This book was the principal source for Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra. It was also one of two books Mary Shelley chose for the blind hermit to use for Frankenstein’s monster’s education, with the other being the Bible.
Plutarch’s Lives remains one of the world’s most profoundly influential literary works. Written at the beginning of the second century, it forms a brilliant social history of the ancient world. His “parallel lives” were originally presented in a series of books that gave an account of one Greek and one Roman life, followed by a comparison of the two. Included are Romulus and Theseus, Pompey and Agesilaus, Dion and Brutus, Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Demosthenes and Cicero, and Demetrius and Antony.
Plutarch was a moralist of the highest order. “It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies,” he said, “but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life.”
The first of the two volumes in this translation by John Dryden presents Theseus and Romulus, Pericles and Fabius, Alcibiades and Coriolanus, Aristides and Marcus Cato, and Lysander and Sylla, among others.