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Fall of the Roman Republic (Penguin Classics)
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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Though he lived in the Roman Empire, Plutarch was a classical Greek scholar. He was born in Chaeronea in central Greece and spent most of his life there. He studied in Athens as a young man and later wrote on a variety of subjects, including natural science, metaphysics and morals. He also served in various civic capacities during his life, received a high government appointment in Greece from Hadrian, and traveled widely.
Plutarch's interest in writing his "Lives" is the character of the individual, the effects of education and status, the drama of successes and failures, and moral lessons that can be drawn from them. His focus on character and the moral lessons to be learned from history is much like Livy, but Plutarch chose to pursue his purpose more directly by writing biographical sketches of his subjects. These sketches were actually written in pairs, matching what Plutarch saw as a Greek and Roman whose lives were comparable. For example, he paired Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. To most modern readers, this pairing seems rather artificial, and Penguin has chosen to group the "Lives" by historical period.
Plutarch was not an eyewitness to the events he records. The six men covered in this book lived 150 to 200 years before these "Lives" were written. Plutarch is relying on tradition and other historians for his information. Being a Greek writing after 100 A.D. allows him to be more detached, but his work necessarily reflects the biases and excesses of his sources. Was Sulla, for example, as thorough a monster as portrayed?
The "Lives" make wonderful reading. Plutarch had a simple, straightforward style and an superb eye for the dramatic. The six lives included in "The Fall Of The Roman Republic" are especially well-suited to his style. If you have any interest in Roman history, or if you just enjoy fascinating stories, this is not to be missed.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I feel a bit strange writting a review about any classic. Its a bit like writing a review of the Koran or the Bible. There is a reason why all these books are classics, and the reason is that they give some glimpse at the immutable nature of mankind.
Plutarch describes a nation wracked by personal divisions during the Roman Civil War with chapters on some of the major participants in this conflict: a true fall from grace for both the people of Rome and the institution of republicanism. There is a lot here that is exciting, such as the war against the Parthians, Jugurthia and the personal rivalries between Ceasar and Pompey.
The writing moves from what I would classify as mildly interesting, usually at the beginning of each chapter as he relates the youth, familiar, and power influences on the personal development of each live, to ripping tales of combat, honour lost and found, and principled peoples meeting usually, bloody fates. Lives of particular note are Pompey and Cicero in this book, but my personal favourite was Crassus, his fight against the slave revolt of Spartacus and his eventual annihilation with his entire army against the Parthians. The other real character that keeps popping up in each chapter is Cato, a political idealist who commited suicide for his repulican ideals when there was every indication that Ceasar respected him and would have spared his life despite Cato's defection to Pompey.
There is lots here that is of course raw speculation: I think that it is unlikely that Ceasar really had dictatorship on his mind since his early youth, but Plutarch would have us believe that it was almost forordained that Ceasar wanted personal control of the State.
Plutarch is much more interesting to read than Ceasar or Livy. So if you are looking for a good place to enter the classics, this is one good read.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 13, 2001
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Plutarch was a Greek historian who wrote in the 2nd Century AD. This work covers the lives of six key individuals in the twilight of the old Roman Republic from 105-43 BC. Marius and Sulla were soldier-dictators who first sought to gain one-man rule. They were followed by Crassus, Pompey and Caesar. These three lives are the best in the book. The final life is Cicero, the lawyer. There is good military detail on Marius' defeat of the Cimbri, Crassus' defeat at Carrhae and Caesar's triumph at Pharsalus. The Mithraditic Wars in Asia minor are important but difficult to follow due to the lack of any maps. There are no great lessons here, other than the eternal struggle for power. The editor was lazy in this book and should have provided a glossary of key individuals, since there are too many individuals with similar names. There are also no maps - a major flaw.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Like the bloke below, I read this book for school, but for the purposes of ancint history. Yes, indeed, Marcus Tullius Cicero is the most outstanding life Plutarch saw fit to write of. For an aspiring lawyer like myself, Cicero embodies desireable traits and wit (although I wouldn't repeat his joke about the Sphinx being in one witness' house!). Penguin's edition features: Marius, the dictator Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, and, of course, Caesar. These men are all fascinating by themselves, but the men of the triumverate stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first such "triarch" was Pompey. The contemporary reader will find some amusement and eyebrow raising pleasure at the lively sex lives of these two men. Pompey bit his lovers, while Crassus lived every single man's dream: in a cave with two slave girls. What Plutarch sets out to accomplish is to display these men as models--how the lust for ultimate and absolute power was the undoing of each man. And I'm not being ironic; all these men were destroyed by the enemies they created, the wars they spawned, or pride they chained themselves to.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
Plutarch is not a historian often seen in the diluted cirriculum of the modern American High School, but I would argue that his love of the dramatic, moving battle scenes,and relatively easy-to-comprehend style would do much do endear the modern student to ancient Rome.
There are (justifiable) arguments, of course, that Plutarch too often put personal bias and a love of "storytelling" above historical fact. While this may be true, is what comes to us of Rome by way of the Pop Culture filter any better? The context in which most people think of Rome is either that of Biblical or Russell Crowe. Can Plutarch's approximations be any worse?
Though this edition appears to have been hastily compiled at some points (very little reference/glossary material to speak of), I still reccomend this book to:
1) Casual readers who wish to know more about an exciting period of history that has affected everything from our calendar to our way of government, and
2) History/Humanities teachers tired of purely analytical views of Rome. Let your students know that Rome had IT'S editorialists, too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
In the twilight of the Roman republic, brilliant and majestic yet ultimately vain and flawed men fight for supremacy. The Greek dramatist Plutarch writing in hindsight watches the unfolding of the tragic events that would lead to the collapse of the Roman empire and human liberty with regret and remorse -- there was enough wealth in Rome and her territorities for the egos of Sulla and Marius, Pompey and Caesar to divide amongst themselves. What Plutarch missed was that the ultimate problem wasn't the ego and vanity of men -- the problem was wealth itself.

Writing in his "Histories," Herodotus wrote how the Spartans, after driving the invading Persians from Greece and finding Xerxes' tent filled with nothing but gold, laughed and remarked how a nation of wealth had invaded Greece to capture its poverty. Herodotus remarked that it was wealth and luxury had made the Persians weak decadents while poverty and privation had made the Greeks tough warriors.

Plutarch is a dramatist, and is fully invested in his characters, who are all fascinating and majestic in themselves. Plutarch puts the blame in human agency, and comments that it's not the rivalry between Caesar and Pompey that caused the fall of the republic, but rather their friendship -- because together they destroyed the power and influence of the nobility. He pays no intention to the socio-economic forces that were simultaneously expanding while destabilizing Rome. He does not at all make the connection between the great martial victories of Pompey and Caesar abroad and the nefarious conspiracies in Rome itself. As Pompey and Caesar conquer foreign lands and send wealth back to home, this wealth corrupts Rome so that the struggle for power can only reach a furious frenzied pitch, as during the Catiline conspiracy (when one member of the patrician class proposed to destroy the entire patrician class).

Of course, one does not read Plutarch for his analytical abilities, but rather his literary merit. Plutarch's rendering of the struggles and triumphs of Marius, Pompey, and Caesar (all despicable characters in themselves) elevate each man into divine status. Caesar himself stands out as a man who combined the courage and military genius of Alexander the Great (which many felt Pompey had) with the political genius of Machiavelli (which many felt Crassus and lesser, more nefarious individuals had), making Caesar an unstoppable force of nature.

These men who were ultimately albeit unwittingly responsible for the destruction of the Roman republic -- Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, and Cicero -- all were in their own way a testament to the genius of the Roman republic. They worked hard to crave distinction, they were deeply loyal to Rome, and they were Gods. The socio-historical forces in place meant that the Roman republic was bound to become the Roman empire, but who ultimately would triumph in this transition also depended a lot of human agency, and there was no doubt in people's mind that Julius Caesar was the natural candidate for the kingship, and that's why he became so hated among the Romans.

Julius Caesar is truly an amazing paradox. He won the admiration and loyalty of his troops with his military genius, Spartan lifestyle, and courageous leadership. He also worked endlessly to corrupt the Roman republic through bribery, marriage alliances, and intrigue. He also did the unthinkable, crossed the Rubicon, and invaded Rome itself. As a God, he would cause the death of other Gods, Pompey and Cato the most famous. But he would also hunt down Pompey's assassins, and at the height of his power, when no one could challenge his power, he was lenient to his enemies, and refused to surround himself with a bodyguard. He put his complete faith and trust in Brutus, and when Brutus delivered his blow in the Senate Caesar merely accepted his fate and died. Of all the great men in Plutarch's collection, Julius Caesar proved himself the greatest, and that's why Caesar continues to live on in people's imaginations today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Seager's introductions are excellent, Warner's translation is uneventful.

My really issue here is the way in which Penguin has chosen to present Plutarch: not as a collection of comparable moral lives, but as a historical source. His Penguin editions are grouped by period, not moral pairings. This features two problems: (i) it attempts to emphasize Plutarch's role as a historian and (ii) abolishes his credibility as a moralist. As someone who better appreciates Plutarch's sentimental, moral and anecdotal features, I'm disappointed to find that Penguin is attempting to sell more copies by packaging Plutarch as an historical source.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
If one merely wants to read an awfully good biography of some of the makers of history during the last generation of the Roman Republic, one cannot go wrong with Rex Warner's translation of Plutarch's Lives of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar and Cicero. Each "Life" is full to the brim of goodies (Even the skimpy life of Marius has its magnificent moments, such as the Cimbri women strangling their children and stabbing themselves rather than surrender to the Romans; or Marius with his Bardyae goons, who laugh when he laughs and kill when he doesn't laugh [Godfather material!], and my favorite bit in the life of Marius is when he is tryihg to make a deal with the angry Senate at the front door of his house and his tribune Saturninus at the back door--running back and forth between the two, excusing himself each time, pretending that he has diarrhea. ["Terribly sorry, the sardines I ate at lunch must have been off!"; the subtext, not Warner]).

This book is full of wonderful anecdotes that render the story of ancient Rome so entertaining.

As with the Penquin edition of "The Age of Alexander," however, the editors have skimped and not provided an index (which I notice Oxford has done) and therefore have made the book a pain to use in undergraduate classes. Again, the cover has been tarted up, but no effort has been made to facilitate students in looking up the multifarious characters in each of the lives.

Well, I'm cross with Penguin, but not with Rex Warner's splendidly readable translation!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Plutarch was a classical Greek historian during the Roman period who was well rounded and provides us with important insights into the classical world through his writings. Most important among these writings are the extensive biographies he wrote of important individuals from Greece and Rome. Some of his sources are now lost to us, but the tales live on.

This particular collection is a set of six biographies of individuals set in the late Republic: Gaius Marius (who instituted various military reforms which probably doomed the Republic), Sulla (the first to enforce a dictatorship over the republic through civil war), Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero. Through these writings we are introduced to religious customs, stories of prophecies, and tangential tales that have in some ways eclipsed the subject of the biography.

For example, in the biography of Crassus, we are introduced to a fairly full account of the Spartacus War and the appeal of that story during McCarthy-era America among those who were dissenting from McCarthy's rhetoric is obvious.

For all of this, the line that stands out in my memory is the popular description of Sulla being that his face was a "mulberry with oatmeal sprinkled on it."

Definitely recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
In a recent interview, Bob Dylan cites a number of ancient historians and philosophers as his favored reading, and makes a special mention of Plutarch's Roman lives as a book to which he returns over and over again. It is easy to see why. In an age of murkiness and mediocrity, cheap sensationalism and formula, an existence that is electric but at the same time sickly and often vacuous, it is an almost therapeutic experience to spend time with the ambitious, able, brave, visionary, and healthy-spirited generals. The facts and figures, the sequence of events depicted, are far less important than the experience itself, the pleasure of being in the company of soldiers who prize wisdom, moderation, efficiency, and honor over all. These were self-made men, entrepreneurs in the modern sense. The empire was no accident, and this books is a reminder of what we once were, and could still one day be.
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