Makers of Rome: by Plutarch. Translated and Introduced by Ian Scott-Kilvert #BookReview.

I’ve had this book on my shelves for so long I’d forgotten it resided there. Curiosity made me pick up this ‘classic’ to discover what I could.

There is much to learn here, if you have an interest in European history. However, it becomes clear that Plutarch was not a particularly reliable historian. His interest appears to lie mostly with character, relationships, and, rather tediously for me, battles.

The picture of the Roman Empire, still under development at the time he was writing, is one of elitism, brutality, hypocrisy, vainglory, and hero-worship often undeserved. There are indications of more positive elements, including some concern for truth, grudging admiration for some women, and a desire to give explanations for some of the more extreme elements and actions then prevalent in Roman society.

The content of this book is just a part of what is taught to those who attend what in Britain we call (inaccurately) Public Schools. Such schools are, in fact, private and fee-paying establishments reserved for the offspring of the wealthy. Exposure of young, developing minds to the activity related here, particularly the brutality, self-serving callousness, and admiration of a class system based almost entirely on wealth, may well explain to some extent the attitudes and sense of entitlement displayed by many politicians and industry chairs in the UK.

Almost no concern is shown for the deaths of thousands of conscripted soldiers, slavery is accepted as a beneficial norm, and the place of women is generally considered to be rightly below their male counterparts.

Of course, the Roman Empire was formed at a time of competing empire builders, a time when the idea of civilisation was rather different form today’s views. Life was treated as cheap. The many gods were given the sort of unquestioning and undeserved prominence modern faiths still practice at their more extreme ends. Superstition was rife throughout the whole population, even among those with academic knowledge.

But I did learn how and why so many Romans have similar names. And I learned background, some of it false, to the treatment of Antony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare, a play I studied for ‘A’ level English Literature many years ago. So, whilst this was most definitely not an edifying read, it provided me with some material of use and ‘educated’ me in matters I had previously known only superficially.


[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]

9 thoughts on “Makers of Rome: by Plutarch. Translated and Introduced by Ian Scott-Kilvert #BookReview.

  1. I don’t usually comment on the politics (or politicians) of other countries, but from over here, Boris Johnson looked like an arrogant, supercilious s**t head. If he was exposed to a surfeit of Plutarch, that explains everything. Ugh.

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    1. Not just Johnson, Lynette, but most of the Conservative Government fall into that category. It’s a bit like Trump – how anyone can take any notice of these elitist, self-centred prats is a mystery to me!

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      1. That’s my “from-afar” sense, as well. The Conservatives here tend toward right-wing, religious-tinged lunacy while the Liberals are a bit more elitist, but many in either party defy categorisation. The Liberals are often described as Canada’s “natural ruling party” and I would agree that that’s accurate. I agree, how anyone can take these uber-privileged, private school hacks as potential leaders is definitely a mystery.

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  2. My exposure to Plutarch is limited, but I remember a uni professor saying that he was interesting because he was merely selling a story and unintentionally became representative of the seedier side of human nature that existed then and still exists, so I agree with your review. His casual acceptance of the brutality and inequities of the time says a lot more than his anecdotes and depictions of “events.” I always had the impression that if he were alive today, he’d be a gossip columnist for a rag like News of the World.

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    1. That’s a good analogy, Lynette; News of the World! Yet they teach this stuff to the elitists who study at our private schools, people who often go on to be politicians and business leaders!

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  3. I always knew that Plutarch was unreliable! I am currently reading some mysteries set in Roman Britannia circa 150 AD. The writer imparts a lot about Roman society in the books and I’ve learned a great deal. There’s also a series on the BBC or Net Flix on Roman emperors. Just watched the several parts of one on Commodus.

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    1. It was my first encounter with him, Noelle. I learned things from the accounts, but it’s not a style of writing, or an attitudinal approach I’d want to repeat!


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