Episode 44 – Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnassus

— In order to really appreciate the beauty of a beach, one should not be swimming in the sea, neck-deep in the water.

Second installment of our Biography episodes. This time, we tackle Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

Partial Transcript


Plutarch and Dionysius of Halicarnassus — two names we heard along this podcast, again and again.

This — undoubtedly means, that — as faithful learners of Ancient Rome, we often depend on these two characters, in the same way we depend on what Virgil and Titus Livius wrote, which we’ve seen in our episode 40.

We depend on Plutarch for how he described those early beginnings of Rome. We also depend on him for his masterpiece, called “Parallel Lives” and the way he portrayed Romans and Greeks who lived in his times and the times before him.

We’ll talk about Parallel Lives a lot more, in this episode.

We also depend on Dionysius of Halicarnassus for the way he wrote, and his unique point of view, just to name two of his powers. But — perhaps, his biggest power was his world famous sobriety when writing about Rome. His refreshing view of men and their faults.

Well — that’s also something we’ll see today, further down the line.

But first, I want to list a few of the biggest differences that come to mind, between these two giants and the other two guys we had in Episode 40 — Livy and Virgil.

Here we go.

ONE — By reading their works, it is easy to infer that both Livy and Virgil were more — should I say — lost, when it came to writing.

Even though this is my opinion, I believe that Livy and Virgil sailed the oceans of their imaginations, without guidelines on where they would find themselves after dark, almost as if it didn’t really matter if they were even able to drop anchors, at the end of each chapter.

Plutarch and Dionysius — on the other hand, seemed to know the direction of their vessels very well. It almost feels like they knew the winds, the currents, and even the depth of the waters they were sailing through.

At the end of each paragraph, they already knew the next port of call, and they knew the weather patterns that would allow them to get there.

In writer’s terms — to me, Livy and Virgil were much more like “pantsers” — writing by the seat of their pants, while Plutarch and Dionysius were much more like “plotters.”

For those not familiar with these two terms — pantsers versus plotters, here is a side-note.

Pantsers start writing a novel — usually without much of a plan, and let their imaginations fly, and take them were they may take them. They develop story plots on the fly, and add sub-plots to their main story as they go.

Plotters do the opposite. They lay out the plot, the sub-plots, and even the changes that story characters go through, before starting chapter one. After that, they write it all down.

In general, we consider that most writers fall into one of these two categories, but the truth is, that we all have parts of both sides.

[…]

And now, without any further ado, here are TEN pairs of Greek and Roman lives, in no particular order.

ONE — Theseus and Romulus — mythical founders of Athens and Rome, respectively.

TWO — Lycurgus and Numa Pompilius

THREE — Themistocles and Camillus. Yep — that Marcus Furius Camillus!

FOUR — Pericles and Fabius Maximus

FIVE — Alcibiades and Gaius Marcius Coriolanus

SIX — Aristides and Cato the Elder

SEVEN — Pyrrhus and Gaius Marius — How fitting is that!

EIGHT — Lysander and Sulla

NINE — Demosthenes and Cicero

And finally — TEN — Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar

My personal opinion? What an honor for Julius Caesar!

[…]

Episode 43 – The Appian Way – Part Two

— The wheelbarrow as we know it, made its appearance in Europe around the tenth century, at the height of the Dark Ages.

Part Two of the Appian Way. Tools, laws, and lists of other Roman roads, used at the time.

Partial Transcript


Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast. The Tale of Rome, Episode 43 — The Appian Way – Part Two.

— “One more step, to your left!”

The boy, holding the heavy groma, and some 40 paces away from the surveyor, didn’t hear the order. 

And so — he didn’t move.

— “To the left, I told you,” the surveyor yelled.

The boy, now startled, jumped to his left. The poor apprentice couldn’t get a single word, because of the strong gale blowing east from the sea. 

— “A single step, I told you!” The surveyor was running out of time and patience. “What a stulte, this boy,” he muttered to himself.

Stulte was the word for “slow” in Latin, especially when someone was — sort of, slow to understand things.

In plain English, it would also mean dumb, or dim-witted.

So when the boy tried to get back to where he thought the man wanted him to stay, he tripped on a rock.

As he tried to avoid the fall, he held on to the groma, and its ferrous tip bent into an awkward angle. 

And to make matters worse, one of the handles of the groma broke off, as the apprentice tried to hold on to it.

The main pole hit the ground, and so did the boy.

Like that, the groma was useless.

[…]

Miles and miles of swamps, infested with cattails, frogs, mosquitoes and the ocasional corpses of animals and men, that just couldn’t make it through the land.

Here, I would like to add two things.

One one hand, the Appian Way wasn’t built in all its length in the year 312 BC. That year, it only got to Capua.

And later on — in the year 291 BC, to be more precise, the road would reach the locality of Venusia. We are still some 20 years away from that.

And then — another 10 years later, the Appian Way would finally reach Tarentum.

By that time, we will be dealing with a whole new topic.

The upcoming wars against Pyrrhus of Epirus.

And then — after that, the Appian Way will go all the way to the heel of Italy. That is Brundisium.

And after that, the road will make a giant U-turn, and snake its way to the other end of Italy. The point where the continent is at its nearest with the island of Sicily.

Centuries later, under the reign of Emperor Trajan, the Appian Way will become a true masterpiece for its times.

OK, and on the other hand, I need to make a short list of Roman roads — or ways, rather, that ALREADY existed before the construction of the Appian Way.

[…]