In the last book in Robert Harris’ Ancient Rome Trilogy, Dictator, captures the House of Cards that was Rome in the period beginning in the last half of 1 BC. The Dictators are Gaius Julius Caesar, Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian (aka Augustus), following the failures of the first (Caesar, Pompey and Marcus Crassus) and second (Octavian, Antony and Marcus Lepidus) Triumvirates. The novel is drawn from Cicero’s secretary Tiro imagined biography of Cicero during the final fifteen years of his life. It is principally political fiction, focusing on Cicero as statesman and lawyer and not as philosopher. The focus is on Cicero, the Republican savior. The biography is after Cicero served as Consul and instituted martial law to avert the overthrow of the Republic and his assassination by the Catiline conspirators. In an ironic twist, it is Caesar who argues for life imprisonment of the conspirators, fearing the precedent that Cicero and the Senate would set by instituting the death penalty without any judicial intervention.
History is replete with familiar and political intrigue, so the backdrop for this historical fiction makes the novel a political thriller. The prose is modern prose. This is not literary fiction. The intent is to reveal the history and the politics in a fast paced novel, and in this it succeeds. The historical base for the biography is Plutarch’s Parallel Livers (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Cicero*.html
Plutarch drew upon the discovery of Cicero’s letters. Dictator adds imagined dialogue to the history. As with Plutarch’s Lives, this novel is also a study of human characters on a world stage.
The novel is a reminder that hypocrisy is a function of power. It would be an excellent companion to a secondary school course covering ancient history. If you enjoy history or politics, you will find it entertaining.