The Fall of the Roman Republic
Plutarch, tr. Rex Warner
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Buy *The Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives* by Plutarch, tr. Rex Warner online

The Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives
Plutarch, tr. Rex Warner
464 pages
April 2006
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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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.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Mervi Hamalainen, 2006

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