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A Summary of Plutarch's Book, the Fall of the Roman Republic

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A Summary of Plutarch's Book, the Fall of the Roman Republic essay
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In the book The Fall of the Roman Republic, the author, Plutarch, writes about the lives of six important Roman figures: Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero. This book was first published in 1958 and was translated by Rex Warner. It was then revised by Robin Seager in 1972 and then in 2005 it was revised and expanded by Robin Seager and Christopher Pelling, which is the one I am reviewing today. The Fall of the Roman Republic contains the writings of Plutarch, but they are edited and translated in order to give a greater understanding to the reader. At the beginning of every section, there is a preface written by Robin Seager and Christopher Pelling. These prefaces were helpful to understand many different interpretations about the figure being talked about in that section, although these prefaces did tend to point out negative aspects of what Plutarch had written. Though, them pointing out what Plutarch had missed or messed up was a necessity in order to get the correct information, I felt they were doing so inappropriately. For example, “the gravest criticism that can be made of Plutarch is that he failed to highlight the consequences of Marius’ enrolment of the capite censi” (4). I was able to create my own images in my head due to the great detail in explaining the lives and characters by Plutarch. In the back of the book, there is a section called “Abbreviation’s” which explains what the abbreviations, used throughout the book, stand for. This was helpful to refer to when specific abbreviations were written and I didn’t know what they meant. There is also a section called “Glossary of Roman Technical Terms”. This was useful to refer to because many of the words mentioned in the glossary, have a different meaning today than they did in during the Roman Revolution. In order to infer the correct information, these abbreviations and words are a necessity.

Plutarch was known to be one of the greatest Greek philosophers and authors in the early Middle Ages. He was born around AD 46 in central Greece, and died around AD 120. He had lived his life as a Greek during the course of the early Roman Empire, so he was able to see many good and bad aspects of this time period. Plutarch was born into a very wealthy family and studied philosophy, rhetoric, and mathematics at the platonic Academy of Athens. He traveled to Egypt and Rome many times throughout his lifetime which helped him create many friends and see many interpretations of the Roman Empire. Plutarch has created more than 230 pieces of work, his most recognized ones being Moralia and Parallel Lives. All of his writings are biographies of famous Greek or Roman figures, which is what The Fall of the Roman Republic consists of. One editor, Robin Seager is an English historian who has spent most of his study on the history and literature of the later Roman republic and has contributed, edited, and translated over 14 works relating to the Roman republic throughout his lifetime. While, Christopher Pelling studies Greek and Latin historiography and biography, as well as Greek literature. He has also edited other books by Plutarch and written his own about the Greek history. Both editors have an immense background in the history of the Roman Republic and Greek life which shows their expertise in editing the Fall of the Roman Republic. This book is considered to be a primary source because the author, Plutarch, was present during the time period and experienced all of the events that led up to the fall of the Roman Republic. He is able to use his knowledge of the important figures and their life in order to express a moral lesson, or how their role played a part in the fall of the Roman Republic.

The book Fall of the Roman Republic, contains six different biographies: Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero. These six figures were all important Roman people who somehow played a role in the fall of the Roman republic. Plutarch wrote about the births, careers, marriages, and deaths of all six figures. He wasn’t focused on writing about why revolutions happened or what caused a great power to fall, he was more focused on the character of a person. He was more of a moralist than he was a historian. He used the lives of these individual people to give reasoning as to how the Roman Republic fell. This period of time interested Plutarch due to the fact that it was filled with dramatic events and caused many moral reflections for the people involved. Because Plutarch was a Greek living under the Roman Empire, he had no intense feelings about Roman history. This created a more realistic approach to his writings and brought on his interpretation of a person’s character. He had made it clear that he thought Marius was evil and was hated throughout, but Sulla was hated even more, though they shared similar characteristics. Plutarch stated, “It agrees well with the rough, bitter character which is supposed to have been his,” (4) talking about Marius, “he was by nature a very virile type” (4). He then went on to explain the character of Sulla, “naturally prone to buffoonery,” (58) meaning his actions were ridiculous but people found him to be funny. Then he explained how Sulla had killed more than 20,000 people in spite of jealousy, so he was not liked by the Romans. Plutarch explains Crassus to be “temperate and moderate in his own way of life” (111) and explained Pompey to be easily likeable to the Romans. Caesar was constantly being overlooked and was alone most of his time. Plutarch thought highly of Cicero stating “Indeed Cicero, more than anyone, made the Romans see how great is the charm which eloquence confers on what is good, how invincible justice is if it is well expressed in words, and how the good and efficient statesman should always in his actions prefer what is right to what will win popularity, and in his words should express the public interest in a manner that will please rather than prove offensive” (335). Plutarch expressed his thoughts on all of the figures mentioned in the book and had no problem doing so.

Plutarch has been harshly criticized of the use of his sources for his writings. He had used many sources such as letters, poetry, plays, and biographies for his writings, but he was accused of not having great Latin skills. He most likely had sources written in Latin translated for him, knowing there would be some bias involved. This can cause some false statements made about the figures talked about in the book and Robin Seager and Christopher Pelling are able to mention that in the prefaces of the sections. Plutarch had gotten many dates wrong and also had completely left out important events and details that some of the figures had gone through or created. These mistakes can often mislead someone to infer a whole new story to what had actually happened.

All six of these biographies were written at different times and there still isn’t a clear chronological framework for these writings. People are able to make a guess of it, but there is still no certainty. Many of the events in the biographies overlap or repeat themselves throughout the other biographies being talked about. Though, that is usually what is expected when writing biographies on six different people all around the same time period. Plutarch seemed to pair up many of the figures and compared their lives which added extra sections of the book after specific sections; Comparison of Lysander and Sulla, Comparison of Nicias and Crassus, Comparison of Agesilaus and Pompey, and Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero. This created some confusion for me because these new figures weren’t talked about as much in the book to really know much about them. I think the book would have been perfectly fine without these extra comparison sections. The content of this book was highly relevant to the authors purpose, to give a biography on an important figures life. Plutarch originally wrote these biographies to be read independently, or paired with another biography, not to have six be combined together to create a book. Though, these biographies put together give a great idea as to why the Roman Republic did end up falling and they also give a good background on what works for an empire and what doesn’t work.

I would recommend the Fall of the Roman Republic to others that are interested in ancient Rome and reading about the lives of different people during that time period. This book can be read by people who are new to this topic, experts, or someone who is looking for a book just for the entertainment purpose. If someone is new to the idea of Roman history, this would be a good book to begin to read. This book provides good information to what actually happened during the fall of the Roman Republic and it also conveys the lives of Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero, giving someone who doesn’t know much, a good background to this time period. The experts who are in the history field and focus on Roman and Greek life, I would recommend this book to as well because this is a primary source book. Primary sources are usually a go-to when someone is trying to get accurate information, so this is the perfect book for experts. While most primary sources can be boring and dry, this one is not. This book goes through the lives of six different people which can create some entertaining reading. If there are people who are just looking for a book to read just out of entertainment, I would suggest this book. Reading about other people’s lives and learning some moral lessons doing so, I think is always a good read. The book, Fall of the Roman Republic has given me a broader insight on the lives of different Romans during the Roman Republic times. I think Plutarch does a great job at conveying information and details about these important figures, though some details are missed. Robin Seager and Christopher Pelling do a great job at editing Plutarch’s writings to better understand the full narrative and also give other interpretations.

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