Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini
Published 2003

The Kite Runner takes place in Afghanistan, 1970s. Two boys -- Amir, a Sunni, and Hassan, a Shi'a -- grew up together. In Afghanistan, Shi'a were the lower status of the Muslim religion, and nothing would ever change that. Nonetheless, Amir and Hassan were best of friends.

Hassan and his father lived with and served Amir and his father. Hassan's mother ran away after his birth, and Amir's mother died during childbirth. Amir's father was wealthy and important in the community, and he cared for Hassan as his own son.

Unfortunately, Amir had an easy life; he walked away from conflict or responsibility and never stood up for himself or anyone else. He was sometimes arrogant toward Hassan. Yet, Hassan, the servant, was quick to defend Amir and was handy with his slingshot. Besides being courageous, he was submissive, loyal, and full of humility.

Hassan was the best kite runner in the city, and the day Amir won the kite fighting championship, Hassan ran off to capture the opponent's kite for Amir. When he did not return, Amir searched for him and witnessed a horrible crime being perpetrated against his friend; but, Amir never intervened, nor did he get help. Hassan remained silent about it, too.

The guilt weighed heavy on Amir. He asked his father to replace their servants and even falsely charged Hassan with theft; but Amir's father forgave Hassan (who meekly admitted to the crime) and would not send him away. Nonetheless, Hassan and his father voluntarily moved out, humiliated.

Shortly after, Russia invaded Afghanistan, and Amir fled with his father to America, leaving their home in the care of a family friend, Rahim, until they should be able to return again. 

Years passed, and Amir and his father had well established themselves in America; Amir graduated college and married an Afghani girl. After Amir's father passed away, he received a call from Rahim asking him to meet him in Pakistan immediately. The news he had to share would change Amir's life forever. 

At this point, I must stop or I shall reveal the most essential parts of the story. If you decide to read The Kite Runner, know that at times it is shocking, horrifying, and heart breaking. You wonder if Amir will ever do what is right.  Why does he continue to run away from the truth?  And then you ponder what you would do if you were in his place? You cannot blame him for being angry or afraid, but sometimes people need to rise above their own feelings and do what is best for someone else.

The ending of The Kite Runner left me feeling satisfied and hopeful, but I had a disappointment, too. Amir wanted to do something to relieve the burden of guilt from his unjust treatment toward Hassan. In an attempt to redeem himself, he promised to follow a long list of religious requirements in order to make up for his sins and appease God. I know this is not a real act of redemption, nor is it the way to forgiveness. Making the right choices are always warranted and acceptable, regardless of past sins; we are always called to do what is right. In addition to that, I did not like the blasphemy or using Jesus' name in vain.  

I did watch the movie after I finished the book, and the movie is of course different in good ways because it omitted unnecessary graphic scenes and other complications; but the book is best because it addressed the heavy topics pertinent to the story, which the movie is unable to include for time's sake. Some people complained that the characters were unreal, but given the circumstances of the place and time of the story, I found them, such as the villains, very believable. 

Overall, I did like the story, and I do plan to read Khaled Hosseini's third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, and see what that's about. 

Khaled Hosseini

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien
Published 1954

This is my first time reading LOTR series, finally, after having first read The Hobbit many years ago. Since I did not know very much about the story, I was somewhat confused at the beginning and missed some of the most important details, like . . . why Frodo went on this adventure or journey in the first place! Eventually, I reviewed a synopsis to get answers. Everything is cleared up now, and I am up to speed.

Since it seems everyone knows the LOTR story well, I will not give my own summary. Instead, let me tell you how I read it: I found an audio version on YouTube and followed along in my own book. The narrator used dramatic voices, sounds, and music, and there were times I was scared out of my wits. I could not have accomplished that in my own head had I read the book alone; so the audio was definitely effective. I am not a fan of adventure or fantasy fiction, so this was the perfect way to read the book, making the story feel alive.

I have read articles or op-eds about why this is a preposterous way to read, and should not be considered reading by any measure, but I also have to admit that sometimes -- not often -- I read books with classical music playing quietly. Yes, it does enhance the emotional value of the story, especially Tolstoy, and I rather enjoy that; however, I understand how and why it may diminish or limit my own ability to imagine on an emotional level.

Nonetheless, I have to make an exception with this story, and I probably will continue doing it with the remainder of the series. So there!

Hildebrandt Bros.

Let's say you are like me, and you never read LOTR, and you are not confident you will like an adventure or fantasy story; well, this is more than an adventurous story. There is something bigger to tell in LOTR that makes it significant. What is it, I need to learn.

For example, as with most essentially written stories, The Fellowship of the Ring has goodness and righteousness verses wickedness and evil, light against darkness. There are many unique characters, each with special attributes and weaknesses - some wise, some brave, and some extremely loyal - sent to help the reluctant protagonist. Most importantly, the protagonist is being called to have courage, be valiant, and do what is right and necessary. He must rise to the occasion, knowing the forces against him are deadly. It is a frightful decision one has to make, which is how this first book of the trilogy ends.

The Fellowship of the Ring is full of conflict, uncertainty, fantasy, a little humor, loyalty, and companionship. I am ready to find out what happens in the next book, The Two Towers, and most of all, I am hoping to discover the underlying ideas in the story as I venture further into Middle-Earth.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published 1932
Little House-athon via The Vince Review

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and even though it is written for the youngest of audiences, I could not imagine beginning the series without it. 

The reader is instantly immersed into Laura's world, deep into the snowy woods of Wisconsin. She described the detailed process of smoking deer meat, the sensitive topic of killing a hog for bacon, and the laborious task of churning butter. Ma had an orderly way of running her household:

Wash on Monday 
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

Early on readers get to know Pa as a hard-working, tender-hearted man with a sparkle in his eyes; he loved to tell his girls stories about real life. Ma was also hard-working and resourceful. She was a woman with much courage. 

For example, Ma and Laura went out to let the cow into the barn, but in the dark, Ma mistook a bear in the yard for the cow. She gave it a good smack on its hind leg. Suddenly realizing it was a bear, she quietly instructed Laura to walk back to the house, which she did, until Ma caught Laura up under her arm and ran into the house. Ma later trembled as she laughed, "I've slapped a bear!"

(I probably would have fainted.)

Pa's story about his confrontation with a bear in the woods was equally entertaining. In the snowy dark night, he saw what he thought was the silhouette of a bear on its hind quarters. Yelling and waving his arms, Pa could not intimate the animal, until he realized, when he went to club the bear with a tree branch, it was only the stump of a fallen tree. His lesson was that he must find courage because he could not run away from everything that scared him. 

When Laura threw a tantrum because she must sit still on Sunday, Pa narrated the story of her grandpa on Sundays when he could do nothing but catechism. When one Sunday Grandpa's father fell asleep, Grandpa and his brothers snuck out to try their new sled down the snowy hill that went past the front door of the house; however, on their way down, they accidentally picked up a pig who squealed all the way down, right past the door -- and there was their father watching them speed by. The moral of the story was that Laura should be glad that it was not as hard to be good as it used to be, though Ma added that it was even harder than for girls because they always had to be little ladies every day.

There was the chapter on the sugar snow, in which Laura recounted the collection of sap from the trees and the process of turning it into syrup and brown sugar. Following that was the dance at Grandpa's, which was so jovial and lively -- and you know you can hear Pa's fiddle and the boots stomping. 

During the trip to Town, Laura candidly exposed more of her jealousies towards her older sister Mary. Mary was always good and obedient and neat and careful. Mary had beautiful golden curls, but Laura had dirt-brown colored hair.

Later, Laura's deep jealousy caused her to strike Mary, resulting in a whipping from Pa; but it is also important to note that Laura recalled how Pa took her in his arms and hugged her tightly and explained that he had brown hair, too; obviously she never realized that before.

The chapter on making cheese is not my favorite, especially because it involved the killing of a calf. Laura never wanted Pa to kill any of their own animals, which he did not for this particular cheese making time. But someone's calf had to die. Poor thing. 

But my favorite part about that chapter is how Ma and Pa complimented each other. After the extensive, complex cheese making process, Pa looked at Ma and said,
Nobody'd starve to death when you were around, Caroline.
And she replied,
Well, no, Charles, not if you were there to provide for us. 
In the harvest, Pa went to help Uncle Henry in his field, and Ma and the girls went, too. Cousin Charley was supposed to help the men, but was a naughty boy, to put it mildly. He cried wolf one too many times and certainly deserved what he got when he finally received it.

When it was Pa's turn to do his own threshing, he completed three weeks work in one day with the new threshing machine. He exclaimed,
That machine's a great invention! Other folks can do old-fashioned ways if they want to, but I'm all for progress. It's a great age we're living in.
And finally, it was winter all over again.

Mid pleasures and palaces, though we may roam, 
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Have you read Little Town in the Big Woods? What is your favorite memory?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Little House-athon 2018

Well, I did said I could not imagine a year without the Little House books. And so it is that Paula @ The Vince Review is hosting a year-long read-athon of the Little House series and a few other books to equal one book a month in 2018. I need not an excuse to read these books, but I like to pretend that I have a reason.

Here is the schedule:

January : Little House in the Big Woods
February : Little House on the Prairie
March : On the Banks of Plum Creek
April : Farmer Boy
May : By the Shores of Silver Lake
June : The Long Winter
July : Little Town on the Prairie
August : These Happy Golden Years
September : The First Four Years
October : On the Way Home
November : West From Home
December : I Remember Laura - Stephen Hines

Also, I will be reading Caroline: Little House Revisited, by Sarah Miller, at some point during the year.

Last year, after I completed eight of the series books, I told myself that next time I read them, I want to focus on the proverbs, or words of wisdom, that Ma and Pa and Laura shared about life and human nature. This time I will see how many I notice and write them down.

If you are interested, there is no sign up, but you can follow at Paula's blog.

Can't wait to get started!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year End Reading Challenge Wrap Up 2017

According to my Year in Review on Goodreads, I completed 60 books in 2017. If it was not for reading with my kids, that number would have fallen below my goal of 50 books.

The Well-Educated Mind Histories Reading Challenge (3/31) counts towards my most important and longest project, The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge (59/147). I got off to a rocky start with the Ancients (and quit reading The Republic 100 pages in), though I am on my fifth book, City of God, by Augustine. Nonetheless, I completed only three books for TWEM Histories Challenge this year - how pathetic!

I recently started LOTR Read-Along (1/3), hosted by Edge of the Precipice. I completed the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, by listening to an audio version and reading along. This is helpful for me because I am not familiar with this story, and the dramatized version, complete with sound affects and different voices, helps clarify, which is better than if I try to interpret it myself.

Fanda at ClassicLit hosted Dickens in December , and I did read one Christmas tale by Dickens. Sadly, I did not get to my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, and now it is too late. Christmas is over. Ah, well; there's next year.

Keely started the Russian Literature Challenge (3/3) at the beginning at 2017, and I only completed two of my proposed, but later included my reread of Crime and Punishment to make it three.

Operation Actually Read Bible hosted Cloud of Witness Reading Challenge (3/4) in which I read three of the four chosen, though I am presently reading City of God for my fourth book; it will be few months late.

Back-to-the-Classics Challenge (10/12) is hosted by Books and Chocolate. I challenged myself to twelve categories, but I hit a snag halfway through This Side of Paradise and never read To Kill a Mockingbird. 

The Classics Club  (22/75) I added a few more books to my CC list, and I am beginning the second year of my challenge. I have 53 left to read before December 2020. No pressure.

Finally, The Manly Reading Challenge (26/100) is just a fun, long-term list I am filling in as I go along. This year I completed a couple. Three quarters left to go.

Reading challenges are encouraging and entertaining, but I have been finding them too difficult to keep, and sometimes I end up reading books my heart was not into. Instead of joining yearly challenges, as tempting as they are, I hope to focus more on what I want to read.

As of today, here is a list of books my heart desires to read in 2018, which may change because I am not entirely in control of my own life. But if all goes well, this is what I am excited to read, though not in this order:

City of God - Augustine (WEM)
Ecclesiastical History of the English People - Bede (WEM)
The Prince _ Machiavelli (WEM)
Utopia - Sir Thomas Moore (WEM)
Northangar Abbey - Jane Austen (CC)
Ourselves - Charlotte Mason (Education)
Formation of Character - Charlotte Mason (Education)
A Philosophy of Education - Charlotte Mason (Education)
Charlotte Mason Companion - Karen Andreola (Education)
The Two Towers - JRR Tolkien (LOTR)
The Return of the King - JRR Tolkien (LOTR)
Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (TBR)
And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini (TBR)
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (TBR)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (TBR)
Caroline - Sarah Miller (TBR)
A Woman's Education - Jill Ker Conway (TBR)
The Republic of Imagination - Azar Nafisi (TBR)
Jane Austen's World - Deirdre Le Faye (TBR)
Reflections on the Revolution in France - Edmund Burke (CC)
The Problem of Pain - CS Lewis (CC)
A Grief Observed - CS Lewis (CC)
The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (reread)

Of course, I will add more as the year goes on, plus my children and I will read numerous books together, and I may even read The Little House books again because I cannot imagine a year without them. Until then . . .

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairytale of Home" by Charles Dickens

Stories for Christmas
"The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairytale of Home" (written 1845)
Charles Dickens
Book Published 1862

At some point in many civilizations and cultures, it was believed that a cricket on the hearth symbolized good luck and health. It is strange to me to think it acceptable to have a cricket anywhere in the home; once even my husband went out in the middle of the night, armed with a flashlight and a can of Raid, to eradicate a noisy little cricket bellowing under the patio outside our bedroom window. 

Nonetheless, in this novella, by Charles Dickens, the cricket on the hearth is the sacred protector of marriages, families, and homes. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will do my best, but there are some things I have to expose. The story is about a couple, John and his much younger wife, Mary. They have a little baby, but that is irrelevant. 

I was a little confused at first because a strange man (in a disguise, it is later revealed) came to stay with the couple for a few days, and during that time Mary showed him some affections. John witnessed those affections, causing him such grief and irritated further by another character, Tackleton, who told John that his wife was having an affair with the man.

John reacted in an unexpected way when he considered releasing his wife from her marriage contract. He loved her sooooooo much; he could not bear to think that he was the cause of her unhappiness, forcing her to secretly seek out the object of her love. He thought he married her too young when she really did not love him after all. He rather see her free and happy.

In the meantime, Tackleton was set to marry a much younger woman in a few days. But the plot took a twist after the stranger's true identity was revealed, upsetting Tackleton's selfish wedding plans and ultimately resolving the misunderstanding between John and Mary. It was a very merry and joyful ending for all, even for Tackleton, just like in Dickens' A Christmas Carol

I found this tale very sweet and enjoyable. And while Dickens twists my comprehension skills in little knots at the beginning of every story, he certainly knows how to resolve all of my confusions in the end. 

"Listen to the cricket."  source

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope Santa Brings

Books-on-my-wishlist-that-I-will-not-get-for-Christmas-(or birthday or Valentine's Day or anniversary),-and-I'll-have-to-buy-them-myself.

Charlotte Mason Companion
Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning
Karen Andreola

Caroline: Little House, Revisited
Sarah Miller

The Republic of Imagination: A Life in Books
Azar Nafisi

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels
Deidre Le Faye

A Woman's Education: The Road from Coorain Leads to Smith College
Jill Ker Conway

And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hossieni


Last night was my Anniversary (21 years married) and my husband surprised me with flowers and a shoebox. In the shoebox were three books from my wishlist, and two of them were on this list above. So I must eat my words. He never likes to get me books on my wishlist because it is not considered a surprise; but he does not understand how much I love to get books from my wishlist. 

These are the books he bought me:

Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
and The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings by Olaudah Equiano

(Yes, a couple are used books because he said he knows how I feel
about buying a new book when I can get a decent reading copy for one penny plus shipping.)

I am definitely excited to add these to my 2018 reads.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Parents and Children, Vol. 2, by Charlotte Mason

Parents and Children, Vol. 2
Charlotte Mason
Published 1904

Charlotte Mason began Parents and Children reproving and praising Rousseau, the French philosopher. She rebuked,
Jean Jacques Rousseau had not enough sterling character to warrant him to pose as an authority on any subject, least of all on that of education.
(I read his autobiography and the man gave away his five children that he had out of wedlock because he did not think himself - or the mother of his children - worthy to raise up their own).

Nonetheless, Mason stated that Rousseau "turned the hearts of parents back to their children" and realized "God placed the training of every child in the hands of two, a father and a mother." (Just not him or his woman.)

Charlotte Mason focused on the family unit. She demonstrated that families are a commune under absolute rule, and they must be social and serve their neighbors and the nation. Within the family, the parents represent the government. Parents must be able to rule their children because:
A ruler who fails to govern is like an unjust judge, an impious priest, an ignorant teacher.
It is good for the children to faithfully serve, honor and humbly obey their natural rulers.
Mason said that it is difficult to establish authority in these "democratic days," when everyone is demanding equality. (It was an issue in her times, too.) Everyone cannot be treated equally --- because they simply are not.

God forbid that we should ever lose faith in the blessedness of family life. Parents who hold their children as at the same time a public trust and a divine trust, and who recognize the authority they hold as deputed authority, not to be trifled with, laid aside, or abused -- such parents preserve for the nation the immunities of home, safeguard the privileges of their order.
Yet the autonomy of the child is just as essential as the authority of the parents. "It would be an encroachment on the rights of the child, and an transgression on the part of the parents," if parents did not encourage or teach self-government to the child.
The child who knows that he is being brought up for the service of the nation, that his parents are acting under a Divine commission, will not turn out a rebellious son.
Parents must inspire their children to spiritual life of intelligence and morality. While both parents are equally responsible to raise up their children to higher life, it is to mothers that children owe this second birth:
. . . great men have great mothers; mothers, that is, blest with an infinite capacity of taking pains with their work of bringing up children. - M. Adolf Monod

About that one-education-fits-all formula: the author stated that parents are protective over the individuality of their children and they rightly mistrust the plan to teach every child the same, or should we not "die of weariness of one another?" Individuality and personality are important to God and humanity, too.
In a word, we are very tenacious of the dignity and individuality of our children.

Are there children who do not wonder, or revere, or care for fairy tales, or think wise child-thoughts? Perhaps there are not; but if there are, it is because the fertilising pollen grain has never been conveyed to the ovule waiting for it in the child's soul.
Mason believed that children learn by ideas, and that parents must provide children with these ideas.  She believed,
The mind of the little child is an open field, surely 'good ground,' to plant the truth of the Word of God.
She stated: a parents' highest function is "To bring the human race, family by family, child by child, out of the savage and inhuman desolation where He is not, into the light and warmth and comfort of the presence of God, is no doubt, the chief thing we have to do in the world."

To educate children, they need opportunities to be inspired and directed, and they will "do their own education, intellectual, aesthetic, even moral, by reason of the balanced desires, powers, and affections which go to make up the human nature."


The formation of godly character is the ultimate object of education. 

End bad habits by promoting and encouraging good habits.  "The training of the will, the instruction of the conscience, . . . the development of the divine life in the child, are carried on simultaneously with this training in the habits of a good life."

A child who is taught about "giving and sharing, of loving and bearing, will always  spend himself freely on others, will love and serve, seeking for nothing again; but the child who recognizes that he is the object of constant attention, consideration, love and service,  becomes self-regardful, self-seeking, selfish, almost without his fault, so strongly is he influenced by the direction his thoughts receive from those about him." (Hello, SELF-ie generation.)

A child must be taught absolute humility, unconsciousness of self, fortitude, and altruism. It is not the responsibilitiy of the parents to make their child's life easy or happy.

The child's empathy and compassion must be broadened. "It is our part . . . to prepare these little ministers of grace for the larger and fuller revelation of the kingdom of heaven that is coming upon us."


Mason encouraged using [English] ballad literature to teach patriotism and heroism, like Beowulf. (I love Beowulf.)
But it is not only the ideas of a hero which we have in Beowulf, it is also the idea of a king, the just governor, the wise politician, the builder of peace, the defender of his own folk at the price of his life.
Children must be taught moral truth. Moral teaching must be effortless, candid, specific, and appeal to  reason, and with religious authority.  It is the responsibility of the parent to teach the child about the power of choice because some ideas may be evil and some may be good.


Mason states that today's education does not "produce reading people," and warns that we "should not get between books and our children." She says children must have living books, the best books, and "the frequent change of books for the constant stimulation of the child's intellectual life."

Subjectively, education is a life; objectively, education is a discipline; and relatively, education is an atmosphere.
Education is the training of good habits in which the child learns; a life, sustained and nourished by those ideas; and an atmosphere or environment, provided by his parents, where those ideas rule their own lives.


It may appear that Mason jumps from one topic to the other, but it is my review that jumps. There is so much to discuss that I cannot cover all of it, but rather I can only pull out a minor portion of a few topics. It is actually very fluid and connected, as each idea flows into the other.

Mason is a great encouragement to parents to love and inspire, correct and train up their children in proper godly discipline and obedience for His service, while encouraging the very good ideas that will make him or her noble and true. This is a book I wish I had read before I had children.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2017

My Favorite Books of 2017

This was my absolute 2017 favorite:

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

And this was a close second:

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi

The next two are intense classic non-fiction:

The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis

This is always a favorite:

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

An amazing non-fictional book about marriage and singlehood:

Married For God
Christopher Ash

This next one was eye-opening -- and I thought it would be a dud:

55 Men: The Story of the Constitution: 
Based on the Day-to-day Notes by James Madison
Fred Rodell

Naturally, Dostoyevsky is brilliant and intriguing.

The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

But of course, my go-to comfort read is the following series; 
This was my 5th reread.

Little House on the Prairie (books 1-8, b/c I did not get to #9)
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Finally, these are my resource books for education and raising children. I'm fascinated by Charlotte Mason and wish I read her books BEFORE I had kids. She is AWESOME.

Home Education, Vol. 1; Parents and Children, Vol. 2; 
and School Education, Vol. 3
Charlotte Mason

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch

Lives of the Noble Greeks
Plutarch, edited by Edmund Fuller
Written/Published 2nd century/1517
Well-Educated Mind (Histories)

At the start of "Alexander," Plutarch told his readers "he is not writing histories, but lives." 
I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the marks and indications of the souls of men . . .
I said I would read five Greek lives but instead read four because "Alexander the Great" was understandably lengthy. With that, I also read "Theseus," "Solon," and "Pericles." 


Adriadne Giving Thread to Theseus by Palagi

"Theseus" was my favorite because I was already familiar with his story. He was the famous Greek who saved the Athenians from the Minotaur and the founder of Athens:
Now, after the death of his father Aegeus, forming in his mind a great and wonderful design, he gathered together all the inhabitants of Attica into one town, and made them one people one city . . . and gave the name of Athens to the whole state . . .
He also founded a democracy, or "people's government, in which he should only be continued as their commander in war and the protector of their laws, all things else being equally distributed among them."

Aristotle says, "Theseus was the first who, out of an inclination to popular government, parted with the regal power."

Unfortunately, he was accused of dubious behavior as well, and he ended up in prison for a while. Sometime after his release he died a gruesome death, but even how that happened it is not certain. In the end, future Athenians honored him as a demigod.


Solon was one of Greece's essential statesmen because he contributed to many of the successful reforms, laying the foundation for a democratic government. He preferred justice to wealth, and sought to eliminate the monopoly of the powerfully rich in society. He established a set of laws for men to live by.  His friend, Anacharsis, "laughed at him for imagining the dishonesty and covetousness of his countrymen could be restrained by written laws, which were like spider's webs, and would catch . . . the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and the rich."
To this Salon rejoined that men keep their promises when neither side can get anything by the breaking of them; and he would so fit his laws to the citizens, that all should understand it was more eligible to be just than to break the laws. 
Solon removed most of the severe Draco laws, and laid the foundation for more compassionate and reasonable punishment for lawbreakers.

And one more tidbit: he wrote poetry.


Another great statesmen with whom Athens had a love/hate relationship, Pericles was greatly admired for his upright character and superior intelligence. He found favor with the poor, especially for his ideas about redistribution of wealth. (Of course.)

When his political opposition, Thucydides, was set against him, he kicked it up a notch:
And so Pericles . . . let loose the reins to the people, and made his policy subservient to their pleasure, contriving and continually to have some great public show or solemnity, some banquet, or some procession or other in the town to please them, coaxing his countrymen like children with such delights and pleasures as were not, however, unedifying. 
I mean, you have to do something during an election year.

However, the opposition became so threatening that Pericles became more aristocratic, influencing and encouraging his countrymen in the best interest of the country instead of being a passive leader.

Pericles also led the Athenians through the ambitious war against Sparta, in which he was a firm and strategic general (or admiral), but he made mistakes. The Athenians were frustrated, and deposed him. But before long, they pitied him and took him back, though by then he was near death.

Of Pericles, Plutarch remarks,
To me it appears that this one thing gives that otherwise childish and arrogant title a fitting and becoming significance; so dispassionate a temper, a life so pure and unblemished, in the height of power and place, might well be called Olympian, in accordance with our conceptions of the divine being, to whom, as the natural authors of all good and of nothing evil, we ascribe the rule and government of the world. 

Alexander the Great by Rembrandt
You all know the stories of Alexander, right? Because of Plutarch we know the stories of Alexander's father, Philip of Macedonia, Alexander's youth and superior education under Aristotle, and the unruly horse with the odd name that Alexander conquered, to which his father delightfully squealed,
O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.
After Philip was murdered, Alexander, who was only 20, immediately came to power. And so went on for pages and pages and pages of his amazing adventures, from Egypt to Persia, especially his long conflict with Darius and then Cyrus, his issues with Cleopatra, his personal conduct, and his mysterious death. I leave that to you reader to see it for yourself. Alexander's life is quite impressive.

But I must mention the funniest moment when Alexander met Diogenes, the philosopher, who was not impressed with the young Macedonian leader. Alexander asked if there was anything Diogenes wanted to say to him, and the philosopher quipped, "Yes, I would have you stand from between me and sun." After Alexander and his friends had a good laugh at the nonchalant reply, Alexander told them "if he were not Alexander, he would choose to be Diogenes."

Roman Lives
Plutarch, ed. by Robin Waterfield
Written/Published 2nd Century/1517
Well-Educated Mind (Histories)

My next book continued Plutarch's Lives, of great Roman men. I decided only to read two: "Caesar" and "Antony."


The Death of Julius Caesar by Camuccini
Immediately, Plutarch informs the reader that Julius Caesar, a little Roman statesman turned general, is under threat of death by his enemies and always on the run or in hiding. Nonetheless, he was popular because of his representation of the people. He was a great orator who provoked emotions. In other words, Rome knew he was popular, though they could not get rid of him no matter how they tried.

Meanwhile, as long as he stayed away from Rome - always on campaign throughout Europe and Northern Africa - he was spitefully tolerated, especially because he was always victorious, which was a benefit to Rome.

At his final triumphal campaign against Pompey's sons, Rome finally
bowed their heads before Caesar's good fortune and accepted the bridle. Since autocracy was . . . a pleasant change after civil war and turmoil they proclaimed [Caesar] dictator for life. But when permanence is added to the unaccountability of autocracy, tyranny is the result, and this is now what Caesar had, with the acquiesce of the Romans.
If you look up the word ambition in the dictionary, you'll see Julius Caesar's portrait. He is the absolute example of drive, determination, prideful lust and idolatry. He probably never slept, always thinking of ways to glorify his great mind. He had plans and he was never satisfied even after he accomplished his zealous goals. He was meticulous about his ideas, but who cares if they are only done with him in mind.

His desire to anoint himself king of Rome finally turned the people against him; while the Senate quietly plotted to stop him. And you all know that fateful day that Caesar was murdered. His ambitions brought him to nothing except the fame of his name (like Little Caesar's Pizza and Orange Julius Caesar drink); and so the little Roman Republic transformed into 500 years of an oppressive overreaching Roman Empire.


Marc Antony Gives Funeral Speech of Caesar
If Julius Caesar was ambitious, Marc Antony was a reckless fool. He was thrown out of his home for his poor choices and bad influences, and it was no surprise that he continued making poor choices and following after bad influences long after he found himself in the seat of the Roman government and right up to his death. 

It was his charming personality that attracted him to Julius Caesar, but it was not long before Caesar discovered what a mess Antony was: a lazy, drunken, womanizing, extravagant fool.

Antony had nothing to do with Caesar's murder, and he even aroused the crowd at the funeral, calling out the murderers; that is how he developed a following of Caesar's supporters and began acting like a dictator. However, there was the problem with Caesar's nephew, Octavius, who expected to be Caesar's successor, which would lead to years of conflict between the two sides. For a while the two men and one more man formed the triumvirate, the government of Rome.  

But the worst thing that ever happened to Antony, if not his own hedonism, was Cleopatra of Egypt. By that time, Antony was a successful military leader winning fame and power for Rome; but fooling around with Cleopatra was the end of him.  

It is a little more complicated than this, but it was Octavia, Antony's second wife, that really brought this conflict to an end. Cleopatra felt threatened by Octavia, so she plotted in order to secure Antony's power, which he relinquished to her, in turn causing Octavius Caesar to declare war on Cleopatra (and Antony). 

Plutarch referred to Antony as Cleopatra's "appendage." He shamefully abandoned his soldiers to be with Cleopatra. Later his last remaining men abandoned him and joined forces with Octavius Caesar, who also tried to get Cleopatra to have Antony assassinated. Antony felt betrayed by Cleopatra, and she hid herself from him in her tomb. She sent a messenger to Antony to tell him she was dead. Unfortunately, he could not even successfully kill himself with his own dagger. When Cleopatra found out he was injured, she had him brought to her, where he pathetically died in her presence.  

Plutarch finishes Antony's life with the death of Cleopatra and the results of all the children involved. Poor kids.


Even though it took me months to read the few lives I read, I just wanted to be done; but I do want to go back someday and read the remaining Greek and Roman lives that I skipped. Plutarch writes about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and it is fascinating.