|Author:||Plutarch, Arthur Hugh Clough, John Dryden, David Rooney|
|Published:||2010 by The Folio Society (first published 100)|
Thomas Jefferson said that there were three books that every gentleman should have to hand: Livy’s History of Rome, the Aeneid and Plutarch’s Lives. Plutarch’s fascinating account of the lives of the greatest Greeks and Romans was one of the first major works of biography as we know it. It had an incalculable effect on Western culture, shaping the way we see the ancient world and influencing writers from Shakespeare to Emerson. This major new Folio Society publication, in four volumes, is introduced by acclaimed historian Tom Holland, and is vividly enhanced by a series of original illustrations by award-winning artist David Rooney. 'We have thought fit’, wrote Plutarch in his Life of Pericles, ‘to spend our times and pains in writing of the lives of famous persons.’ It was an audacious plan, particularly for a Greek citizen of Rome writing in the first century AD.
Not only was the art of biography in its infancy, but Plutarch paired celebrated Greeks with Romans, pointing out parallels between them. Greeks were esteemed by the Romans for their art and philosophy, but were not seen as heroes, warriors or law-makers. Plutarch’s Greeks, however – Theseus, Pericles, Alexander – were no less heroic than the Romans.
As introducer Tom Holland writes, this could have struck Roman readers as an exercise in conceited presumption, but the Romans loved the Lives, and their popularity proved instant and enduring.