GREK 401A/501A: Biography (Xenophon and Plutarch)

In this course, we will read some of the earliest Greek attempts to write an account of a person’s whole life. We’ll start with the first book of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, a biography of the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, which became the model for medieval writings like Machiavelli’s The Prince. We’ll then move on to two of the Parallel Lives of Plutarch (to be chosen by the class), which compare the lives of some of the greatest figures from Greek and Roman myth and history. We may also read some of Diogenes Laertius’s Lives and Gnomai of Eminent Philosophers. We will consider the aims and techniques of the authors, the question of national bias, comparative material from other sources for these biographies, and the reception of these works in modern times and genres.