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Letter to the Twins

Don Paterson, 17 April 2003

... 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 instruction in the works of men, the disillusionments ...

Apollo’s Ethylene

Peter Green: Delphi, 3 July 2014

Delphi: A History of the Centre of the Ancient World 
by Michael Scott.
Princeton, 422 pp., £19.95, February 2014, 978 0 691 15081 9
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... obscurities and riddles of what purported to be divine messages. As Heraclitus, cited by Plutarch, remarked: ‘The lord whose shrine is at Delphi neither states nor conceals, but signs (sêmainei)’ – i.e. hints – and that only to those he favours. Convincing evidence of divine authenticity was crucial for success, not least since from the very ...

What children are for

Tim Whitmarsh: Roman Education, 7 June 2012

The School of Rome: Latin Studies and the Origins of Liberal Education 
by Martin Bloomer.
California, 281 pp., £34.95, April 2012, 978 0 520 25576 0
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... and On the Education of Children, a Greek tract from around the same era sometimes attributed to Plutarch. In these there is nothing to match the optimistic faith in the power and creativity of the young mind found in modern theorists of education from Rousseau to Piaget and beyond. Quintilian writes of the need for play in education, but only to win ...

Naked Hermit

Mary Wellesley: Blessed Isles, 5 March 2020

Islands in the West: Classical Myth and the Medieval Norse and Irish Geographical Imagination 
by Matthias Egeler.
Brepols, 357 pp., £100, October 2018, 978 2 503 56938 3
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... never to return’. It’s easy to see the appeal of this idea.Writing more than a century later, Plutarch tells a story about the Roman general Quintus Sertorius meeting some mariners from ‘the Atlantic isles’. They describe islands of abundant fertility and temperate climate to him. ‘A strong belief has penetrated as far as the barbarians,’ ...

Possible Enemies

M.A. Screech, 16 June 1983

Collected Works of Erasmus. Vol. V: The Correspondence of Erasmus 
edited by Peter Bietenholz, translated by R.A.B Mynors.
Toronto, 462 pp., £68.25, December 1979, 0 8020 5429 3
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Collected Works of Erasmus. Vol. XXXI: Adages Ii 1 to Iv 100 
edited by R.A.B. Mynors, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips.
Toronto, 420 pp., £51.80, December 1982, 0 8020 2373 8
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Le Disciple de Pantagruel 
edited by Guy Demerson and Christiane Lauvergnat-Gagnière.
Nizet, 98 pp.
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... Suidas or ‘Zenodotus’. These were helped out by the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, Plutarch, and, amongst the moderns, by the Italian humanists Politian, Ermolao Barbaro and Valla. A compendium such as the Adages could so easily have been a bore or merely a crib. By the time we reach the fullest versions in 1533 and 1536 it had become a bedside ...

Eliot and the Shudder

Frank Kermode: The Shudder, 13 May 2010

... by Dryden at a similar point in All for Love, his play on the same subject; both writers drew on Plutarch’s Life of Antony. Cleopatra is dead. In Shakespeare’s version a Roman soldier enters, sees the dead queen and asks Cleopatra’s attendant, Charmian: ‘What work is here, Charmian? Is this well done?’ And Charmian replies: ‘It is well done, and ...


Adrienne Mayor: Carthage, 24 June 2010

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Mediterranean Civilisation 
by Richard Miles.
Allen Lane, 520 pp., £30, March 2010, 978 0 7139 9793 4
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... veil, while the image of babies being burned in Baal’s fiery furnace appeared in Strabo, Cicero, Plutarch, St Augustine, Eusebius and Tertullian. (Salammbô’s pet python was probably inspired by Valerius Maximus’ account, based on Livy, of a battle between a Roman legion and a monstrous snake in the First Punic War, as well as the snake-charming ...

Bonkers about Boys

James Davidson: Alexander the Great, 1 November 2001

Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction 
edited by A.B. Bosworth and E.J. Baynham.
Oxford, 370 pp., £35, September 2000, 0 19 815287 6
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... and variations drawn from the rest. Among the rest, the next most utilised, probably, is Plutarch (c.400 years aa), who is pretty useless as a historian, but cites sources. Jostling him for second position are Diodorus of Sicily (c.300 aa), liable to get a bit confused, and Quintus Curtius Rufus (c.350 aa probably), stylish and rhetorical. Bringing ...

Speaking up for Latin and Greek

Mary Beard, 9 May 1991

Changes in the Roman Empire: Essays in the Ordinary 
by Ramsay MacMullen.
Princeton, 399 pp., $35, December 1990, 0 691 03601 2
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... practice. On what possible grounds, he asked, could his colleagues treat a biography by Plutarch (writing in the second century CE) as a ‘primary’ source for the career of Pericles – who lived more than five hundred years earlier? How could they trust any ancient account of Rome’s foundation in the eighth century BCE when it could easily and ...

Hot Flanks and Her Sisters

James Romm: Amazons, 22 October 2015

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World 
by Adrienne Mayor.
Princeton, 512 pp., £19.95, October 2014, 978 0 691 14720 8
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... A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare, following a minor variant of the myth reported by Plutarch, calls her Hippolyta, not Antiope.) The idea that an Amazon queen once ruled their land fascinated the Athenians, as did the notion that their ancestors had fought off an Amazon invasion triggered by the abduction of Antiope. The legend of Amazonomachy ...

When Demigods Walked the Earth

T.P. Wiseman: Roman Myth, Roman History, 18 October 2007

Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History 
by Denis Feeney.
California, 372 pp., £18.95, June 2007, 978 0 520 25119 9
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... own city had been created in the same way: according to the traditions reported by Dionysius, Plutarch and Appian, Romulus – or Romulus and Remus together – marked out ‘square Rome’ with each side four stadia in length (about 740m), big enough to enclose the Palatine. Even if we make an arbitrary choice and use Fabius Pictor’s date rather than ...

Sex in the head

Roy Porter, 7 July 1988

The History of Sexuality. Vol. III: The Care of Self 
by Michel Foucault, translated by Robert Hurley.
Allen Lane, 279 pp., £17.95, April 1988, 0 7139 9002 3
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... decadent and gross: pursuit of bathhouse boys was seen as a symptom of undesirable excess. And, as Plutarch emphasised, the role of the boy in such relations came to be thought of as anomalous (the pleasures lacked reciprocity) and without honour. To what did these transformations in the techniques of the self collectively amount? Though all pointed towards ...

Greek Hearts and Diadems

James Romm: Antigonid Rule, 18 November 2021

The Making of a King: Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon and the Greeks 
by Robin Waterfield.
Oxford, 277 pp., £21.99, September 2021, 978 0 19 885301 5
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... for dynastic kings. Whether he fostered such cults himself is harder to answer. According to Plutarch, ‘Antigonus the Elder’ – which may be Gonatas but is more likely his grandfather – cast ridicule on the idea of divinisation: ‘The slave who deals with my chamber pot knows better.’ On Antigonus’ coins, the god Pan is often depicted in a ...

Un Dret Egal

David A. Bell: Political Sentiment, 15 November 2007

Inventing Human Rights: A History 
by Lynn Hunt.
Norton, 272 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 0 393 06095 9
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... characters, but historical ones, created through the reading of classical writers such as Plutarch; they dominated the cult of emulation. Rousseau may have led his readers to identify with the fictional Julie, but as a boy he imagined himself rather as Pericles and Cato: ‘I thought myself Greek or Roman; I became the person whose life I was ...


Anne Barton, 2 July 1981

Othello as Tragedy 
by Jane Adamson.
Cambridge, 301 pp., £15, October 1980, 0 521 22368 7
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Shakespeare and Tragedy 
by John Bayley.
Routledge, 228 pp., £9.75, April 1981, 0 7100 0632 2
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... importance in it’. Or when I try to make sense of his claim that since, according to Plutarch, Antony took lessons in the art of rhetoric, and since masters of rhetoric usually came from Asiatic Greece, his reference to Octavius Caesar as ‘my countryman’ in Act Four, Scene 15 must be ‘particularly poignant’. Whatever point Bayley is ...

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