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Plutarch’s Lives Teach: Tom Cox on Character Education through Story

Boys love concrete details and, even more, they love when those concrete details form the fabric of a hero’s tale. Indeed, as Aristotle himself knew, better than merely telling adolescents about virtue is giving them examples of heroes, for good men are not made in theory but in practice, and boys need to see virtues practiced to be inspired themselves.

What better place to turn than to an author who has taught generations of leaders, not least of which were this country’s founders? That man is Plutarch, and our guide is Tom Cox, one of the architects of the eighth grade core humanities class and current upper school classics teacher. 

In this episode, Mr. Cox shows why and how we teach Plutarch to our boys. He explains why it is important to find the good even in heroes that are less than saints and helps us understand that education is more than something that merely happens; it requires a boy’s freedom.

Although heroes may not be saints, they are good starting points. It is perhaps not mere happenstance that Plutarch wrote his biographies as the Evangelists were writing their record of life’s Author. For as the Greek philosopher was a master at portraying those little details which form a hero’s character, it is the man from Nazareth who teaches us to turn them into heroic verse—and that is the beginning of holiness.


  • 1:15 How did you find Plutarch?
    • The eighth grade core
    • A biographical approach to history
  • 4:20 Why read Plutarch?
    • A good storyteller
    • An inspiration to Shakespeare
  • 6:10 What does Plutarch tell us about being a good man?
    • The peak of a mountain of tradition
    • Seeing the goodness first: heroes and saints
  • 13:10 What are some of the best lives to take a look at?
    • Alcibiades
    • Mark Antony
    • Cicero
    • Cato the Younger
  • 19:54 Connecting pieces of the curriculum with Plutarch
    • Government and Literature
    • 20:20 Gospels
  • 22:35 On the formation of leaders
    • 24:20 Connection to the American leadership
  • 28:10 Plutarch and the education of citizens
  • 33:04 Where to start?
    • Alexander the Great and Pompey
    • Brutus and Caesar
  • 36:09 How to teach Plutarch
    • Difficulty of translations
    • A little at a time
  • 38:15 The Plutarch Podcast and

Additional Resources 

The Plutarch Podcast

Lives by Plutarch

Also on The Forum 

Writing and Thought; Oratory and Ethics: What We Give Our 7th Graders in the Core with Tom Cox

History the Way It Was… And the Way It Should Be by Bill Dardis

Aristotle on the Student’s Job by Tom Cox

Seneca on the Teacher’s Job by Tom Cox

About the Guest

Tom Cox

Chief Editor

Tom Cox teaches Latin and Greek in the Upper School at The Heights, where he has taught since 2009. Having earned his B.A. in Classics at Hillsdale, he completed a Master’s Degree in 2019 in the Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.

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