One of the publishing season’s neatest little surprises ... only barely stretches to 100 pages, but it’s been given a downright royal treatment ... If you’re going to give a new burst of life to an ancient piece of trivia as trite and banal as this, Characters is exactly the way to do it; Callaway has spared no expense to make this a little volume worth keeping. Mensch does wonders with the author’s boring generalities and Carrilho’s sumptuous black-and-white illustrations are unfailing more profound in a single image than Theophrastus manages to be in 200 words.
A handsome illustrated translation ... a beautiful object ... a perfect gift for the person in your life who mentions Plato’s cave or Zeno’s paradox, or wears a bow tie, or uses a fountain pen, or enjoys a bit of harmless armchair misanthropy ... The stylish introduction, by the classicist James Romm, is a joy to read, wearing its considerable learning lightly ... The plainest aspect of this edition is, curiously, the translation itself ... If Theophrastus’ humor strikes us as less sharp and satirical than it might be, it is perhaps because he never loses sight that he is talking about other human beings.
As Romm points out in his introduction, some previous translators could not square with the lack of judgement in Theophrastus’s sketches and inserted their own. This edition strips away those addendums, allowing the original descriptions to be read on their own merit ... reveals more of the author’s natural verve and wit, which has led some scholars to dispute whether Theophrastus deserves the attribution ... Society needs writers who document human behavior, even if that behavior never seems to change. But those records needn’t always be gloomy.