The Search for Virtues

In his life of Mark Antony, Plutarch produced one hilariously elegant sentence. It turned the loverboy's debauches into a kind of civic virtue: "((Antony)) never feared the audit of his copulations, but let nature have her way, and left behind him the foundations of many families."

Plutarch as spin doctor: that was not drunken lust in Antony's eye, but, ahem, dynastic vision.

Sometimes virtues look better in retrospect. Antony died at a moment (30 B.C.) when Romans were already bitterly nostalgic for the austere virtues of the old republic. Antony represented a transition: he could live on bark and roots with...

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