Written about 100 AD, Plutarch’s Lives
is the best biographical reference about the great figures of the Greek and Roman world written near their time. It has been the basis for all subsequent stories of their lives since. Often called the greatest biographer of the ancient world (even though he wrote less than 2,000 years ago), he provides insightful views of some of the major figures in history. Too often history education in the USA in the mid and late 20th century concentrated on the wars and battles and seldom on the people of the time.
This book contains 50 biographies and 18 comparisons of people. There are 23 Greek, 23 Roman, and 4 others. Wikipedia describes it as “a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged as dyads to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings. The surviving Lives contain twenty-three pairs of biographies, each pair containing one Greek Life and one Roman Life, as well as four unpaired single Lives. As he explains in the first paragraph of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch was not concerned with writing histories, as such, but in exploring the influence of character — good or bad — on the lives and destinies of famous men.”
It is a task to read from front to back and I found that I enjoyed it much more when I sampled here and there and wandered over the text by serendipity.
Many of the presentations may seem strange to the early 21st century reader as the perceptions and moral basis have shifted over the intervening years. Acts that were common then are often thought of as barbarous now.
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