19 October 2008

I, Claudius - Robert Graves

Well, I have indeed finally finished I, Claudius. At number 14 on the Modern Library list of top 100 novels from the 20th Century, I had high hopes for Graves' entry. This hope of course was tempered by the worry that it would end up as another unreadable or antiquated work, as much of the ML top 100 ends up reading nowadays. Granted, the top 25 area almost all outstanding works. And, truth be told, I, Claudius holds its own amongst a list of heavyweight literature. Perhaps not the Evan Holyfield of the bunch, but at least a Buster Douglas.

As I am no Roman historian, I cannot vouch for its historical veracity, but as Graves founded his work on contemporaries of Claudius, I am willing to trust that the picture is an accurate depiction of the "idiot" emperor. The novel deals with the life of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus from the year 10 B.C. to his rise to emperor in the year 41 A.D. Claudius bumbles his way through life, living almost in the style of "Tina from the 2nd Survivor" who manages to succeed by flying under the radar. Claudius is born with a lame physical disposition and is remembered by history as a weak, stammering buffoon. However, in Graves sympathetic depiction, Claudius survives through a clever wit and timely luck. Claudius, a historian by trade, survives the conniving plots of his fellow Julio-Claudian family members, including the Emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula.

If you enjoy historial fiction, or are a student of antiquity, you will greatly enjoy this work. It is writen with an amusing wit, full of detail and some of histories most interesting characters. The one drawback, is the myriad of characters - not to mention the Roman practice of naming each other after prominent relatives. Quite frankly, I would have preferred some sort of geneological chart at the beginning of the novel. Although a bit wordy in places, Graves has succeeded in producing a first rate autobiographical work of fiction.

I was thinking too, what opportunities I should have, as Emperor, for consulting the secret archives and finding out just what happened on this occassion or on that. How many twisted stories still remained to be straightened out!

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