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Plutarch's Lives, Volume 1

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4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  3,248 ratings  ·  59 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 766 pages
Published April 10th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 100)
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Stupac
Plutarch's lives are an excellent place to start for a cursory study of the classical world. Plutarch of Chaeronia (in Greece) in the days of the Roman Empire was not contemporary with many of the figures he biographizes, but draws heavily from primary sources and oral traditions no longer extant. Don't forget also that he was a priest at the temple of Apollo at Delphi, so the predictions (and overriding theme of fate and the occasional miracle) of the famous oracle there play a heavy role in ma ...more
Robert Sheppard
WHAT EVERY EDUCATED CITIZEN OF THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW IN THE 21ST CENTURY: THE GREAT HISTORIANS OF WORLD HISTORY--HERODOTUS, THUCYDIDES, SIMA QIAN, IBN KHALDUN, THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOLS, JULIUS CAESAR, PLUTARCH, LIVY, POLYBIUS, TACITUS, GIBBON, MARX, SPENGLER & TOYNBEE----FROM THE WORLD LITERATURE FORUM RECOMMENDED CLASSICS AND MASTERPIECES SERIES VIA GOODREADS—-ROBERT SHEPPARD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF




"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." is an apt admonition to
...more
Steve Hemmeke
I only read the first six or so lives, not the whole thing.

Plutarch, a Greek living in Roman times, compares famous Greeks and Romans. His focus is political and military. How does one shape the state best? Where lies wisdom and prosperity as a city-state?

We find a mixture of virtue and vice upheld as worthy of pursuit. By gods grace granted even to pagan unbelievers, Plutarch extols moderation and courage and self-restraint.

- "Neither ships nor riches and ornaments nor boasting shouts, nor barb
...more
Rob
(too old to rate) If Thucydides and Heterodotus are credited with establishing the Western conception of history, Plutarch is the founder of the form of biography. From a contemporary perspective Plutarch's biographies aren't all that successful -- beyond whatever factual inaccuracies there must be, from a literary perspective they tend to become either morality plays pitting a heroic leader against the envious people he rules over or slogs through repetitive accounts of battles and omens. Still ...more
Steven Peterson
One of the devices of Plutarch is to draw comparisons between the famous Greeks and later Romans. For instance, the first sketch in this version features the Athenian Theseus. Plutarch equates him to a Roman founder, Romulus.

There is the story of Themistocles, whose talents helped to defeat the Persian fleet at Salamis and whose strategizing was a key part of the Greeks' overall victory. There is also the tale of the unhappiness that he faced afterwards, including the ironic flight from Athens.
...more
Sylvia
My percentage of reading is based on the selection I wanted to read as part of the first year of reading of Great Books of the Western World.

Plutarch compares the lawgiving ways of Lycurgus and Numa Pompilius, after he has told their seperate lives. Lycurgus was a king who left the crown to his nephew and spend his whole life to reorganize the laws of Sparta and make his inhabitants a fierce tribe, who defended their country. Numa Pompilius was asked to take the crown and reformed the city of Ro
...more
James
Plutarch, of course, was one of the most influential authors of all time. His biographies of famous Greeks and Romans and his comparisons of their lives, were read with enthusiasm by classical scholars from the time they were written near the end of his life early in the second century A.D. He was likely the most important classical author read in Europe during the Middle Ages, and undoubtedly influenced Chaucer and Shakespeare as well as many other great literary figures. He was, to a large deg ...more
umberto
In fact I read only one on Cicero (in Lives 2) since I'm interested in his life as described and analyzed by Plutarch. I found it a bit tough due to Dryden's style of translation, that is, his Victorian-style lengthy sentences.

In this Lives 2, I'm going to read on Pericles whose famous funeral speech at Athens as recorded in History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides has long impressed me.
Nicholas Spies
Plutarch is one of the chief sources of our knowledge of the personalities that peopled the classical world. What makes this book of paramount importance to read is not that it presents the lives of people who would otherwise not be known to us: It is important because from each portrait--many written hundreds of years after their subject had walked the Earth--he derives a distillation of what it means to have a worthy character, worthy enough to have been remembered already for hundreds of year ...more
Kenneth
Jun 30, 2007 Kenneth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Plutarch is one of the more interesting philosophers of Antiquity. He's a moralist, that is a philosopher late enough into the tradition that instead of arguing beliefs about the universe he's focused more on what the individual should do with himself in light of these various traditions, especially Middle Platonism. The other half of his work are the essays of the Moralia, which are intended to explain how to live a good life. The Lives are built more on the idea of teaching by example, by tell ...more
Bernard Norcott-mahany
Though Plutarch's Lives are chock full of information (not all of it reliable) and so are a great source about ancient Greek and Roman history, reading Plutarch feels a lot like sitting in a lecture hall listening to some old guy gas on about history. There are some great moments in the work, but the work as a whole feels like some guy droning on and on and on...
The translation I read, which was overseen by Dryden (the translation is sometimes credited to Dryden, but he did not do all the work,
...more
Tyler Windham
Plutarch's Lives, a sizable volume to be sure, is a near incomparable source of almost entirely unbiased biographical accounts of the great characters in the drama of antiquity--from Romulus to Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar--in detail to more than satiate the ravenous intellectual curiosity of any history buff. Ever the moralist, Plutarch uses his biographies almost as Aesop uses fables(though the stories Plutarch recounts are greatly more interesting) to identify and demonstrate a virtue ...more
Valerie
For much of European history, Plutarch's Parallel Lives was one of the primary sources for knowledge of figures from Classical times. People like Shakespeare took their cues from the biographies Plutarch wrote.

A major complaint is bias. Plutarch had a strong bias in favor of Roman and Greek figures, so there's no real information about such people as Hanno the Navigator of Carthage, or Cleopatra--and what there is is often slanderous.

Not to say you shouldn't start with Plutarch--but it's importa
...more
Russell
This book made me thought I forgot how to read.

I kept looking at the letters that made up words and saying them in my head like I do with EVERY OTHER BOOK, but still the meaning would not show up.

Okay - some parts had it. But I couldn't get excited for a bunch of made up people's lives when there's no context.

This dude talked about these cats as if I already knew who they were. No dates or places show up in any of his way too many illegible words. The closest I came to putting them into perspec
...more
Jeremy
This book seemed like it could be an interesting read. The premise is that Plutarch took a famous Roman and a famous Greek whose life was somewhat similar. He gave a short biography of both; then he would compare the two. Most of the biographies were not that compelling,, but a few were. Especially towards the beginning.

I did enjoy learning some of the history of Greece and Rome, though I found the Roman history more interesting. Many of the biographies overlapped chronologically which made it h
...more
Scott
This book reads like a dry data dump of biographical information, because on the surface that is precisely what it is. People have compared Plutarch to Shakespeare and I cannot begin to fathom why this might be. Shakespeare's intent was to entertain while Plutarch's was more to deliver moral messages. Neither strictly intended to portray historical figures as accurately as possible.

The stories themselves do often have humor in them, but it's mostly lost in translation. Others have found this sam
...more
William
Normally, I'm not much into biographies. But these are really interesting, I guess because you get to learn about a) some of the most interesting people of antiquity; b) what it was like to live a couple thousand years ago and; c) what was considered moral and immoral behavior (Plutarch typically provides biographies of two famous people with something in common [e.g Alexander and Julius Caesar:] back-to-back, and then provides a short comparison of what was similar about them and what was diffe ...more
Elena
I've really enjoyed reading about all of the various heroes, some of whom were familiar to me and some of whom I've never heard of. I think I could have used an atlas while I read, though, to keep all the places straight.

It's also interesting that Plutarch didn't include only valedictory figures but also some who were less worthy of emulation. I was surprised at how well he kept my interest, even though I didn't always know what events he was referring too. I can see why he was such a resource
...more
Lillian
Read for (yet another) book group discussion. Looking forward to it!
Angie Libert
I cannot say I really enjoyed reading this book, but I did it and I am glad I know more of this Plutarch guy so many other authors reference. I can see how he has had such influence for so many generations in that it is like a moral bible for those that want to be good citizens and/or leaders. Some of the characters, Romulus and Lycurgus, really stood out, while others were really boring to read, like Aristides. This is only volume 1 of his works, so I plan to taste volume 2 in the future.
Tim
I love these books. Although the prose is a bit dense , these are wonderful biographies on influential men in ancient Greece and Rome. My personal favorite is the biography of Solon, a wise man who was one of Greece's first law givers. He was hugely influential on our own founding fathers as well (as well as Lincoln and Churchill I think). Plutarch was the author most usually found next to the Bible during the 18th and 19th centuries in what would become America. Highly recommended.
Holly
John Dryden et al translation.

This translation is uneven at times but I guess that's life. So this tome is jam-packed with everything greco-roman. Super informative, fun, all-encompassing, essential reading. Sometimes a little wearisome though. This is my first experience with serious reading about the Roman Republic - it's more interesting than the Empire.
Ralph
I kept hearing about this book from a number of sources, so I wanted to check it out. A classic. Biographies of powerful and ambitious men from long ago, and studies in human nature. Throughout all time, and every age, there have been people (men) of ambition, foresight and courage and foolishness. The times may change but the hearts of men, not so much.
Jono Balliett
plutarch writes biographies of historically relevant peoples in the ancient greek and later roman world. These bios are sketches based on what was known about them at the time. They turn out to be tales of heroism, folly, and fortune, virtue, vice and misfortune. I reread these volumes constantly. They are an indispensable part of my home library.
Linda Jacobs
War War War War War. Once I got used to the translator's style (a bit like Charles Dickens) I was able to proceed with some speed. This is not for the timid or for people who like short sentences. I like the one best where the general, upon being rebuked, took out his sword and killed himself. That's the way to take responsibility for ones actions.
Jennifer
Interesting to know that so much of what has become a standard, modern belief regarding the lives of so many ancient, historical figures have come from the writings of one man. Hmmmmm...who is this Plutarch? He writes about people who lived hundreds of years before him. It's all just hearsay really. But what else is there...?
Jonathan
Plutarch rules.
The Librivox audio of this is free but most of the narrators stumble with pronunciations, not just with Greek names but with English words! "Cimon" rendered as "Simon" and "Key-moan." If you aren't up on how to say "Alcibiades" then why would you volunteer to narrate Plutarch?
Angie
This is a fantastic collection of Plutarch's Lives. Many editions do not carry Plutarch's comparisons, or even slice up lives into periods. This collection has all of them the way they were meant to be read; as side by side examinations of the greatest Greeks and Romans
Lisa
I just finished the first volume from gutenberg, I'm not sure if it's the same as this one. Nevertheless, part mythology, part history but unfortunately you don't which is which. It was also mostly boring, I had trouble keeping my attention focused.
Kio Stark
I only read a little, was looking for myth of Isis and Osiris. What I found was also the insane 80 year saga of episodic battles between Horus and Set after Osiris dies. There is a fair amoutn of semen involved, also lettuce. Wack.
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Plutarch (Greek: Πλούταρχος) later named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus (Greek: Λούκιος Μέστριος Πλούταρχος) c. AD 46 - 120, was a Greek biographer, essayist, priest, ambassador, magistrate, and Middle Platonist. Plutarch was born to a prominent family in Chaeronea, Boeotia, a town about twenty miles east of Delphi. His oeuvre consists of the Parallel Lives and the Mo ...more
More about Plutarch...
The Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives Plutarch's Lives, Volume 2 Makers of Rome: Nine Lives The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives

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“In a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer.” 5 likes
“[Theseus] soon found himself involved in factions and troubles; those who long had hated him had now added to their hatred contempt; and the minds of the people were so generally corrupted, that, instead of obeying commands with silence, they expected to be flattered into their duty.” 2 likes
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