of the comparative literary material in Greek and Latin, as well as of the Greek magical papyri. He was not equipped, however, to deal properly with the Egyptian sources.
  • Jones, C. P. “The Teacher of Plutarch.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 71 (1966), 205–213. The role of Ammonius in Plutarch's Dialogues is examined in some detail.
  • Russell, D. A. Plutarch. New York, 1973. Probably the best introduction to Plutarch's life and letters, with a full guide to all the writings and an attractive appreciation of their unique charisma.

J. Gwyn Griffiths