What would Plato have done?

Christopher Krebs

  • The Age of Caesar: Five Roman Lives by Plutarch, translated by Pamela Mensch
    Norton, 393 pp, £28.00, March, ISBN 978 0 393 29282 4

On inauguration day in January, the 45th president-elect of the United States arrived at the White House in a cavalcade of black cars, stepped from his armoured limousine, strode up the stairs, and greeted Barack and 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 given by a small thing or a word or a jest than by engagements where thousands die, or the biggest of pitched battles, or the sieges of cities.’ He was writing in Greek around 110 ad, under the Roman emperor Trajan, having spent the better part of his life studying the lives of powerful men, many of whom had attempted to mould history to their liking.

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