“The Death of Gaius Gracchus” by Jean Baptiste Topino-Lebrun (1764-1801)
What questions is Plutarch asking?
By examining each person, both his personal character and his leadership style, Plutarch wanted to find the correlation of one’s personal character and background—which shaped his morality—to his decisions and conducts.
What sources does Plutarch use to answer them?
He gathered letters and books/writings of the general’s contemporaries (Cicero’s correspondences were used most often), as well as pieces from other historians such as Livy.
Can you identify the history’s genre?
It is political history, but Roman Lives could also be included in intellectual history (of the generals).
What is the purpose of history?
Plutarch took us to learn from these generals. Although they lived in different era and circumstances, we could learn from their moral view. Anyway, we are each—in certain levels—a leader too, at least to ourselves. From these characters we learn what makes a good leader and what a bad one.
Why do things go wrong?
It’s because human tends to be greedy. Absolute power is the most dangerous substance to corrupt good men. The clearest example is Pompey. He should have been a good leader for Rome—he is a great military general, loved by his army and most importantly, by most people of Rome. He had the strongest mean, probably in Roman’s republic history, to be a great leader. However, his pride and ambition overcame his good sense, and so he made himself an easy target for Julius Caesar.
What relationship does this history have to a social problem?
The eight lives depicted here are good examples to analyze what makes good or bad state leaders. If a leader has good moral (like in Aemillius Paullus), he will lead his country wisely. If a leader focuses only in one side of the people but ignoring the other (like in the Grachii), he will bring the country to civil war. The same result will also happen if a leader proposes himself only of pure ambition (like in Julius Caesar), rather than for the country or people's sake.