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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars competent and comprehensive, but at a pedestrian freshman college level, 2 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician (Paperback)
This is a fairly good book that offers nothing really new: you get very solid overviews of how the government functioned, what people believed in, and how a major politician (and far better writer) tried to mold things in his own way. Alas, there is nothing whatsoever original in Everitt's interpretation, no provocative thesis based on new evidence (written or archaeological). So what you get, essentially, is the version that Cicero and a few of his contemporaries present of themselves, which is bound to be wrapped up in propaganda. As a classics major, I knew all of this already. There is no doubt that this is a good undergraduate-level panoramic view, but it does not make the man or his era come to life. You hear the details of Caesar's life, Cato's, Crassus', and Pompey's, but not intimately or in any sense living. It is too dryly scholarly for that.

Cicero was a conservative "new man", who wanted to preserve the Republic (and the institution that allowed him to rise from a local Voscan, i.e. non-Roman, aristocrat to the pinnacle of the Roman State). His entire career was shaped by this, though he made many compromises and was Caesar's client for quite a long time. He made one major early career move, squashing a conspiracy (Cataline's) that allowed executions and de-thrownings in certain circumstances, which would ultimately help to undermine the Republic. Then, very late in his career, he opposed Marc Anthony in the name of restoring the Republic and paradoxically supported the future dictator Octavian, only to lose his life in Anthony's revenge when Anthony cut a deal with Octavian. About all of this, Cicero wrote with unequalled elegance in Latin, much of which is quoted to very good effect in translation here. This is a great pleasure to read in Everitt's prose.

So much is known - in this standard interpretation - and Everitt presents it well, indeed comprehensively. However, there are other ways to see this. Perhaps Cicero was not really a good politician, but a rhetorician and naive amateur whose actions were ultimately destructive to his cause, the Republic. His words survive to spin his motives as "good and just". Perhaps he was a fussy man with unrealistic ideas - the Roman state had become too big to govern by the fractious and mediocre men in the Senate, which had been decimated repeatedly for 60-some years - and was ultimately a fool under the thumb of other, shrewder politicians like Octavian. Unfortunately, Everitt does not develop these lines of argument at all or question the conventional line. Instead, he accepts Cicero's portrayal of events almost verbatim, at least in my reading, without the slightest skepticism of the slippery political agenda beneath the eloquence. This is superficial.

I do not regret having read this. However, if you want the era to really live, I would suggest reading McCullogh's series, starting with the First Man of Rome. You will learn as much as any textbook can offer, but with much more flavor and daring.

Recommended as a competent intro, if rather dry.
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Location: Balmette Talloires, France

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