It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome.
In America, we complain of corruption. Lying politicians. We fear the end of our Democracy, such as it isn’t. We ponder conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality.
We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell or, depending on our point of view, has already gone to Hell.
Except that government went to Hell a long time ago. You could easily argue that government — all government — was always Hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s a matter of perspective.
Reading history puts in perspective the world in which we live. Whatever problems we face, the human family has faced them (or something similar) before.
Climate change is not something we have previously confronted. Never have we had to wonder if failing to do the right thing will end our species. History is not going to help us with this one.
We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive has, to date, been better than our ability to screw up. Of course today’s challenges are bigger, uglier, and come with a potential finality that is new to humankind. Whether of not we will survive it? Good question.
Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve probably heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famous as an orator, Cicero rose to power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from a Republic to Imperial Rome.
Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power shift the world had seen. It was also the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know.
Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel, and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making some friends but more enemies along the way.
Cicero seeks ultimate power — Imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave Tiro is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice, the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.
It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.
Robert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to ours.
This is part one of a duology. The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain, the same book is titled Lustrum.
Both books are available on Kindle, paperback, and Audible.com.
Imperium, by Robert Harris
Sep 7, 2010
Fiction – 496 pages