Monday, March 24, 2008

Play Stupid, Stay Alive, Become Emperor

Title: I, Claudius
Author: Robert Graves

I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius”, or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled.

Murder, intrigue, incest, ambition, prostitutes, witchcraft … in togas! And the stammering idiot whom everyone thought a fool becomes the Emperor of Rome at the end. What more can one want in a book?

Well, a family tree would have been nice. With everyone marrying cousins or their former in-laws, the genealogy of the lesser characters often became very confusing.

The last hundred pages or so, when the lunatic Caligula becomes Emperor, goes on a killing spree, and makes his horse a senator, were the most exciting. Nothing like a good old-fashioned bloodbath for increasing dramatic suspense!

And my favorite character was the primary villainess, Augustus’ wife, Livia. Sure, she was a cold-hearted schemer who poisoned countless people for her own benefit, but she also was the competent manager of the early Roman empire and adroitly held the reins of power for her rather naïve and innocent husband. That’s just the kind of evil mastermind I can really like. In the greater scheme of things, she did more good than bad.

Ok, the above is a bunch of amusing drivel. I’ll try to be serious. This really was a very good book, despite sometimes being dense and slow-going. Several weeks of Metro reading were required for me to finish it. It’s not perfectly accurate in a historical sense (Livia was not the evil witch Graves depicts her as), but it was nevertheless an entertaining "history" of the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. Recommended if you have a lot of time to spare.

There’s apparently a very good BBC miniseries starring Derek Jacobi as Claudius. I’ll have to check it out.

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posted by Elizabeth at 8:40 PM


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