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Plutarch's Lives (Volume 2)

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Overview

When the Greek historian PLUTARCH (c. 46 A.D.–120 A.D.) set out to tell the tales of the famous figures from Greek and Roman history, he was more concerned with illuminating their characters than enumerating their deeds, more interested in exploring their moral failings and triumphs than in listing their conquests. The result: Plutarch’s Lives.

Though Plutarch is known to have taken some liberties with his Lives—his comparisons of certain Greek and Roman figures are often more ...

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Plutarch's Lives, Volume 2

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Overview

When the Greek historian PLUTARCH (c. 46 A.D.–120 A.D.) set out to tell the tales of the famous figures from Greek and Roman history, he was more concerned with illuminating their characters than enumerating their deeds, more interested in exploring their moral failings and triumphs than in listing their conquests. The result: Plutarch’s Lives.

Though Plutarch is known to have taken some liberties with his Lives—his comparisons of certain Greek and Roman figures are often more fanciful than strictly accurate—his words are, in many instances, the only sources of information that have survived for some personages. And in the aggregate, his radical approach to biography exerted a profound influence on the literature to come, particularly throughout the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Shakespeare lifted some passages verbatim from the Lives, and other writers inspired by Plutarch range from James Boswell to Alexander Hamilton to Cotton Mather. Ralph Waldo Emerson called the Lives a “bible for heroes.”

Across the five volumes, Plutarch explores the stories of such notables as:

Romulus • Pericles • Coriolanus • Pyrrhus Lysander • Pompey • Alexander Caesar • Cicero • Antony and others.

Cosimo is proud to present these handsome new editions, based on the classic 17th-century translations by English poet and playwright JOHN DRYDEN (1631–1700), and revised and edited in the 19th century by Oxford scholar ARTHUR HUGH CLOUGH (1819–1861).

Plutarch was born at Chaeronea in Boeotia, but spent many years in Athens and Rome. There he acquired his vast knowledge of the times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781458842961
  • Publisher: General Books LLC
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.33 (d)

Meet the Author

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.
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Read an Excerpt

THESEUS

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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Reading Group Guide

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 hechoose 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?

6. Plutarch's Lives is a compilation of the biographies of the greatest men of antiquity. Consider the nature of greatness as it is depicted by Plutarch in several of the lives you have read. What characteristics are common to these great men? How does Plutarch connect their success and the character traits he admires? Can the depiction of such great men serve as a blueprint for greatness today?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 17 of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2005

    A Must-Have for Shakespeare students and Classical World History scholars

    Plutarch is an interesting historian and critic of the major noble Romans and Greeks. For anyone studying Shakespeare, these histories are a necessity to understand where Shakespeare got his material for his plays. In the lives of Marcus Brutus, Julius Caesar, Antony, Coriolanus, as well as others, a reader may notice some blantant instances of plagiarism and other close calls. Additionally, Plutarch does not spare his opinions about the charaters' choices and, in some cases, 'effeminate ways.' For World History students, these stories definitely give human life and characteristics to names that were simply ones to be memorized in a history textbook and tested on later.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2011

    Bad Scan

    Bad Scan

    Like so many of the free books available for the Nook, this book is very poorly scanned. Pagination and printing is off.

    It is not worth the trouble, and I am deleting it.

    I guess you really do get what you pay for¿

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2011

    A Mess

    I'm not going to be buying any more "bargain" books as most of them are unreadable.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2014

    Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!

    Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 7, 2014

    Awesome....!Beautiful....!Wonderful....!I really enjoy it.....!

    Awesome....!Beautiful....!Wonderful....!I really enjoy it.....!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2013

    Informative

    Very informative on greek and roman"heroes".
    He favors the greeks, don't you think?
    The only rhing i don't necesarily like is his idea on what makes a "hero" and i don't agree with him on that point, but lots can be taken away from this, if not directly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    Nightcraze

    Helps her out with imploding the pigs * aaarrrggg!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    Fylinfury (conolastly)

    Kills king pig

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    A voice to all

    Chlorophyll is locked up in a certain result.. Check every result for her.. Goodbye...

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 21, 2011

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    Posted February 17, 2011

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    Posted December 20, 2011

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    Posted May 30, 2011

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    Posted July 14, 2011

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    Posted December 29, 2009

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