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Robert Graves (1895 - 1985)

Claudius the God
Smith and Haas, 1935


Picking up where the extraordinarily interesting I, Claudius ends, Claudius the God tells the tale of Claudius' 13-year reign as Emperor of Rome. Naturally, it ends when Claudius is murdered--believe me, it's not giving anything away to say this; the surprise is when someone doesn't get poisoned. While Claudius spends most of his time before becoming emperor tending to his books and his writings and trying to stay out of the general line of corruption and killings, his life on the throne puts him into the center of the political maelstrom. Amazon.com.

- Amazon.com, 11/27/2005

This is a sequel to Graves’s I, Claudius, taking Claudius’s life from his becoming Emperor of Rome up to his murder by his wife (and niece) Agrippina in 54 AD. I found it both superior and inferior to the first novel. Since Graves is now narrating the events of only thirteen years, as seen by the eyes of a sitting emperor, he has to explore the historical evidence to the full. He gives very detailed versions of the chief events of Claudius’s reign, especially the conquest of Britain. The story of Jewish King Herod Agrippa, Claudius’s school fellow who had been all but ignored in I, Claudius, is now told from the beginning, giving an excellent portrayal of events in Judaea after Herod the Great’s death. This is also the most entertaining part of the book, since Herod Agrippa is a not unkindly rascal eternally in debt and running from creditors (including Pontius Pilate). The crisis caused by Caligula’s decision to put his own statue in the temple in Jerusalem is also told for the first time. While the book is certainly informative on the events of Claudius’s reign, the problem starts with Graves’s decision to excuse all of Claudius’s odd or even cruel deeds as being someone else’s fault or due to Claudius’s absent-mindedness or naiveté. Since Graves is too honest to simply ignore unpleasant facts, his solution is to invent all possible excuses, touching on absurdity. Thus his marriage to his niece Agrippina, making her son Nero the successor to the throne, and his neglect of imperial affairs in his last years, are all part of his plot to deliberately bring about the fall of imperial rule and restore the Republic. By the way, Graves has Claudius devise a constitution, based on a mandate of five years for a senior consul. Somehow that does not seem very workable. Claudius the God, at the same time, contains much more historical information and much more fiction than I, Claudius. Like its predecessor, it’s a fine book and reports most of the known events of the period. Again, one must be careful to separate fact from fiction. Since Graves could not have Claudius himself relate the events of his death and its aftermath, he gives a brief summary and reproduces the relevant texts by Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio, as well as the whole of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis. He also gives surviving examples of Claudius’s letters and speeches. These are very interesting and may lead people to seek the original sources, they certainly had this effect on me. However, they may also mislead readers into thinking that the book is totally factual.

- Roman Fiction, 11/27/2005

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