Not always easy to read, but well worth the effort: Brilliant on Pompey and Cicero.,
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This review is from: Fall of the Roman Republic (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I bought this version of Plutarch after reading Lustrum and Imperium by Robert Harris. Basically, I just wanted to see how closely Harris kept to the original sources whilst portraying Cicero, Caesar, Crassus and Pompey - and he did a pretty good job.
This was my first venture into Plutarch and I found it interesting and rewarding, although at times the going was slow. Plutarch wrote for patient readers who believed in omens and who could handle long sentences. Like many modern readers, I am often impatient and don't have much time for omens. On the positive side, Plutarch was a marvellous exponent of the art of illustrating a character with an anecdote and trusting the readers to reach their own conclusion. These anecdotes were invariably entertaining and they handsomely made up for the "dull" bits.
My favourite lives were those of Pompey and Cicero. The characterisation of Pompey was so good I could almost feel his presence beside me. The portrayal of Cicero was equally sharp but somehow less charismatic. Cicero came across as having a cruel tongue. He was the master of the cutting remark and the not so subtle put down. Not surprisingly he managed to offend nearly everyone he met and made many enemies. Crassus was something of a disappointment. I didn't feel that Plutarch really got inside the man's head and all he revealed were a few facts, leaving the man as something of an enigma. Julius Caesar was reasonably well done. Plutarch doesn't say much about the Gallic wars, but then Caesar himself wrote those up extensively (if perhaps exaggerating the successes and brushing over the failures). To be blunt, I found Marius and Sulla boring; they were both unpleasant men of violence and ambition and Plutarch doesn't expand much on that.
Overall, this is a fairly readable way of studying history from an original source, and I feel virtuous for having made the effort. Give it a go if you want to be serious about your history, otherwise try Conn Iggulden (the Julius Caesar books) or Robert Harris (the Cicero books). They cater for the modern reader and blend fact with fiction in a way that is disturbingly seductive, if occasionally misleading.