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Plutarch's Lives Volume 1 (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – April 10, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A Bible for heroes."

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Greek
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library Paperback edition (April 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375756760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375756764
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
Plutarch's history isn't always the most accurate -- he clashes with Arrian and Quintus Curtius on Alexander, for example -- but it sure is a lot of fun...Plutarch weaves in lots of interesting little anecdotes and his narrative arcs are always complete without being too long. It's also great for leisurely reading; there are so many Lives, you can pick one up on any rainy afternoon, long car drive, or what have you, and don't even need to know a whole lot of context to get the gist of what's going on. For fans of history and biography, or just stories in general, this is as good as it gets.
I recommend the Modern Library edition because it's complete (with the two volumes, that is) and because the Dryden translation is very colorful even though it's old-school -- you're bound to pick up a lot of cool vocabulary. Also, don't quite know how to put it, but his translation just seems more...classic. It fits, get it.
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Format: Paperback
After having read McCullogh's splendid series on Rome, I turned to this fat, dense book with great expectations. I was not disappointed: the stories are endlessly fascinating, from their basic details on ancient history to the bizarre asides that reveal the pre-Christianised mind-set of the author.
Like all great books, this one can be read on innumerable levels. First, there is the moralising philosophy that is perhaps the principal purpose of the author to advance - each life holds lessons on proper conduct of great and notorious leaders alike. You get Caesar, Perikles, and Alcibiades, and scores of others who are compared and contrasted. Second, there is the content. Plutarch is an invaluable source of data for historians and the curious. Third, there is the reflection of religious and other beliefs of the 1C AD: oracles and omens are respected as are the classical gods. For example, while in Greece, Sulla is reported as having found a satyr, which he attempted unsuccesfully to question for its auguring abilities during his miltary campaign in Greece! It is a wonderful window into the mystery of life and human belief systems. That being said, Plutarch is skeptical of these occurances and both questions their relevance and shows how some shrewd leaders, like Sertorious with his white fawn in Spain, used them to great advantage.
Finally, this is a document that was used for nearly 2000 years in schools as a vital part of classical education - the well-bred person knew all these personalities and stories, which intimately informed their vocabulary and literary references until the beginning of the 20C. That in itself is a wonderful view into what was on people's minds and how they conceived things over the ages.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First off, let me clarify that what follows is a review of a particular edition of Plutarch's Lives, the current (2001) edition from Modern Library Classics. It is not a review of the book itself and will not provide any information on the relevance of this wonderful classic or the many lives it includes or the ingenious structure of paralleling the lives of Greeks and Romans or the importance of this text to the history of biography. Several other reviews here do a fine job of that and I see no reason to cover the same ground. Moreover, I've noted rather a lot of confusion about this edition in reviews here on Amazon (see particularly the reviews associated with the hardbound Modern Library volumes). I am still researching the Dryden edition, but thought I might offer a few comments to provide clarity and a better understanding of this edition for those whose buying decisions are based on the nature and quality of a particular translation.

"The Dryden Translation" - this unusual phrasing (which appears on the cover) has become the traditional descriptor for this version of the Lives. In fact, Dryden is not, properly speaking, the translator of this book. In one article in Wikipedia he is described as an overseer for the edition and in another as editor-in-chief, but he is also described as having simply "lent" his name to the enterprise. I am still researching this, but I should not be surprised if Jacob Tonson, the publisher, was not more involved in editing than was Dryden. [Update: I have found some indications that Dryden may have had a fairly significant editorial role -- see "Dryden as Cambridge Editor" by Arthur Sherbo in Studies in Bibliography, Vol 38, (1985) pp 251-261.
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Format: Hardcover
I have now plowed through the second and final volume of this series, and though my energy began to flag, I still think this is one of the great classics of all time. Though not exactly chronological, the stories in this volume tend to occur later than in the first volume and are often longer, which is understandable given that Julius Caesar and Alex the Great are covered in this volume. THe stories are also more intricately interwoven - you get lives that overlap, such as those of Brutus and Caesar, with slightly different takes and details in each one. The upshot of all this is that the serious reader will need to keep this around as a reference, going over the text again when some question of detail comes up or to refresh one's point of view. Plutarch's take on things is very different from that of many authors: he is a pro-aristocrat conservative and admiring of martial prowess, yet pro-Republican. Once again, the reader really needs to know the historical context before undertaking this. It is not at all introductory.
Warmly recommended. Though it takes real effort at times to continue, it is well worth the slog.
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