Plutarchs's (46-120 A.D.) epic chronicle of the lives of great Grecians and Romans. Beginning with the founding of Rome and Athens, the lives of the men who created the ancient world are brought to life in this new, high quality recording. Greats such as Romulus, Pericles, Theseus, Lycurgus, and many others come alive as their politics, economy, and their individual stories play out in the time of the Ancients. This translation by John Dryden, which is considered by scholars to be the quintessential translation.
Public Domain (P)2014 B.J. Harrison
No wonder this was one of Ben Franklin’s favorite books.
In Plutarch’s Lives, the listener is introduced to a selection of the most famous Greeks and Romans of the classical world, including men like Caesar, Alexander, Pompey and Cicero (part 2) and Lycurgus, Themistocles, Cato and Romulus (part 1). Plutarch succeeds in incorporating many of the accounts and anecdotes of his day to give us instructive portraits of the men, faults and all. As the officiating priest at Delphi, Plutarch had the perfect moral and social credit to make judgments and comparisons among these heroes (or villains) and gives us his honest judgment in each case.
While certain credence is given to providence in determining the fates of men, Plutarch focuses on the character traits and decisions that led to success or failure. He is refreshingly honest; when his account relies upon myth (such as with Romulus) he tells the reader plainly.
What really struck me when listening was how little has changed in 2,000 years. Despite the long years and obvious culture gap there is still much we can relate to. Just like Lycurgus, visionaries of today still strive to realize socialist utopias on earth. Just like Timoleon and Philopoemon, men today are still willing to fight and die for the cause of democracy. Just like Themistocles, Crassus and Alcibiades the talents and charisma that lead modern celebrities to fame so often conceal equally great character flaws. Just like the rabble of old, the masses today are still fickle and willing to listen to whatever crazy theory that the Tribunes (or congressmen) feed them. This is a book that is still wonderfully relevant to the modern reader.
If I had to complain, I wish the biographies had been organized into a continuous historical narrative. I’m something of an amateur history buff and still had trouble jumping among characters from the Peloponnesian, Persian, Punic and Social wars. In addition, I know that much of Plutarch’s work has been lost but still felt that many important characters such as Augustus, Hannibal and Socrates were sorely missed. Finally, the John Dryden translation is classic but many listeners may not be comfortable with 17th century English.
B.J. Harrison was a great choice for this production; his voice is lively, engaging and confident, allowing the reader to be absorbed into the narrative.
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