This was quite a pleasant surprise as I did not believe I would enjoy this book. Funny how our preconceived notions likely prevent us from many an enjoyable experience. I digress as I am acting as Claudius did as he spun his tale of family treachery, bloodshed, and debauchery, all with extraordinary wit and self-depracation.
How could anyone resist after reading the following opening paragraph of I,Claudius;
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.
I was hooked from that point on and am somewhat shamed to admit it had the allure of a soap opera, albeit, a rather fantastic one, in a rather ancient time, with rather outrageous characters. So of course, there were children whose paternity was in question, there was murder, there was espionage, and there was much, much more!
A family tree should accompany this book as there are so many characters, who we do get to know in great detail, however, the lineage does get a tad confusing as there are divorces and second and third marriages, step children, etc. While I routinely include quotes from each of the books I read, I’m not doing so here as without knowledge of the character, too much would be lost in quoting any of them.
Though certainly not the dolt he is made out to be, Claudius is an appealing character who, fortunately, attracts people of great character and repels those with other than good intentions. This inborn ability allows him to survive in a family of thieves, rapists and hedonists.
Livia, the grandmother to Claudius, is the ultimate evil matron. She manipulates her husband, the Emperor Augustus, to such perfection that it is she, rather than he who is truly the ruler of Rome.
Brother to Claudius, Germanicus is a great warrior and extremely devoted to his brother, who he defends from many of those known as the bad apples of the family.
As I mentioned, the characters are numerous, yet Graves was able to paint very clear pictures of all of them, the good, the bad and the very wicked (does Caligula ring a bell?).
I’m not quite sure I’d want to dine with Mr. Graves due to his apparent knowledge in the way of poisons…alas, I jest. His talents as a writer and historian would make for great dinner conversation where I’d love to ply him over the scandals of our ancient history.
My rating for I, Claudius is a 9 out of 10.
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