Monday, October 18, 2010
Imperium follows the early life and burgeoning political career of Marcus Tullius Cicero, considered by most to be the greatest orator ever produced by Rome. From humble beginnings outside Rome, Cicero lacks the ancestral mystique and familial connections used by many of Rome's young politicians to jump start their careers. Instead, Cicero is forced to rely on his intelligence and political acumen to climb his way up the cursus honorum toward the consulship.
The story is narrated by Tiro, Cicero's slave and lifelong secretary. Tiro is accredited with having devised a shorthand system in order to transcribe the high volume of Latin dictations required by Cicero's verbosity. In fact, his writing system was so useful, it was widely used throughout ancient Rome and even as late as the Middle Ages by monks! Tiro makes for an interesting narrator as he is critical to Cicero's success but as a slave will ultimately always remain bereft of true power. There are a few poignant scenes in the novel where Tiro longs for nothing more than to be freed and settle down to a pastoral life but realizes it would only doom him to a life of obscurity away from Cicero's side. Simply put, it is clear that Cicero and Tiro need each other to function to the best of their abilities.
Imperium is a truly excellent novel. Outside of McCullough's 'Masters of Rome' series, it is probably the best Roman historical fiction I've read. I was a bit let down when I reached the end of Imperium which ends just as Cicero attains the consulship in 63 BC. For goodness sakes, Cicero plays such a pivotal role in the years to come that it would be cheating him out of his due to end there! What about the Cataline conspiracy? His opposition to Mark Antony? Give me more! Well, happily, I discovered that Imperium is the first of a trilogy of novels about Cicero by Harris, so there is much more to enjoy.