Conspirata was disappointing

March 24, 2010

As a self styled Roman history buff, I should have loved Robert Harris’ Conspirata. It tells the story of Cicero’s year as Consul written from the perspective of Tiro, his slave secretary. The book does a good job at immersing us in the politics of Republican Rome which foreshadows Caesar’s rise and fall and the Republic’s ultimate demise, but falls short of being great.

I appreciated the struggle between Cicero and Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. The intrigue, full of riots, murder, civil unrest, corruption, treachery, and betrayal is interesting, but somehow something was missing from the story. It did not quite resonate with me the way Edward Champlin’s fantastic lectures on the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire resonated at Princeton or the way HBO’s fantastic TV show Rome did.

I am not sure to what extent the writing is at fault. I might just be disappointed with Cicero’s cowardice at various points of the story, his willingness to corrupt his ideals to pay for his dream house and his pompous arrogance about his accomplishments as consul. All those make him a much less compelling hero.

If you want to immerse yourself in the politics of Republican Rome you could do worse, but if you want a fantastic historical thriller look elsewhere.

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