- Introduction:Plutarch and Gender
The following collection of essays arose from a workshop held at the University of Illinois in February 2018 with the theme of "Plutarch and Gender." Five of the eight papers are presented here, substantially expanded and improved from their original version by the detailed commentary offered by our formal respondents, Eleanora Stoppino, Carol Symes, and Angeliki Tzanetou, as well as by the engaged discussion and comments offered by the audience.
The first three papers explore aspects of masculinity in Plutarch's work. Elizabeth Carney has focused on the Life of Alexander as a case study showing the important role of women in defining and complicating masculinity, even against the overtly male backdrop of Alexander's army. In particular, Carney highlights the tension between Plutarch's veneration of Alexander's self-control and his stark narration of Alexander's excessive behavior, revealing that Plutarch has used this tension to heighten the tragic character of his narrative. Sulochana Asirvatham surveys a wider group of texts to demonstrate how Plutarch uses the vocabulary of virtue in Greek and Latin to contrast Greek and Roman constructions of masculinity. Asirvatham's analysis shows that, in Plutarch's view, the richer vocabulary afforded by Greek is evidence of a more nuanced, and thus superior, conception of manhood. My own paper examines masculinity as a type of social performance, using the Life of Pyrrhus as my primary example. By placing Pyrrhus before a range of audiences with different socio-cultural expectations of masculinity, Plutarch explores numerous possible models that collectively emphasize the many social roles that individual men must play while also identifying Pyrrhus's obsessive focus on his role as a warrior as the key factor in his failure as a king.
The last two papers focus more directly on female characters in Plutarch's work. Mallory Monaco-Caterine explores representations of tyrants in the Mulierum Virtutes as a foil for the virtues of women. Monaco-Caterine demonstrates that, by juxtaposing virtuous women with recognizably tyrannical men, Plutarch defines women's virtue as indistinguishable from male virtue, a conclusion he seems to have reached in contrast to prevailing trends. Zoe Stamatopoulou examines the two female characters in Plutarch's Symposium of the Seven Sages and shows how they serve as exempla for women in Plutarch's world by placing them in the semi-public and male-dominated arena of the symposium. Stamatopoulou [End Page 138] illustrates the differing behavior that Plutarch outlines for each character in accordance with her age group and social class. By their dress and demeanor, both women emphatically distance themselves from the erotic spectacles often found in sympotic contexts. However, while the elder Melissa's silent obedience primarily reinforces her husband's presentation of an orderly household, the younger Cleoboulina provokes intellectual growth in the male symposiasts when her words are repeated through male intermediaries, thus advertising the benefits of having a clever daughter in the home.
The 1995 publication of Maud Gleason's Making Men helped move gender to the center of the study of Imperial Greek literature and culture, and subsequent influential accounts such as Schmitz (1997) and Whitmarsh (2001) have—to varying degrees—seen a thorough entanglement of gender with issues of ethnicity, identity, and power as one of the defining features of the period. Studies of Plutarch have to some extent followed a separate lineage and have not engaged as fully with gender. Precisely because he wrote near the beginning of the period, Plutarch is an important source for the early stages of a developing system of elite social practices, but, as an uncommonly prolific writer with a broad range of interests, his own understanding of gender is especially complex.1 As a group, these five papers bring Plutarch into wider conversations about Greek intellectual culture in the Roman Empire, providing a nuanced view of the underlying ideologies of gender that structure his thought, but also his consciousness of those ideologies and willingness to challenge and manipulate them to his own philosophical ends.
Events of this sort require considerable elbow grease and a fair amount of money. Much of the former was provided by my co-organizer, Aine McVey, and the...