Author: Theophrastus
Publisher Callaway Arts & Entertainment
ISBN: 978-0-935112-37-5

Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher and pupil of Aristotle, was born around 372 BC, died around 287. When Aristotle was forced to retire from Athens in 323, Theophrastus became the head of the Lyceum, the academy Aristotle had founded. Under Theophrastus the enrollment of pupils and auditors rose to its highest point. 

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Theophrastus was one of the few Peripatetic philosophers who fully embraced Aristotle’s metaphysics, physics, physiology, zoology, botany, ethics, politics, and history of culture. "His general tendency was to strengthen the systematic unity of those subjects and to reduce the transcendental or Platonic elements of Aristotelianism as a whole." He was a prolific writer and his works, many lost, include Inquiry into Plants, Growth of Plants and treatises attributed to him on fire, winds, signs of weather, scents, sensations, and other subjects.

His Charaktēres, written around 320 BC, consists of thirty "brief and vigorous character sketches delineating moral types derived from studies that Aristotle had made for ethical and rhetorical purposes."

Pamela Mensch, a translator of ancient Greek literature, has now produced her version of Theophrastus's Characters: An Ancient Take on Bad Behavior. These include the Dissembler, Flatterer, Yokel, Sycophant, Newshound, Miser, Busybody, Vulgar Man, Social Climber, Coward, and twenty more.

Theophrastus's observations are—with small adaptions—as appropriate today as they were 2,300 years ago: "The Talker is the sort who plumps himself down next to someone he doesn't know and starts praising his own wife; he goes on to describe the dream he had the night before, and then relates in detail what he had for dinner,"

"The Busybody is the sort who stands up and promises what he can't deliver. In court when it's agreed that his argument is just, he overdoes it and loses his case."

"The Shameless Man is the sort who, after shortchanging someone, goes back to ask him for a loan."

"The Tactless Man is the sort who comes to solicit advice from someone who's busy. He serenades his sweetheart when she's down with a fever. He approaches a man who's just had to forfeit bail money and asks him to post bail for him."

The book includes a useful Introduction and endnotes by James Romm, professor of classics at Bard College, that puts the author into an historic context. Romm points out that unlike every other ancient Greek author whose work survives, Theophrastus observes the Athenians' "food, their clothes, their purchases, the decor of their homes. He notices objects we never hear of elsewhere, like the spurs worn by the Social Climber to show he's wealthy enough to ride in the cavalry . . . ."

Aside from Theophrastus's delightful comments, the book is a lovely object to hold, a delight of book design by Don Quaintance. And it includes apt illustrations of each character by Andre Carrilho, a designer, illustrator, and caricaturist from Lisbon. Characters would make a splendid gift for the right person. (I wouldn't give it to someone who will see herself in it.) It would make a good gift for oneself if only to remind yourself what you don't want to be.