By Henry John Walker

I.B. Tauris (2015) h/b 271pp £62 (ISBN 9781784530037)

The inside cover blurb states that, despite their popularity in the ancient world, no dedicated study of the Dioskouroi has been published for over a hundred years. W.’s book remedies this in spades. From early India through the whole Greek world to Italy, he documents every story told about these two unusual gods, drawing on inscriptions and vase paintings, etc., as well as texts. The result is a fascinating read, including many details likely to be unfamiliar to most readers (did you know, for example, that the story of their birth from Leda’s egg was only a late, Hellenistic, invention?).

The bit least familiar to most classicists, unless they are also Sanskrit scholars, is their appearance in the Rig Veda from Bronze Age India. There they are called the Ashvins, and have the same essential characteristics that describe the Greek Dioskouroi: they are two young men, probably twins, they are associated with horses, they have a beautiful divine sister or wife (or both), they are close to and loved by the common people and will often come riding to their rescue when called on in moments of danger (whence they are also known as ‘the saviours’), and, probably for this very reason, are looked down on by the other gods, who have to be forced into accepting them; after the class system has solidified into rigid castes in later India, they disappear from the record. The early Greeks got into a muddle whether they were divine or human heroes (see especially the very odd account of their afterlife in Odyssey XI), but from the sixth century on they are clearly divine. W. goes into some detail over their association with the Spartan system of training the young men (and women, through their female counterparts the Leucippides, or White Horse Girls), and ranges over myth variants from other parts of Greece which may be less well known (such as the Athenian story of Helen’s abduction by Theseus). W. ends with an account of how they migrated up from Greek colonies in South Italy, through Etruria and Latium, until they became the Roman Gemini or Castores, still with the same essential characteristics.

We are increasingly aware these days of the early interconnections between the Mediterranean and ‘farther East’, but it is still hard to make sense of what is still a scrappy collection of stories and other bits of evidence, even when there is a discernible underlying theme. There is always a temptation to build a narrative in which one puts too much faith, however good it looks as a hypothesis. W. rightly castigates some earlier scholars for doing just that, but he is, perhaps, a little bit guilty of it himself. In his conclusion, he portrays the Ashvins/Dioskouroi as essentially belonging to the oppressed common people (for example, only the lower classes actually ride on horseback), sneered at and suppressed by the ruling warlords and priestly castes. It seems a credible hypothesis, but no more than that, and it doesn’t explain everything: for example, why do there have to be two of them?

That said, the book is full of enjoyable detail. There is a full bibliography and very comprehensive references and notes. In some places, readers’ knowledge is perhaps too much taken for granted; in particular, a timeline chart showing the relative approximate dates of the Indian, Greek and other sources would have been helpful, especially for non-Sanskrit experts; this reviewer had to visit Wikipedia a few times to bone up on the Rig Veda.

Colin McDonald


By Sandra R. Joshel and Lauren Hackworth Petersen

CUP (2014) h/b 286pp £65 (ISBN 9780521191647)

 The authors begin with an accusation: that we, archaeologists, historians or tourists, by concentrating on the more obviously informative parts of a site, have come to see those sites only from the perspective of the owner, or of one of their guests. As visitors ourselves, we move from frescoes to mosaic fragments to garden features; we do not consider the small unlabelled rooms and connecting corridors. And even when slaves feature in those frescoes, or toiled in the workrooms, we miss the chance to imagine how they might have actually lived in the space we share with them. Instead we bemoan the paucity of evidence, literary and archaeological, for the life of slaves and resign ourselves to their oblivion.

This book reveals how much is to be gained by looking differently. Its method, clearly set out in the introduction (and restated succinctly at the very end), is to examine the ruins of streets and buildings, in this case those of Pompeii, Herculaneum and the surrounding areas, and at Ostia, from the point of view of owners who were trying to control their slaves and, critically, from the point of view of slaves who were trying to make the most of their constrained circumstances. The ‘master strategies’ of the owners are illuminated both by their complaints about slave behaviour and by the laws and agricultural manuals which, albeit from differing periods, define the constraints they imposed. The ‘slave tactics’ are derived from whatever it would take to resist the master strategies in a particular context. Thus the owners were concerned about, among much else, laziness, truancy, intrusiveness and negligence—and choreographed the slaves’ movements to ensure the most effective supervision and prevention. The slaves, on the other hand, would be seeking opportunities to evade that supervision and grab a rest, prolong an errand, filch some of the bread they were baking or vent their frustration by breaking a tool. From the layouts and features of the buildings or streets we can begin to imagine that choreography and its leakage.

The book then applies its method to four different settings—the town house, the street, the workshop and the country villa. In each case, the authors examine the topography before considering it in action—a banquet at the House of Menander has the slaves carrying food to the diners, shirking and escaping from the diners’ line of sight. We discover the series of much lower doorways that indicate a ‘slave route’ and the temptations to loiter that staircases and store rooms, above and below ground, presented. The street, with its regular or festival clamour, offered a different range of opportunities for the slave fetching water, or going to a shop or a temple, or slipping out through a back doorway: taverns were not choosy about their customers. The chapter on the workshop describes the stages of baking and fulling in detail, to discuss how these might have been managed or deliberately mismanaged by those shackled to their place, and to digress onto the potent association of slaves with donkeys. The chapter on villas moves from large out-of-town houses such as the villa at Oplontis, where we meet the service corridor marked with (it is conjectured) go-faster stripes, to villae rusticae or farms, perhaps run by a bailiff rather than the owner himself, and the estate around them. Here the owner seems the ghost rather than the large body of slaves needed for the operation.

The authors are aware of the limitations of their approach—their picture is of a few particular localities; small buildings, where the slaves and the owners were crowded together, offer few clues to how the slaves lived, if indeed there were any slaves at all; different times of day would have meant different activities and different choreography; the number of slaves working on a given task in a shop is hard to gauge. To this one might add that the derivation of slaves’ behaviour from complaints about, or restraints upon, their misbehaviour automatically generates a stand-off which might not always have existed; and the process of deduction which the authors apply can seem repetitive, though never dull. Even given a few caveats, the result is nothing less than a wake-up call: it demonstrates that, in making slaves vanish from the buildings of Pompeii and Herculaneum, we have in fact taken our cue from their owners. The great merit of this study is to restore to us, at least in part, the eyes of a manager of slaves, to give us a sense of the uneasy relationship between the citizens of Campania and their workforce, and to enable and induce us to interpret archaeological remains from the slaves’ standpoint.

The book is magnificently produced: there are copious plans and photographs, many taken by the authors, closely married to the text. Bring a magnifying glass, however, for some of the numbering. The notes are comprehensive, as is the index.

Christopher Tanfield


Ed. by A. Bierl and J. Latacz; English version ed. by S.D. Olson, and tr. by B.W. Millis and S. Strack

De Gruyter (2000 and 2011) h/b 284pp £97.99 (ISBN 9781614517375)

The unusual genesis of this volume calls for explanation. It was originally published in German in 2000, to herald the immense, multi-authored Basel Commentary, planned to extend to 48 volumes. However, as time went by, it became apparent that the growing importance of English—and the concomitant relative decline of German—rendered an English version desirable: indeed, imperative. There were financial considerations, too, which fall outside this review. After discussions, S. Douglas Olson, has taken on the General Editorship of the English version, which, it is to be assumed, will run in parallel with the German one, though instead of the text with a new translation of the German editors’ version, the Anglophone collaborators will use ‘Richard (sic) Lattimore’s popular version’, from which the lemmata are to be drawn. (The Greek text being used by the Swiss editors is that of the Teubner edition [1998-2000]of the late M.L. West.) Finally, this volume has been updated or improved in some ways, to reflect the needs of its Anglophone readership, notably in the bibliography, where, however, such familiar names as D.L. Page, H.L. Lorimer, C.M Bowra and H.T. Wade-Gery are not to be found.

The (sensible) object of providing Prolegomena on this generous scale is to obviate, so far as possible, the need ‘to discuss indispensable basic information anew at every relevant point’. The 11 articles, after the two prefaces, the second one being for the English edition, run as follows: 1: Introduction: commenting on Homer from the Beginnings to this Commentary (Latacz). In this important chapter, it is argued that the current Commentary is regarded as a step towards unifying the German (Ameis-Hentze-[Cauer]) and Anglophone (especially American) traditions of Homeric scholarship (Leaf-Kirk); 2: History of the Text (M.L. West): writing in 2000 with less than his usual sparkle, he does not offer a date for when the poem was first written down, though Wachter (chapter 4) suggests ‘early 8th century’ (a suggestion which Hugh Lloyd-Jones [1981], in a different context, had regarded as astonishing); W. severely criticizes Allen’s Oxford Classical Text of 1930 for its confused and self-contradictory apparatus criticus and emphasis on orthographical trivia. 3: Formularity and Orality (Latacz): a justifiably long section. L. starts with Aristarchus, moves on to Wolf, and takes matters a stage further via Hermann’s masterly comprehension of the link between orality and formularity, with explanation of the filler-role performed by epitheta ornantia. More work was carried out by such scholars as Ellendt, Duentzer and Witte, before L. arrives at Milman Parry, to whom, in one way or another, the rest of the chapter is devoted. Parry’s work was first taken up in France (it is not always remembered that his thesis was written in French), but rather slowly elsewhere: L. gives credit to Albert Lord, C.M. Bowra and Albin Lesky as early supporters, and goes on to argue that the ‘boom’ started in 1971, thanks to the translation of Parry’s work by his (equally short-lived) son Adam. (Here, the reviewer demurs: Parry’s influence was dominant, at least at Oxford, by the early 1950s.). The rest of the chapter largely consists of additions to, or modifications of, Parry’s work, before we are told that E. Visser overcame Parry’s limitations in 1987 by showing that the singer shaped the hexameter via the positioning of determinants (subject, object, etc) and variables (verbs, particles), and filling out deliberately retained spaces with free supplements. This direction of recent research (says L.) ‘promises to validate Parry’. 4: Grammar of Homeric Greek (Wachter): this long article relies heavily on Chantraine (Munro is not mentioned). 5: Homeric Metre (Nuenlist): this brief section calls on the work of West, Maas and H. Fraenkel; N. points out in a footnote that the famous miurus, aiolon ophin, at Iliad 12.208, may go back to ‘opphin’ in Ionic pronunciation: so West, 1982. 6: Cast of Characters of the Iliad, divided between Gods (Graf), with substantial ‘biographies’ of the major figures and references to where they most relevantly appear, and Human Beings (Stoevesant), with the same approach: a distinctly helpful vade-mecum. 7: The Structure of the Iliad (Latacz): this includes a brief discussion of the ‘Analyst—Unitarian’ controversy from Wolf (who effectively opened the debate) to the present, and presents an Aristotelian approach to the topic, with graphs; when Latacz primly observes that Schadewaldt’s Iliasstudien (1938), with its Unitarian approach, was published at a time ‘detrimental to the rapid dissemination of its findings’ one has the very faint sense of a nose being wrinkled. L.’s conclusion—that authorial interweaving of different elements was so ‘meaningful that the recipients’ general impression of a work of the highest quality was reinforced by aspects of its structure as well’—is disappointingly, if unsurprisingly, bland. 8: Homeric Poetics in Keywords (Nuenlist/de Jong): this is basically a substantial glossary with explanations, from ‘ABC-Scheme’ to ‘Word-play’. 9: New trends in Homeric Scholarship (Bierl): this complicated chapter (27 sections), in which the work of Nagy makes frequent appearances, does not lend itself to summary; it concludes by saying that the Commentar[ies], ‘in their hermeneutic “reperformance” and re-digest of earlier and recent research results keep the tradition of this outstanding text alive and fresh’. 10: Character Index (Stoevesant, with Fornara, Gyr, and Suter): another glossary, with references (Zeus has approximately 600). 11: Homeric-Mycenaean Word-Index (Wachter): the list of words is impressively long; its aim is naturally to direct the attention of the reader of Homer to Mycenaean Greek.

It will be clear from the foregoing that the work under notice here has some of the characteristics of a ‘Companion’, and the problem inbuilt to all such works cannot be ignored. So far, six double volumes of text/translation/commentary have appeared, with three more due imminently, and a further three by 2016/7. Thus, twelve books of the Iliad will have been covered; a grant application is being made for continuation of the project, for which no dates are suggested, though the intention is to produce ‘approximately three volumes per year’. Those chapters in the Prolegomena which are of a more or less factual nature (1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, perhaps 2 and 8) will have enduring value, but other chapters (3, 7, 9) are liable to become out of date, especially if the timescale becomes extended. It is not clear from Olson’s contribution to the Preface how far the English language version has so far progressed; reliance on Richmond Lattimore’s error-strewn translation (1951) is hardly ideal, even if unavoidable. That said, there can be no doubting that the volume is one of substantial utility—which the addition of a chapter on ‘Homer and the Monuments’ would surely have enhanced. The translation shows relatively little sign of its German origin (no small achievement), and the printing standards are of the highest quality. Only the price may be daunting, though it seems that a digital version is, or will be, available.

Colin Leach


Ed. by M. Fantuzzi and C. Tsagalis

CUP (2015) h/b 679pp £120.00 (ISBN 9781197912592)

This book embodies the revival of the Epic Cycle, a collection of archaic Greek epics, now largely lost, surviving only in fragments and prose summaries, long considered second-rate, but once part of the cultural and mythological backdrop against which Homer composed the Iliad and Odyssey and was himself received. This volume sets the study of these poems on a whole new footing and makes a timely appearance, just after the publication of commentaries on the Troy epics by the late ML West (2013) and the Theban epics by M Davies (2015). It features a stellar cast: some of the greatest names in the field collaborate in this intellectual tour de force which surveys equally the formation of the Epic Cycle, the individual epics, and the Cycle’s reception in antiquity.

The scope of this collection is unprecedented: from in-depth discussions of the formation of the Epic Cycle and its relationship to other archaic epics, to discussion of its linguistic features and possible authorships (Chs 1-9), to contributions surveying the individual poems (Chs 11-21), to the reception of the Cycle from archaic lyric, to tragedy, Hellenistic poetry, Roman epic, the ancient novel, imperial Greek epic (Chs 22-32), and chapters on the Cycle in Graeco-Roman art (10 and 27). It is particularly pleasing to see the inclusion of the late John Foley (himself editor of the splendidly interdisciplinary Blackwell Companion to Ancient Epic, 2009) and Martin West, two giants in the field.

While the volume is excellent on the relationship between the Epic Cycle and Homer (especially Chs. 5 and 6)—a focus that is entirely justifiable in view of the thematic overlap—a separate chapter on Hesiod and the Cyclic epics would not have gone awry: the editors and Finkelberg (Ch. 6) do a good job of contextualizing the stories narrated in the Cycle within the framework of Hesiod’s Race of Heroes (the fourth generation in his Myth of Ages, ended by the Trojan War as the Catalogue of Women tells us), but more remains to be said. No doubt the editors, quite reasonably, felt that owing to to the fragmentary state of the Cyclic epics and Hesiod’s Catalogue such a chapter would have been excessively speculative and wanted to avoid reduplication of material discussed elsewhere in the volume. That said, even if Hesiod does not receive systematic treatment, in the Index locorum Homer and he do receive near-equal mention, with the balance paradoxically in favour of the latter (20 versus 21 loci).

Those with a general interest in the Cycle—I am thinking particularly of teachers of high school students or undergraduates wanting to contextualize Hesiod and Homer—may prefer M Davies’ hundred-page survey (Bristol, 1989; 2nd ed. 2009), but this volume is where the real gems are found. At times the discussion is hypothetical and technical, as is inevitable in discussing fragmentary poems with multiple ascriptions that have gone through multiple redactions after centuries of oral transmission, but the contributions on the individual epics may serve instructors as convenient background reading (either to refresh their own memories or those of their students), while those on the Cycle’s reception do excellent service as introductory readings explicating its presence (or absence) in authors such as Pindar, Euripides, Callimachus, Vergil, Ovid, and many others.

The book is handsomely produced, with lavish margins, full bibliography, and helpful, if selective, indices. Typos are few and far between and generally non-intrusive (though the accidental transferral of the Cypria’s authorship to Arctinus instead of Stasinus on p. 23 may cause a double-take); formatting could have been applied more consistently (cf. e.g. the [non]-italicizing of transliterated Greek on p. 73). ‘Gifts often deceive the minds and deeds of men’ (The Returns, F7 West), but this collection is truly a boon for those seeking guidance in exploring the Cycle.

Gary Vos


By Mary Beard

Profile (2015) h/b 606pp £25 (ISBN 9781846683800)

Here is a history that is not a bland, homogenised trot through the ‘facts’ but a serious effort to engage the reader in how modern historians of the ancient world set about their business. However ‘wickedly subversive’ B. may consider herself to be (see her Times blog), she is subversive here only in as far as her account is wholly unsubversive: in accordance with thoroughly traditional canons of historical analysis, she derives her conclusions from close attention to the sources and the latest research, dealing with the evidence and arguments that persuade her to think as she does about Roman history. There is nothing ‘subversive’ about her arriving at conclusions different from others’ or questioning of assumptions (e.g. her throwaway remark that it is mediaeval sources alone that suggest Cicero’s secretary Tiro invented a form of shorthand). The result is a masterful account of Rome from its foundation (traditionally 753 BC) to the rise and collapse of the Republic and the emergence of the principate (AD 14), though her account of the following imperial period up to the death of Commodus (AD 192), full of interest as it is, goes off at a different tangent. It is also well illustrated, every picture enlarging intelligently on the text.

There are, inevitably, some irritating features: the use of ‘we’ when B. usually means ‘I’, the tendency to virtue-signal, her insistence that ‘we’ must maintain a ‘conversation’ with the Romans (but Romans cannot answer back: she means ‘think about the modern world in relation to the ancient’), her love of the word ‘complicated’ (it is rarely justified). But le style, c’est la femme même. The rewards far outweigh the niggles.

B.’s tactics are well illustrated by the book’s surprising opening episode: Cicero’s famous battle against the wicked revolutionary Catiline (63 BC). First, she tells the story as Cicero told it, so that we know clearly what the ‘received’ position is; then she points out the problems with Cicero’s version, and shows that it cannot all have been quite as cut as dried as he would have us understand. Result: the reader feels drawn into the problems that make the past so fascinating. B. also uses this incident to introduce us both to future uses of Cicero’s speeches against Catiline (quo usque tandem… popping up all over the place, including the 21st C) and to the developed world of Roman politics in the 1st C BC.

Not only does this opening, unchronological though it is, clearly exemplify her method, it also cleverly clears the ground for an important feature of what happens next: for when B. does take us back 700 years to when it all began with Romulus and the early kings, she has prepared us to be alert to the Roman habit of anachronistically finding the source of most of the features of their developed ‘constitution’ as early as they can in their history, however improbable; for to a Roman, the earlier, the more legitimate.

In general, one of the great strengths of the book is its ingenious running combination of narrative, source analysis, and alertness to the connections between any single incident and its wider ramifications—social, political, cultural etc.—across Roman history. So successful is this integrated approach that only rarely does B. have to take time out to digress from the main narrative, e.g. on Polybius, home life from a Ciceronian angle and so on. Another virtue of B.’s narrative is her enviable ability time and again to find the apt vignette or quotation to illustrate her point, e.g. the parody of the opening of the Aeneid: fullones ululamque cano, non arma virumque ‘Fullers and the owl I sing, not arms and the man’ (the owl being a mascot of the Roman laundry business) in a discussion of Roman literacy.

B. deals in detail with the Republic, probably because that is where her research has been centred. She finds the key to Rome’s eventual world domination in the ‘great leap forward’ in the 4th C BC, when its military expansion across Italy taught it two vital lessons: first, how to organise vast number of troops to perform successfully in distant places; and secondly, the importance of sophisticated alliances and treaty-making to turn (as the emperor Claudius later put it) enemies into allies, the key to Rome’s empire.

Her account of the Empire—bar the story of Augustus’ rise to power and efforts to secure his succession—is rather different. She takes the view that, because the Augustan ‘system’ stayed the same, there was not much to distinguish one emperor from the other. Though that is not the impression Tacitus or Suetonius leave with us (one wonders if she would apply the same argument to British prime ministers from e.g. Attlee to Cameron), her response is to treat the imperial world thematically.

That, indeed, has its own virtues. It enables B. to range broadly over cultural and social as well as political life. She covers the world of work, despised by the wealthy but life and death to ordinary people, e.g. it would have taken c. 9 million ‘porter loads’ to get all the wine, oil and grain from ship to shore in Rome every year, equivalent to work for about 3,000 men for three months; bar culture; making do; and ends with wondering why, given the vast disparity between rich and poor, there was no revolution. She suggests there was some degree of cultural permeability between rich and poor, and at least there was the possibility of improvement. It would have been worth pointing out that in that world there was a culture of acceptance of one’s lot in life (see all those fables, proverbs, gnômai etc.), and that in cases of serious shortage of e.g. food, the plebs rioted in the absolutely certainty that the emperor would respond. Changing the political order never crossed their mind.

In the true spirit of B., the reviewer ends with a few disagreements. She claims that a famous joke supports her argument that all emperors were deemed the same. After Octavian (the future Augustus) defeated Antony at Actium in 31 BC, a man offered to sell Octavian a raven trained to say ‘Hail, Caesar, victorious commander’. Duly impressed, Octavian bought it for a large sum. What he did not know was that this man’s friend had trained up a second raven to say ‘Hail, Antony, victorious commander’. But that tells one nothing about people’s perceptions of the two rivals for power, but everything about the plebs’ eye for making a sesterce or (in this case) 20,000. The point is proved by further examples when Octavian is already in power (which B. does not mention). A similarly trained parrot and magpie were offered, for which Octavian duly forked out. Then a poor cobbler thought it worth a try and bought a raven. But it had learning difficulties, and the cobbler kept on moaning at the waste of time and money. But he plugged on and duly offered it to Octavian, who thanked him but pointed out that he could hardly move for gratulatory avifauna. At which point the raven came up with the only other words it knew: ‘What a waste of time and money’ (opera et impensa periit). Octavian fell about and bought it for more than any of the others.

To stay with the empire: Tacitus begins his Annales with the words urbem Romam a principio reges habuere, which Beard translates as ‘From the very beginning kings have ruled the city of Rome’. Note the perfect: this, she claims, was a ‘direct challenge to the emperors’ insistence that they were not really old-style kings’. But the perfective meaning is clearly wrong: the Latin means ‘In the beginning kings ruled Rome’ to make the specific contrast in the very next sentence with the ‘freedom and consulate (i.e. the republican system) set up by Brutus’, when kings obviously did not rule Rome. Further, when Tacitus eventually reaches Augustus, he describes him, admittedly in double-edged terms, as princeps, ‘leading citizen’, and a man who brought peace and the rule of law back to Rome. Hardly ‘wicked king’ behaviour.

She also seems a little unfair on Pliny the Younger. She points out that modern historians are fascinated by ‘how cultural differences and oddities of this kind were debated … and how people in the provinces related their traditions, religions, languages and in some cases literatures to those of the imperial power – and vice versa’, but Pliny ‘does not seem to have been the slightest bit interested in this’. But as she says later on, Romans made few attempts ‘to impose their cultural norms or eradicate local traditions’. Why should they? Pliny had more important things to do, such as running a province, than earnestly enquiring about the locals’ views of the Latin language or how ‘Roman’ they felt. Roman governors did not think like modern historians.

One more example: when the Roman citizen Gavius cried out civis Romanus sum in vain to those torturing him on Verres’ orders, B. wonders if Palmerston (in relation to gunboat diplomacy) and J.F. Kennedy (freedom in West Berlin) were aware of that fact when citing the words. Whatever the answer—almost certainly ‘no’—it is hard to see what point B. is making, since it makes no difference to the importance of the principle. She might also have wondered whether they were rather thinking of St Paul’s famous appeal to Rome.

In summary, SPQR, which ends with a chapter-by-chapter bibliography of secondary sources, a time-line and index, is a fine achievement by a scholar at the top of her form, displaying a confidence that is bound to invite a response. It says everything about SPQR that is worth responding to.

Peter Jones


By Robert Harris

Hutchinson (2015) h/b 449pp £20.00 (ISBN 9780091752101)

‘The good and the bad, the noble and the base….No one else saw so much, and wrote about it while it was still fresh. This is history composed without any benefit of hindsight.’ (Cicero speaking, p. 422)

This is the third and final volume in Harris’ trilogy of novels on the life of Cicero, and we have been waiting for it for exactly six years since the appearance of Lustrum. It has been well worth the wait.

H.’s idea of using Tiro as the Boswell to Cicero’s Johnson works well throughout the trilogy and especially so in this final volume. It imposes limitations on what may be narrated—Tiro cannot report things which he did not see— but this allows the focus to remain on the central character throughout and avoids having the narrative dot from one end of the Roman world to another. It combines the immediacy of a highly concerned and intelligent first-person narrator with the objectivity of a third-person viewpoint. This makes H.’s trilogy more moving and personal than (say) the Alexander trilogy of Manfredi and reminds this reader of the painful honesty of I, Claudius.

The novel seamlessly interweaves the personal and the political—as is natural in a republic where personalities often both directed and reflected political policies. It also affords a historical sweep whereby the reader sees that the process, beginning with the lex Gabinia giving Pompey wide-ranging powers against the pirates, leads inexorably to Caesar’s extended power in Gaul and on to the principate. The faithful Tiro sees his master longing to be Laelius to the various Scipios (Pompey, Caesar, Octavian) who courted him when it suited them, and we see both the vanity and the eagerness of the tireless champion of the republic who combined idealistic Greek philosophy with hard-nosed Roman politics.

H, in one sense, has it easy: Cicero has left us such a massive amount of his own writings, many of them highly personal and most of them composed in his own superb style, that he can cherry-pick the best lines from Cicero himself, and the old Roman really deserves a cut of the royalties. Clodia as the ‘Medea of the Palatine’, the letter of Sulpicius on the death of Tullia, the somnium Scipionis—all these, and above all the personal letters, all furnish the text with direct sources which convey the beating heart of events in the protagonists’ own words, freely translated (did Octavian really say ‘Your unguarded remark was catnip to them?’ [p.406]) and vividly powerful. Teachers of Latin will all give a smile of recognition at the quotation of the famous invective delivered against Clodia in the pro Caelio (p. 104) which our pupils worked on for GCSE a few years back, and I was impressed at H.’s witty rendering of the famous laudandus, ornandus, tollendus phrase (ad fam.11.20.1) as ‘raised, praised and erased’ (p.400).

This is far more than a mere compilation, however. H. is writing a novel rather than a straight history, and his job is to bring the Roman world to life and shape the events and the fine Ciceronian words into a dynamic plot. There is some fine writing here—the malarial summer described (p. 416), with the ‘saucer-eyed starving children’, or the assassins of Caesar with ‘their togas spattered like butchers’ aprons’ after the deed (p. 297). The ‘dreadful stench of likely defeat hung in the air, as acrid as burning pitch’ (p. 411), and Cicero is nicely described as having a ‘face, old and hollowed with worry’ (p. 404). The death of Tullia is astonishingly moving (pp. 272-3), and the marital disharmony between Cicero and Terentia (who outlived her husband and went on to live to be 103) is tellingly caught by terse dialogue and suspicion. Here (again) the limitation of the narrative perspective is a strength: neither Tiro nor Cicero knew exactly what Terentia was getting up to with that dodgy Philotimus, and our narrator well captures the suspicion which ate away at the relationship.

Big characters are well drawn and memorably cast—Crassus, Cato, Pompey, Caesar, Antony. The lesser men are also superbly drawn—the tearaway Dolabella who married Tullia, the feckless but useful Caelius Rufus whose case gave Cicero the chance to finish off Clodia as a force in Rome. Cicero’s brother Quintus was no better than he ought to be, and (again) Tiro watches the brothers fight and mistrust each other; and yet the bond between them ultimately overpowered their differences. Cicero was virtually a bachelor for much of the time (as was Tiro), and this is a man’s world which is depicted by a man for whom women seem to have been something of a mystery. There is no pillow-talk, no intimate sexual confessions. Poor little Publilia, whom Cicero marries when she was fifteen and he was four times that age, is given fairly short shrift in the book as (alas) she was given in life. Cicero is presented here, as he says of his persona in his correspondence, ‘not as some improbable paragon’, but rather ‘as naked as a Greek statue’ (p. 423). It is not always a pretty sight.

The main strength of the Ciceronian perspective on events is twofold. On the one hand, it allows us to see Cicero struggling to work out at each juncture what to do next and weighing up options—something we are less accustomed to seeing as we know what is going to happen. On the other, it reminds us that he was not always ready for what life would throw at him. The young Octavian (a ‘boy … short and slender, pretty-faced but with a pasty complexion pitted with acne’, p. 329) outmanoeuvres the older man, and the second triumvirate suddenly lands on him with the full force of a hurricane. The narrative passes from Mutina to the proscriptions with the sort of alarming speed which it deserves, and we see Cicero pass from elation at the ‘salvation of the republic’ on p. 396 to his despair a mere dozen or so pages later. The Indian summer of the year of the Philippics was all too brief and was doomed to be followed by his swift demise.

 Ars est (of course) celare artem. You will often think, as you read, that you could have written this book, but I doubt that any of us could. There are a few typos (‘Bythinian’ for instance [p. 216]) but these will not mar the enjoyment. H. has achieved the impossible—he creates suspense in telling a story we all know inside out. He presents the death of his hero and the death of the republic together with his nice mixture of political disillusion and personal tragedy; and the figure of Cicero—flawed, fearful, and fallible as he was—comes over as one of the most human figures to emerge from the ancient world. For that we owe H. (and, of course, Cicero) a great debt of gratitude.

John Godwin