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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some "Lively" Greek Biogs By Plutarch
Plutarch was a Greek scholar living in the Roman Empire. He was not a historian, per se, but rather a biographer who used the lives of famous Greeks and Romans to illustrate strengths and weaknesses of character, how they impacted events, and how events impacted them. He wrote his biographies in pairs, matching a Greek and Roman whose lives, in his view, exemplified...
Published on September 10, 2001 by AntiochAndy

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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Greeks in History
"The Age of Alexander" was not the original title of this book. Instead the editors have taken liberty with the title for marketing purposes. "The Age of Alexander" is actually a biography of 9 famous kings and generals from Agesilaus to Pyrrhus with Alexander as one of the nine. This isn't an attack on the title or this or this work, but it is a...
Published on April 10, 2001 by Richard La Fianza


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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some "Lively" Greek Biogs By Plutarch, September 10, 2001
This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Plutarch was a Greek scholar living in the Roman Empire. He was not a historian, per se, but rather a biographer who used the lives of famous Greeks and Romans to illustrate strengths and weaknesses of character, how they impacted events, and how events impacted them. He wrote his biographies in pairs, matching a Greek and Roman whose lives, in his view, exemplified common traits or themes. His pairings being generally rather superficial, Penguin has chosen to publish the individual "Lives" in chronological groupings. The nine presented in "The Age Of Alexander" include Plutarch's biography of Alexander the Great along with those of eight famous Greeks from the same period.
Writing during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, Plutarch was already dealing with people from hundreds of years in his past. Fortunately for us, as his writing shows, he still had a lot of evidence to draw on. Frequently mentioned are contemporary accounts and, in the case of Alexander, letters written by Alexander himself, which apparently still existed in Plututarch's time. Sometimes he cites more than one source in cases where accounts disagree. The richness of Plutarch's sources is valuable because so much of that ancient source material is now lost.
Plutarch is at his best in describing dramatic events and when commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of his subjects. As reading material, this book could hardly be called a "page-turner" in the contemporary sense of that term, but you don't have to be a student of history to appreciate the dramatic, and often violent, nature of the times and of the lives of the men covered in this collection. Only one of them died in bed. Life was often violent and short, and the violence was gratuitous. A man whose deeds were out of favor might well be treated to the sight of his family being executed before being dispatched himself.
Personally, I'm more a fan of Roman history than the Greeks (although Alexander is certainly a fascinating character), and the Greeks covered in this book are generally much less familiar to me than those of the Romans contained in other volumes. Nevertheless, this is classic literature of a high order. Plutarch is a great storyteller, and his insightful and anecdotal style is never dull. Further, his work is one of those rare examples of ancient writing and scholarship that have survived, and in that sense alone his "Lives" are a treasure. "The Age Of Alexander" isn't the easiest reading you'll find, but it is both interesting and rewarding. It's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but give it a try. You may just find it as enjoyable as I do.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A personality sketch of Alexander the Great, August 11, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This edition combines great greek lives, but most will be buying it because of Alexander the Great. Originally intended to be published as one of his "Parallel Lives" series with Caesar, this short biography of Alexander is one of the three main sources used to derive what little information we have on Alexander. It is also the only history that survives that discusses his childhood. Not necessarily accurate, but Plutarch never claimed to be a historian. While not always successful, he does attempt to explain Alexander's complicated personality. A must read for Alexanderophiles.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Open Letter to Penguin Classics:, April 26, 2008
This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a wonderful book. The translations by Prof. Scott-Kilvert are lively and interesting, especially for undergraduates. But the book is a pain in the neck to use because the editors have not thought it necessary to include an index. I have had to do one myself on the life of Alexander for my students who are using the book in tandem with Arrian's Campaigns of Alexander and Quintus Curtius (both of which are your books, Penguin, and both of which have indexes!).

Penguin, you have tarted up all your other books with new covers, and you have jacked up the prices accordingly, so when you get around to Alexander, who, after all, is the selling point of this eponymous tome, please include an index so that the book will become useful as well as entertaining.

Thank you.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Greeks in History, April 10, 2001
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This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"The Age of Alexander" was not the original title of this book. Instead the editors have taken liberty with the title for marketing purposes. "The Age of Alexander" is actually a biography of 9 famous kings and generals from Agesilaus to Pyrrhus with Alexander as one of the nine. This isn't an attack on the title or this or this work, but it is a more honest description.
In addition to the people I have already mentioned, this book also talks about the lives of Pelopidas, Dion, Demosthenes, Phocion, and Demetrius. I had heard many of these names for years, but I had no idea of what they had done. Others I never knew. It is interesting how history classes often have such narrow focuses. Why do we study the Peloponnesian War, but not its outcome?
Here, students of history will have the chance to examine parts and people of the past, rarely discussed in other places. The writing style is a little tough. Remember, this is an English translation of a Roman work examining Greek citizen who lived three hundred or more years before it was written. However, if you can get past the writing, you can learn alot.
The rough history of who killed who and which state thrived while others died were not very interesting to me. It is hard to get excited about a civilation that was wiped out 3000 years ago. What I enjoyed more were the personal stories and the glimpse into Greek life. I will give three examples.
Pelopidas had a mortal enemy, Alexander. He was considered a tyrant and a murderer. Alexander had his enemies stripped naked and forced them to rare animal skins. He then would release hunting dogs on them as a form of fun/execution.
In Persia, citizens would make a gesture of respect to their King. In Greece, they would only make this gesture to the Gods. Thus Alexander the Great, if he wanted to be considered the "legitimate" ruler of the Persian would have to have them do something, this gesture, which made him look like he believed he was a God, to the Greeks.
"On noble subjects all men speak well." A quote found in this book. It was ascribed to Euripides but was quoted by Alexander when talking to Callisthenes, an advisor who eventually was put to death.
If you like insights and stories like this, "The Age of Alexander" is a great source. The editors do a very good job of discribing the customs and morals of the time. For me, actually, part of this was not necessary. I enjoyed this book, in part, because I could see how humans, in many ways have not changed. Perhaps, in part, that is why a book popular 2000 thousand years ago, can still be enjoyed today. Not a page turner, it is interesting if you have to time to study it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tyranny and democracy, November 14, 2007
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The biographies of nine Greek statesmen in this book are perfectly representative for the eternal battle between tyranny (oligarchy) and democracy, between oppression and freedom, between the few and the many, between the haves and the have-nots. The fighting took place within the Greek city States, but also among themselves and in foreign countries, because the oligarchs (tyrants) tried to export their political system. To make things worse, the tyrants fought among themselves, for `greed is the congenital disease of dynasties'.
This relentless fighting was a disaster for Greece and its population: `Alas, for Greece, how many brave men have you killed with your own hands.'
After all those suicidal wars, at the end of the book, Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, is confronted with a new and formidable imperial power, Rome.

This book contains some astonishing historical corrections. E.g., not all Spartans were killing machines: `those who had shown cowardice in the battle ... had become so numerous that it was feared they might stir up a revolution.' (!)
It shows us Plutarch as a severe critic of the few (`kings set an example of bad faith and treachery ... and believe that the man who shows the least regard for justice will always reap the greatest advantage'), on the side of the many (` (`it s wrong both in human and political terms to try to raise the standard in one section of society by demoralizing another') and as a `dove' (`expansion is superfluous to the well-being of a city').
All in all, it was a period of extreme barbarism. `Dynasties are full of men who murdered their sons, their mothers and their wives, while the murder of brothers had come to be regarded as a recognized precaution to be taken by all rulers to ensure their safety.'
The mother of Alexander the Great, Olympias, took revenge on another widow of his father by roasting her and her infant son.

This book is a must read for all those interested in the history of mankind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Age of Alexander and the Life of Dion, April 17, 2010
This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"The Age of Alexander" is a collection of some of Plutarch's biographies of famous ancient statesmen. The centrepiece of the book is a biography of Alexander the Great. It also contains the lives of Agesilaus, Pelopidas, Dion, Timoleon, Demosthenes, Phocion, Demetrius and Pyrrhus. In other words, the book is somewhat misnamed, since some of these people lived before the actual age of Alexander.

The most interesting work included in this volume is the Life of Dion, a Syracusan disciple of the philosopher Plato. While Plutarch sympathizes with Dion, it's nevertheless obvious that Dion's regime in Syracuse was oligarchic and anti-democratic. To some extent, it was a military regime based on support from foreign mercenaries. Indeed, Dion even fought a civil war of sorts against the local democrats. Plato's friendship with Dion shows that Plato was no democrat (in case anybody doubted this). That Plato educated Dion and attempted to educate the future tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius the Younger, clearly shows the aristocratic and oligarchic leanings of this most famous of Western philosophers. Plato may have wrestled with real problems in his political dialogues, but he eventually solved them in all the wrong directions! I found it fascinating to read about Dion's exploits, precisely because this man was the only associate of Plato to take political power and hence the closest thing the Platonists ever came to a "philosopher-king" in real life. It's not a very pretty story.

The rest of the book is, of course, equally interesting.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A selection of "lives" that helps understand ancient Greece, June 3, 1999
This review is from: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The book helps you to put in perspective the ancient Greece with its intense activity and warefare. These are not parallel lives that compares the greek versus the roman characters. Rather the authors gives the secuential lives from Agesylaus to Pyrrhus and in that secuence Alexander surges as a climatic "live". It helps in building an idea of secuential relationships. War, violence, ambition, superstition are encountered in almost all of these protrait "lives".
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The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics)
The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives (Penguin Classics) by Plutarch (Paperback - September 30, 1973)
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