Greek Lives

Greek Lives

Greek Lives

Greek Lives

Synopsis

Lycurgus, Pericles, Solon, Nicias, Themistocles, Alcibiades, Cimon, Agesilaus, Alexander`I treat the narrative of the Lives as a kind of mirror...The experience is like nothing so much as spending time in their company and living with them: I receive and welcome each of them in turn as my guest.'In the nine lives of this collection Plutarch introduces the reader to the major figures and periods of classical Greece. He portrays virtues to be emulated and vices to be avoided, but his purpose is also implicitly to educate and warn those in his own day who wielded power. In prose that is rich, elegant and sprinkled with learned references, he explores with an extraordinary degree of insight the interplay of character and political action. While drawing chiefly on historical sources, hebrings to biography a natural story-teller's ear for a good anecdote.Throughout the ages Plutarch's Lives have been valued for their historical value and their charm. This new translation will introduce new generations to his urbane erudition. The most comprehensive selection available, it is accompanied by a lucid introduction, explanatory notes, bibliographies, maps and indexes.

Excerpt

Of all the ancient writers, Plutarch is in many ways the most accessible. Readers as diverse as Beethoven, Rousseau, and Harry Truman have admired the vividness of his narrative and the immediacy of his anecdotes in the Parallel Lives. When he wrote in the first decades of the second century AD, the Roman empire was in its most prosperous and peaceful period. While the emperor Trajan drove back the barbarian tribes of eastern Europe and the Parthians in Asia, expanding the empire to its greatest extent, Plutarch and his friends in Athens, Corinth, and his home town of Chaeronea met, dined, discussed philosophy, and considered the lessons of history. Yet the edge of chaos was not far off. Plutarch was about 23 in 68, when insurrection and civil war ended the reign of Nero: three emperors whirled on and off stage in one year before Vespasian established himself upon the throne. Plutarch later toured the battlefield of Bedriacum in northern Italy with a Roman friend who had fought there, and was told of piles of corpses higher than the tops of the eagle standards: in civil wars no prisoners are taken (Otho 14). Some twenty years later, the emperor Domitian became afraid that philosophers teaching in Rome might encourage tyrannicides, and expelled them all from the city. Plutarch may well have been among their number. Domitian raged against senators, authors, and others who might oppose him, until he was assassinated in 96. The short reign of Nerva which followed prepared for the twenty-year rule of Trajan (98-118).

In this time of recently acquired and still insecure serenity Plutarch lived in Chaeronea and Athens (of which he was also a citizen), teaching philosophy to a small group of young men and writing an enormous volume of work, of which we possess perhaps half. His family wealth and education set him among the élite of Greece, and he regularly entertained powerful and cultured friends, both Greeks and Romans. Since his youth he had served on commissions to meet with the Roman governor, and he was on good terms with Romans of the highest rank. His culture and heritage was fully and proudly Greek, but he like other members of his class accepted the Roman imperial system and worked within it. The nearby sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, of which he was priest for many years, gave him another . . .

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