The Catiline Conspiracy and Cicero's Oratory in Conspirata by Robert Harris
Conspirata: A Thrilling Historical Novel by Robert Harris
If you are a fan of historical fiction, you might have heard of Robert Harris, one of the most acclaimed and bestselling authors in this genre. His novels span different periods and topics, from the Roman Empire to the Cold War, from ancient secrets to modern scandals. But one of his most popular and praised works is his trilogy about the life and times of Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher.
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The trilogy consists of three novels: Imperium, Conspirata, and Dictator. Each one covers a different phase of Cicero's career and the political events that shaped his destiny. In this article, we will focus on the second novel, Conspirata, which was published in 2009 (also known as Lustrum in some countries). We will explore what Conspirata is about, who Robert Harris is, and why you should read this captivating book.
What is Conspirata?
Conspirata is a historical novel that narrates the events that took place in Rome between 63 BC and 58 BC, during Cicero's consulship and the aftermath of his suppression of the Catiline conspiracy. The conspiracy was a plot by a group of aristocrats and disaffected citizens to overthrow the Roman Republic and assassinate Cicero and other prominent figures. Cicero exposed and defeated the conspirators in a series of dramatic speeches that are considered masterpieces of rhetoric.
However, Cicero's success also made him many enemies among his rivals and opponents, who sought to undermine his authority and reputation. He had to face the machinations of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, and Clodius, who formed a powerful alliance known as the First Triumvirate. Cicero also had to deal with his own personal issues, such as his strained marriage, his ambitious brother, and his loyal but troubled secretary, Tiro.
Conspirata is a gripping story that blends historical facts with fictional elements, creating a vivid portrait of one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods in history.
Who is Robert Harris?
Robert Harris is a British writer who was born in 1957. He started his career as a journalist and worked for several newspapers and magazines, such as The Observer and The Sunday Times. He also wrote non-fiction books on topics such as politics, history, and sport.
He made his debut as a novelist in 1992 with Fatherland, a thriller set in an alternate history where Nazi Germany won World War II. The book was a huge success and was adapted into a film starring Rutger Hauer. Since then, Harris has written several other novels that have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. Some of his novels have also been adapted into films or TV series, such as Enigma, The Ghost Writer, and An Officer and a Spy.
Harris is known for his meticulous research and his ability to create suspenseful and engaging plots that combine historical accuracy with imaginative twists. He has won several awards and honors for his work, such as the International Thriller Writers Award, the British Book Awards, and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
Why should you read Conspirata?
There are many reasons why you should read Conspirata, whether you are a fan of Robert Harris or not. Here are some of them:
It is a thrilling and entertaining novel that will keep you hooked from the first page to the last. You will follow Cicero's adventures and misfortunes as he faces danger, intrigue, and betrayal in a world where nothing is what it seems.
It is a rich and informative novel that will teach you a lot about the history and culture of ancient Rome. You will learn about the political system, the social classes, the religious beliefs, the customs, and the daily life of the Romans. You will also meet some of the most famous and influential figures of history, such as Caesar, Pompey, Cato, Catiline, and Cicero himself.
It is a profound and insightful novel that will make you reflect on the timeless themes of human nature, such as power and corruption, friendship and betrayal, history and fiction. You will witness how Cicero struggles to balance his ideals and his interests, his public and his private life, his virtues and his flaws. You will also see how history is shaped by both facts and interpretations, by both events and narratives.
In short, Conspirata is a novel that will entertain you, educate you, and inspire you. It is a novel that you will not regret reading.
The Plot of Conspirata
The Setting: Ancient Rome in Turmoil
The novel is set in ancient Rome in the first century BC, a time when the Roman Republic was in crisis. The Republic was a form of government where the power was shared by elected magistrates (such as consuls, praetors, and tribunes) and a senate composed of wealthy and influential citizens. The Republic had expanded its territory through conquests and alliances, becoming the dominant power in the Mediterranean world.
However, the Republic also faced many problems and challenges, such as social inequality, economic instability, political corruption, military rivalry, civil unrest, and foreign threats. The Republic was divided by factions and conflicts among different groups and individuals who competed for power and influence. The Republic was also threatened by external enemies, such as the Parthians in the east and the Gauls in the north.
The novel depicts a crucial moment in the history of the Republic: the years between 63 BC and 58 BC. These were the years when Cicero was at the peak of his political career as consul and proconsul, but also when he faced his greatest dangers and difficulties. These were also the years when Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, and Clodius emerged as the main contenders for the control of Rome and its empire.
The Characters: Cicero and His Enemies
The novel has a large cast of characters, both historical and fictional. However, the main protagonist is Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC), one of the most famous and influential figures of ancient history. Cicero was a lawyer, an orator, a writer, a philosopher, a statesman, and a patriot. He was born in Arpinum (modern Arpino), a town in central Italy that belonged to the equestrian order (the second-highest social class after the patricians). He moved to Rome to pursue his education and his career. He rose to prominence through his eloquence and his achievements in law and politics. He became consul in 63 BC (the highest office in the Republic) and proconsul of Cilicia (a province in Asia Minor) in 51 BC.
Cicero was a man of many talents and virtues, but also of many contradictions and weaknesses. He was an idealist who believed in the values and institutions of the Republic but also a pragmatist who had to compromise with reality. He was a loyal friend who supported his allies but also an ambitious rival who envied his peers. He was a courageous leader who faced his enemies but also a fearful man who fled from danger. He was a humble citizen who respected the law but also an arrogant aristocrat who despised the masses.
Cicero had many enemies who opposed him for different reasons. Some of them were:
The Conflict: A Conspiracy Against the Republic
The main conflict of the novel is the Catiline conspiracy, a plot by a group of aristocrats and disaffected citizens to overthrow the Republic and assassinate Cicero and other prominent figures. The conspiracy was named after its leader, Catiline, who was a former consul candidate and a bitter enemy of Cicero. Catiline had a charismatic personality and a radical agenda. He promised to cancel the debts of his followers, redistribute the land and wealth of the rich, and reform the corrupt system. He gathered a large number of supporters, especially among the poor, the veterans, the young, and the outcasts.
The conspiracy was exposed by Cicero in a series of four speeches that he delivered in the senate and in the public assembly between November and December of 63 BC. These speeches are known as the Catilinarian Orations and are considered masterpieces of rhetoric. In these speeches, Cicero denounced Catiline and his accomplices as traitors and enemies of the state. He revealed their plans and their motives. He appealed to the patriotism and the duty of his fellow senators and citizens. He urged them to take action and to defend the Republic.
The conspiracy was foiled by Cicero's oratory and by the military intervention of Gaius Antonius Hybrida, Cicero's colleague as consul. Catiline and his army were defeated in a battle near Pistoria (modern Pistoia) in January of 62 BC. Catiline died fighting bravely. Most of his followers were either killed or captured. Some of them were executed in Rome without a trial, on Cicero's order. This decision was controversial and would have serious consequences for Cicero's future.
The Themes of Conspirata
Power and Corruption
One of the main themes of the novel is power and corruption. The novel explores how power affects people's behavior, morals, and values. It shows how power can be used for good or for evil, for justice or for injustice, for service or for selfishness. It also shows how power can be gained, lost, or abused.
The novel portrays different types of power: political power, military power, economic power, social power, intellectual power, and personal power. It also portrays different ways of exercising power: through persuasion, coercion, manipulation, violence, or deception. It also portrays different reactions to power: admiration, respect, fear, envy, hatred, or resistance.
The novel illustrates how power can corrupt people's character and judgment. It shows how power can make people greedy, arrogant, ruthless, or paranoid. It also shows how power can blind people to their own faults and weaknesses. It also shows how power can isolate people from their friends and family.
The novel also examines how power can be challenged or resisted by other forms of power or by moral principles. It shows how power can be balanced or checked by laws, institutions, or traditions. It also shows how power can be opposed or undermined by courage, wisdom, or integrity.
Friendship and Betrayal
Another theme of the novel is friendship and betrayal. The novel explores how friendship can be a source of support, loyalty, trust, and affection but also a source of conflict, rivalry, distrust, and resentment. It shows how friendship can be tested by circumstances, interests, or ambitions. It also shows how friendship can be broken by treachery, disloyalty, or deception.
The novel depicts different kinds of friendship: political friendship, military friendship, social friendship, intellectual friendship, and personal friendship. It also depicts different levels of friendship: acquaintance, colleague, ally, partner, or confidant. It also depicts different aspects of friendship: communication, cooperation, competition, or confrontation.
The novel illustrates how friendship can influence people's actions and decisions. It shows how friendship can motivate people to help, protect, or defend their friends. It also shows how friendship can prevent people from harming, attacking, or betraying their friends. It also shows how friendship can affect people's emotions and attitudes. It shows how friendship can inspire people to admire, respect, or love their friends. It also shows how friendship can cause people to envy, resent, or hate their friends.
The novel also examines how friendship can be restored or destroyed by other factors or forces. It shows how friendship can be strengthened or weakened by time, distance, or change. It also shows how friendship can be renewed or ended by forgiveness, reconciliation, or farewell.
History and Fiction
A third theme of the novel is history and fiction. The novel explores how history and fiction are related, intertwined, and contrasted. It shows how history and fiction can inform, inspire, or challenge each other. It also shows how history and fiction can reflect, distort, or create reality.
The novel is based on historical facts and sources, such as Cicero's writings, Plutarch's biographies, Sallust's histories, and Appian's chronicles. The novel follows the chronological order and the main events of Cicero's life and career. The novel also includes many historical characters and details that are accurate and authentic.
However, the novel is also a work of fiction that adds, changes, or omits some elements of history. The novel invents some fictional characters and scenes that are not attested by the historical sources. The novel also modifies some historical characters and events to suit the narrative or the theme. The novel also omits some historical facts or aspects that are irrelevant or inconvenient for the story.
The novel also reflects on the nature and the role of history and fiction as forms of storytelling. It shows how history and fiction can both reveal and conceal the truth about the past and the present. It also shows how history and fiction can both influence and be influenced by the perspective and the purpose of the storyteller.
The Style of Conspirata
The Narrative: A First-Person Account by Tiro
The novel is narrated in the first person by Marcus Tullius Tiro (103 BC - 4 AD), Cicero's secretary, scribe, and friend. Tiro was a slave who was freed by Cicero and became his loyal companion and assistant. Tiro was also a scholar who invented a system of shorthand that allowed him to record Cicero's speeches and writings. Tiro was also an author who wrote a biography of Cicero that is now lost.
Tiro's narration gives the novel a personal and intimate tone. He tells the story as an eyewitness and a participant of the events. He shares his thoughts and feelings about Cicero and his enemies. He expresses his admiration and affection for Cicero but also his criticism and frustration. He reveals his hopes and fears for Cicero's fate and for the Republic.
Tiro's narration also gives the novel a realistic and credible tone. He provides many details and descriptions of the places, people, and situations that he observes. He cites many sources and documents that he consults or transcribes. He explains many terms and concepts that he uses or learns. He also admits his limitations and uncertainties as a narrator. He acknowledges his biases and errors as a witness. He also invites his readers to verify or question his account.
The Language: A Blend of Modern and Classical Elements
The novel is written in English but it also incorporates some elements of Latin, the language of ancient Rome. The novel uses some Latin words and phrases that are relevant or familiar to the context or the theme. For example, the novel uses Latin names and titles for the characters and institutions, such as Marcus Tullius Cicero, Lucius Sergius Catilina, consul, senator, or tribune. The novel also uses Latin terms and expressions for some concepts or practices that are specific or common to ancient Rome, such as imperium, lustrum, veto, or SPQR. The novel also uses some Latin quotations or references from Cicero's speeches or writings, such as O tempora! O mores! or Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?
The novel also adapts some elements of Latin to English to make them more accessible or appealing to modern readers. The novel translates some Latin words or phrases into English equivalents or synonyms that convey their meaning or effect. For example, the novel translates res publica as republic, bona fide as in good faith, or alea iacta est as the die is cast. The novel also modifies some Latin grammar or syntax to fit English rules or conventions that ensure clarity or fluency. For example, the novel changes some Latin word order or cases to match English word order or prepositions that indicate their function or relation. The novel also adds some punctuation marks or capital letters to English sentences that are derived from Latin sources that lack them.
The Research: A Meticulous Reconstruction of Historical Events
or Sallust's histories) and secondary sources (such as modern books or articles on ancient Rome) that provided him with information and inspiration for his novel. Harris also visited many places and sites that are related to the novel's setting and events, such as Rome, Pompeii, or Pistoria. Harris also used some tools and techniques that helped him to recreate the historical atmosphere and context of his novel, such as maps, timelines, calendars, or coins.
Harris's research gives the novel a high level of accuracy and authenticity. He follows the historical facts and chronology as closely as possible. He includes many historical details and references that are relevant and accurate. He also avoids or corrects some historical errors or myths that are common or popular.
Harris's research also gives the novel a high level of depth and complexity. He explores many historical aspects and perspectives that are often overlooked or ignored. He also analyzes some historical issues and debates that are still relevant or controversial.
Summary of the Main Points
In conclusion, Conspirata is a historical novel by Robert Harris that narrates the events that took place in Rome between 63 BC and 58 BC, during Cicero's consulship and the aftermath of his suppression of the Catiline conspiracy. The novel is a thrilling and entertaining story that blends historical facts with fictional elements, creating a vivid portrait of one of the most fascinating and turbulent periods in history. The novel is also a rich and informative book that teaches a lot about the history and culture of ancient Rome. The novel is also a profound and insightful work that reflects on the timeless themes of human nature, such as power and corruption, friendship and betrayal, history and fiction. The novel is written in a captivating style that combines a first-person narration by Tiro, Cicero's secretary, with a blend of modern and classical language elements, based on meticulous research on historical sources and sites.
Recommendation and Rating
I highly recommend Conspirata to anyone who is interested in historical fiction, ancient Rome, or Cicero. It is a novel that will not only entertain you but also educate you and inspire you. It is a novel that you will not forget easily.
I give Conspirata a rating of 5 out of 5 stars. It is one of the best novels I have ever read.
Here are some frequently asked questions about Conspirata:
Is Conspirata a standalone novel or part of a series?
Conspirata is the second novel in a trilogy by Robert Harris about the life and times of Cicero. The first novel is Imperium, which covers Cicero's rise to power from his childhood to his election as consul. The third novel is Dictator, which covers Cicero's downfall and death during the civil war between Caesar and Pompey.
Do I need to read Imperium before reading Conspirata?
No, you do not need to read Imperium before reading Conspirata. Each novel can be read independently as they focus on different phases of Cicero's career and the political events that shaped his destiny. However, reading Imperium first can help you to understand better Cicero's background, personality, and motivations.
How accurate is Conspirata as a historical novel?
Conspirata is very accurate