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This was a birthday present and much enjoyed. Robert Harris has finally completed his trilogy, an imagined biography of Cicero by his secretary and friend Tyro. The story of course is known to every child who studied Latin or ancient history. Robert Harris tells the story well with vivid detail and gives his hero a pleasingly human, albeit occassionally pompous, scale. Even though everyone knows how this story ends, but despite the knowledge we are borne along. It is a triumph.

So why do a post about it on a blog primarily concerned with American Politics? Because the fall of the Roman Republic has so many echoes that ring like alarms today. Foolish dilettante politicians, starting vanity wars in the east driven by lust for money, power and glory. Clearly Harris feels that in this political year in America we need to keep the fate of Cicero in mind.

And so we drifted towards calamity. At times, Cicero was shrewd enough to see it. ”Can a constitution devised centuries ago to replace a monarchy, and based upon a citizens’ militia, possibly hope to run an empire whose scope is beyond anything dreamed of by its framers? Or must the existence of standing armies and the influx of inconceivable wealth inevitably destroy our democratic system?”
A book to read in the dark of the year hoping for lighter days.

Copyright David Macadam

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