Vies des Hommes Illustres

PLUTARCH   |   Jacques AMYOT

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PLUTARCH. Les Vies des Hommes Illustres… Traduites du Grec par Amyot. Paris: Cussac, 1801-05. Twenty-five volumes. Small octavo, contemporary full brown mottled calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, green morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers and edges.

Later edition of Amyot’s translation, the 1559 edition of which was the basis of North’s English translation, a major source for Shakespeare’s three Roman plays.

“What raises [Plutarch] to a level of greatness as a writer is his Lives. We have two of his lives of the Caesars, one or two stray lives, and 23 in a series of contrasting pairs, always one Greek and one Roman, usually with a summary comparison of their moral qualities… His Lives really are the stuff of poetry, though they read as unpretentious prose. With the alteration of very few words, they transmute into Shakespeare” (Levi, 464-65). “The influence of Plutarch’s method has been constantly manifest in the biographies of the modern great and in the authors who have been inspired by it. Shakespeare relied almost exclusively on [North’s] Plutarch for the historical background of ancient Rome” (PMM 48). First published in 1559, Jacques Amyot’s vigorous and idiomatic version “obtained an immense popularity, and exercised great influence over successive generations of French writers” (Auguste de Belignieres). It was the version used by Sir Thomas North for his English translation of 1579. Montaigne said of Amyot, “I give the palm to Jacques Amyot over all our French writers, not only for the simplicity and purity of his language in which he surpasses all others, nor for his constancy to so long an undertaking, nor for his profound learning… but I am grateful to him especially for his wisdom in choosing so valuable a work.” With engraved frontispiece in Volume I and a number of full-page illustrations throughout the set. Brunet IV, 739. See Peck, 1279-80; Moss II,518-19.

Interiors remarkably clean and bright, contemporary calf-gilt bindings exceptional. A beautiful set in fine condition.

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