Oh, he says, like Plutarch

I was catching up with Orville Schell, one of my mentors, last night. That’s always fun, but I was especially delighted by how he immediately got the plot of my book as I told it to him. (I’m not quite ready yet to start giving it away on the Hannibal Blog, but I’m getting closer.)

At one point, Orville says: “Oh, so it’s like Plutarch.”

Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know why this made me happy. First, to be compared to Plutarch is tall praise for any writer. But in my particular case, it means a lot more.

Plutarch, you recall, was the first biographer. More to the point, what he did was to pair one Greek and one Roman at a time in order to draw lessons and comparisons from their lives. Alexander and Caesar, for instance. He assumed that we would be able to apply these lessons to our own lives.

One way to express the idea for my book is to call it a “modern Plutarch”–although I would never say so unless prompted, since “Plutarch” doesn’t mean much to most Americans. But the idea is quite similar:

I don’t have pairs in the sense of twos, but I do follow my main characters–Hannibal, Fabius and Scipio–through their whole lives and, in each chapter, pair them with other figures. (Amy Tan, JK Rowling, Tiger Woods, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ludwig Erhard, Cleopatra, the Dalai Lama, and so forth.)

In each case, or so I hope, it will be so obvious what the theme of the chapter is that the segues are fluid and natural. Hannibal went through X; and so did Einstein. Scipio responded with Y, and so did Steve Jobs. You get the point.

So, for Orville to listen to some of these individual comparisons and instantaneously blurt out “Plutarch” is a great vote of confidence that I executed my idea well. But I’m still waiting for my editor’s reaction; he has the manuscript right now.

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4 thoughts on “Oh, he says, like Plutarch

  1. Unlike Plutarch though, the lives of your 3 main protagonists are intertwined. Furthermore, while it is debatable whether Scipio would have been as famous even without a Hannibal, Fabious could would have been a cliff note in Roman history without the Carthaginian general.

    I am eager to see how you link Hannibal to Einstein. Two of my heroes who I could never put together on one page. Perhaps, two giants who could never replicate their meteoric success enjoyed in the early days of their careers?

    I guess I will have to wait and read your book with the rest….

  2. Ah, yes, Joel. But that’s the one difference to Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives”: I have one storyline throughout the book, and that is the intertwined story of Hannibal, Fabius, and Scipio. But since their story moves through so many classic dilemmas and situations in life, I then use the other characters (Einstein etc) within those chapters to illustrate a particular theme. So those characters are the “paired ones”. Then I zoom back out and to the main story and the three protagonists….

    It’s actually much simpler than this makes it sound… 😉

    (Fabius, as you said, is indeed more of a footnote that became crucial because of his time and place. But he fills a really important niche in the story….)

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