Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris is the second in a trilogy that chronicles the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero – the great orator and writer from ancient Rome. Harris writes from the perspective of Tiro – Cicero’s slave secretary.
The book covers the years 63 to 59 B.C. – during which time the Catiline Conspiracy occurred. This conspiracy was the greatest threat to the Roman Republic until Caesar’s grab for power. The book begins with Cicero’s investigation into the gruesome killing of a slave – this is days before Cicero is to take over as one of the Consuls of Rome. This investigation eventually leads to Cicero exposing the Catiline Conspiracy to the Roman Senate. Harris describes Cicero’s four years after his Consulship – its amazing how much his career and life change in that short period of time.
This book is not big on action – but looking at a person like Cicero – you would not expect that because he was big on talking and writing and not on violence. Although there is not much action, there are parts heavy with drama – for instance, when Cicero must face down his opponents to expose Catilina and his cohorts. Harris’ gift of telling a great story comes through loud and clear.
Harris’ fictional account reads like a novel with the facts of a biography. The book is based on the writings of Tiro, thus the source of the facts on Cicero’s life. Harris fills in the details that Tiro did not discuss in his writings.
Harris writes a balanced account of Cicero. He highlights Cicero’s strengths – great orator, writer, and loyal to the Republic and his weaknesses – willing to look away when corruption serves his purposes, vanity, and lack of loyalty in certain situations. Still, you can relate to Cicero as he tries to navigate the shifting winds of the dieing days of the Roman Republic.
This book is a must-read for any fan of ancient Rome.