The Moralia (Ancient Greek: Ethika; loosely translated as "Morals" or "Matters relating to customs and mores") is a group of manuscripts dating from the 10th-13th centuries, traditionally ascribed to the 1st-century Greek scholar Plutarch of Chaeronea. The eclectic collection contains 78 essays and transcribed speeches. They provide insights into Roman and Greek life, but often are also timeless observations in their own right. Many generations of Europeans have read or imitated them, including Michel de Montaigne and the RenaissanceHumanists and Enlightenment philosophers.
The Moralia include On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great, an important adjunct to his Life of the great general; On the Worship of Isis and Osiris, a crucial source of information on Egyptian religious rites; and On the Malice of Herodotus (which may, like the orations on Alexander's accomplishments, have been a rhetorical exercise), in which Plutarch criticizes what he sees as systematic bias in the Histories of Herodotus; along with more philosophical treatises, such as On the Decline of the Oracles, On the Delays of the Divine Vengeance, On Peace of Mind and lighter fare, such as Odysseus and Gryllus ("Bruta animalia ratione uti"), a humorous dialog between Homer's Odysseus and one of Circe's enchanted pigs. The Moralia were composed first, while writing the Lives occupied much of the last two decades of Plutarch's own life.
Some editions of the Moralia include several works now known to be pseudepigrapha. Among these are the Lives of the Ten Orators (biographies of the Attic orators based on Caecilius of Calacte), On the Opinions of the Philosophers, On Fate, and On Music. One "Pseudo-Plutarch" is held responsible for all of these works, though their authorship is unknown. Though the thoughts and opinions recorded are not Plutarch's and come from a slightly later era, they are all classical in origin and have value to the historian.
Since the Stephanus edition of 1572, the Moralia have traditionally been arranged in 14 books, as in the following list that includes the English, the original Greek, and the Latin title:
I. (1a - 86a)
1. On the Education of Children (? - De liberis educandis)
2. How the Young Man Should Study Poetry ( ? ? - Quomodo adolescens poetas audire debeat)
3. On Hearing (? ? - De recta ratione audiendi)
4. How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend ( ? - Quomodo adulator ab amico internoscatur)
5. How a Man May Become Aware of his Progress in Virtue ( - Quomodo quis suos in virtute sentiat profectus)
II. (86b - 171e)
6. How to Profit by One's Enemies ( - De capienda ex inimicis utilitate)
7. On Having Many Friends (? ? - De amicorum multitudine)
8. On Chance (? - De fortuna)
9. On Virtue and Vice (? - De virtute et vitio)
10. Letter of Condolence to Apollonius (? ? ? - Consolatio ad Apollonium)
11. Advice about Keeping Well (? - De tuenda sanitate praecepta)
12. Advice to Bride and Groom ( - Coniugalia praecepta)
13. Dinner of the Seven Wise Men (? - Septem sapientium convivium)
14. On Superstition (? - De superstitione)
III. (172a - 263c)
15. Sayings of Kings and Commanders ( - regum et imperatorum apophthegmata)
16. Sayings of the Spartans ( - apophthegmata Laconica)
17. Institutions of the Spartans ( ? - Instituta Laconica)
18. Sayings of the Spartan Women ( - Lacaenarum apophthegmata)
19. Virtues of Women ( - Mulierum virtutes)
IV. (263d - 351b)
20. Roman Questions ( ? - Quaestiones Romanae)
21. Greek Questions ( - Quaestiones Graecae)
22. Greek and Roman Parallel Stories ( ? - Parallela minora) (pseudo-Plutarch)
23. On the Fortune of the Romans (? ? - De fortuna Romanorum)
24. On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great (? ? ? - De Alexandri magni fortuna aut virtute)
25. On the Glory of the Athenians (? ? ? ? ? - De gloria Atheniensium)
"The catalogue is transmitted by a group of Moralia manuscripts, the oldest of which is the Parisinus gr. 1678 (very damaged in the folia containing the list), a copy from the tenth century, on which a second hand of the twelfth century intervened to add the list; see Irigoin (1987: CCCIII-CCGXVIII for introduction and critical edition of the entire catalogue)." (Oikonomopoulou 174)
The only surviving manuscript containing all seventy-eight of the extant treatises included in Plutarch's Moralia dates to sometime shortly after 1302 AD.
Plutarch. Moralia. 16 vols. (vol. 13: 13.1 & 13.2, vol. 16: index), transl. by Frank Cole Babbitt (vol. 1-5) et al., series: "Loeb Classical Library" (LCL, vols. 197-499). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press et al., 1927-2004.
Specific ideas contained
In his essay "The Symposiacs", Plutarch discusses the famous problem of the chicken and the egg. Although Plutarch was not the first person to discuss the problem (Aristotle had already discussed it hundreds of years before Plutarch), he was the first person to put the question into its modern form.
Included in Moralia is letter addressed by Plutarch to his wife, bidding her not give way to excessive grief at the death of their two-year-old daughter, who was named Timoxena after her mother. In the letter, Plutarch expresses his belief in reincarnation:
The soul, being eternal, after death is like a caged bird that has been released. If it has been a long time in the body, and has become tame by many affairs and long habit, the soul will immediately take another body and once again become involved in the troubles of the world. The worst thing about old age is that the soul's memory of the other world grows dim, while at the same time its attachment to things of this world becomes so strong that the soul tends to retain the form that it had in the body. But that soul which remains only a short time within a body, until liberated by the higher powers, quickly recovers its fire and goes on to higher things.
^"The catalogue is transmitted by a group of Moralia manuscripts, the oldest of which is the Parisinus gr. 1678 (very damaged in the folia containing the list), a copy from the tenth century, on which a second hand of the twelfth century intervened to add the list; see Irigoin (1987: CCCIII-CCGXVIII for introduction and critical edition of the entire catalogue)." Xenophontos, Sophia A., and Aikaterini Oikonomopoulou. Brill's Companion to the Reception of Plutarch. Leiden ; Boston, Brill, 2019, p. 174.
^Aristotle, MetaphysicsIX.8 "Thus it is evident that the potential constructions are discovered by being actualized. The reason for this is that the actualization is an act of thinking. Thus potentiality comes from actuality (and therefore it is by constructive action that we acquire knowledge). But this is true only in theabstract, for the individual actuality is posterior in generation to its potentiality."
Plutarch page at LacusCurtius (20th-century English translation includes On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander, On the Fortune of the Romans, Roman Questions, Isis and Osiris, "On Putting One's Enemies to Use", and the so-called Parallela Minora, which is probably one of those pseudepigrapha.)