Life according to Robert Harris

What Robert Harris' character Cicero has to say on the big topics, from love and marriage to money and death, in Dictator, the last book of the Cicero series.


On love and marriage

'Only at that moment did I realise how much she [Terentia] must have suffered, living in Caesar's Rome and being married to me. I cannot say I felt love for her anymore, but I did feel great pity and affection and sadness, and I resolved there and then to make no mention of money or property – it was all done with, as far as I was concerned.'

On the meaning of life

'A human being can only train for death by leading a life that is morally good; that is – to desire nothing too much; to be content with what one has; to be entirely self-sufficient within oneself, so that whatever one loses one will still be able to carry on regardless; to do no harm; to realise that it is better to suffer an injury than to inflict one; to accept that life is a loan given by Nature without a due date and that repayment may be demanded at any time; that the most tragic character in the world is a tyrant who has broken all these precepts. Such were the lessons Cicero had learned and desired to impart to the world in the 60 second summer of his life.'

On parents

'The truth is the boy [Octavian] lacks a father figure – his natural father is dead; his stepfather is a goose; and his adopted father has left him the greatest legacy in history but no guidance on how to gain hold of it. Somehow I seem to have stepped into the paternal role, which is a blessing – not so much for me as for the republic.'

On money

'"This fixation of yours with making money is really most unseemly."
"This fixation of yours with spending it gives me no choice!"
Cicero paused for a moment to control his irritation and then tried to explain the matter calmly. "You don't seem to understand – a man in my position cannot risk the slightest impropriety. My enemies are just waiting for an opportunity to prosecute me for corruption."
"So you intend to be the only provincial governor in history not to come home richer than he went out?"
"My dear wife, if you ever read a word I wrote, you would know I am just about to publish a treatise on good government. How will that sit with a reputation for thievery in office?"
"Books!" said Terentia with great contempt. "Where is the money in books?"'

On death

'The death of Cato had a powerful effect on Cicero. As the lurid details became more widely known, there were those who said it was proof that Cato was insane; certainly this was Hirtius's view. Cicero disagreed. "He could have had an easier death. He could have thrown himself from a building, or opened his veins in a warm bath, or taken poison. Instead he chose that particular method – exposing his entrails like a human sacrifice – to demonstrate the strength of his will and his contempt for Caesar. In philosophical terms it was a good death: the death of a man who feared nothing. Indeed I would go so far as to say he died happy. Neither Caesar, nor any man, nor anything in the world could touch him."'

On politicians

'Cicero: "Oh, I'm finished in politics, I know that. I shall retire from public life."
Caesar: "And do what?"
Cicero: "I thought I might write philosophy."
Caesar: "Excellent. I approve of statesmen who write philosophy. It means they have given up all hope of power."'

On politics

'Of the three known forms of government – monarchy, aristocracy and people – the best is a mixture of all three, for each one taken on its own can lead to disaster: kings can be capricious, aristocrats self-interested, and "an unbridled multitude enjoying unwonted power more terrifying than a conflagration or a raging sea."'

On power

'"I make no claim to be a philosopher but this much I have observed: that whenever a thing seems at its zenith you may be sure its destruction has already started."
"Dear Tiro, what have we learned while writing our Republic? Divide power three ways in a state and tension is balanced; divide it in two and sooner or later one side must seek to dominate the other – it is a natural law."'

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