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Review: Conspirata

Robert Harris

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


The book “Conspirata” by Robert Harris is the second part of the “Roman Trilogy” – a historical novel about the life of Cicero, one of the greatest lawyers and orators in history. Again, the further fate of Cicero is presented to us by his personal secretary – Tiro.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, in the first part of the novel, was shown to us as an “adolescent” politician, lawyer and speaker, who only thanks to his skills and charisma was able to reach the highest positions in the state. The second volume presents us with a mature and self-conscious senator who ultimately reaches for the dream of every politician – the consulate, which is the icing on the cursus honorum cake. Cicero becomes the highest official in Rome, presides over the Senate and has a decisive influence on Roman politics.

Unexpectedly, it is during his office that he has to face the dangerous conspiracy of Lucius Sergius Catilina, a member of populares from a good family, who, using populist slogans and the support of the lower classes, aims at a bloody coup and overthrowing the oligarchic rule of the senators. Cicero, despite his strong position, has to face harassment and threats from Catiline’s supporters, who are supported by the unpredictable and extremely intelligent Julius Caesar. Ultimately, thanks to his knowledge, beautiful speeches and knowledge of the political scene, Cicero saves the crisis and gains the reputation of a defender of the homeland and a true patriot.

It should be noted that the second volume of the novel shows us the core the corrupt and immoral world of Roman politics at the end of the republic. Clientelism, vote-buying, political alliances aimed at a material gain, and widespread violation of the law are becoming commonplace. Even Cicero himself becomes part of this world. The initial opponent of Gaius Antonius Hybrida supports him on his way to the consulate, and then to the governorship of Macedonia, only to gain money to pay off creditors or buy a spectacular property. Cicero, who is officially an opponent of corruption and deals, enters the same dirty game. His words “What times! What customs!”, although spoken in the context of Catiline, only confirm how disgusted he was with this world.

However, what personally struck me the most in this part of the book is the way of showing the great Julius Caesar himself. The cult of Caesar’s greatness, his commanding skills, genius and political cunning, passed down to us from “small”, is in practice indisputable. Few, however, were tempted to think about what kind of man the future dictator of Rome could really be. Robert Harris gave us a masterful outline of the psychological trait of his character: calculating to the core, determined to be “first”, and focused only on pure political gains. The author shows us Caesar not as an exemplary Roman. For him, Rome is not a superior good, but rather only a goal to gain full power over the then-known world.

The plot, which is very much based on Cicero’s letters, is so concise and neat that the reader is completely immersed in the world of the book. What is also important, the author avoids idealizing the characters and even the great Cicero himself makes numerous mistakes, gives up and acts against his own moral principles. Such behavior brings us even closer to the main character, who at the end of the second part is experiencing his darkest dreams. Drama and brilliant dialogues are the main strengths of this novel.

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