Written early in the second century, Plutarch's Lives offers richly detailed and anecdotal biographies of some of the ancient world's mightiest and most influential figures. Plutarch sought to explore the characters and personalities of great men, to see how individual natures led ultimately to tragedy or victory. This selection from Plutarch's massive work profiles five Greeks and five Romans. The translation used here is by an unknown writer, but was associated with John Dryden's name because it was originally published in 1683-1686, in conjunction with a life of Plutarch by Dryden. In 1864, it was revised by the poet and scholar Arthur Hugh Clough, whose introduction and notes are also featured.
The great men profiled here include Solon, the lawmaker of Athens, who fostered the growth of the city's democratic institutions; Pericles, whose legendary eloquence was epitomized by his well-known funeral oration; and Alexander the Great, whose incredible eleven-year journey of conquest extended from his native Macedonia to Egypt and India. Among the Romans are the warrior-statesman Marius, who opposed the ruling aristocracy and opened the army to commoners; Cicero, the famous orator; and Julius Caesar, whose extensive character sketch provided Shakespeare with the material for one of his greatest plays.