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Makers of Rome: Nine Lives (Penguin…
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Makers of Rome: Nine Lives (Penguin Classics)

by Plutarch

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Not being familiar with the works of Plutarch, I made the mistake of buying this abridged version rather than the complete Parallel Lives. This was the only problem I had with the book and I'm not sure I'm being fair by giving it just four stars. The extant 23 lives must make a large book and I suppose it wouldn't sell as well as a limited selection. [ Update: it seems the complete 'Lives' cannot be had for love or money, though there are larger, two-volume sets. ]

The translation is highly readable and the footnotes give additional information and correct a lot of Plutarch's inaccuracies, though I would have liked to see even more of them.* It was also nice to find the footnotes conveniently located at the bottom of each page rather than at the end of the chapter or the book, as Penguin often seems to do now. In such cases I either have to interrupt the flow of the reading just to see what I'm missing, or try to go back to the footnotes later, after I've lost a lot of their context. I honestly don't know what publishers are thinking.

The writing of Plutarch is slightly more interesting than Suetonious and far less monotonous than Livy, though I wouldn't credit his accounts with too much accuracy. Compared with these authors and others like Tacitus, Polybius, and Gibbon, Plutarch almost seems like an ideal introduction to Roman history, with just a few caveats. Firstly, before reading the Lives you should at least be aware of the general timeline of republican Rome, and have some knowledge of the events taking places. The wars of Hannibal, the proscriptions of Sulla, the political campaigns of the Gracchi and the Civil Wars are all casually alluded to by Plutarch as common knowledge at the time. You'll also want to know something about the political system of Rome and the different offices involved as well as the structure and geography of the Roman world. On review it occurs to me that the editor of this book did not include a lot of context for the Lives, and that a stranger to the era could easily have been lost - although a quick overview on wikipedia should be enough to start off.

Another setback for beginners ( though a very minor one ) is that the narratives of this particular volume seem to stand slightly stage left of the central actors. Which is not to say that any of them are minor characters, but that each seems to play the secondary role of his era. Thus we have biographies for Fabius rather than Scipio and Hannibal, and Brutus and Antony rather than Caesar and Octavian. For someone who's already acquainted with the principle actors, this makes the selection even more interesting, not less, but someone new to Roman History might wonder why they aren't reading about the victors, rather than the defeated. Naturally of course such a distinction can only be made in hindsight - at the time there would have been no way of knowing that Sertorius was not the first man of his age, or that Antony was not destined to be the first Roman Emperor.

That in itself, I suppose, is one of the best reasons to read the book.

*You can never have too many footnotes. ( )
2 vote the_lemur | Nov 9, 2017 |
Epic romanticized history of Rome. ( )
  shakazul | Jul 3, 2017 |
Ian Scott-Kilvert continues his edition of Plutarch's Lives with Nine Romans, beginning of course with Romulus. I think it interesting that this volume includes Marc Antony, a man perhaps more associated (Spoiler Alert!!)
with the fall of the Roman Republic, but this way we have to buy that volume as well, if we're dealing with Brutus and Big Julie. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 28, 2013 |
Excellent description of the figures involved in the Roman Civil War with biased but entertaining observations about Mark Antony ( )
  Richard7920 | Jan 31, 2009 |
Quite interesting ( )
  Harrod | Nov 30, 2008 |
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These nine biographies illuminate the careers, personalities and military campaigns of some of Rome's greatest statesmen, whose lives span the earliest days of the Republic to the establishment of the Empire. Selected from Plutarch's Roman Lives, they include prominent figures who achieved fame for their pivotal roles in Roman history, such as soldierly Marcellus, eloquent Cato and cautious Fabius. Here too are vivid portraits of ambitious, hot-tempered Coriolanus; objective, principled Brutus and open-hearted Mark Anthony, who would later be brought to life by Shakespeare. In recounting the lives of these great leaders, Plutarch also explores the problems of statecraft and power and illustrates the Roman people's genius for political compromise, which led to their mastery of the ancient world.

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