Saturday, September 22, 2012

Robert Harris' Imperium

Robert Harris' Imperium is a historical novel focused on Cicero. It doesn't have a plot per se; instead, it follows Cicero's rise to prominence as a lawyer and ultimately consul. One point Harris seems to be trying to make is that politics doesn't change much. It was hard not to see, for example, some of George W. Bush in Pompey, as he used war as an excuse to seize greater executive power.

Toward the end of the novel these historical parallels reach almost comical levels. Cicero is shocked to learn that a rival, Crassus, has a hidden alcove where a secretary secretly writes what is going on in his meetings.

"You mean to tell me that Crassus eavesdrops on himself?" asked Cicero in wonder. "What sort of statesman would do that?"

Richard Nixon, no doubt, would've been a first-rate schemer in ancient Rome.

As historical fiction goes, it is not exactly a page turner but it definitely brings Rome to life. It prompted me to dig out an old Penguin Classics book I had of Cicero's writings, bought in college and not much touched since. I can't say much bad about a novel that makes me look up other books.


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