Plutarch’s Moralia

SBLHS 2 § advises authors to follow a simple pattern when citing ancient works: first provide the number designation that is original to the work, then “any secondary numerical identification supplied by the standard critical edition (or by another edition whose numbering is widely followed).” SBLHS offers a number of examples illustrating this principle, including one involving Plutarch’s Moralia.

Plutarch, Is. Os. 46 (369e)

SBLHS adds that this citation “designates the paragraph from Isis and Osiris along with the page number used since the 1572 Stephanus edition of Plutarch’s Moralia.” To help authors construct and readers interpret other Moralia citations, the rest of this post will offer background to and the rationale of this citation style.

It is important to understand at the outset that Plutarch’s Moralia is not a single work in the typical sense but is rather a collection of seventy-eight speeches and essays. Each individual speech or essay has its own title, which is the primary means by which a citation should be identified (e.g., Is. Os. above). (We will take up the Stephanus page numbering below.)

Each essay has its own internal numbering, which is the first identifier in a citation. For example, De Iside et Osiride (Isis and Osiris) comprises eighty sections, so the first part of a citation should identify the author, work, and section(s) being referenced, as in: Plutarch, Is. Os. 46.

A few individual works have chapters and subsections (e.g., De Alexandri magni fortuna aut virtute, or On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander). In such instances one should cite the chapter and section as follows: Plutarch, Alex. fort. 1.5.

Similarly, the work Quaestionum convivialum libri IX (Table Talk in Nine Books) includes, as its title indicates nine books, each of which comprises multiple questions, each question of which contains multiple subsections. For this work one might cite, for example: Plutarch, Quaest. conv. 9.2.3.

In addition to the primary, or first, part of the citation, one should indicate the Stephanus (Henri Estienne) page and section in parentheses. Many of Plutarch’s sections extend over a number of pages, so adding the Stephanus page after the primary citation helps readers locate the specific citation. Thus, the earlier examples would be cited in full as follows:

Plutarch, Is. Os. 46 (369e)

Plutarch, Alex. fort. 1.5 (328c)

(Plutarch, Quaest. conv. 9.2.3 [738a])

The letter (lowercase with no space before) indicates the section of the page on which the section appears; the Stephanus pages for Moralia generally run a–f. The third example shows the use of square brackets around the Stephanus page when the entire citation is enclosed within parentheses.

Note: SBLHS 2 § incorrectly capitalizes the section letters for Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride (396E) and Plato’s Respublica (454D). As noted above, one should use lowercase letters to indicate the section of the page on which a citation occurs (396e; 454d).

As with other ancient works, quotation of a translation requires citation of the translator of that work. The following example from De cohibenda ira, or On the Control of Anger, demonstrates the proper format for doing so.

Surely we should allow no place to anger even in jest, for that brings enmity in where friendliness was; nor in learned discussions, for that turns love of learning into strife. (Plutarch, Cohib. ira 16 [462b] [Helmhold, LCL])

Although some authors omit reference to the individual works and cite the Stephanus page alone (e.g., Plutarch, Mor. 462b), SBL Press prefers the listing of individual works, since readers are better served knowing whether a quotation is from Quomodo adulator ab amico internoscatur (How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend) or De capienda ex inimicis utilitate (How to Profit by One’s Enemies).

The most common source for exploring and citing Plutarch’s Moralia is, of course, the Loeb edition. Happily, volumes 2–15 of these public-domain work (due to their age) are freely available online. The easiest way to locate a specific work within the Moralia is to begin at the Plutarch: Moralia page on the Attalus website. From there one can link directly to a Loeb edition hosted on the website. Another useful source for the Greek text and an English translation is the Plutarch section on the Lacus Curtius website managed by Bill Thayer.

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