When Aristotle wrote that “comedy is about people we regard as worse than ourselves,” he may have been recalling a hard-edged gem of a treatise written by his favorite student, Theophrastus. Characters is a joyous festival of faultfinding: 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—Characters transports us to a world populated by figures of flesh and blood, not bronze and marble. The wry, inventive drawings of acclaimed illustrator André Carrilho highlight the cankered wit of this most modern of ancient texts. Helpfully annotated by classicist James Romm, these thirty thumbnail portraits are startlingly recognizable twenty-three centuries later.
Best Books of the Year
“A perfect gift for the person in your life who mentions Plato’s cave or Zeno’s paradox, or uses a fountain pen, or enjoys a bit of harmless armchair misanthropy.”
—Wall Street Journal
Best Books Off the Beaten Track
“This little volume only stretches to 112 pages, but it’s been given a downright royal treatment: its pithy and genuinely insightful introduction is by the classicist James Romm; its lean and chatty new translation is by the great Pamela Mensch; and its antic illustrations are by André Carrilho, one for each Character. Callaway has spared no expense to make this volume worth keeping.”
—Open Letters Review