Monday, March 24, 2008
Graves, Robert. 1934. I, Claudius.
Opening lines: “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.”
Narrated by Claudius, I, Claudius is an often bloody memoir of the Roman empire under Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. (It might reference pre-Augustan Roman history, but it does so in a flashback kind of way.) What can I say about this one? The narration varies between being very witty and dry and sarcastic and just downright fun in that sort of way. But I won't lie either. There are hundreds of names from first to last. Some turn out to be key players, some disappear a page or two later--and it's hard to distinguish between the two. I did get lost in more than a few places trying to puzzle out who was who. But at the same time, it was enjoyable. Even though I didn't pick up on every single little detail, what I did pick up on and follow I enjoyed for the most part. The book is full of politics, plots, crimes, murders, and plenty of drama both small and grand in scale. Claudius had three wives and two main mistresses, for example, (one at a time though) and a few of them were truly scary. Livia, Claudius's grandmother, is one of the stars of the novel. She's a truly despicable character--poisoning and plotting to kill off most of the opposition even if the opposition were completely innocent and were her own flesh and blood.
It's very detailed, but it's also very bloody. Probably not for everyone, but I'm glad I read it.