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What would Plato have done?

Christopher Krebs: Plutarch’s Lives

28 June 2017
The Age of Caesar: Five Roman Lives 
by Plutarch, translated by Pamela Mensch.
Norton, 393 pp., £28, March 2017, 978 0 393 29282 4
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... Michelle Obama with a handshake and air kisses. Melania Trump caught up with her husband moments later, an unwieldy Tiffany-blue gift box in her gloved hands. Like numerous contemporary commentators, Plutarch of Chaeronea would have noticed that the president-elect did not wait for his wife. In the preface to his biography of Alexander the Great, he wrote that ‘a clearer insight into character is often ...

Worrying Wives

Helen King: The Invention of Sparta

7 August 2003
Spartan Women 
by Sarah Pomeroy.
Oxford, 198 pp., £45, July 2002, 0 19 513066 9
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... of course, there were those licentious, outspoken, undisciplined Spartan women, proverbially ‘the only women who give birth to men’, and best known to history from sayings attributed to them by Plutarch or, even more famously, from a mother sending her son into battle: ‘Come home with your shield, or on it.’ As Sarah Pomeroy has noted, Spartan women always had a weapon to hand since, when they ...

See you in hell, punk

Thomas Jones: Kai su, Brutus

6 December 2018
Brutus: The Noble Conspirator 
by Kathryn Tempest.
Yale, 314 pp., £25, October 2017, 978 0 300 18009 1
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... still be Caesar; without Caesar, Brutus would be nobody. The ghost that appears to him before the Battle of Philippi tells him that he is ‘Thy evil spirit, Brutus.’ That much is straight out of Plutarch. It’s Shakespeare’s invention to have Brutus later describe the phantom, his evil spirit, as ‘the ghost of Caesar’, which he sees again at Philippi in both a literal and a figurative sense ...

The First Career Politician

James Romm: Demosthenes

20 June 2013
Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece 
by Ian Worthington.
Oxford, 382 pp., £22.50, January 2012, 978 0 19 993195 8
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... by other, rival politicians – one recently recovered from a palimpsest thanks to digital imaging techniques – analyse his career from an opponent’s perspective. Two ancient Lives, one by Plutarch, preserve portraits of Demosthenes the man, even if their free use of anecdote and rumour makes them less than fully reliable. But that isn’t all: a collection of six letters attributed to ...

Image Problems

Peter Green: Pericles of Athens

6 November 2014
Pericles of Athens 
by Vincent Azoulay, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Princeton, 291 pp., £24.95, July 2014, 978 0 691 15459 6
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... significant about all this, but seldom emphasised, is that the basic evidence, such as it is, has been in plain view all along: Herodotus, Thucydides, Old Comedy, Protagoras, Xenophon, Plato, Plutarch’s biography and of course the remains (above all on the Acropolis) of the great civic building programme. This suggests that any interpretative changes are due more to the varying assumptions of a ...

Stomach-Churning

James Davidson

23 January 1997
Hellenism and Empire: Language, Classicism and Power in the Greek World, AD 50-250 
by Simon Swain.
Oxford, 499 pp., £50, April 1996, 0 19 814772 4
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... remains unclaimed by syllabuses and unheard of by the educated general public. Although the novelists are being rediscovered by those with an interest in narratology or sex, and the historians, Plutarch, Cassius Dio, Arrian etc, are mined for the original sources they might or might not have used, they are rarely read, as Tacitus or Thucydides are read, for themselves, and whatever of themselves ...

Lament for Crassus

Michael Hofmann

26 October 1989
... Who grows old in fifty pages of Plutarch: mores, omens, campaigns, Marius at sixty, fighting fit, working out on the Campus Martius? It surely isn’t me, pushing thirty, taking a life a night, my head on a bookshelf, five shelves of books ...

Bardicide

Gary Taylor

9 January 1992
... oppositions – between poet and plebeians, between poet and conspirator – Shakespeare builds his narrative of bardicide. You might object that he inherited these oppositions from history. But of Plutarch’s two accounts of ‘the murder of Cinna’, only one even mentions, in passing, that the victim was ‘a poet’. Given a choice, Shakespeare chose to make Cinna a poet. He also chose to dramatise ...

Orrery and Claw

Greg Woolf: Archimedes

18 November 2010
Archimedes and the Roman Imagination 
by Mary Jaeger.
Michigan, 230 pp., £64.50, June 2010, 978 0 472 11630 0
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... in shaping his later reception and the subsequent retellings of his fragmented story all the way to Petrarch. En route we encounter the Augustan architect Vitruvius, the Greek philosopher-biographer Plutarch, the fourth-century ad astrologer Firmicus Maternus and various other witnesses. For almost none of these was the actual mathematical work of Archimedes of much interest. Archimedes has walk-on parts ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Hunger Games’

17 December 2015
... who will easily take care of Katniss and Peeta. He’s wrong again, but not in the way we perhaps expect. Our heroes are among the six survivors, but then things go awry. The master of the games, Plutarch Heavensbee (even comic eclecticism can go too far), is secretly working for the rebels, and snatches Katniss and two other survivors to take them to join the resistance in District 13. Unfortunately ...

Schools of History

Walter Laqueur

26 September 1991
Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives 
by Alan Bullock.
HarperCollins, 1187 pp., £20, June 1991, 0 00 215494 3
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Stalin: Breaker of Nations 
by Robert Conquest.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £18.99, September 1991, 0 297 81194 0
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... of the Seventies and Eighties. The misgivings one may have about Hitler and Stalin are on a different level. ‘Parallel lives’ are a notoriously difficult medium, used only infrequently since Plutarch, and more suited to a long essay than a volume of almost 1200 pages. Plutarch used this form to encourage his readers to emulate the example of great men; or in a very few cases, such as Alcibiades ...

Wilderness of Tigers

Michael Neill: Shakespeare’s Latin

19 March 2015
Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity 
by Colin Burrow.
Oxford, 281 pp., £16.99, September 2013, 978 0 19 968479 3
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... better read in Latin writers than the vast majority of undergraduates today, and although his knowledge of Greek literature seems to have been mediated through Latin and English translations, he knew Plutarch well through Sir Thomas North’s version of the Parallel Lives, and is likely to have kept up with the publication of Chapman’s Homer. Successive chapters of Burrow’s book explore Shakespeare ...
17 April 2003
... instructed in letters, and other accomplishments befitting their birth. And they were called Romulus and Remus (from ‘ruma’, the dug), as we had before, because they were found sucking the wolf. Plutarch, Parallel Lives Dear sons – for I am not, as you believed, your uncle – forgive me now my dereliction. In those nine months the single thought that grieved me most was not your terrible ...

At the Ashmolean

James Davidson: Antinouses

7 February 2019
... of the date he joined the imperial retinue – surely not long before ad 130.’ By this I suppose he means that any relationship was brief and not nearly as intimate as has previously been supposed. Plutarch refers to the Roman custom of keeping little boys called deliciae as ‘playthings’; there are the notorious cases of Tiberius’ ‘minnows’, Nero’s Sporus and Commodus’ Philocommodus, who ...

New Man from Nowhere

James Davidson: Cicero

4 February 2016
Dictator 
by Robert Harris.
Hutchinson, 299 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 0 09 175210 1
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... é Sallust, whose endless variety of old-fashioned nouns to describe contemporary vices quickly exhausts even the most fastidious student’s ability to make moral distinctions. And nearly a third of Plutarch’s Roman Lives are devoted to men who flourished in the middle decades of the first century BC, sometime(s) friends, sometime(s) rivals, but all (well-)acquainted with one another: Pompey, Crassus ...

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