Review: Lives, Vol 1

Lives, Vol 1
Lives, Vol 1 by Plutarch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I only read the first six or so lives, not the whole thing.

Plutarch, a Greek living in Roman times, compares famous Greeks and Romans. His focus is political and military. How does one shape the state best? Where lies wisdom and prosperity as a city-state?

We find a mixture of virtue and vice upheld as worthy of pursuit. By gods grace granted even to pagan unbelievers, Plutarch extols moderation and courage and self-restraint.

- "Neither ships nor riches and ornaments nor boasting shouts, nor barbarous songs of victory, were any way terrible to men that knew how to fight and were resolved to come hand to hand with their enemies.... The first step towards victory undoubtedly is to gain courage."

- "By this moderation of his [Themistocles yielding his command to a Spartan in the war with Persia] he was the chief means of the deliverance of Greece."

- "Of two who courted his daughter, he preferred the man of worth to the one who was rich, saying he desired a man without riches, rather than riches without a man."

Plutarch has a unique insight into the human condition.
- "At length the Athenians banished him.... not so much to punish the offender as to mitigate and pacify the violence of the envious."

Then again, he also delights in ambition, glory, and barbarism. They are willing to make human sacrifice before a battle to appease the common folk.
- Themistocles finds refuge with Xerxes, years after tricking him in battle! Xerxes never learned of the deception, and Themistocles continues to take advantage of him for his own self-preservation when his own city turns against him.

- When Xerxes asks him to fight against the Greeks years later, he kills himself, at age 65. This is considered honorable.

Overall, Plutarch's worldview exalts the state beyond proportion, often to the denigration of the family. His political and human insight is often helpful, but set to the purpose of immortalizing heroes and cities of man, rather than the living God.

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