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 40 – Livy and Virgil

— Instead, people die the day nobody ever talks about them, or even thinks about them.

A biography episode in The Tale of Rome. We compare and contrast two giants of their time. Livy and Virgil.

Partial Transcript

Hello, this is Abel, speaking from Beijing, China. Welcome to my podcast.

The Tale of Rome, Episode 40 — Livy and Virgil.

Virgil and Livy — Livy and Virgil. At the end of the day, the order of these two names doesn’t really matter. However — I felt like sharing why I chose to name this episode, the way I did.

Our podcast started with a story where a guy named Aeneas was fleeing from a city called Troy. This was obviously brought to us by Virgil.

Still — I decided to put Livy’s name first, on the cover of the episode.

And no — the reason is NOT their looks. I can promise you that. This is not a beauty contest!

But, after I picked the two pictures that would illustrate this episode’s cover, I ended up having Livy — full front, and Virgil, seen from a side.

So…

Had I placed Virgil on the left side of the cover, he would be facing away from Livy. Not nice!

And since we — and when I say “we,” I mean the vast majority of readers in the western world — since we usually write from left to right, the title ended up being “Livy and Virgil,” because — well… Livy was on the left, and Virgil was on the right.

All right, that’s sorted out!

And now, let’s start this story, and let’s start it this way…

We are in the year 18 AD — AD, as in ANNO DOMINI, or “after the birth of Christ.”

A ship was arriving in Rome’s port. And I am not talking about the port of Ostia, the one built by the fourth king of Rome — Ancus Marcius.

I am talking about another port — a few hundred miles south.

Portus Julius.

[…]

SIX — While Livy would sometimes write up to 20 pages a day, Virgil had days where not even a single sentence was created.

Furthermore, if it wasn’t that Virgil’s death wish was deliberately disobeyed, today we would not have his works. Nothing.

That’s right. The whole Aeneid would have been burned. That was the wish of Virgil, on his deathbed. And what’s even more curious, Virgil never considered his Aeneid as a complete work of art.

On a personal note, that’s understandable. Artists are often like that.

[…]