Simplified Plutarch

Authors: F. J. Gould, Rosalie Kaufman, W. H. Weston
Publishers: E. C. & T. C. Jack, London; J. B. Lippincott & co., Philadelphia; Harper & brothers, New York
Dates: 1884–1910
"Sometimes small incidents, rather than glorious exploits, give us the best evidence of character. So, as portrait painters are more exact in doing the face, where the character is revealed, than the rest of the body, I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the marks of the souls of men."
—Plutarch

Pelopidas
PELOPIDAS SETTING OUT FOR THEBES
The following books are not part of a uniform series, but were published by several different authors who sought to retell the great Lives of Plutarch for young people. Plutarch, of course, was one of the most influential authors of all time. His biographies of famous Greeks and Romans and his comparisons of their lives, were read with enthusiasm by classical scholars from the time they were written in the first century 96 A.D. until fairly recently. He was likely the most important classical author read in Europe during the Middle Ages, and undoubtedly influenced Chaucer and Shakespeare as well as many other great literary figures. He was, to a large degree, the very archtype of classical wisdom, but his brilliant and sympathetic understanding of human nature is now, unfortunately, shunted aside by the modern aspiration of trying to understand human behavior by means of "scientific" observation instead of thoughtful insight.

The problem with "re-telling" and simplifying Plutarch of course, is precisely the same problem of "re-telling" Shakespeare: One can competently retell the stories, but it is difficult to simplify the works of either author and retain that which make their work a masterpiece. Plutarch's works are not simply biographies, but "lives"—rich in anecdote and commentary, much of which must inevitably be stripped out in order to make them accessible to young people.

The following books, therefore, are all greatly simplified, but are intended for different audiences. Gould's Children's Plutarch volumes are severely simplified, for fairly young audiences. Gould leaves out much detail, but retains some anecdotes, and delivers a few moral lessons that are easily understood by elementary students. Kaufman's Young Folks Plutarch provides very through biographies, and could almost be used for a standard reference, but omits the "moralizing" that makes Plutarch, with his vivid insights into human nature, so fascinating.

Both Gould and Kaufman cover all fifty or so of Plutarch's lives, and shorten their versions correspondingly. Weston, on the other hand, in his Plutarch's Lives focuses only on fourteen men—probably the most famous of Plutarch's subjects—and is therefore able to retain more of the original tone of Plutarch. His versions eliminate detail, extraneous secondary characters and side plots, but retain more of the commentary for which Plutarch is best known.

Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks   by F. J. Gould   64 credits
The Children's Plutarch provides a brief biography of most of the Greeks that Plutarch wrote lives for, including Solon, Lycurgus, Aristides, Lysander, Agis, Agesilaus, Demosthenes, Alexander, Dion, Timoleon, and many others. The essays are not complete biographies, but brief sketches that usually illustrate a few simple moral lessons about the character of the subject. The complexity level is very appropriate for younger children.

Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Romans   by F. J. Gould   69 credits
The Children's Plutarch provides a brief biography of most of the Romans that Plutarch wrote lives for, including Cicero, Caesar, Sulla, Marcellus, Pompey, Numa, Romulus, Coriolanus, and many others. The essays are not complete biographies, but brief sketches that usually illustrate a few simple moral lessons about the character of the subject. The complexity level is very appropriate for younger children.

Plutarch's Lives   by W. H. Weston   167 credits
This is our favorite rendition of Plutarch's Lives. Instead of including all fifty biographies, Weston focuses only on twelve of Plutarch's most famous subjects. His work is therefore able to retain a great deal more of the character of Plutarch's original narrative than more highly condensed versions. Since Plutarch was a moral philosopher as well as a biographer, retaining the tone and dialogue of the original collection is key to understanding his contribution to Western thought. Plutarch's complete lives run over a thousand pages. This is an excellent condensation.

Our Young Folks' Plutarch   by Rosalie Kaufman   259 credits
Our Young Folks' Plutarch is an excellent reference book for anyone studying Greek or Roman History. The author provides shortened, but still thorough biographies of every life that Plutarch wrote--over fifty characters from ancient times in all. Missing of course, is much of Plutarch's original commentary and his comparisons between Greeks and Romans, but that is unavoidable in a significantly abridged work.