Rating: 3 out of 5
I’ve exceeded my own expectations and finished Robert Graves’ I, Claudius a day ahead of schedule! I must say that the last 150 pages went by so much faster, not only because I was determined to beat the clock, but also because the book finally gets to my favorite part: Caligula’s reign as Roman emperor!
Chapters 22-34 narrate the downfall of Tiberius, who in his 70’s is smothered on the whim of his grand-nephew Caligula. Tiberius had appointed Caligula as the next emperor because he thought someone even more evil than he would make him seem virtuous.
At first, the people rejoice that Germanicus’ son has taken the throne. But sure enough, Caligula proves to be one of the cruelest, craziest emperors of Rome. He succumbs to a grave fever, and even though he survives, he becomes absolutely mental.
He believes himself to be a god, and condemns anyone who doubts his immortality. In the vein of Jove, he decides to engage in incest with his three sisters. He also makes his favorite horse a senator. Not to mention, his lavish parties, festivals, fights, and orgies completely bankrupt the empire, so he has to murder rich Romans left and right to steal their assets.
The best scenes include Claudius’ clever responses to Caligula’s madness. He manages to save his own skin multiple times by depicting himself as the poor buffoon of an uncle. This tactic works, because eventually a group of conspirators corners Caligula after a theatrical performance and stabs him to death.
The novel ends with a huge riot between Caligula’s devoted German army and the Roman populace. The soldiers find Claudius hiding behind a palace curtain and declare him emperor, as he is one of the only remaining members of the Julio-Claudian family and a pretty weak one at that. Claudius’ hilarious final thought is that as the ruler of the empire, he can finally force people to read and listen to his histories. The ending sets up Graves’ sequel Claudius the God, which covers his years as emperor until his own assassination.
As I’ve said in previous parts, I love the history of this novel. No one can determine how much of it is factual, but at least it draws from the accounts of a few ancient writers. If only the HBO show “Rome” was still airing, because this story would make for excellent television. Sex and violence galore!
Unfortunately, though, I have to mark I, Claudius down for missing that entertainment quality that is so essential to historical fiction. I felt myself relieved to finish it, when I should feel depressed that it had to end. I would only recommend this book to die-hard Roman history buffs–and even then, I think the original Latin texts (such as Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis) are better reads.
And speaking of Latin, I am going to carpe the heck out of the diem when my brother and I jet off to Tokyo in a couple days! We just received our yen in the mail and now all that’s left is to pack! I will be bringing books with me, of course, for the 10-12 hour plane rides, but no promises on being able to blog while I’m there! I’ll try my best, but if I can’t, I will return the first week of July!