UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A historical commentary on Plutarch’s Marcellus Clark, Edward Dale


M. Claudius Marcellus won military renown during Rome's wars with the Gauls and the Carthaginians in the latter half of the third century B.C. As consul in 222 B.C. he earned the rare honor of the spolia opima by slaying in single combat the opposing Gallic chieftain. In the dark days following the disaster at Cannae in 216 B.C., he showed himself to be the only Roman commander capable of standing up to, if not actually defeating, Hannibal in Italy; for this he gained the title of 'The Sword of Rome.' Plutarch, writing at the turn of the second century A.D., came near the end of the development of the historical tradition about this famous general. When he came to write this biography, he had available to him a wide range of sources, both favorable and hostile to Marcellus. The purpose of this study is to provide a commentary on his account and to assess the accuracy of the portrait offered. Plutarch's text has been compared with all the evidence that has survived. Its similarities to and divergences from other versions have been examined, although the investigation is hampered by the loss of much of the source material that had been available to Plutarch. Through this analysis it is hoped that a more accurate picture of Marcellus and of the events in which he was involved have emerged. Plutarch set out to prove that Marcellus was not only a brave and energetic warrior but also a humanitarian and an admirer of Greek culture. This study concludes that he is only partially convincing. Although there is no doubt about Marcellus' military prowess, his humanitarianism and love of Greek culture are open to serious questions. As the record shows Marcellus adopted measures that were both harsh and cruel, while the extent to which some of his actions appear humane is due in large part to practical necessity. In addition, his admiration of Greek culture seems to have been only superficial . Plutarch in presenting this portrait appears motivated by his notion of virtuous ideals rather than by historical reality.

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