Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome Paperback – Feb 1 2011
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Paperback. Pub Date: 02 May 2011 Pages: 384 Publisher: Pocket Books Internationally bestselling author: Imperium was hailed as quite possibly Harris's MOST Accomplished Work to date (Los Angeles Times) and has received in rave reviews from across the globe. Robert Harris's novels have sold more than 10 million copies and have been translated into thirty-seven languages ??.. Powerful protagonist: Cicero returns to continue his struggle to grasp supreme power in the state of Rome. Amidst treachery. vengeance. violence. and treason. this illiant lawyer. orator. and philosopher finally reaches the summit of all his ambitions. Cicero becomes known as the world's first professional politician. using his compassion. and deviousness. to overcome all obstacles .. Compelling historical fiction at its best: Harris employs historical detail and an engrosing plot to give readers a man wh...
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Top Customer Reviews
Overall, well written and a good read. But if you're looking for a more visceral account of Ancient Rome this may not be it.
I have read other books by Robert Harris (Fatherland among them) and he is a very strong writer who brings his stories and characters to life with great skill.
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Cicero himself, through Tiro's eyes, is a man whose vanity sometimes gets the better of him, who isn't above a bit of graft, and who is occasionally politically tone deaf. But one never loses sight of this statesman's intrinsic desire to serve his republic with integrity and honor.
CONSPIRATA covers 63-59 B.C. This "lustrum" -- meaning five-year duration (the title (Lustrum: A Novel) was chosen for the previously published British edition) -- began with Cicero's momentous one-year term as consul. In the following four years, he was celebrated as "pater patriae" (father of his country) but then suffered a drastic downturn in political and economic fortunes as Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus seized power. This novel introduces a gruesome murder mystery in the first pages that leads to an internecine conspiracy against the republic. The book convincingly traces the path that Cicero might in reality have followed in order to finally reach the defining decision of his consulship, namely that several high-ranking Romans should be executed without formal trial.
Presumably, at least one more volume will be forthcoming to finish this story of Cicero's struggle with Rome's more dictatorial powers-that-be. In that final novel, perhaps we will read more about Cicero as philosopher since after this lustrum he wrote his celebrated dialogues DE REPUBLICA and DE LEGIBUS (found herein: M. Tullius Ciceronis De Re Publica, De Legibus, Cato Maior de Senectute, Laelius de Amicitia (Oxford Classical Texts)) -- and many of his approximately eight hundred surviving letters.
Quoting from another of those missives, Glendon aligned Cicero's worries about "whether, when, and how far to compromise for the sake of advancing his most cherished cause -- the preservation of the traditional system he called republican" with current relevancies about government strength and form. As with IMPERIUM, Harris uses CONSPIRATA to accomplish precisely the same thing: he depicts Cicero's Rome as a decaying republic being pulled into tyranny, and in the political chicanery and intrigue of ancient times, one sees the indubitable reflections of modern problems with aging "democracies" that are leaning too far toward bread, circuses and central authority.
CONSPIRATA is a worthy successor to IMPERIUM, although it is more concerned with plot than its predecessor and gives the impression of being a more hastily written novel. IMPERIUM developed its plot at a relatively leisurely pace in order to build a character portrait; CONSPIRATA hastens -- sometimes summing up little things like wars in a few paragraphs -- to focus on particular actions in Cicero's life. Regardless, it too is entertaining, enriches understanding of Cicero and his compatriots, and it unquestionably reminds us that if we do not keep the lessons of history uppermost in our minds, we could well repeat the patterns of Cicero's Rome.
This book begins just prior to the Cataline conspiracies and ends on the day Cicero is exiled by his 'one time friend' Clodius. The 5 year period the book covers focuses on Cicero's Consulship, the Cataline conspiracies (there were to some degree two conspiracies) and the First Triumvirate. While Cicero isn't completely unscrupulous he does manage to uphold some moral standard to protect the Republic (he wasn't called the 'righteous pagan' by the Catholic Church for nothing).
Two things I warn the reader about:
1. If you are a Caesarphile and believe that Julius Caesar was a nice guy killed by an evil Senate then you may not like this book. Shakespeare impressed upon me that Caesar was rather innocent and did not deserve his fate. This book shows Caesar in another light and makes one literally yell out loud for Cicero to execute Caesar while he had the chance.
2. The book starts a little slow at the beginning of his consulship. Don't worry it doesn't take long to pick up speed.
While you don't need to read the first Robert Harris book about Cicero 'Imperium' I recommend that you do. Imperium is a quick read and it really sets the stage for Conspirata; explaining more about Cicero the 'human' than the 'oratory machine'.
If you like historical fiction you cannot go wrong with this book. I am looking forward to the next book Harris writes about Cicero.
Then there's a murder on the day of his accession to power -- and while the mystery never really occupies center stage in this drama, it's an ominous sign of the plots that are being brewed by Cicero's political foes behind the scene, including some of Rome's most noble families. As in the first volume of this projected trilogy, Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome, the tale of Cicero's year as consul and the conspiracy he must combat and resolve, even if it means going against his own principles, is told through the eyes of his slave and scribe, Tiro. Above all, however, this is the story of Cicero's realization that the most dangerous threat to the Roman Republic he cherishes may remain and be embodied in one of its increasingly popular military leaders: Caesar. Seeing Caesar through Tiro's eyes gave me an entirely fresh sense of how he might have been perceived not only by his aristocratic peers or a 'new man' like Cicero but by the broader population of Rome on whose support he would craft the beginnings of what would become an empire. It's an absolutely chilling portrait of someone who to the outward world appears intelligent, committed and effective, and yet who is utterly cold and manipulative.
I enjoyed the first volume of this saga so much that I didn't want to wait for the second to be published in the U.S., but ordered it from the U.K. when it appeared last year. I wasn't disappointed, and was even happy to fork over the extra $10 shipping fee to get it as soon as I could after a yearlong publishing delay. Now I'm condemned to wait another year or two for the third and final volume to appear, it feels like torture.
This is a book that anyone who has read Colleen McCullough's immense seven-volume series starting with The First Man in Rome will relish. Even better, it's a fast-paced version of some of the events covered in those books that will appeal to anyone who shied away from McCullough's books as being either too ponderous, excessively detailed or simply way too long. This is the story of the decline and fall of the Roman republic, the collapse of a political ideal, through the eyes of Cicero, who still cherishes that ideal and that system. The timing of his rise to the top at a time when being ruler of Rome means he must grapple with the harsh truth that his idea of Rome and the reality are no longer the same is as heartbreaking as in any classical tragedy. The suspense doesn't falter, the historical accuracy is remarkable and Harris's crisp style is admirable.
Highly recommended; I can't wait for the next installment.
"Conspirata" is the second in a series of novels by British author and former political correspondent Robert Harris, based on the life of famous Roman statesman and orator, Marcus Cicero. The first book, "Imperium", charted his rise from ambitious lawyer to his election as consul, the highest political office in Rome. The narrator in both books is Tiro, a slave owned by Cicero and something of a historical figure himself, thanks to his purported invention of a system of shorthand (though Mr Harris erroneously also attributes the invention of the ampersand, "&", to him).
Readers drawn by the martial-looking eagle on the cover, or who assume any Roman epic is going to involve gladiators, orgies and crucifixions will be cruelly disappointed. "West Wing" fans will be pleased, though. This is a political drama, proudly all talk and no action, where the climactic scenes take place on the rostra, not the colliseum. The single, solitary episode of toga-lifting naughtiness, a tryst between Tiro and a slave of another household, takes place firmly off-camera.
Instead, Mr Harris throws us headlong into the political arena, when Cicero uncovers evidence of a plot against both himself and the City of Rome. The plotters are never much of a mystery, and the focus is instead on how to outmaneuver them. Once they are defeated, the focus in the second half of the novel shifts to Cicero's diminished status once his term of office ends, and on the rise of a fellow named Julius Ceasar in the ensuing vacuum.
Mr Harris displays a casual knowledge of the inner workings of Roman government, but despite the notes provided at the end of the book it can sometimes be a headache to keep your praetors separated from your tribunes, your augurs from your pontifex, your Metelli from your Claudians. Indeed, there is precious little description of anything outside of Senate speeches and private intrigues. The storytelling is competent but uninspiring. Certainly, no Cicero.
I say the novel is "based on" the life of Cicero, but this is doing Mr Harris a disservice. Heck, this IS the life of Cicero. "Conspirata" is first-rate history, which sadly sometimes makes it second-rate entertainment. Ostensibly a novel, the story line hews so closely to historical fact that five minutes on Wikipedia ruined the entire plot for me. For a work of historical fiction, this is too much history, too little fiction. Mr Harris neither alters nor adds to the facts, never suggests an alternative interpretation, never illustrates some unrecorded adventure. The whole thing soon becomes a bit like being cornered at a party by a dreadfully earnest history professor.
This flaw is exacerbated by Mr Harris's choice of Tiro as narrator and Cicero as subject. Particularly during the second half of the book, once Cicero's term as consul is over, he is reduced to mere bystander in greater events. That makes our man Tiro peripheral to the periphery, a third-hand news source doubly removed from all the action. Here you have Julius Ceasar, Rome's most ambitious and ruthless man, Pompey, her greatest general, and Crassus, her richest man, seizing control of the republic, but we see none of it.
It was then that the epiphany hit me. Why bother reading "Conspirata", when a history book would achieve much the same end?
The limited insights Mr Harris offers us are that Cicero was patriotic, Ceasar unscrupulous, Pompey vain and Crassus dim. What is the point of historical fiction, if not to make suggestions, interpretations or changes, to fill in the missing pages or otherwise doodle in the margins of history's textbooks? Why write a novel if not to present us with a work of fiction? This is not a bad book; the plot plows along straightforwardly, characterization is consistent if a little thin. Mr Harris just doesn't seem to have anyting particularly interesting to say about any of it.
Now if you will excuse me, I have some organic vegetables to tend to.
Plot: The novel opens n 63 B.C. Cicero is serving as one of the two consuls over the Roman Senate (the top spot!). A young boy is found with his throat cut and his body ripped wide open. It is learned that he was a human sacrifice. The murderers are conspirators against the Republic led by the repulsive Catilna a Senator. The first half of the book involves the battle between Cicero and his allies in the aristocric party against the rebels. The conspirators promise free land and farms to the plebes but there are defeated due to the skill of Cicero. The book is rife with conspiracies, murders, double dealing, treachery and treason against the Roman Republic.
In the second part of the novel we see Cicero duelling with such powerful enemies as Julius Caesar, Crassus and Pompey the Great. Pompey has just returned to Rome following many conquests in the Middle East including Israel. Caesar is a serial adulterer who is a sly and wily politcal fore. Crassus is a rich man who grovels for power.
The book is narrated by Triro the brilliant slave of Cicero who has invented Latin shorthand. He is the most valuable advisor Cicero has in all of Rome. Cicero's wife Tertullia is a wise woman who cares for the couple's two children. Cicero is best known for his blazing oratry and lawyerly skills.
A helpful glossary of Latin terms used in ancient Rome and a list of the major characters is included. The 376 page novel is narrated by Triro. Harris is an outstanding author who will entertain and educate you!
Caveats: New readers to Roman historical fiction may have trouble in keeping up with all the characters with strange Latin names. It helps to have the rudiments of Roman historical knowledge under one's belt to understand the complex web of politics going on in the late Roman republic.