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September 7, 2017


Plutarch’s Lives

by N@ncy

  • Author: Plutarch
  • Title: Plutarch’s Lives Vol 1
  • Published: beginning of the second century A.D.
  • Genre: social history of the ancient world
  • Style: anecdotal and full of detail
  • Translation: 1683 by John Dryden
  • Revision: 1864 by  Arthur Hugh Clough
  • Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge



  1. Lives is a series of biographies of famous Greeks and Romans  by Plutarch.
  2. Structure:
  3. twenty-three paired biographies, one Greek and one Roman
  4. four unpaired  (explores the influence of character on the lives of the subjects)
  5. Goal: Plutarch was most concerned with capturing this issue of character.
  6. Plutarch reveals how their character led  them ultimately to tragedy or victory.


My reading strategy: 

  1. I had to limit myself to 100 pages a day because
  2. …my eyes started to glaze over after reading all
  3. the military campaigns and political intrigues.


  1. Read wikipedia page before reading Plutarch.
  2. This helped me focus on the important points.
  3. This helped me with dates and places of several battles.


  1. Style: Plutarch’s style is rich with details
  2. ….that at times is ‘overdone’ — battles, sieges, ambushes–.
  3. I must let you read a quote …just to
  4. indicate the style you will have to ‘trudge through’ to find some
  5. gems of information…and there gems for those who perservere.

The first two sentences of the life of the Roman Camillus:

Among the many remarkable things that are related of Furius Camillus, it seems singular and strange above all, that he, who continually was in the highest commands, and obtained the greatest successes, was five times chosen dictator, triumphed four times, and was styled a second founder of Rome, yet never was so much as once consul. The reason of which was the state and temper of the commonwealth at that time; for the people, being at dissension with the senate, refused to return consuls, but in their stead elected other magistrates, called military tribunes, who acted, indeed, with full consular power, but were thought to exercise a less obnoxious amount of authority, because it was divided among a larger number; for to have the management of affairs entrusted in the hands of six persons rather than two was some satisfaction to the opponents of oligarchy.

And on it goes…


  1. Weak point  I thought I could manage the audio book
  2. ….but my mind could not process all the names and references
  3. without the words in front of me.
  4. So I listened… but finally stopped using the audio book
  5. …and read each chapter on the Kindle.


  1. Audio chapters vary from 40 min to
  2. …long ones lasting 1hr 45 min! (Alcibiades and Coriolanus )
  3. I found I could read the chapters in half the time!
  4. I think listening to Plutarch’s Lives will be easier
  5. ….now that I  have read the book.
  6. These long stories filled with clashes in battle are
  7. perfect for …long walks or bike rides!


Favorite profiles:

  1. Themistocles  (admiral) – Alcibiades (ultimate ‘bad-boy) and
  2. Pericles (made Athens great and beautiful with new structures)
  3. Fabius: know for the Fabian Strategy
  4. Targeting the enemy’s supply lines
  5. accepting only smaller engagements on favorable ground
  6. rather than risking his entire army on direct confrontation.
  7. He was the father of guerilla warfare.


Last thoughts:

  1. The first profiles are probably based on myth (Theseus, Romulus)
  2. The rest are  predominately all
  3. politicians, consuls, generals and admirals.
  4. The balance between true biography and
  5. ..descriptions of battles was 20% – 80 %.


  1. Strong point: The comparisons were the best part of the book because
  2. …they  concentrated on the morality and character of the men.
  3. That is the most  interesting.
  4. I will soon forget the battles….but remember this:

  5. Pericles:
  6. He warned the Athenians of the ruin that awaited them for
  7. …grasping more than they could manage.
  8. Pericles was a good prophet of bad success
  9. Fabius:
  10. He warned that Scipio Africanus Fabius would fail with his attack on Carthage
  11. it turned out to be a victory.
  12. Fabius was a bad prophet of success that would be good!


  1. Weak point: sometimes Plutarch’s descriptions are so heavy in detail
  2. (who sent an message to whom, what was sacrificed before the battle,
  3. the visits to Delphi Oracle,  how the camp fires burned,
  4. the commander’s insignia on his armor,
  5. muddy battlefields with hail and wind…..)
  6. …that one might question the veracity of his narration.


  1. Strong point: the text is relatively accessible
  2. …but you will have to get used to the long, long sentences.
  3. I preferred reading about important battles in Histories by Herodotus.
  4. The Landmark Herodotus is an excellent book with many maps
  5. You can easily follow the strategy of the battles.


MAPS  I found on Google to help me follow the narrative:






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  1. #NonFicNov 2017 Week 1 | NancyElin

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