The latest Penguin Classics edition of Plutarch's The Fall of the Roman Republic contains the lives of Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero, biographical arcs that follow the fall of the Republic and give some reasons
for the fall. This book also includes the surviving comparisons between a great Greek and a great Roman;
only the lives of Marius and Caesar lack the comparisons. The introduction explains that the editor didn't want to have reprinted material from other books in the same series as the reason for sticking with the 1958 division of Plutarch's prose. This is, however, a rather flimsy excuse
that forces casual readers to pick up those other books if they want to read the missing half of the comparisons. The editors could have followed Plutarch's original groupings instead of inventing their own.
Plutarch (c. 46- 127 AD) wrote his histories at least a hundred years after the
fact, making it entirely possible that his accounts aren't truthful but a mixture of fact and fiction, much like today's historical novels. He has, of course, chosen which
facets of personalities and which battles to include, and which to omit. His writings are a fascinating look into what the Romans in the Imperial time thought about their
own history, and his comparisons also indicate the opinion of his contemporaries
toward the Greeks. As entertaining as the comparisons are, with only the information about the Roman half
for two lives, it's hard to enjoy them.
Plutarch's writing style is different from today's historical - or even historical fiction
- writing. He constantly judges the characters of the men he writes about in no uncertain terms,
picking and choosing which events he presents and how he emphasizes them. This is acknowledged in the short introductions to each life
that mention how Plutarch handled the material.
The translations themselves are first class.
Robin Seager has revised and updated Rex Warner's original translations and translated the comparisons. Even though Seager describes Warner's style as "free and strikingly individual," his own style has clearly
been influenced by Warner.
The book could have benefited from additional maps and possibly a glossary of people for the casual reader. However, there are extensive introductions, notes, and
suggestions for further reading.