Thursday, 7 October 2010

Imperium by Robert Harris

"If you must do something unpopular, you might as well do it wholeheartedly, for in politics there is no credit  to be won by timidity." 

"No one can really claim to know politics properly until he has stayed up all night, writing a speech for delivery the following day.  While the world sleeps, the orator paces around by lamplight, wondering what madness brought him to this occupation in the first place.  Arguments are prepared and discarded.  Versions of openings and middle sections and perorations lie in drifts across the floor.  The exhausted mind ceases to have any coherent grip upon the purpose of the enterprise, so that often - usually an hour or so after midnight - there comes a point where failing to turn up, feigning illness and hiding at home seem the only realistic options.  And then, somehow, under pressure of panic, just as humiliation beckons, the parts cohere, and there it is: a speech.  A second-rate orator now retires gratefully to bed.  A Cicero stays up and commits it to memory."

"Politics?  Boring?  Politics is history on the wing!  What other sphere of human activity calls forth all that is most noble in men's souls and all that is most base?  Or has such excitement?  Or more vividly exposes your strengths and weaknesses?  Boring?  You might as well say that life is boring."

"Rome is not merely a matter of geography.  Rome is not defined by rivers, or mountains, or even seas; Rome is not a question of blood, or race, or religion; Rome is an ideal.  Rome is the highest embodiment of liberty and law that mankind has yet achieved in the ten thousand years since our ancestors came down from those mountains and learned how to live as communities under the rule of law."

"The ability to listen to bores requires stamina, and such stamina is the essence of politics.  It is from bores that you really find things out."

"Such was the huge amount that the bribery agents were already being paid, and such was their nervousness about antagonising their mysterious client, that there was not a single vote to be had, and not a breath of rumour as to who that client might be.  Now you might wonder, given the thousands of votes involved, how such an immense operation could remain so tight a secret.  The answer is that it was very cleverly organised, with perhaps only a dozen agents, or interpretes as they were called, knowing the identity of the buyer.  These men would contact the officials of the voting syndicates and strike the initial bargain - such-and-such a price for fifty votes, say or five hundred, depending on the size of the syndicate.  Because naturally no one trusted anyone else in this game, the money would then be deposited with a second category of agent, known as the sequestres, who would hold the cash available for inspection.  And finally, when the election was over and it was time to settle up, a third species of criminal, the so-called divisores, would distribute it.  This made it extremely difficult to bring a successful prosecution, for even if a man was arrested in the very act of handing over a bribe, he might genuinely have no idea of who had commissioned the corruption in the first place."

"If it is gratitude you want, get a dog."

"You can always spot a fool, for he is the man who will tell you he knows who is going to win an election.  But an election is a living thing - you might almost say, the most vigorously alive thing there is - with thousands upon thousands of brains and limbs and eyes and thoughts and desires, and it will wriggle and turn and run off in directions no one ever predicted , sometimes just for the joy of proving the wiseacres wrong."

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