by Robert Harris
is the second novel in Robert Harris's Cicero trilogy. Please see my previous review of Imperium
for some details on my thoughts concerning Cicero and Caesar.
This novel literally picks up where the first leaves off: it is the morning of the day that Cicero is to sworn in as consul and it starts with a bang: a mutilated corpse part of some ritual sacrifice and ceremony! Bad omen!
This novels highlights the fact that there are some pretty unpleasant people in Ancient Rome. Once again, the narrator is Tiro, Cicero's scribe and slave. Even Cicero is not immune to the miasma that is the politics of Late Republican Rome. Seen as the savior of Rome in a tumultuous time, he is awarded the title pater patriae
, father of his country; this was the first time in Roman history that it was awarded for a non-military action. This goes straight to his head, and sets him up for the inevitable fall. Cicero manages to bumble around and make an enemy of Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus, just before the First Triumvirate is formed.This leads to his exile from Rome during to political maneuvering by his enemies and that's where this one leads off.
Part of the novel's message is the fact that there are truly few close, trustworthy friends in the political arena. Everything is about the pursuit of power, advantage, and expediency. It is very difficult to remain true to one's belief system in the face of such adversity, but it can be done. Cicero learns this, but a little late in the series, as it were. If I were to use theatrical standards for this trilogy, Lustrum
is obviously Act II; the hero has peaked and pummeled down to his lowest point. I can presume that the next novel in the trilogy, Dictator
, will conclude on a heroic note for Cicero. As a historian, I'm pretty sure of that fact.
As an aside, a lustrum
in Ancient Rome was a five year period, half of a decade and the period of a census. At the end of the lustrum, one of the two censors would sacrifice on behalf of the Roman people and state to purify them. So, while the novel covers a space of five years of Cicero's life, the title is also endemic of his purification by fire that ends in his exile, but also to him realizing the truth and returning to his noble path.
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