Thursday, December 12, 2013

I, Claudius

I, Claudius
By Robert Graves
Vintage Books, 1961. 432 pgs. Fiction

Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, also known as poor stuttering Clau-Clau-Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome, tells the story of his life and his relations. After the Oracle at Delphi tells him to 'speak true', Claudius decides to set down his life in plain prose, with nothing hidden from posterity. Fortunately for the reader, plain prose means charming mid-century British prose, so the book never lacks a nicely turned phrase. Claudius spends most of the story chronicling the lives, murders, and marriage of his extended relations; how they rose to power and fell from it.

I hardly know how Robert Graves managed to make an accurate portrayal of ancient Rome so interesting. The only literary trick he uses is a thin first-person perspective, yet the book never ceases for a moment to be fascinating. The reason must be that ancient Rome was run like a modern soap opera: with so many executions, lies, and affairs that even the most sophisticated person cannot fail to be entertained by them.


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