In this podcast, I introduce you to Plutarch, the man and the biographer, give an overview of the format of the show, and outline the options for finding a quality English translation.
Who was Plutarch?
An ancient Greek, with Roman citizenship, who wrote almost 50 biographies comparing Greek and Roman heroes. While Plutarch focuses on their virtues, his masterful characterization and human story-telling have made him edifying and entertaining for two thousand years.
Why should I read him?
He gives three reasons in three separate biographies! I put them all together here in one place.
My own take is that Plutarch gently pushes us toward philosophy through biography and history. He starts with a life, which makes us examine what is good or bad about the decisions a man has made. As in the life of Solon, we are forced to ask ourselves: What makes a man happy? That is answered more with deeds than words. Secondly, he introduces us to philosophy, each life brings questions to us like “What is wisdom?” “What education will get me wisdom?” “How can I be happy?”
And finally, Plutarch acts as a practical, entertaining, and bite-sized introduction to the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. This world remains more foreign to us than anywhere we can travel now on the planet. As the world flattens out by means of technology and globalization, we should seek diversity of thought and perspective that can be found in the past. Plutarch has biases and blindspots, but they are easily visible to us 1800 years later. Plutarch offers us a clearer perspective of our own assumptions that we have still left unexmained by listening only to our contemporaries.
What’s the format of this show?
One episode per life arranged chronologically.
The first five episodes will represent each season as we work through chronologically for a historical overview of Greek and Roman antiquity.
1. Solon (representing Season 1: Kings and Lawgivers)
2. Aristides (representing Season 2: The Rise and Fall of the Polis)
3. Demosthenes (representing Season 3: Macedon Rising)
4. Cato the Elder (representing Season 4: The Roman Republic: From Polis to Empire)
5. Cicero (representing Season 5: The Roman Civil Wars)
What’s the best English translation of Plutarch?
That depends on what you’re looking for, but I list all the translations mentioned in the show below. If you want a more thorough answer, check out the post I did on this topic. Otherwise, see the cursory list below:
- Wikipedia page linking to all public domain translations of Plutarch
- The Modern Library editions (Clough’s update to Dryden’s translation):
- Two paperback volumes
- One hardback volume (ISBN: 0394607058)
- The Penguin Editions:
- The Rise and Fall of Athens (9 lives)
- On Sparta (4 lives)
- The Age of Alexander
- Makers of Rome (9 lives) – this volume includes Brutus and Antony, the lives I said were missing from the other volume.
- Rome in Crisis (repeats some lives, and strikes me as an odd assortment overall)
- Fall of the Roman Republic (6 lives)