The third volume of Robert Harris’s trilogy about the life of Cicero recounts the demise of the Roman Republic and Cicero’s ineffectual – and ultimately fatal – attempts to resuscitate it. As Harris’s meticulous reconstruction of Cicero’s career makes apparent, he became an increasingly marginal figure, geographically and politically. Dictator opens with Cicero fleeing Rome, chased out by the demagogue Clodius and forced to live in hiding after a law is passed that threatens death to anyone who offers him sanctuary. Twice more he goes into exile: joining the forces of Pompey in Greece after Caesar crosses the Rubicon and, terminally, when he is hunted down after Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony trisect the empire. He is indulged by the oligarchs and warlords who shred the Republic’s political fabric: Caesar forgives Cicero twice for standing up to him, but it is clear to the reader – if not always to Cicero, his companions or even to Harris – that this is because he was too potent a symbol of Republican virtue to destroy, especially when he remained valuable as a democratic fig leaf for designs on power.
Like the previous two novels in the series, this one is narrated by Cicero’s slave Tiro (who is manumitted in the course of the book). In the earlier volumes he served as a useful device to reveal the private anxieties of a man whom we know primarily