Imagery and Education In Plutarchby Sophia A. Xenophontos

Classical Philology


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Imagery and Education In Plutarch

Author(s): Sophia A. Xenophontos

Source: Classical Philology, Vol. 108, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 126-138

Published by: The University of Chicago Press

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 126

Classical Philology 108 (2013): 126–38 [© 2013 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved] 0009-837X/13/10802-0003$10.00

ImagEry and EducaTIOn In PluTarcH sophia a. xenophontos

Introductory Remarks

B ee iMagery is very common in classical literature, 1 and Plutarch, as a widely read man, was influenced by it. 2 In this article I shall argue that when forming analogies involving bees, Plutarch not only adopts their traditional aspects, but, more importantly, invents others that he develops in subtle ways.

I first turn briefly to Plutarch’s conventional treatment of bees. Plutarch’s readers are called upon to imitate the bee in their political lives. The literary antecedents of this exemplum are chiefly Plato’s Phaedo 82b and Aristotle’s

Politics 1253a7–9, which both refer to the bee as a political animal similar to man. Plutarch considers it a necessary requirement of political organization that the citizen body should obey their leader. He spells out this precept by comparing citizens to bees (344E, 813C; Lyc. 25.5, 30.2), 3 who are proverbially known for their obedient attachment to their queen. 4 The classical opposition between productive bees and destructive drones is also attested in

Plutarch (96B, 783F). 5 The bees’ devotion to their duty, commonly cited by epic poets, 6 is transferred by the biographer to the human domain: Aemilius’ soldiers were devoted to him just like bees to their honeycombs (Aem. 23.8; cf. Cat. Min. 19.2, 980C).

Other, nonpolitical uses of bee imagery also seem largely conventional. To take just one example, the female bee who is indignant with the male because of his various erotic liaisons is a widespread motif. 7 Plutarch resorts to it

In writing this article I have benefited from the incisive suggestions of Christopher Pelling. I am further indebted to Luc van der Stockt for his comments on my use of the cluster theory. Much gratitude is owed to CP’s editor and to the two anonymous referees for their insightful remarks. 1. Concisely in Borthwick 1991. 2. Fuhrmann (1964, 58) enumerates twenty-eight instances of bee imagery in Plutarch. For Plutarch’s images in general, see Hirsch-Luipold 2002. 3. See Nicolaye 2008. 4. Cf. Semon. frag. 7.83–87; Xen. Oec. 7.32–35; Sen. Clem. 1.19.1–4; Columella Rust. 9; Varro Rust. 3. 5. Hes. Theog. 594–602, Op. 302–4; Ar. Vesp. 1114–16; Pl. Resp. 552a–554c, 559d–e, 564b–e; Xen. Cyr. 2.2.25, 7.32; Ael. NA 5.10–13, VH 5.21–23. For the bee as a social creature, see also Ambrose Exameron 5.21;

Plin. HN 11; Varro Rust. 2.16.3–6. For more citations on the bees vs. drones polarity, see Borthwick 1990; cf.

Sussman 1984; Liebert 2010. 6. Il. 2.86–94, 12.167–72; Od. 13.106; Ap. Rhod. Argon. 1.878b–85, 2.130–36; Verg. Aen. 1.423–36, 6.706–9, 7.64–67, 12.584–92; G. 4. 7. Theoc. 1.105; cf. Hes. Op. 304, Theog. 594; Ar. Vesp. 1114–26; see Allen 2003, 94–98.

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions 127iMagery and education in Plutarch when describing the relationship between husband and wife in his Coniugalia praecepta 144D. 8

The conventional uses of bee imagery by Plutarch share a number of common features. First of all, they are quite brief (they hardly occupy more than one-and-a-half lines in the Teubner edition). They give a quick illustration of a complex or abstract notion, and Plutarch explores that notion not within the analogy, but in the argument of his main text. Second, and more significantly, they stand on their own without reinforcing one another. They draw on and may intertextually suggest previous sources, but there is no indication of deliberate complementarity. This suggests that when employing traditional bee notions Plutarch tends to draw upon the same stock of comparisons, without adapting them with any special care to their particular contexts and audiences.

Things are different, however, when it comes to Plutarch’s innovative use of bees. In this case, Plutarch encourages his addressees (and by extension his wider audience) to imitate the bee during their education. In particular, he advises them to adopt the virtues of the bee in both the earlier and more advanced stages of their philosophical training. Plutarch’s exploitation of bee symbolism is original not only insofar as he is the first to give it an elaborate pedagogical dimension, but also in that it is marked by an imagistic development corresponding to the educational progress of Plutarch’s students. This development is such that each of the pedagogical treatises involving the bee image (De audiendis poetis, De audiendo, De profectibus in virtute) was written with the others in mind. We shall illustrate and confirm these features with reference to a parallel case, Plutarch’s use of vessel imagery, which is also used as part of his pedagogical agenda and built up through imagistic development.