By Robert Harris
Dictator is Robert Harris's third novel on Cicero completing the story begun and continued in Imperium and Lustrum of the last fifty years or so of the Roman Republic. Dictator focuses on the ascendancy of Julius Caesar and the civil war that followed his assassination.
Cicero is a promising vehicle for such a story because he knew all the major players and his life is extremely well documented. Much of his private correspondence was published during or after his lifetime as were many of his speeches both legal and political. He also wrote extensively on philosophical and political subjects.
Harris's Cicero is seen from the perspective of his slave and later freedman Tiro, also a historical figure who did indeed write a lost biography of his master and patron.
Cicero is a curious figure, a "new man" who advocated the interests of the old Roman aristocracy, a great writer and orator who wanted to be a politician but lacked a real power base.
Harris's Cicero is basically a decent chap, especially compared to the likes of Clodius and Mark Antony but his preference for the optimates while historically accurate is not really explicated in a satisfying way. What Harris does capture well is Cicero's propensity to change sides and his talent for rationalisation. In the end of course this proved a fatal ability.
Harris has delivered a book about an atypical ancient protagonist which is faithful to the ancient sources: Cicero is not a warrior nor an absolute ruler nor, thank heavens, an ancient detective. He is a politician, lawyer, family man and philosopher. This book does justice to Cicero's complexity.