Friday, 27 March 2009

Polybius at the funeral

Plutarch, in his Life of Philopoemen, mentions that a young man named Polybius was carrying the urn of the general:

They burnt his body, and put the ashes into an urn, and then marched homeward, not as in an ordinary march, but with a kind of solemn pomp, half triumph, half funeral, crowns of victory on their heads, and tears in their eyes, and their captive enemies in fetters by them. Polybius, the general's son, carried the urn, so covered with garlands and ribbons as scarcely to be visible; and the noblest of the Achaeans accompanied him.

Polybius, is, of course, the great historian, and also one of the major sources of Plutarch for the second Punic war and the conquest of the Greece by Rome. But Plutarch does not mention that. He just expects his reader to know who he's talking about.

Do we read here, between the lines, Plutarch's secret regret of not having lived in interesting times -- of not having something original to write on, and of being a mere compiler? Was Plutarch dreaming of being a Thucydides or a Polybius, who, like Clausewitz twenty centuries afterwards, were unlucky officers before becoming great historians?

Or maybe Plutarch, who was a subject of the Roman Caesar, but still Greek and proud of it, didn't want to insist on, but rather allude to, the image of the historian of the downfall of Greece, in his youth, taking part in the funeral of the man who was nicknamed, by the Romans themselves, "the last of the Greeks".

2 comments:

Kai Carver said...

why does Plutarch say "Polybius, the general's son"? According to Wikipedia, his father is Lycortas.

Rafael said...

Lycortas was a general too! Greece wasn't an unified country, but a mosaic of city leagues, and each one had one (or several) generals (strategos, in Greek). Philopoemen was a kind of general-in-chief.