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Sunday 16 December 2018

Small aside re. Joe

Joe, formerly Plutarch,
tie askew, looking BS
straight in the eye
Four years ago my pal, Joe Hyam, died. He and I were both magazine editors in and around London and I'd known him since 1963; others will remember his blog, Now's the Time. His initial blogonym, Plutarch, was later dropped in favour of his real name.

But why Plutarch in the first place? I’m mildly ashamed I never asked. So, seeing a dilapidated paperback of Plutarch’s Lives on the charity books table at Tesco, I decided to check. Published nearly sixty years ago. the pages have lapsed into that familiar orangy-brown, some fragile as ash. I have many books in that state. It’s a way of re-visiting my youth.

Plutarch was born a Theban in AD mid-forties and lived until he was seventy-five. Studied philosophy in Athens, travelled, held various magistracies, and wrote only about “men of action”. This version (there are others) of  Lives covers movers and shakers in a crucial period in Greek history “from the legendary times of Theseus to the end of the Peloponnesian War.” All news to me. I was not classically educated, not educated at all, really.

Theseus (Founder of Athens) was certainly an action-man. Periphetes, aka Club Bearer, was an early casualty, encouraging Theseus to adopt the club himself. He may have clubbed “Phaea... a robber, a murderous and depraved woman... whom Theseus afterwards killed.”

But now it’s confession time. I’m still on Theseus with eight more lives to go. But I may have answered my own question. Joe liked Plutarch’s essentially in-yer-face attitude:

...geographers when they come to deal with those parts of the earth which they know nothing about, crowd them into the margins of their maps with... “beyond this lie sandy, waterless deserts full of wild beasts” or “trackless swamps...

Plutarch and Joe, neither a purveyor of traditional BS.


  1. Don't understand how I can miss someone I never met, but miss him I do.

  2. Me, too. I remember the first comment he left on one of my early blog posts about Cosmos flowers, and I called a good friend to report on it!

  3. Crow: Perhaps because his posts were truer to his character than those of most bloggers. He was in the end a gentle soul, unusual in someone who was such a good editor. He read and re-read all of Gorgon Times, my first serious attempt at novel-writimg, and virtually all his suggestions were incorporated.

    RW (zS): In a nostalgic mood I was trawling through my posts of yesteryear and I remember coming upon your comment about cosmos, and your gratitude towards Joe. Perhaps I'll do another post that attempts to round out the sort of person he was.

  4. Checking in on a rare visit to BE to look up some photos for someone, your title was click bait, of course. Oddly, trawling through photos on drive I'd just looked at the one of him I took in the National Portrait Gallery, nearly ten years ago now.

    I often wondered about the Plutarch blogonym, and I think he did mention it somewhere, but to my shame I forget what he said, along the lines of admiring Plutarch as a chronicler of diverse aspects of life and lives, or some such.

    I remember the original Plutarch as being Shakespeare's source for Julius Caesar. Funny how he and Theseus were seen as of equal solidity and importance.

  5. My Lives was a new translation in 1960 and I'm astonished at the way modern speech has been rendered without any jarring (eg, "Hi there, Mr Darcy."). Joe being Joe I suspect he went for someone more ennobled. Ah, the questions I should have asked.

    Theseus is shown to be a first-century AD version of Siegfried, a chap it's very hard to like.

    Can recommend a fairly newish opera by George Benjamin. Written on Skin, premiered in Aix-en-Provence in 2012. But perhaps I've already gone on about that and perhaps, too, opera may not be your thing. Oh my dear, you're fading but it's my fault not yours.