Posted by: Matt | July 6, 2007

Review of I, Claudius

I, ClaudiusI, Claudius
Robert Graves
1934

Reason for reading: In the last couple of years I’ve become interested in Historical Fiction. I’ve more recently had a desire to learn more about ancient Greece and Rome. I, Claudius is considered by some to be one of the greatest books of the last 100 years. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a couple of months and decided it was time to read it.

Quote: “I. Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus Thi-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…”

*******

Written as if it is the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, the novel tells of Claudius’s ancestry down to his crowning as the Emperor of Rome in 41 A.D. The sequel, Claudius the God, relates his life after becoming Emperor.

This is an exceedingly clever book. It is filled with political intrigue, conspiracy and murder. I had no idea that ancient Rome was controlled by such manipulative, back-stabbing figures. Livia, the grandmother of Claudius, is the true power behind the throne. She sets father against son, mother against daughter, and brother against brother. All of this to maintain her position in Rome.

This is an enjoyable novel from page one. There is no true climax to the story. It humms along from page to page. All the while painting a picture of how truly corrupt Rome became. It is no wonder it fell apart. Emperors ruled as supreme powers, manipulated the senators and laws, and became gods upon death. No on was safe in Rome, not those beloved by the people, not the Emperor’s family, not even the Emperor himself.

I, Claudius is an entertaining, thoroughly researched and well thought out book. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Rating: 4.0

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Responses

  1. Good to know. I bought this from a library sale a long time ago and still have not gotten to it yet. I didn’t know there was a sequel and also hadn’t realized it came out in 1934.

  2. Ok, this goes on my list to read when I get to Rome after all of my Greek reading.

  3. Ooh, good review; sounds interesting! I remember seeing parts of the BBC TV series years ago and thinking I ought to pick up the book. I think I’ll steal it off my parents’ bookshelf next time I visit them 🙂

  4. Glad you enjoyed it! Still sitting on page 210 (was out all weekend). But really loving it. There’s a lot of Tacitus in this, I feel like I’m in my final year of high school again, studying this imperial period, which I loved. Not sure how entirely Livia controlled things, though she did have a deep influence on Augustus. I just am finding it amazing seeing things from Claudius’ POV, because he’s much overlooked until he gets to his own principate.

    What did you think of Germanicus? I thought it was a very sympathetic depiction (similar to Tacitus). I personally always found him too self-righteous and self-assuredly heroic.

  5. Camille – Somehow it feels newer than 1934, not sure how to explain that. I recommend you take the time to read it.

    Stefanie – I am jealous that you’re going to Rome!

    gentle reader – I’ve heard the BBC series is good, I might have to check it out.

    Siew Cooper – I have to admit I don’t know much of anything about that time period other than what I read in this book. As far as the novel goes, I could certainly sympathize with Germanicus. It seems to me he got the raw end of the deal. But I don’t know what he was actually like.

  6. you DEFINITELY have to watch the BBC series… DEFINITELY

  7. Arukiyomi – I’m going to my library’s website right now to see if they have it… 😉

  8. Ah, another book that has been on my TBR list for years. Every once in a while I’ll see someone reading it on the bus or subway and think to myself, ‘I really should read that book.’ We’ve been a pick-me-up/put-me-back down relationship for quite some time. But you’ve given me an idea – I’ve just Bookmooch-ed it. God, I love that program.

  9. J.S. Peyton – I keep hearing about how great Bookmooch is. I might have to get into it.

  10. […] of Claudius’ declarations, I was gripped, and, as I mentioned over at Matt’s recent review on his blog A Variety of Words, it was almost as if I had fallen into one of my primary texts […]

  11. The sequel? For sure!


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