Wednesday, July 9

Imperium - the story of Cicero the Republican

One of the areas which I am intermittently checking is ancient roman history. After bumbling around via Gibbons (perhaps the finest example of English writing any time...), Caesar (too many links to report), Augustus, it is now the turn of Cicero when I just finished the book called as Imperium. A fascinating story of perhaps the greatest orator in human history. The book itself looks at a relatively short slice of his life, from the time of the beginning of his legal career to the time he is just becoming consul. And this was written from the perspective of his slave, Tiro (apparently the father of stenography).

This book created what I would call as the human face of his speeches. I have read his speeches and his books, but they do not really give me the sense of touching the man. Very very few speeches do that, give you an indication of the grandeur of the man the timelessness of the message (the four score and... speech by Lincoln, Tryst with Destiny... by Nehru, We shall fight on the beaches...., Blood, toil, tears and sweat..... and this was their finest Churchill are unique exceptions, here's another list of good speeches). Not surprising, you need to be personally connected with the event and the then political, social, economic and international environment for the speech to speak to you. For example, I would not appreciate any speeches made by the Soviet or Muslim or Arab leaders as I would not fit into that world view.

But once you read about their lives, even though its fictional, these speeches come to life as you get some context, even though the story is fictional. The Cicerian speeches are masterpieces, I particularly liked the Catiline Orations. And you can understand why after reading the book. The man came out from the provinces, not a true Roman. And he got to the top because Rome was a republic, rather than the dictatorship or the empire it turned into.

And perhaps it was that was the reason that he became the enemy of such a host of luminaries ranging from Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. Father of the Republic, was one of the honorific's he was given but that's after the end of the book. The book talked about him being a politician and how he had to make some debatable decisions, like his support for Pompey.

But some insights were brilliant, at least to me. I recognised that in me as well. He wanted something he can believe in and then his speech came across as truly believable and faithful. Its so true, he would spend time on trying to find that one fulcrum on which he can tip his speech. Same with me, if I do not believe in the lecture topic, or the speech subject, my speech / lecture dribbles, literally dribbles. But the other thing is also true, he prepared like a madman. Staying awake at night, working like an idiot, preparation, preparation, preparation, all those helped in making him the great orator he was.

And he was flexible, if something would not work, he would switch dramatically. And that's something that is extremely difficult. Once you have a good established way of speaking and preparation, it is horribly difficult to switch. And for him to switch at something huge such as a criminal case was just amazing and courageous.

The book suffers from some bits that I would have liked to see much more, why not take it to the end of his life? the fun time started after he became a consul. And the language is a bit dry and unemotional. After all, the book has been written by a slave and where are the huge emotions? (Where's the old Taita language?) Bit of a bland re-telling of the story. And the topping and tailing could have been better, it got introduced very abruptly and ended very much so as well.

But hey, got the book as part of a 20 book for £1 sale at Oxfam, not bad, eh? So would say its 5/10.

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