Plutarch's Lives

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Plutarch's Lives

Title page from Plutarch's Lives, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Plutarch
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator André Dacier
Published London: Printed for J. Tonson
Date 1727
Edition {{{edition}}}
Language English
Volumes 8 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 8vo (20 cm.)
Location Shelf B-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Frontispiece, volume one.
Plutarch (ca. 45–120)[1] was a biographer, philosopher, and ethicist born in Greece into a Greek family. The government and culture of his upbringing were dominated by Rome, and he would eventually become a Roman citizen, taking the name "Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus." He spent the majority of his life in Chaeronea, Athens, Delphi, and Rome.[2]

A renowned philosopher, his most notable works are Parallel Lives, a series of Greek biographies, and Moralia (Morals and Customs), a collection of works on religion, politics, and philosophy.[3] Lives (often called Parallel Lives or Plutarch’s Lives) is more than just historical, as it seeks to compare the parallel lives of famous Greeks and Romans and thereby synthesize a greater philosophy or wisdom about life.[4] The text was a definitive source of biography in antiquity, and was read widely in colonial America.[5]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Plutarch's lives 1st. to the 6th. vol. 8vo. and given by Thomas Jefferson to his granddaughters, Ann and Ellen Randolph. Until recently, the precise edition of the incomplete set owned by Wythe was unknown. George Wythe's Library[6] on LibraryThing indicated as much, adding "Probably one of several eight-volume editions published in octavo." Dean's Memo listed merely "Plutarch. Lives."[7] The Brown Bibliography[8] included a 1727 edition published in London with notes by John Dryden, based on a copy Jefferson owned which he inherited from his wife's first husband. The Wolf Law Library purchased the edition suggested by Brown in 2012.

In 2021, Austin Abbey Rare Books acquired one of the two volumes of Wythe's set that Jefferson did not receive with his inheritance. The book dealer purchased from the family of Randolph Hicks Carter (1903-1974) a copy of volume 8 of the 1727 London edition with George Wythe's armorial bookplate on the front pastedown. The signature of Carter's ancestor, John Hill Carter (1800-1862), appears directly above the bookplate. No records indicate how the Carter family became the owners of volume 8, nor if they also owned volume 7 at some time. It may be that Wythe loaned the volume(s) to a member of the family before his death. With the help of donors, the Wolf Law Library added Wythe's volume 8 to the George Wythe Collection.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bookplate of George Wythe, front pastedown, volume eight.

George Wythe's copy, volume 8

Bound in full period calf with gilt fillet borders to boards. Spine presents raised bands accented with gilt fillet borders and two red morocco labels. Gilt rules surround a title label with gilt letters and decorative lines. A second label is also marked with gilt rules and the name of previous owner "H. T. Dixon." The front pastedown features George Wythe's armorial bookplate with the signature of John Hill Carter above. Front free endpaper includes doodle and stray pen marks. Purchased from Austin Abbey Rare Books with the George Wythe Boswell-Caracci Room Acquisition Fund.

Complete Set

Bound in later 3/4 tan calf with marbled boards, black leather spine labels and blind stamping. Purchased from Argosy Book Store.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

Headpiece, "The Life of Theseus", volume one.

See also


  1. George Karamanolis, "Plutarch" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed October 1, 2013.
  2. Robert Lamberton, Plutarch (New Haven: Yale University Press 2001), 1–6.
  3. Online Library of Liberty, s.v. "Plutarch: About the Author," accessed September 28, 2013.
  4. Plutarch, Plutarch’s Lives, trans. Aubrey Stewart and George Long (London: Bell & Sons, 1894), accessed October 1, 2013.
  5. Louis B. Wright, “Thomas Jefferson and the Classics,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 87, no. 3 (1943): 222–223.
  6. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on November 18, 2013.
  7. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 13 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  8. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: