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Cicero and the Catilinarian Conspiracy Reviewed


Cicero and the Catilinarian Conspiracy has been reviewed by Lydia Haile Fassett, one of our followers on twitter.

I read this book while teaching a class on Cicero and Catiline for the first time. As I went through the book, I kept putting in little slips of paper to mark fascinating points or clever observations that I wanted to incorporate the next time I taught the class. When I got halfway through the book and looked at the number of markers I had put in, I realized that, if I do teach the class again, I will just tell all of the students to buy this book and read it before they read anything else.

Odahl says in the introduction that his goal is to "offer a readable, up-to-date, and definitive account of an important episode in Roman History" (x), and he more than fulfills it. This book is highly useful either as something to be given to a student encountering the Catilinarian Conspiracy for the first time or as a refresher for someone who knows more about it. Odahl's format of basic information in the book itself, with detailed information saved for the long notes at the back of the book works well; a student learning about the Conspiracy won't get bogged down in details and scholarly quibbling, but someone who knows more about the topic can easily find detailed discussions of complicated points. He also manages to strike a difficult balance in his use of Latin quotes: he does not use so many that the page becomes too dense for someone who may not be able to read Latin, but still uses enough to illustrate the fine nuances of what people said.

The book starts out with a clear discussion of the sources of our information and their strengths and weaknesses. From there, it moves on to a discussion of the background of the era, then a discussion of Catiline, Cicero, the conspiracy itself, Cicero's victory, and the aftermath. The treatment of Cicero's speeches is especially strong; Odahl gives clear summaries, pointing out the background of what he is saying and what makes Cicero's words so inflammatory. He keeps the action moving forward at all times, bringing suspense and life into familiar details. His treatment of the conspiracy is logical and orderly.

The book has a distinctly non-neutral tone to it. Reading it, one gets a sense of the author, his fondness for history, and his oftentimes sarcastic and amused take on the events that happened. This doe snot interfere with the information presented (and it may even be necessary when writing about Cicero), but it is a distinct difference from the more neutral view that is oftentimes common.

To move into minor quibbles, the pictures and maps are sometimes odd choices; although most of them are standard statues and busts, with the Maccari fresco, there are landscape pictures of Catiline's bathhouse (Ill. 7), the hills where his army assembled for battle (Ill. 8), and, oddly enough, an "Aerial of Rome over the Colosseum to the Forum." (Ill. 4). Although the pictures of the countryside are interesting and give the reader an idea of what the area looked like, they are not as clear as the high contrast statues. It would have strengthened the book if these pictures had been replaced by more discussion of the aftermath; by the end of the book, one does not want it to end.

Odahl's book is strong and useful as an introduction to the Catilinarian Conspiracy, but the strong notes and clear text make it a good reference for those who are more familiar with the era as well.

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  1. Cicero and the Catilinarian Conspiracy

    By Charles Odahl

    Series: Routledge Studies in Ancient History

    This story of Cicero and the Catilinarian Conspiracy is set within and offers a case study of the political, military, economic and social crises besetting the late Roman Republic in the era of the "Roman Revolution." The book chronicles the efforts of the defeated radical politician Lucius Sergius...

    Published February 18th 2010 by Routledge