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Plutarch's Lives, Volume 1 (Modern Library Classics) [Paperback]

By Plutarch, Arthur Hugh Clough (Editor), James Atlas (Introduction by) & John Dryden (Translator)
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Item Number 158465  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   2
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.25" Width: 5.25" Height: 8"
Weight:   1.25 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 10, 2001
Publisher   Modern Library
ISBN  0375756760  
EAN  9780375756764  

Availability  144 units.
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Item Description...
Offers biographies of Greek and Roman leaders and compares their personal qualities and accomplishments.

Publishers 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.
"A Bible for heroes."
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.

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?


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.

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More About Plutarch, Arthur Hugh Clough, James Atlas & John Dryden

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! 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.

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?
Dryden, Clough and Others  Apr 30, 2008
First off, let me clarify that what follows is a review of a particular edition of Plutarch's Lives, the current (2001) edition from Modern Library Classics. It is not a review of the book itself and will not provide any information on the relevance of this wonderful classic or the many lives it includes or the ingenious structure of paralleling the lives of Greeks and Romans or the importance of this text to the history of biography. Several other reviews here do a fine job of that and I see no reason to cover the same ground. Moreover, I've noted rather a lot of confusion about this edition in reviews here on this site (see particularly the reviews associated with the hardbound Modern Library volumes). I am still researching the Dryden edition, but thought I might offer a few comments to provide clarity and a better understanding of this edition for those whose buying decisions are based on the nature and quality of a particular translation.

"The Dryden Translation" - this unusual phrasing (which appears on the cover) has become the traditional descriptor for this version of the Lives. In fact, Dryden is not, properly speaking, the translator of this book. In one article in Wikipedia he is described as an overseer for the edition and in another as editor-in-chief, but he is also described as having simply "lent" his name to the enterprise. I am still researching this, but I should not be surprised if Jacob Tonson, the publisher, was not more involved in editing than was Dryden.

Dryden's primary involvement in the project seems to have been his "Life of Plutarch" which is included in this edition only by way of a two short excerpts in Clough's Preface.

Arthur Hugh Clough's Preface and Revisions - Clough was a nineteenth century poet. Clough's preface was, for me, a major reason I became interested in the Modern Library edition. I found the preface quite intriguing. It is a solid piece of work from an individual who was neither a full time scholar, nor a particularly notable prose writer. In a couple of cases, the argument at the very beginning of the preface for example, he seems to drop his thoughts without fully completing them. But this is a minor problem in an otherwise well thought out and informative discussion of Plutarch and his book.

The text itself - One of the reviewers here on this site calls this Clough's "train wreck" assuming that the difficulties in the text must lie with Clough because, concludes the reviewer, Dryden is a much better prose writer. Few would doubt that Dryden was a better prose writer, but I strongly suspect that the translation in this case (not Dryden's as I have already pointed out) was aided by Clough's hand. I am having trouble getting a copy of the original (pre-Clough) "Dryden" translation, although I should very much like to do a comparison. Once Clough's version came out, publishers seem to have had no reason to go back to the original which provides at least some indication that Clough had resolved some of the problems with the text. As a result, the pure "Dryden" editions are older and more expensive.

I find the text quite readable. It is not a "modern" translation (I hate using the word "modern" here because I think of Clough as a modern, perhaps I should say it is not a twentieth or twenty-first century translation). This text is clearly more given to complex clausal structures than waht we would expect of a popular translation today. I think it more than has its merits. I'm not sure but that the complex clausal structures might not have their own virtue in a text like this. Certainly one of the interesting qualities in Plutarch is a kind of questioning of sources that the syntax of this edition brings out rather nicely. I say that, however, as a non-classicist with little or no Greek, so I cannot be sure whether it really does reflect the original.

My chief concern with the text would be that it lacks annotation or other textual apparatus beyond an index. This is particularly peculiar given that the cover states that it includes notes by Clough! I am trying to get my hands on an earlier edition of the Clough revision to see what it might contain in the way of notes. Nonetheless, I'm not quite sure what to make of the Modern Library advertising notes on the cover, but providing none. Until I know better what these notes might entail, I'm loath to make any judgment.

Introduction by James Atlas - I wish I could speak more highly of the Modern Library introduction, but I am afraid I felt it was lacking on many levels. It fails in anyway to clarify the nature of the translation. One would think that it would at least contain some mention of the relevance of this particular text (why reprint it now?), of the curious assignment of Dryden's name as translator to a book that he did not translate, and of the role that Clough played as a nineteenth century editor of a seventeenth century text.

Additionally, and perhaps most warranting concern, Atlas's introduction covers such similar ground to Clough's Preface (even using many of the same quotations) that it feels rather curiously redundant.

The cover - I cannot close without commenting on the cover. It looks like wallpaper for a nineteenth century classicist's study. Quite honestly, I like it.

I've given the book four stars because I see no reason to visit the sins of this particular edition upon the text as a whole, and the text has plenty of merits both as a translation and as a classic of literature.
A Timeless Classic By One Of The Best Biographers In History  Aug 10, 2005
Plutarch in his "Lives Of The Noble Grecians And Romans" written around 100 C.E., sheds new light on Greek and Roman history from their Bronze Age beginnings, shrouded in myth, down through Alexander and late Republican Rome. Plutarch is the lens that we use today to view the Greco-Roman past; his work has shaped our perceptions of that world for 2,000 years. Plutarch writes of the rise of Roman Empire while Gibbon uses his scholarship to advance the story to write about its decline. He was a proud Greek that was equally effected by Roman culture, a Delphic priest, a leading Platonist, a moralist, educator and philosopher with a deep commitment as a first rate writer. Being a Roman citizen, Plutarch was afforded the opportunity to become an intimate friend to prominent Roman citizens and a member of the literary elite in the court of Emperor Trajan.

Plutarch's influence and enormous popularity during and after the Renaissance is legendary among classicist. Plutarch's "Lives", served as the sourcebook for Shakespeare's Roman Plays "Julius Caesar", "Antony and Cleopatra" and "Coriolanus". By the way Plutarch is even the only contemporary source of all the biographical information on Cleopatra, whom he writes about in his biographies of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavian. Thomas Jefferson wrote to his nephew that there were three books every gentleman had to have familiarity with; Plutarch's "Lives", Livy's "History of Rome" and Virgil's Aeneid. In fact all the founding fathers of note had read Plutarch and learned much from his fifty biographies of noble men of Greece and Rome. When Hamilton, Jay and Madison write "The Federalist Papers" they use many examples of good and bad leadership traits that they read in Plutarch's work. His biographies are a great study in human character and what motivates leaders to decide and act the way they do, this masterpiece has proven to be still prescient today.

If you are truly interested in a classical education, put this book on the top of your list! I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, and history.
An Overlooked Classic  Mar 9, 2005
This is one of the most incredible pieces of literature in human history, yet is one of the most often overlooked.
Plutarch is not as much a historian as he is a moralist, and it is his examination of the lives of some of the most important historical figures of the ancient world for their moral roots that is so incredibly engaging.
Oddly enough, I was first introduced to the works of Plutarch through the fictional novels of Louis L'Amour, who often has one charcter encouraging another to read various classical authors.
For a interesting peek at the lives and morals of some of history's most intriguing figures, Plutarch is a great place to begin.
A book every man should read  Nov 12, 2003
Plutarchs historic portrayals of the lives of the gretest men in BCE western history, is truly inspiring. From the passionate warrior kings Alexander the Great and Julius Ceasar to the Athenean states men Dion and Draco, the list goes on, each text providing an insight to lives that were lived to the fullest potential.
Invaluable source and historical document.  May 6, 2003
After having read McCullogh's splendid series on Rome, I turned to this fat, dense book with great expectations. I was not disappointed: the stories are endlessly fascinating, from their basic details on ancient history to the bizarre asides that reveal the pre-Christianised mind-set of the author.

Like all great books, this one can be read on innumerable levels. First, there is the moralising philosophy that is perhaps the principal purpose of the author to advance - each life holds lessons on proper conduct of great and notorious leaders alike. You get Caesar, Perikles, and Alcibiades, and scores of others who are compared and contrasted. Second, there is the content. Plutarch is an invaluable source of data for historians and the curious. Third, there is the reflection of religious and other beliefs of the 1C AD: oracles and omens are respected as are the classical gods. For example, while in Greece, Sulla is reported as having found a satyr, which he attempted unsuccesfully to question for its auguring abilities during his miltary campaign in Greece! It is a wonderful window into the mystery of life and human belief systems. That being said, Plutarch is skeptical of these occurances and both questions their relevance and shows how some shrewd leaders, like Sertorious with his white fawn in Spain, used them to great advantage.

Finally, this is a document that was used for nearly 2000 years in schools as a vital part of classical education - the well-bred person knew all these personalities and stories, which intimately informed their vocabulary and literary references until the beginning of the 20C. That in itself is a wonderful view into what was on people's minds and how they conceived things over the ages. As is well known, Plutarch is the principal source of many of Shakespeare's plays, such as Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. But it was also the source of the now obscure fascination with the rivalry of Marius and Sulla, as depicted in paintings and poetry that we still easily encounter if we are at all interested in art. Thus, this is essential reading for aspiring pedants (like me).

Of course, there are plenty of flaws in the work. It assumes an understanding of much historical detail, and the cases in which I lacked it hugely lessened my enjoyment. At over 320 years old, the translation is also dated and the prose somewhat stilted, and so it took me 300 pages to get used to it. Moreover, strictly speaking, there are many inaccuracies, of which the reader must beware.

Warmly recommended as a great and frequently entertaining historical document.


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