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Plutarch's Lives, Volume 1 [Hardcover]

By Plutarch (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   800
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.03" Width: 5.59" Height: 1.42"
Weight:   1.63 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Sep 30, 1992
Publisher   Modern Library
ISBN  0679600086  
EAN  9780679600084  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Plutarch's Lives, written at the beginning of the second century A.D., is a brilliant social history of the ancient world by one of the greatest biographers and moralists of all time. In what is by far his most famous and influential work, Plutarch reveals the character and personality of his subjects and how they led ultimately to tragedy or victory. Richly anecdotal and full of detail, Volume I contains profiles and comparisons of Romulus and Theseus, Numa and Lycurgus, Fabius and Pericles, and many more powerful figures of ancient Greece and Rome.

The present translation, originally published in 1683 in conjunction with a life of Plutarch by John Dryden, was revised in 1864 by the poet and scholar Arthur Hugh Clough, whose notes and preface are also included in this edition.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
"A Bible for heroes."

From the Trade Paperback edition.
James Atlas is the author of Bellow: A Biography and is the general editor of the Penguin Lives series. He lives in New York City.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

1. As Plutarch says in the beginning of his Life of Pericles, "Such objects we find in the acts of virtue, which also produce in the minds of mere readers about them an emulation and eagerness that may lead them on to imitation." Can these lines be said to encapsulate Plutarch's project in writing the Lives? How is Plutarch more a moralist than a historian? How are morals and virtue central to the lives you have read?

2. Although Plutarch's Lives are, without a doubt, one of the greatest historical works of antiquity, Plutarch has often been criticized as an inaccurate historian, for including apocryphal anecdotes, citing facts from questionable sources, and especially for ignoring historical events that would contradict his depiction of the figure. Do these lapses in historical accuracy weaken the credibility of the Lives? Do they strengthen them by reinforcing his purpose in writing? Are such modern concerns about historical methods even applicable to a writer of antiquity?

3. Attempt to characterize Plutarch's moral beliefs as they are revealed in the Lives. What traits does he most esteem, and what traits does he most condemn? How does he depict these traits in the men he describes, and what is the lesson to be drawn from each depiction? Does he have moral consistency from one life to the next? To what extent do you believe these morals to be held by his contemporaries as opposed to a modern readership?

4. In the case of the "Parallel Lives," what purpose is served by the structure of Plutarch's biographies? Why dedicate a passage to their comparison? What were the criteria upon which he based his comparisons? Why did he choose to compare these particular figures to one another? Finally, why would Plutarch always choose one Roman and one Greek figure to compare? Was it to show the similarity of the two cultures to his Greek or Roman audiences, or was it for an entirely different reason?

5. While the bulk of Plutarch's Lives is concerned with historical figures, Plutarch also includes biographies of several mythological characters who held an important place in the history of Greece and Rome. What function is served by the lives of these mythological figures? How are these lives fundamentally different from the other lives he recounts? Does their inclusion weaken the historical believability of the Lives? Would it have done so for an audience of Plutarch's contemporaries?

From the Trade Paperback edition.

As geographers, Sosius, crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect, that beyond this lies nothing but the sandy deserts full of wild beasts, unapproachable bogs, Scythian ice, or a frozen sea, so in this work of mine, in which I have compared the lives of the greatest men with one another, after passing through those periods which probable reasoning can reach to and real history find a footing in, I might very well say of those that are farther off- "Beyond this there is nothing but prodigies and fictions, the only inhabitants are the poets and inventors of fables; there is no credit, or certainty any farther." Yet, after publishing an account of Lycurgus the lawgiver and Numa the king, I thought I might, not without reason, ascend as high as to Romulus, being brought by my history so near to his time. Considering therefore with myself--

"Whom shall I set so great a man to face?

Or whom oppose? Who's equal to the place?"

(as Aeschylus expresses it), I found none so fit as him that peopled the beautiful and far-famed city of Athens, to be set in opposition with the father of the invincible and renowned city of Rome. Let us hope that Fable may, in what shall follow, so submit to the purifying processes of Reason as to take the character of exact history. In any case, however, where it shall be found contumaciously slighting credibility and refusing to be reduced to anything like probable fact, we shall beg that we may meet with candid readers, and such as will receive with indulgence the stories of antiquity.

Theseus seemed to me to resemble Romulus in many particulars. Both of them, born out of wedlock and of uncertain parentage, had the repute of being sprung from the gods.

"Both warriors; that by all the world's allowed."

Both of them united with strength of body an equal vigour of mind; and of the two most famous cities of the world, the one built Rome, and the other made Athens be inhabited. Both stand charged with the rape of women; neither of them could avoid domestic misfortunes nor jealousy at home; but towards the close of their lives are both of them said to have incurred great odium with their countrymen, if, that is, we may take the stories least like poetry as our guide to the truth.

The lineage of Theseus, by his father's side, ascends as high as to Erechtheus and the first inhabitants of Attica. By his mother's side he was descended of Pelops. For Pelops was the most powerful of all the kings of Peloponnesus, not so much by the greatness of his riches as the multitude of his children, having married many daughters to chief men, and put many sons in places of command in the towns round about him. One of whom named Pittheus, grandfather to Theseus, was governor of the small city of the Troezenians and had the repute of a man of the greatest knowledge and wisdom of his time; which then, it seems, consisted chiefly in grave maxims, such as the poet Hesiod got his great fame by, in his book of Works and Days. And, indeed, among these is one that they ascribe to Pittheus,

"Unto a friend suffice
A stipulated price;"

which, also, Aristotle mentions. And Euripides, by calling Hippolytus "scholar of the holy Pittheus," shows the opinion that the world had of him.

Aegeus, being desirous of children, and consulting the oracle of Delphi, received the celebrated answer which forbade him the company of any woman before his return to Athens. But the oracle being so obscure as not to satisfy him that he was clearly forbid this, he went to Troezen, and communicated to Pittheus the voice of the god, which was in this manner,

"Loose not the wine-skin foot, thou chief of men,
Until to Athens thou art come again."

Pittheus, therefore, taking advantage from the obscurity of the oracle, prevailed upon him, it is uncertain whether by persuasion or deceit, to lie with his daughter, Aethra. Aegeus afterwards, knowing her whom he had lain with to be Pittheus's daughter, and suspecting her to be with child by him, left a sword and a pair of shoes, hiding them under a great stone that had a hollow in it exactly fitting them; and went away making her only privy to it, and commanding her, if she brought forth a son who, when he came to man's estate, should be able to lift up the stone and take away what he had left there, she should send him way to him with those things with all secrecy, and with injunctions to him as much as possible to conceal his journey from every one; for he greatly feared the Pallentidae, who were continually mutinying against him, and despised him for his want of children, they themselves being fifty brothers, all sons of Pallas.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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More About Plutarch

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Plutarch (c.50-c.120 AD) was a writer and thinker born into a wealthy, established family of Chaeronea in central Greece. He received the best possible education in rhetoric and philosophy, and traveled to Asia Minor and Egypt. Later, a series of visits to Rome and Italy contributed to his fame, which was given official recognition by the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Plutarch rendered conscientious service to his province and city (where he continued to live), as well as holding a priesthood at nearby Delphi. His voluminous surviving writings are broadly divided into the "moral"works and the Parallel Lives of outstanding Greek and Roman leaders. The former (Moralia) are a mixture of rhetorical and antiquarian pieces, together with technical and moral philosophy (sometimes in dialogue form). The Lives have been influential from the Renaissance onwards.

Plutarch was born in 46 and died in 120.

Plutarch has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Modern Library Classics (Paperback)
  2. Oxford World's Classics (Paperback)
  3. Penguin Classics

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
For the ages' tooth . . .  Mar 4, 2006
Twain's pejorative definition of `classic' need not apply. I define classic as that (text) which speaks to the heart over an extended duration - perhaps for several generations, as in `classic rock', or several millennia, as in Plutarch's "Lives". I probably never would have read Plutarch, were it not for a glorious discovery of Montaigne in mid-life. Having acquired enough distaste for the copious demands required to master classical languages after five years of Latin in secondary school, I made an arbitrary and direly misguided vow to eschew all Classics courses at the university level. And thus again is revealed the fateful difference between post-modern (post-1945), and the modern (c. 1500 - August 5, 1945) pedagogy, of which I unwittingly, if serendipitously, caught the tail end. The modern cannon required thorough immersion in the classics, and, for many years, Plutarch was required reading in the best schools, and should be even now. The author of the Shakespearian plays came to Plutarch by way of Montaigne (and likely read the Amyot translation, and only later the North, if at all), and the English schools came to Plutarch by way of Shakespeare. We might say that the revival of Plutarch was one of the most far reaching achievements of the Northern Renaissance.
At one point in his celebrated chronicle of the self, Montaigne (as a shaper and bona fide member of that cannon, guardian of some of what is best in our cultural inheritance) amusedly reveals that, when his critics believe they are attacking his work, they are actually attacking Plutarch and/or Seneca, so profound is their presence in his writing, and, in his "Defense of Plutarch and Seneca", he declares that . . . "my book [is] built up purely from their spoils".

And what a book it is! But Plutarch's magnum (see the 14 volumes of the Loeb Classical Library for his other works), is the greater. Montaigne is one of the great students of the self. Plutarch is the first (and may yet still be the definitive) historian of virtue. Montaigne, in scrutiny of his own nature, seeks to recognize the limitations and potentials of the self, and thereby sketch our general spiritual contours. Plutarch, in an unparalleled series of real life, historically and culturally pivotal, examples, shows us what they are.

The book records in the most remarkably intimate style (Plutarch has few peers as a master of narrative and an uncanny ability to ferret out of detail the significance of individual actions as a unified whole), the major events in the lives of the most impacting figures of the ancient world. Therefore, like the best novels, the book forms a world in itself, a lost world, the world of our ancestors, through a landscape drawn of actions and consequences. The structure of the book is such that an account of the seminal moments in the life of a noble Greek and then of a noble Roman are brought forth in pairs, followed by a comparison. In some sections of the work these comparisons are absent. They appear at some point in antiquity to have either been lost to or removed from the text, which would seem to explain why, for instance, there is no comparison of Alexander and Caesar. But the comparisons are brilliant, and eminently instructive.

Of course, from the details alone, we may draw our own inferences. Alexander, as a mere teen, leading his troops in hand-to-hand combat, won his first battle fighting uphill at night. Caesar, a heavy drinker, was wont to ride horseback at full tilt with his hands clenched behind his back. He had a life-long passion for Cato's sister and it is said that from their relationship, which continued through their respective marriages, Brutus was born. Et tu? Of course, one cannot fail to mention, even in this briefest review of the abundantly rich description in the nearly 1,300 pages which comprise the book, the death of Cato the Younger - one of the most exquisitely drawn figures in the book. Hunted down with the remnants of his troops into the wastelands of Carthage by the army of Octavius Ceasar in an effort to snuff out the last vestiges of republican resistance and opposition to Empire, realizing that the last realistic hope for freedom is lost, Cato attempts ritual suicide (a Stoic custom common to Roman nobility) by disembowelment. As Plutarch describes the scene, ". . . he did not immediately die of the wound; but struggling, fell off the bed, and throwing down a little mathematical table that stood by, made such a noise that the servants, hearing it, cried out. And immediately his son and all his friends came into the chamber, where, seeing him lie weltering in his own blood, great part of his bowels out of his body, but himself still alive and able to look at them, they all stood in horror. The physician went to him, and would have put in his bowels, which were not pierced, and sewed up the wound; but Cato, recovering himself, and understanding the intention, thrust away the physician, plucked out his own bowels, and tearing open the wound, immediately expired." In Seneca's words: "For Cato could not outlive freedom, nor would freedom outlive Cato."

However, the life most appropriate for the contemporary reader, I feel (and wish that every member of the shadowy corporate/military junta that seems to be ruling us these days would read and take to heart) is the life of Crassus. Crassus was the most successful businessman in the history of the Roman Empire. Plutarch relates that at one time he owned virtually one-third of the real estate in Rome. However, such mind-boggling success was not enough for him. His yen, and later, obsession, was to be revered as a great military leader, a world conqueror, expand the domain of the already burgeoning Empire, and the object of his fantasies was the area of the world at that time known as Mesopotamia and Persia, today as Iraq and Iran. We follow as he makes extensive preparations, investing his own fortune and a great deal of the nation's wealth into outfitting an army for the venture. And at first, the invasion of Mesopotamia seems to go well. But the centers of population are spread out over great stretches of desert, and the occupation never really succeeds, because a central authority cannot be solidly established. Crassus, however, remains undaunted, even though the troops are becoming mutinous as supplies begin to run thin. Led on by treacherous advisors, he enters Parthia (somewhere in the vicinity of modern day Syria). Plutarch describes the grueling denouement with his usual detachment, aplomb, and gifted eye for pertinent detail. Having lost the greatest fortune in the world, he proceeds to lose his troops, then his sons, and finally his life. These lessons are never too late for the learning, and my apologies to Twain, but a classic is a text which retains its urgency to be read, and read now.

I read the Dryden/Clough translation. Dryden was never my favorite writer of his period, the late 17th century - hardly a match for Burton or Milton, in my opinion, but he was poet laureate, and this work I love - his English is fine, and resonates with classic dignity. Clough, the mid-nineteenth century British scholar who revised the translation, befriended Emerson when he traveled to England, and became a sort of mentor to the New England Transcendentalists in general. We can be grateful for such a wonderful rendering for one of the very greatest and most edifying masterpieces.
Plutarch's "Lives" Lives!  Sep 30, 2005
This is an astonishing volume. Who would have expected a "page turner" out of a tome written in the 2nd century A.D.? So much for cultural and temporal hubris--this is magnificent reading.
Out of date translation of a timeless classic  Jul 3, 2004
It is a shame that such an interesting, and historicaly valuable work such as Plutarch's lives is so difficult for modern readers. Though many others have commented on how difficult this English is for the modern reader, consider the following quote taken at random, from the first two sentences of the life of the Roman Camillus:

Among the many remarkable things that are related of Furius Camillus, it seems singular and strange above all, that he, who continually was in the highest commands, and obtained the greatest successes, was five times chosen dictator, triumphed four times, and was styled a second founder of Rome, yet never was so much as once consul. The reason of which was the state and temper of the commonwealth at that time; for the people, being at dissension with the senate, refused to return consuls, but in their stead elected other magistrates, called military tribunes, who acted, indeed, with full consular power, but were thought to exercise a less obnoxious amount of authority, because it was divided among a larger number; for to have the management of affairs entrusted in the hands of six persons rather than two was some satisfaction to the opponents of oligarchy.

Ugh. And on it goes. The North translation is even worse, to my ear. The best translation that I've found is the Loeb Classical Library. However, they are spread across eleven volumes, making for a very expensive acquisition.

A rough read  Dec 13, 2001
Plutarch's Lives is one of my all time favorite books. I especially enjoy the "gay windows" in Alcibiades life and the description of Archimedes defense of Syracuse. My three star rating has nothing to do with Plutarch and everything to do with the terribly outdated translation "update" by Sir Clough. Sure, as another reviewer points out, it is vocabulary enhancing, but Plutarch was not a Victorian English gentleman. If you like Victorian prose, read a Victorian novel or something. I would actually prefer to read Dryden and company's undoctored original than wade through Clough's train wreck, as I find 18th century prose an easier read, and Dryden was a better writer.

If someone were to do a modern translation of the Lives, more people would be able to enjoy it. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that you can probably count the number of good classical translators on one hand, and how many of them have the time to translate Plutarch?

educator of the western world  Oct 25, 2001
After the Turks had conquered Constantinople, refuges brought manuscripts of Plutarch to Italy. It was the right time. Secular scholars and enlightened clerics took a new interest in the learning of Antiquity and the Greek language. For the first time since the fall of Rome, Homer was not just a name, but actually read in the original. And PlutarchÕs ÒLivesÓ became the handbook for the European gentlemanÕs higher education. In fact through many channels, Plutarch reintroduced the ancient concepts of republican freedom and democracy to a world that seemed to have completely forgotten that they had ever had existed.

Plutarch became the United StatesÕ secret founding father; Thomas Jefferson and the signatories to the constitution, they all had grown up with Plutarch on their curriculum. He infused them with the spirit of democracy: ÒFor all we know, opposite parties or factions in a commonwealth, like passengers in a boat, serve to trim and balance the unsteady motions of power; whereas if they combine and come all over to one side, they cause to overset the vessel and carry down everything.Ó And he conveyed a grasp of the larger picture: ÒEconomy, which is but money-making, when exercised over men, becomes policy.Ó

With Plutarch, liberalism raises its voice and in Tiberius GracchusÕ (163-133 B.C.) speech, he recorded for us this timeless indictment of Òconservative valuesÓ and Òpatriotism:Ó Ò... The beasts find refuge in their dens, but men who for the safety of their country expose their lives in service, breathe on borrowed air under the open sky. Having no roof of their own, with wive and children, they wander from place to place. Is it not ridiculous to hear generals exhort their soldiers to fight for the hearth of their ancestors, when not any of so many Romans own altar or monument, neither have even a house to defend? They fight and they are slain, but it is for the wealth of other men. Being called masters of the world, they have not one square-inch of land to call their own.Ó

But, always the realist, and himself living under despotic rule Plutarch adds: Òin a time when right is weak, we may be thankful if might assumes a form of gentleness,Ó because, (and he quotes Cato): Òby nature a king is a man-eating animal.Ó PlutarchÕs grasp on human nature was already very advanced, before the barbaric notion of original sin threw society back to the ethical stone age: ÒMen by nature is not a wild animal or unsocial creature, neither was he born so, but makes himself what he naturally is not by vicious habit. He is civilized and grows gentle by a change of place, occupation, and manner of life, as wild beasts become tame and domesticated. With good reason, those who train horses and dogs, endeavour by gentle means to cure their angry and intractable tempers, rather than by cruelty and beating.Ó

Without being an atheist, PlutarchÕs comment on a situation equivalent to Gen. 22:2, reveals a discerning grasp on the motives and sentiments which underpin faith into the irrational and he urges: Òthat such a barbarous and impious obligation could not be pleasing to any Superior Being or to the father of gods and men; that it is absurd to imagine any divinities or powers taking delight in slaughter and sacrifices of men; or, if there were such, they are to be neglected as weak and unable to assist! Because such unreasonable and cruel desires can only proceed from weak and depraved minds.Ó And: Òthe worship most acceptable to the gods is that which comes from a cheerful heart.Ó

To fully appreciate his greatness, one has to remember, that Plutarch was neither a thinker, nor one of the great intellectual luminaries of his period - just a very bright popular writer and educator, but also a human being of integrity, culture, and a rare capacity for compassion. He influenced Western art as much as Western politics. For his dramas, Shakespeare lifted entire passages from NorthÕs translation. And no other writer in all Antiquity would have cared to take notice of the dog who jumped into the sea and swam side to side with the galley which carried his family, when during the Persian war the entire population of Athens was to be evacuated to Troezen. For lack of shipping space domestic animals and pets had to be left behind. The dog didnÕt quite make it and drowned short of the shores of Salamis.

Often Plutarch conveys a sense of wellbeing, of a Golden Age, and he still holds court over our imagination. The most interesting chapter for anthropologists, is the portrayal of Lycurgus and his laws. Himself a product of a patriarchal society, Plutarch had not a clue, that his accurate description of Spartan customs, would depict one of the last matriarchal societies that had survived the coup de tat of the patriarchs. Utopian fantasies often become the excuse for totalitarian atrocities on dissenting minds - Plutarch was never part of the posse. But I remember him best for the little story about a man of trade sailing in a moonlit night leeward of the Aegean coast, when the sailors suddenly heard a voice carrying over from the near by shore: ÒTravellers, tell the CorinthianÕs, the Great Pan is dead.Ó

Plutarch was a loving husband and father, an incorruptible administrator and conscientious ambassador for his people, a humanist and a model for liberalism ever since. There are books you want to have in your briefcase if that is all you are allowed to carry away from disaster and war; books that keep you company in your most difficult hour. PlutarchÕs ÒLivesÓ is definitely one of them. It had been of tremendous influence on our civilization, but unlike the Bible, of a wholesome and humanizing influence. Mommsen called Plutarch Òmellow and sweet as the honey from Mount Hymettos.Ó Who is to say, that ancient paganism had nothing to contribute to the modern world?

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