Plutarch’s Moralia


In this essay Herodotus is accused not only of malice, duplicity, and a preference for putting the worst interpretation on other people’s acts, but also of insincerity and deliberate falsification of the facts. The Greek word kakoêtheia embraces all these offences, and the translator has searched in vain for an equally comprehensive English word. The charge of kakoêtheia is a very serious one, and when the word “malice” is used in the translation of this essay it implies a moral offence, a real viciousness of character, the opposite of the corresponding virtue euêtheia, which means frank honesty, integrity, and kindliness of disposition.

To most readers of Herodotus it will seem astonishing that such charges should be directed against him; and Plutarch is aware of this. He issues a solemn warning that the charm and grace of his style disguises his true malicious intent and that his apparent open-mindedness in recording various versions of events is really an invitation to accept the least creditable alternative. Thus the history is represented as a monstrous libel on the great heroes of classical Greece, a dangerous book which may induce unwary readers to form an utterly false impression of the glorious events of the past. Plutarch claims not only to be vindicating his Boeotian ancestors


Plutarch’s Moralia

against the charge of treachery to their fellow Greeks, but also to be defending Corinthians, Spartans, and Athenians, because, despite the apparent preference of Herodotus for Athens, the historian has not spared the champions of Greek liberty any more than those Greeks whose part in the Persian Wars was a less honourable one.

Other critics, ancient and modern, have questioned the accuracy and the good judgement of Herodotus, but not even the severest modern critic would support many of the charges made in this essay. It is not necessary to answer them in full here, since each reader can do this most effectively for himself by reference to a text of Herodotus; but notes on the translation will point out some of the more unreasonable and ill-grounded details of the indictment. The charges have often been answered in print; indeed, lovers of Herodotus in the eighteenth century came to his rescue with spirited replies, led by the Abbé Geinoz who in 1753 contributed the first of three memoirs to the Académie des Inscriptions entitled Défense d’Hérodote contre les accusations de Plutarque (Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, xix, xxi, xxiii). Admittedly Herodotus is not an idealist and does not always treat his characters very gently; but this does not mean that he takes a jaundiced view of human nature or is lacking in sympathy for human weakness (cf. Ph. E. Legrand, “De la malignité d’Hérodote,” Mélanges Gustave Glotz, Paris, 1932, ii, pp. 535–547).

While this essay has offended lovers of Herodotus, it has also disturbed admirers of Plutarch, who have found it hard to believe that so kindly and good-natured an author could himself write with such fierce

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.plutarch-moralia_malice_herodotus.1965