Thursday 14 June 2018

Imperium by Robert Harris

I've read this series in the completely wrong order, starting with Book 3, (Dictator), reading half of it, picking up Imperium, finishing it, and then back to Dictator. I still haven't read Conspirata (Book 2), but I plan to.

In Imperium Tiro's voice tells the story of his master, Cicero. Tiro is Cicero's slave, but, as the inventor of shorthand, and an author in his own right (he wrote a biography of his master that was lost in the Dark Ages), he is almost as famous as Cicero himself. And he can tell a story.

I loved all the wordiness of this book. I listened on Audible, and that added to the pomp and drama and grandstanding that I imagine there was around all Cicero's famous speeches, rants and  politicking. Here're a few excerpts.

“You can always spot a fool, for he is the man who will tell you he knows who is going to win an election. But an election is a living thing -- you might almost say, the most vigorously alive thing there is -- with thousands upon thousands of brains and limbs and eyes and thoughts and desires, and it will wriggle and turn and run off in directions no one ever predicted, sometimes just for the joy of proving the wiseacres wrong.” 

“History has always fascinated me. As Cicero himself once wrote: ‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?’ I quickly forgot the cold and could have spent all day happily unwinding that roll, poring over the events of more than sixty years before.”

“Sometimes," he said, summing up the discussion with an aphorism I have never forgotten, "if you find yourself stuck in politics, the thing to do is start a fight--start a fight, even if you do not know how you are going to win it, because it is only when a fight is on, and everything is in motion, that you can hope to see your way through.”

And for those of you who think that politics is boring...

“Politics? Boring? Politics is history on the wing! What other sphere of human activity calls forth all that is most noble in men's souls, and all that is most base? Or has such excitement? Or more vividly exposes our strengths and weaknesses? Boring? You might as well say that life itself is boring!” 

And if you think you can deliver a speech?

“No one can really claim to know politics properly until he has stayed up all night writing a speech for delivery the following day. While the world sleeps, the orator paces by lamplight, wondering what madness ever brought him to this occupation in the first place. Arguments are prepared and discarded. The exhausted mind ceases to have any coherent grip upon the purpose of the enterprise, so that often--usually an hour or two after midnight--there comes a point where failing to turn up, feigning illness, and hiding at home seem the only realistic options. And then, somehow, just as panic and humiliation beckon, the parts cohere, and there it is: a speech. A second-rate orator now retires gratefully to bed. A Cicero stays up and commits it to memory.” 

I loved this book - the eloquence, the high drama, the stakes - someone's life, or a whole bunch of lives, mostly. I found myself immersed in the Forum, on the slopes of the Palatine, and walking along the Tiber with them. It's inspired me - maybe I need to find a tome of Cicero's writings and wade through it? Or is that too much like hard work? This wasn't. 

5 stars

ISBN: 9780743266031

More by this author - An Officer and a Spy and Conclave. Or why not try The Constant Queen by Joanna Courtney or Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn?

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