Edith Hall

He, the People

Pericles of Athens


Princeton University Press 291pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

The genre of biography was invented by the ancient Greeks in the early 4th century BC. It evolved from the tradition of delivering prose orations at the funerals of distinguished men. Our earliest examples are by Athenians honouring leading Greek statesmen: for example, Xenophon’s Agesilaus, which praises the deceased king of Sparta by presenting a chronological account of his achievements. The genre evolved rapidly. Once the era of fabulous libraries had been initiated by the Ptolemies with the Musaeum at Alexandria in the early 3rd century BC, the research resources available to ancient biographers multiplied. They had access not only to flattering obituaries but also to any works the individual had himself authored, to the critical accounts written by his enemies and to satirical attacks made on him on the comic stage. By the time of Plutarch of Chaeronea (c46–120 AD), the most gifted and influential ancient life-writer, there were usually several earlier biographies of any historical figure available, each one synthesising diverse sources.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Darley’s book is not a mad dash through this most compelling and complex of English counties. Nor is it another ti… ,
    • 'Moser’s book offers such a gripping account of a profoundly damaged human being, trapped in a cycle of repetition,… ,
    • 'Ideas that I’d thought were set down in full continue to smoulder ... this book is only a snapshot of some larger… ,
    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,