Form and Content
The book that is known to the modern world as Plutarch’s Lives originated as three or more separate works written by Plutarch, an ancient Greek philosopher, priest, and essayist who lived during the early years of the Roman Empire. Fifty of Plutarch’s biographical portraits currently survive, forty-six of which are taken from the work known as the Parallel Lives. The Parallel Lives were brief biographies of twenty-three important Greeks paired with twenty-three important Romans who were regarded by Plutarch as similar to the Greeks in character, fortune, or achievement. For example, he paired the orators Demosthenes and Marcus Tullius Cicero, the conquerors Alexander the Great and Gaius Julius Caesar, and the generals Pericles and Quintus Fabius Maximus. Nineteen of Plutarch’s essays comparing the Greek figures to their Roman counterparts have survived; four sets of Plutarch’s paired lives, including those of Alexander and Caesar, lack comparative essays.
Charles A. Robinson, Jr.’s 1962 edition of Plutarch, with the title Ten Famous Lives, results from a long history of translating and adapting these essays. In 1683, the English poet, dramatist, and critic John Dryden lent his name to a translation of all fifty of Plutarch’s Lives. Dryden’s work on this project was largely that of editor, few of the biographies being translated by Dryden himself. This “Dryden translation” was to remain the...
(The entire section is 424 words.)