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I, Claudius: from the autobiography of…
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I, Claudius: from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius (original 1934; edition 1953)

by Robert Graves

Series: Claudius (1)

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Title:I, Claudius: from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius
Authors:Robert Graves
Info:Penguin Books (1953), Paperback, 395 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)

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Born with a leg that caused him to limp all of his life as well as a speech impediment whereby he stuttered most everything he spoke, Claudius was considered by most of his family and by the populace in general to be an idiot. This was not the case—he was actually very intelligent, received a fine education, and wrote a number of histories on various topics: the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, etc. Surrounding him were duplicitous and treacherous family members who had one another killed (poisoning was a common means of killing off rival family members). The story is told as if Claudius had left behind an autobiography detailing his life (which he did not). It is rich in details which give some idea of how Claudius might have lived. ( )
  bibliostuff | Mar 20, 2014 |
Was a tough read but well worth it. ( )
  Ginerbia | Feb 14, 2014 |
This is a very well written book and had I been in the mood I would have loved it. Unfortunately I tried it at the wrong time. I'll try again when I think I'm more ready for it.
  whymaggiemay | Jan 9, 2014 |
Although Graves has Claudius prefer Pollio’s dry but accurate retelling of history to Livy’s modernised version of previous centuries, he himself actually takes more Livy’s approach although at times he does simply give factual details. Personally, even though this book is hailed as the start of historical fiction, I found the book largely unappealing.

On the one hand he frames the book with the Sibyl’s accurate prophecy and peppers the book with more prophecies of the same ilk – detailed and accurate, but then, on the other hand, he is very careful in filling in everyone’s relationship to everyone else and aims for historical accuracy here. I find this an uncomfortable effort at being two things at the same time. Fantasy and history as such don’t gel.

I also find the fictitious side, the fleshing out of characters like Livia, to be one-dimensional. Livia emerges in the first hundred pages as simply a poisoner and I could find nothing to make me interested in her. I also felt there was a plethora of characters, once again diluting any deeper characterisation. In fact, Graves even sums up characters in a simplistic way: ‘of the surviving children [of Germanicus] only Nero had a wholly good character . . . Caligula, Agrippinilla, and the youngest, whom we called Lesbia, were wholly bad’. And what about the narrator, Claudius? Any sympathy for this person who dislikes his son, Drusillus, describing him as a ‘lubber’ with whom he had little to do?

Yes, this novel isn’t as dry as Caesar’s Gallic Wars which I remember having to translate from the Latin when at school but the book is still top-heavy with ‘factual’ detail at the expense of characterisation – and there’s so much killing that the book implodes for me. Even Germanicus, revered and loved by Claudius, doesn’t hesitate to put to the sword defeated Germans regardless of sex. So I felt no affinity for the characters. Claudius’ way of dealing with the delusional Caligula was perhaps the most entertaining part of a book that became tiresomely predictable in the cruelties it listed.

So, just what Graves meant the reader to take from this novel I’m not sure. Clearly a lot of people did enjoy it, though, as seen in the success it had. ( )
  evening | Nov 28, 2013 |
I'm not a historical fiction fan, mostly because it confuses me as to what is fact and what is fiction, but I, Claudius is pretty darn good. It's nice because no one really knows for sure what DID happen way back then, plus Robert Graves was a respectable historian of this era, so I pretty much trust him.

I greatly enjoyed reading I, Claudius despite the fact that I had to write an essay on the most boring parts of the book. My ability to still like the book says a lot. The writing is very good and Claudius is very likable. For some reason the misery of the plot doesn't make me want to stop reading, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel. ( )
  BrynDahlquis | Nov 16, 2013 |
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Epigraph
. . . A story that was the subject of every variety of misrepresentation, not only by those who then lived but likewise in succeeding times: so true is it that all transactions of pre-eminent importance are wrapt in doubt and obscurity; while some hold for certain facts the most precarious hearsays, others turn facts into falsehood; and both are exaggerated by posterity.

TACITUS
Dedication
First words
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.
Quotations
You refuse to see that one can no more reintroduce republican government at this stage than one can reimpose primitive feelings of chastity on modern wives and husbands. It's like trying to turn the shadow back on a sundial: it can't be done.
Tiberius will make him his successor. No question of it. Why? Because Tiberius is like that. He has the same vanity as poor Augustus had: he can't bear the idea of a successor who will be more popular than himself. But at the same time he does all he can to make himself hated and feared. So, when he feels that his time's nearly up, he'll search for someone just a little worse than himself to succeed him. And he'll find Caligula.
Germanicus has told me about you. He says that you are loyal to three things—to your friends, to Rome, and to the truth. I would be very proud if Germanicus thought the same of me.
To recommend a monarchy on account of the prosperity it gives the provinces seems to me like recommending that a man should have liberty to treat his children as slaves, if at the same time he treats his slaves with reasonable consideration.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067972477X, Paperback)

Having never seen the famous 1970s television series based on Graves' historical novel of ancient Rome and being generally uneducated about matters both ancient and Roman, I wasn't prepared for such an engaging book. But it's a ripping good read, this fictional autobiography set in the Roman Empire's days of glory and decadence. As a history lesson, it's fabulous; as a novel it's also wonderful. Best is Claudius himself, the stutterer who let everyone think he was an idiot (to avoid getting poisoned) but who reveals himself in the narrative to be a wry and likable observer. His story continues in Claudius the God.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:00 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The emperor Claudius tells of his life during the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula and the events that led to his rise to power in a classic novel reconstructing ancient Rome.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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Editions: 0141188596, 0143566393

 

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