A murder trial, set in ancient Rome, is used apparently to display the unusual talents of Cicero. Cluentius writes to Cicero-he is to go on trial, accused of poisoning his stepfather and bribing a jury and he hopes that Cicero will defend him. Letters, and presently several meetings, reveal more. After his father died, Cluentius' mother, the fascinating, unscrupulous Sassia, seduced her own daughter's young husband. The girl went mad and died and Sassia, tired of the boy-husband, married strong Oppianicus who by proscription or outright murder removed the boy and all other relatives who might stand in their way. Cluentius escaped, and managed to break Oppianicus' power and hound him to death. It is Sassia who is behind the trial. Mad now, worshipping Oppianicus as the dead Osiris, she has turned her life-long rejection of her son into a plot for his death. Yet Cluentius, too, it turns out, tried to be revenged on her for the withdrawal of her love and is indeed partly responsible for Oppianious' death. This violent Oedipus-tale is punctuated with explanations of Cicero's scarcely less violent techniques which are then displayed in a dramatic trial. Modern readers may be confused by the Roman version of ""law"" and the rolling language. However, the book is something of a feat and conveys a murky sense of a more primitive time, when bloodier passions could only be leashed by an equally passionate and personal use of Law.