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Five Fascinating Facts about Plutarch

Fun facts about a pioneering ancient writer

1. Plutarch effectively invented the genre of biography. Plutarch’s innovative approach to biography was to take two important figures – one from Greek civilisation and the other from the Roman empire – and compare and contrast their characters, fortunes, and outlooks. This is the basis for his most famous work, the Parallel Lives.

2. As well as being a serious biographer, though, he was also something of a gossip. Plutarch loves to home in on an individual story that sheds some light on his subject – an anecdote, a moral tale, a quirk or distinctive character trait. And this is why we at Interesting Literature admire Plutarch so much: he saw the importance of trivia, and the fact that it isn’t always as trivial as it might first appear. His Greek Lives and Roman Lives (of which there are two very good selections by Oxford World’s Classics) show the individual personalities of the great statesmen and cultural figures he discusses, their quirks and foibles, their eccentricities. Read the rest of this entry

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10 of the Best Classical Plays Everyone Should Read

The best drama from the ancient world

For over 2,000 years, the Greek dramatist Menander’s works were lost. Then, in the twentieth century, they were rediscovered. Menander was praised by his contemporaries as a great comic playwright – some even said the greatest, beating even Aristophanes into second place. But when Menander’s work was rediscovered in the twentieth century, it was something of a disappointment. Translators and Greek scholars were lukewarm in their praise for the newly discovered Menander material. He was, perhaps, the first writer to be the victim of over-hype surrounding his work.

All of this makes us wonder: which are the greatest plays of the classical era? What are the finest ancient Greek and Roman plays? Here is our pick of ten of the best. We’ve tried to offer as great a range of authors as possible here, so have restricted ourselves to just two entries by the same playwright (which proved difficult with some playwrights who wrote a number of classic plays). Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about Sappho

Interesting trivia about the original ‘Lesbian poet’

1. Sappho has been credited with inventing the plectrum. An Athenian vase dating from the sixth century BC shows Sappho holding a lyre, which she is plucking with a small device that is recognisable as the forerunner to the modern plectrum. Did she invent it? Historians are unsure, but it appears that Sappho was using a plectrum to pluck the strings at a time when everyone else was happy to pluck the strings of the lyre.

2. Hardly any of Sappho’s work survives. Sappho is known to have written some nine volumes of poetry, but very little of her work was preserved. Some have blamed this on the activities of the medieval Church, which sought to suppress works which were pagan and, what’s more, often probably quite sexy. Sappho is, after all, the poet who inspired the word ‘lesbian’ for a woman who loves other women; Sappho’s home was on the island of Lesbos. Read the rest of this entry