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 36 – Death by the Volcano

— For thinking that the enemy sent his Triarii too early, the Latins ended up sending their own ones too early, and that cost them the battle.

Latins against Romans, on the slopes of Italy’s most famous volcano. And in this battle, we see the death of Publius Decius Mus — the same guy who earned the renowned Grass Crown, years earlier.

Partial Transcript

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

The Tale of Rome, Episode 36 — Death by the Volcano.

— “You snake!”

— “You are the snake!”

— “Coward!”

— “I’ll show you who’s the coward!”

— “I dare you!”

When Decius he wanted to step forward, his heart beating like a drum, he hit the dry, hard floor next to the bed. With an insult, the Consul was now really awake from his sleep.

The dream was gone.

And in that dream, the volcano was talking to Decius.

The volcano was taunting him, all the while spewing fire serpents, and eating up the entire Roman army.

— “One of the two will die before sundown,” he heard the volcano say.

A bit later, he told Manlius Torquatus about the dream.

[…]

ONE — Just as the trumpets sounded, and as was customary in the Roman legion, the oracles of the army threw food at the sacred hens, and they confirmed what everyone feared.

A whole Roman flank, and one of the consuls of Rome, would end up dying.

TWO — Decius Mus rode out on the left side of the Roman army, and Torquatus on the right side.

In other words, Decius was on the slope of the volcano, and Torquatus on the side to the sea, being that they were facing in a south-southeast direction.

THREE — Latins began to tighten the ranks on both sides, but during the first clash neither of the two side gave up a single yard.

One of the flanks of Torquatus was deployed about a hundred meters behind, due to some irregularities of the terrain, while the troops of Decius were face to face with the Latins.

FOUR — the Sidicines, who, fearing a night attack, did not get a lot of sleep, were the first to fall.

This allowed Torquatus to create a wider row, while maintaining the depth of his Phalanx.

But to Decius, this was neither an advantage nor a disadvantage, and his troops began to break for two reasons. The end of the row was in difficulty with the slope of the volcano, and the cavalry of the Latins threatened to break the row of the Hastati, a lot sooner than they both anticipated.

[…]