Plutarch's "Lives."

by Plutarch

Other authorsJohn S. White (Comp.)
Hardcover, 1966




New York, Biblo and Tannen, 1966.


Offers biographies of Greek and Roman leaders and compares their personal qualities and accomplishments.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is often known as the "Parallel Lives" because these biographical sketches come in pairs, one Greek, one Roman, followed by a comparison. This is a thick tome. My edition of Plutarch's Lives as translated by Dryden is nearly 800 pages. And yes, I read the whole thing and was never bored. Maybe this makes me perverse, given the number of reviewers I've heard describe them as dry. I thought it a wonderful and engaging introduction to the most illustrious personalities of Greco-Roman antiquity. I first read these when I was a college dropout for a time, and was reading through Good Reading's "100 Significant" books so my brain wouldn't turn to mush: I found it a favorite. Maybe it helped that by then I had made my way through Homer, Aesop, the four surviving Greek playwrights, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Vergil. Given that from the time I was a teen I was a fan of Mary Renault's and Robert Graves novels about ancient Greece and Rome, and familiarity with Shakespeare's plays (several of which were based on Plutarch) that means quite a few of the figures featured were already familiar to me: Theseus, Pericles, Alcibiades, Coriolanus, Cato, Crassus, Pompey, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Brutus. Maybe that helped. But there were also a lot of figures then unfamiliar to me such as Sulla and Lysander and the book never lost my interest.

From what I gather it's not always reliable as history. Plutarch purportedly stretched things, both to find similarities in the two figures paired and to draw a tidy moral. And given Plutarch was a Greek and a Roman citizen trying to underline what they had in common, as you could expect, those outside that charmed circle, such as Cleopatra (for all she was of Greek descent) and the Carthaginians don't exactly get good press here. It probably is a good idea to seek out an edition that's thoroughly annotated--and try different translations if you don't find Dryden congenial. But I for one think this is numbered among the great books for good reason.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
I love the way history is told by these classic writers -- such a blend of fact, cause, nuance, and anecdote. If there is a theme, it is the seeds of law and government sprouting from barbarian hordes and powerful kings. This work in particular shows so much about how we know the things we've been taught.
LibraryThing member Audacity88
The Dryden translation, used in the Modern Library edition of this work, departs from Plutarch's writing to such a degree that a reader cannot trust any individual sentence as being what Plutarch actually though, and at best acquires an overview of Plutarch's development of character. Avoid it in favor of a reasonably literal translation, such as those in the Loeb Library.… (more)
LibraryThing member FrankensteinsMonster
"This book had a far different effect upon me from the Sorrows of Werter. I learned from Werter's imaginations despondency and gloom: but Plutarch taught me high thoughts; he elevated me above the wretched sphere of my own reflections, to admire and love the heroes of past ages. Many things I read surpassed my understanding and experience. I had a very confused knowledge of kingdoms, wide extents of country, mighty rivers, and boundless seas. But I was perfectly unacquainted with towns, and large assemblages of men. The cottage of my protectors had been the only school in which I had studied human nature; but this book developed new and mightier scenes of action. I read of men concerned in public affairs governing or massacring their species. I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me, and abhorrence for vice, as far as I understood the signification of those terms, relative as they were, as I applied them, to pleasure and pain alone. Induced by these feelings, I was of course led to admire peaceable law-givers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preference to Romulus and Theseus. The patriarchal lives of my protectors caused these impressions to take a firm hold on my mind; perhaps, if my first introduction to humanity has been made by a young soldier, burning for glory and slaughter, I should have been imbued with different sensations."

-- Frankenstein, Volume II, Chapter VII
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LibraryThing member jrgoetziii
Ok so at least one of these reviews is blatantly false--the one that says there are no years given (especially birth and death years). Every figure's birth and death dates are listed in this particular edition, including "circas" for those who are legendary or whose birth dates aren't accurately known. And then the comment about only one figure's birth date being after 1 AD is just DUMB. I'm just not quite sure why this matters so much, as the study is of character and human nature, and it's especially unclear why human nature would be substantially different after the arbitrary cutoff of the year 1 AD. If you read all 1296 pages (which must be a different edition, since mine is only 876 pages of text plus an index) and could not figure this out, then you honestly should not be allowed to write a review. Of any book. Anywhere.

Now the second half of this is that this was one of the works that Ben Franklin singled out as particularly valuable and it has been considered such by many of the great enlightened figures of history. It seems dubious that anyone would thus be so narrow-minded as to think their opinion that it is worthless matters one iota. Think I'll take Franklin's word over yours, pal.
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LibraryThing member richardhobbs
A fragment - chapter on Lysander, Italian Press. 1482 A.D. Marginalia


Original language

Greek (Ancient)


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