Theophrastus' Characters: An Ancient Take on Bad Behavior

Theophrastus' Characters: An Ancient Take on Bad Behavior


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" These Characters are people we know—they're our quirky neighbors, our creepy bosses, our blind dates from hell. Sharp-tongued Theophrastus, made sharper than ever in this fresh new edition, reminds us that Athenian weirdness is as ageless as Athenian wisdom." – Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, presenter of BBC's Civilisations

The more things change, the more they stay the same: Theophrastus' Characters , a classical Greek text newly translated for a modern audience, is a joyful festival of fault-finding. The book outlines 30 characters, each crystallizing a human flaw all readers will immediately recognize, and is a humorous survey of failings, follies, and bad behavior taken straight off the streets of Athens and brought into our everyday fraught and divisive social and political scene. Brilliantly illustrated by acclaimed artist Andre Carrilho, this is an irresistible treasure of a book.

WHEN ARISTOTLE WROTE that "comedy is about people worse than ourselves," he may have been recalling a hard-edged gem of a treatise written by his favorite student, Theophrastus. Theophrastus' Characters is a joyous festival of fault-finding: a collection of thirty closely observed personality portraits, defining the full spectrum of human flaws, failings, and follies. With piquant details of speech and behavior taken straight off the streets of ancient Athens, Theophrastus gives us sketches of the mean, vile, and annoying that are comically distorted yet vividly real.

Enlivened by Pamela Mensch's fresh translation—the first widely available English version in over half a century— Theophrastus' Characters transports us to a world populated by figures of flesh and blood, not bronze and marble. The wry, inventive drawings help envoke the cankered wit of this most modern of ancient texts. Lightly but helpfully annotated by classicist James Romm, these thirty thumbnail portraits are startlingly recognizable twenty-three centuries later. The characters of Theophrastus are archetypes of human nature that remain insightful, caustic, and relevant.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780935112375
Publisher: Callaway Arts & Entertainment
Publication date: 10/01/2018
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 429,739
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 16 Years

About the Author

James Romm is an author, reviewer, and the James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College in Annadale, New York. His reviews and essays have appeared in the London Review of Books and The New York Times Book Review , among other publications. His books include The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought (Princeton University Press, 1992), Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire (Vintage, 2012), Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero (Vintage, 2014), The Age of Caesar: Five Roman Lives (W. W. Norton, 2017), and How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life (Princeton University Press, 2018) .

Pamela Mensch is a translator of Herodotus, Plutarch, Arrian, and Diogenes Laertius. Her translated texts include Lives of the Eminent Philosophers: Diogenes Laertius (Oxford University Press, 2018), Alexander the Great: Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, and Quintus Curtius (Hackett, 2005), The Landmark Arrian: The Campaign of Alexander (Anchor, 2012), Lives that Made Greek History: Plutarch (Hackett, 2012), and Histories: Herodotus (Hackett Classics, 2014). She lives in New York City.

André Carrilho is a designer, illustrator, caricaturist, and animator from Lisbon, Portugal. He has shown his work in group and solo exhibitions in Brazil, China, France, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. His work has been published by Harper’s , New York , the New York Times , the New Yorker , and Vanity Fair , among other publications.


“The Greek text of Characters is rather messy, with lots of sentences in dispute (or simply unintelligible) due to copyists’ errors in the transmission process. Only a few years ago, a new edition of the Greek text by James Diggle sorted out many of these problems. This new English version by Pamela Mensch takes advantage of that cleaned-up Greek text.”

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