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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favourite Classical Author, 18 Sept. 2011
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lives: v. 7 (Loeb Classical Library) (Hardcover)
Since there are so many of these darn things the review shall be divided into three sections. First, a brief description of the Loeb series of books and their advantages/disadvantages. Second shall be my thoughts on the author himself, his accuracy, as well as his style and the style of his translator. This is of course only my opinion and should be treated as such. The final part shall review what this particular book actually covers.

The Loeb series date back to the turn of the last century. They are designed for people with at least some knowledge of Greek or Latin. They are a sort of compromise between a straight English translation and an annotated copy of the original text. On the left page is printed the text in Greek or Latin depending on the language of the writer and on the right side is the text in English. For somebody who knows even a little Greek or Latin these texts are invaluable. You can try to read the text in the original language knowing that you can correct yourself by looking on the next page or you can read the text in translation and check the translation with the original for more detail. While some of the translations are excellent mostly they are merely serviceable since they are designed more as an aid to translation rather than a translation in themselves. Most of them follow the Greek or Latin very closely. These books are also very small, maybe just over a quarter the size of your average hardcover book. This means that you'll need to buy more than just one book to read a complete work. They are also somewhat pricey considering their size. The Loeb Collection is very large but most of the more famous works can be found in better (and cheaper) translations elsewhere. If you want to read a rarer book or read one in the original language then you can't do better than the Loeb Editions.

There are 11 volumes of Plutarch's Lives as well as a further 16 of his Moralia in the Loeb series which includes all his known works. Plutarch is without doubt my favorite Classical author. His books are personal, entertaining, and he just comes across as a generally warm and friendly guy. That last part is very rare in Classical authors. His most famous works are his Lives. These were basically mini-biographies of famous men. The writing of Lives was very popular in Antiquity with Suetonius being perhaps the most famous example. What makes Plutarch's different however is the way that he captures the character and the ability of his subjects. Unlike other Lives which divide their subject into topics and then record these out of context, Plutarch's ones follow a chronological order. He also took more care over them than others did. Lives were considered less reputable than Histories but Plutarch treated his like mini-Histories. The interpretation might be different but he is rarely caught out in errors except where his sources make the same errors. Also unlike most Classical writers he doesn't go overboard on the moralizing. These works were written to educate and instruct but the basic lessons are simple enough and he only goes into ethical conclusions in his comparison after each paired life.

This is one of the rare times where I really think that the Loeb translations are the best ones out there. While these works are available for cheaper elsewhere (Modern Library Volumes 1 and Volume 2) they are generally based off the Dryden translation. Avoid the Dryden translation. It is very old (1683) and a lot of these "new" translations are simply the Dryden translation with a few spelling and wording changes to make it sound more modern. While the Loeb translations may seem older (the 1910s) they are at least written in modern English translated directly from the Greek. The Penguin ones are better but for some reason they felt the need to split them up by era (On Sparta [Lycurgus, Agesilaus, Agis, Cleomenes, and some Spartan Sayings], The Rise and Fall of Athens [Theseus, Solon, Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades, Lysander], The Age of Alexander [Agesilaus, Pelopidas, Dion, Timoleon, Demosthenes, Phocion, Alexander, Demetrius, Pyrrhus], The Makers of Rome [Coriolanus, Fabius Maximus, Marcellus, Cato the Elder, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Sertorius, Brutus, Mark Antony], Rome in Crisis [Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Sertorius, Lucullus, Younger Cato, Brutus, Antony, Galba, and Otho], The Fall of the Roman Republic [Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, Cicero]). These were dual Lives. They paired off famous Greeks with famous Romans and compared their careers, the idea being that they had similar virtues and vices. Splitting them up like that ruins the original intent of the author and removes the analysis after each pair. Even when the comparison seems forced it is at least evident why Plutarch included what he did.

Demosthenes and Cicero. Alexander and Caesar.
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Lives: v. 7 (Loeb Classical Library)
Lives: v. 7 (Loeb Classical Library) by Plutarch (Hardcover - 1 July 1989)
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