Robert Harris's fictionalised biography of Cicero in three parts, as told by his slave and confidential secretary Tiro. At the time of writing, the first two parts, Imperium and Lustrum have been released, covering the period from Cicero's elevation to the Senate until the end of Caesar's first consulship and his departure for Gaul.An unnamed third book was at one point slated for a 2011 release, but has not yet materialised.
Tiro: ... trying to fix precisely what it was about him which made him so disconcerting, I think it was this: his indiscriminate and detached friendliness, which you knew would never waver or diminish even if he had just decided to have you killed.
Caesar is noted as having perfect manners, even when sentencing a man to death.
Catilina is delightful company for anyone he thinks is on his side.
The Alcoholic: Antonius Hybrida. Hybrida drinks wine straight, which is a big deal in ancient Rome, where almost everybody cut wine with water.
Ambition Is Evil: In a story filled with ambitious people, Caesar's desire for power stands out. Cicero calls Caesar's lust for power a "disease". At the end of Lustrum, after Caesar tells a story about how he'd rather be the top man in some no-account village over being the second man in Rome, a horrified Cicero goes into exile rather than work for Caesar.
Aristocrats Are Evil: Largely averted due to the story's Black and Gray Morality. But the aristocratic leaders are some of the more honourable characters and pretty much the only ones to stand by Cicero after his fall from grace at the end of the second book.
Bald of Evil: Crassus. Caesar is also noted to be losing his hair.
Based on a True Story: Harris mentions in the front matter to the novels that he attempted to stick to history but deviated from history whenever the demands of fiction required.
This is particuarly noted in Lustrum when Cicero takes rather dubious methods in his consular year: bribing people, rigging ballots and later taking bribes. He's not as above corruption as people think he is.
Blue Blood: The aristocrats take themselves and their position very seriously.
Played with in the case of Caesar. He considers his family the most ancient in Rome, and as such despises the other aristocrats and supports populist policies. Tiro suggests that Caesar's popularity with the mob is because he looks down on everyone, and is far too superior to be much of a snob.
Tiro: "The day I am parted from Tiro," said Cicero prophetically, "is the day I retire from public life."
The Casanova: Caesar, who seems to have a thing for the wives of his fellow Roman elites. One of Caesar's mistresses remarks bitterly (after he throws her over) that Caesar likes to fuck consul's wives. Cicero is quite irritated when Caesar makes a veiled pass at Cicero's wife.
Catulus: [after Caesar is elected Pontifex Maximus] Can you imagine Caesar responsible for the Vestal Virgins? He has to live among them! It would be like entrusting your hen coop to a fox!
Day of the Jackboot: The underlying theme of the series is the collapse of the Roman Republic and the coming of the Roman Empire. There is a scene in Lustrum where Cato lays out quite clearly for Cicero what is to come—the continuing habit of empowering people like Pompey with special commands will result in those commanders controlling the state. The Senate will be powerless and whoever commands the loyalty of the legions will rule. (See also Pompey's speech under Historical In-Joke below.) At one point in Lustrum Tiro talks about how Caesar destroyed the Roman constitution and expresses a wish that Caesar is burning in hell.
Downer Ending: The books as written have quite the Downer Ending, as Cicero goes into exile while Clodius's goons burn down his house and Caesar goes off to war. If Harris ever finishes the series it will presumably have more of a Bittersweet Ending—the Roman Republic will be destroyed and Cicero will be murdered on Antony's orders, but Tiro will get his freedom and the little farm that he yearned for.
Lucius, disappointed by his cousin Cicero's ethical lapses, drinks hemlock.
Suggested a couple of times as a "way out" for characters down on their luck. Apparently did happen to Catulus's father.
Every Man Has His Price: Much of the first book's plot involves Cicero trying to stop Crassus bribing various members of government to block his legislation, while turning down bribes himself. Things get a bit more complicated in the second book.
Everyone Is Related: Most of the major aristocratic characters are related to each other by marriage (or extramarital affairs) at least.
False Flag Operation: Cicero invents out of whole cloth a desire by a group of Gauls to support Catilina's conspiracy, in order to find out just who amongst the Roman Senate supports Catilina and to get documentary proof.
Foregone Conclusion: Particularly in the first book, Tiro makes allusions to what (we know from history) will happen towards the end.
In the second book, Tiro mentions that Caesar had a habit when he sensed danger of throwing his head back and almost literally smelling the air, then mentions that he saw Caesar do this just before Caesar was murdered.
"Get Out of Jail Free" Card: Cicero thinks he has one of these throughout the second book, thanks to his connections with Pompey and Caesar and his public popularity.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Catilina can be charming and charismatic but is also prone to bouts of violent rage in which he seems to forget where he is.
Happiness in Slavery: In Imperium Tiro comments on how he and the other household slaves are happy to belong to "so eminent a man" as Cicero. Averted later, however, as Tiro years for his own country farm and wishes Cicero would free him.
Heel-Face Revolving Door: Caelius Rufus, who starts out as one of Crassus's supporters, then supports Cicero after studying law with him, then throws his lot in with Clodius and leads the prosecution of Hybrida which is part of the campaign against Cicero. If the book series is continued, the door will revolve again when Cicero, after returning from exile, defends Caelius Rufus in court.
Heel-Face Turn: Hortensius, Cicero's longtime rival, winds up the first novel by throwing his support to Cicero and getting him elected consul.
Historical-Domain Character: Most of the cast and all of the major characters. Tiro, as the front matter to each novel points out, was a real guy who apparently did write a biography of Cicero. That and everything else he wrote has been lost to history. Also, Tiro is in fact traditionally credited with the invention of shorthand.
On the first page Tiro says of Cicero that "it is of power and the man that I sing." This is a play on the opening line of Vergil's The Aeneid, "Of arms and the man I sing" (Arma virumque cano).
When Pompey gives his acceptance speech after the Lex Gabinia bestows upon him enormous power to defeat the pirates, he says "I shall now again put on that uniform once so dear and so familiar to me, the sacred red cloak of a Roman commander in the field, and I shall not take it off again until victory in this war is won—or I shall not survive the outcome!" Minus the bit about the sacred red cloak, this is nearly word-for-word a quote from Adolf Hitler's speech to the Reichstag upon the start of World War II, Sept. 1, 1939.
Human Sacrifice: Lustrum opens with the discovery of a boy slave who appears to have been butchered in a ritualistic human sacrifice. Cicero is appalled. It turns out that Catilina did it in order to bind together his fellow conspirators.
It's All About Me: Cicero becomes wildly egotistical after his consulship, comparing himself to Romulus and Pompey, attempting to write an epic poem about himself, and telling everyone how awesome he is. Tiro concludes that Cicero is doing this because he is wracked with guilt over the execution of five senators that were part of Catilina's conspiracy.
The Last DJ: Cato gains a lot of respect for his uncompromising old Republican ideals, but it doesn't mean anyone agrees with him or does him any favours.
He notes correctly that giving special commands to people like Pompey opens the pathway to military dictatorship (see Day of the Jackboot above). When Pompey has his triumph, Cato observes, again correctly, that Rome is invading and conquering far-flung areas that Romans have no business in, and that this expansionism is undermining the Republic.
Caesar: Sit down, you damn sanctimonious windbag!
Literary Agent Hypothesis: The books are presented as Tiro's biography of his boss and the times that they lived in. (As noted above, the real Tiro apparently actually did write such a book, since lost to history.)
Ungrateful Bastard: Pompey, who doesn't lift a finger to help Cicero get elected consul after Cicero got Pompey his special command under the Lex Gabinia. And again when Pompey does nothing to help Cicero avoid exile, after Cicero has been arguing for Pompey's bills in the Senate.
Unreliable Narrator: Played with. Tiro repeatedly points out that he's trying to be honest about Cicero, regardless of whether it shows him in the best light. He has no such restraint with a couple of the characters whom he dislikes.
Women's Mysteries: The rituals of the "Good Goddess" (Bona Dea), which are female-only, to the extent that Terentia wears a cloak buttoned up to her neck to prevent Cicero from seeing her robe. A great scandal occurs when Clodius sneaks into the ceremony Disguised in Drag and is caught.
Write Who You Know: Harris was friends with a number of figures in the New Labour government; the second book is dedicated "to Peter" (Mandelson) and there are a number of conscious echoes.
And it's a book about the man who practically invented the use of empty rhetoric to win votes. Funny, that...
Harris has also noted in interviews the similiarities between Cicero and Barack Obama.
Young Future Famous People: Mark Antony is introduced as an 18-year-old hellraiser who hangs out with Clodius. The second time Antony pops up, two years later, all Tiro can remember is how many pimples Antony had.