I, Claudius & Claudius the God

June 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

Claudius“It’s like Band of Brothers meets I, Claudius.” The above phrase was elicited from Simon Sebag Montefiore when he was on a book tour promoting his book Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar, and the interviewer asked him if he saw a movie deal in the making. At the time I only understood the first half of his statement. Now having completed both I, Claudius and Claudius the God (and read Montefiore’s biography of Stalin) I commend him on his apt description.

There’s a misguided view among younger generations that those that preceded them were prudish and prosaic. The young like to think that they are the first ones to partake of debauchery, hedonism, and to push the boundaries of social norms. How wrong they are. Most people’s lives today seem dull and tedious in comparison to those of the Julio-Claudian family. A world rife with treachery, intrigue, sleaze, and scandal; in which no one was spared; they could be amassing great power and fortune one moment and be executed the next. It is in the midst of such volatility that one man, “the fool playing the fool” as observed by Herod Agrippa, manages to preserve his life and become Emperor of Rome. Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, or simply Cl-Cl-Claudius, constantly belittled and disdained by his family due to his stammer and poor health, is an unlikely candidate for the throne. He does not desire power and his sympathies lie with the Republic.

It isn’t until the end of I, Claudius that Claudius becomes emperor; the first novel is devoted entirely to describing the family: Augustus, Livia, Tiberius, Drusus, et al. It is Claudius the God that deals with his reign. The number of characters and their relations to one another can be overwhelming, which is perhaps one of two faults with the books. The other being that not every incident related by Claudius is worthwhile and interesting.

Graves’ duology are novels that read like autobiographies yet are based on facts. Extremely entertaining and enlightening reads; it is little wonder that they are considered the benchmarks of historical fiction.


I, Claudius and Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina
by Robert Graves

Image: “Bust of Emperor Claudius” by Marie-Lan Nyugen is licensed under CC BY 2.5

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