Thursday, December 6, 2007

Roman History

Just finished reading a book about Rome, rather the Roman Empire and the whole experience has fused all my past knowledge of the Roman empire(literary and cinematic) to create a collage of Roman history in my mind, something like pasting lots of news snippets on a storyboard and creating a tale from those snippets using your imagination to fill the gaps. It may not make you knowledgeable but its fun.

The book is called Imperium by Robert Harris (who is currently my favourite thriller writer, more about his work some other day), and is about a lawyer called Marcus Cicero and his career in Roman politics. Well then in Rome one rose in politics only if you were from an aristocratic family or had lots of money (you will note things haven’t changed much in 2000 + years) but Cicero having no assets except the gift of the gab and an overwhelming ambition (also pretty good resources, mind you) still tried to fight his way up the ladder. Now while the story was definitely very fascinating, fast paced, what made it neater for me were all the characters I had read about earlier or seen in movies who kept popping up for special appearances. There was Crassus (from Kubrik’s Spartacus) and Spartacus himself is mentioned as well as Pompey the great and Julius Caesar before he became the Julius Caesar. And like today, politics had no permanent friends or enemies, everyone is full of deception (the wheels within wheels kind) and continually tries to outplay everyone else.

I love that Roman history has so much drama (beating any soap opera hands down) that it all almost seems unreal. Now I have read a bit about the Roman era, from Robert Graves’ ‘I Claudius’, which is about the Roman era from the reign of Augustus, Tiberus and the very (in)famous Caligula followed by the crowning of Claudius himself, and its inferior sequel, Claudius the God and the very scholarly ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’. Through all of them I have liberally dropped my jaw in disbelief as to whether all this actually happened, though I loved them all.

So I was quite stunned yet again when the notes at the end of the novel mentioned that all the events actually happened and there was no liberal garnishing of fiction into the storyline with real characters thrown in for effect. So when I wikipediaed and found that not only did the entire Cicero story (more or less) actually happen but what happened to Cicero after this book ends is 10 times more dramatic than the book, I dropped my jaw again albeit for the opposite reason. This is possibly the only time in life I will actually be very disappointed and pissed if there isn’t a sequel. Now how many books can you say that about?

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