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Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome

Harris, Robert | Pocket, 2006


front pages and p. 3

Harris explains that in this historical novel centering on Cicero, most of what’s in the novel is historically true, nothing in the novel is historically false, and dubious items, though not obviously true, could have been. The novel is narrated by Tiro, Cicero’s slave secretary and man of affairs, an actual historical figure and probably the inventor of shorthand, including of the ampersand—of which he was a little proud. (p. 3) Tiro recounts Cicero’s last words: “Cicero’s final words to me were a request to tell the truth about him, and this I shall endeavor to do. If he does not always emerge as a paragon of virtue, well, so be it. Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.”

pp. 5-6

Cicero pursued “official, political power—what we know in Latin as imperium—the power of life and death, as vested by the state in an individual.” Lots of men have wanted this power—and had an army behind them, or a fortune, or an aristocratic pedigree. Cicero had none of these things. (P. 4) “All he had was his voice—and by sheer effort of will he turned it into the most famous voice in the world.”

pp. 185-86

Cicero has an agenda for the vain Pompey: he must accept the role of “supreme commander” of Rome in order to have a free hand in routing pirates who are disturbing the empire. Pompey is ready to accept this role at once, but Cicero tells him to play hard-to-get. “’You will leave the city tomorrow, and you will not come back. The more reluctant you seem, the more frantic the people will be for your recall. You will be our Cincinnatus, fetched from his plow to save the country from disaster. It is one of the most potent myths in politics, believe me.’”

“Some of those present were opposed to such a dramatic tactic, considering it too risky. But the idea of appearing modest appealed to Pompey’s vanity. For is this not the dream of every proud and ambitious man? That rather than having to get down in the dust and fight for power, the people should come crawling to him, begging him to accept it as a gift? The more Pompey thought about it, the more he liked it.”