Monday, December 03, 2007
The lady who owns the apartment where we stayed in Rome suggested I read this book before going there so as to give myself a bit of a background into the operation of the city during the late Republican period. Having read Pompeii and quite enjoyed it, I gave it a go.
It's the story of Cicero's rise to the position of consul (hate to give it away, but then, unless you're even more ignorant about classical civilization than I am, which would take some doing, then you already know that) and features much chat about, well, legal affairs in Rome in the late Republican period. Overall, I found the central narrative a little forced, which could be partly down to the character of Cicero. True, he was a great orator, many of whose speeches and ideas about manners have stood the test of time, but as a main character in a novel, he's a little flawed. Or, to be more exact, as a main character in the hands of a professional journalist turned novelist, he's a little flawed. A really good novelist could make you root for him, but Harris never quite manages to get across much about him other than his ambition and the fact that he's not quite as bad as some, but that's really only because he doesn't directly kill anyone. Even in the excellent telly series Rome, he comes over as a bit of an effete eejit most of the time, who can't quite figure out which side is going to come out on top at any time because nobody tells him anything.
However, you can't fault the detail here, or the feeling of being immersed in the city of the time. When we actually went to Rome, it all felt far more familiar, and I had a much clearer picture of how the society of the place worked. And so, let me recommend this book to you as a crash course in Roman history if you're going there on holidays. Then you too can stand in front of the temple of Vesta and think of Cicero having an argument with his wife where he accuses her sister of being "more vestal than virgin" (this argument probably did not actually happen).