Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

He shall give Rome fiddlers and fear and fire.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
This novel, written by a British guy in the 1930s, claims to be an 'autobiography' of Tiberius Claudius, who ruled Rome in early A.D. It includes - lots of marrying and divorcing, battling and dying, accusing and executing, conspiring and poisoning, 'honorable' suicide-committing, superstitioning and divining, scheming and banishing, conniving and surviving. There you have it, folks!
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Greetings, dear readers! Have any of you read this one? I had not read it, nor even heard of it, before this list. I must say I think that is likely for the best. This one, imho, did not stand to timely test itself. I'm sorry, did you not get that reference? Go watch 'Win a Date with Tad Hamilton'. It's only a work of cinematic genius. 

This post will be brief (sorry for stating it - I hate when people start their speeches off with 'my remarks will be brief') so perhaps some of you will actually read it all. (Ahem. Cough. Pale Fire. Cough.)

Here's a snapshot of the cast of characters:

Germanicus, beloved by the Roman populace, Claudius (our 'hero''s brother)
  •  "Most people with whom he came into contact were flattered by his high estimate of their moral character and tended in their dealings with him to live up to it. If he were ever to find himself at the mercy of a downright wicked character, this generosity of heart would of course be his undoing; but on the other hand if any man had any good in him Germanicus always seemed to bring it out." Doesn't that sound lovely? He, of course, was murdered. As it turns out, by his own son. #classicancientRomanproblems
Tiberius, OH I'm SORRY, are you confused? This is the OTHER Tiberius. Not to be confused with Tiberius Claudius. Just imagine we're reading a Russian novel again, mmk?
  • "He used often to invite people to dine with him whom he particularly mistrusted and stare at them throughout the meal as if trying to read their secret thoughts: which shook the self-possession of all but very few. If they looked alarmed he read it as a proof of guilt. If they met his eye steadily he read it as an even stronger proof of guilt, with insolence added." haghaghaghahghag. 
Livia, former wife of Augustus, mother of Tiberius, grandmother to Tiberius Claudius, general all-around Bad Bad Bad lady

  • "Nobody really liked her: malignity commands respect, not liking. She had a faculty for making ordinary easy-going people feel acutely conscious in her presence of their intellectual and moral shortcomings." A real winner, that Livia! 
  • On her 'affection' for Claudius - "My grandmother seldom spoke to me and when she did it was contemptuously and without looking at me, mostly to say, 'Get out of this room, child, I want to be in it.'"" Ah, yes. What wonderful grandmotherly feelings!
  • "Augustus ruled the world, but Livia ruled Augustus." Augustus, save some room for later!
Caligula, Germanicus's son and future (crazy pants mcgee) emperor of Rome
  • "I always knew it would happen. I never felt anything but Divine." On 'becoming a god'.
  • "He stood in my way. He tried to discipline me - me, a young God, imagine it! So I frightened him to death."On why he killed his own father, the lovely aforementioned Germanicus. 
  • Claudius, to Caligula, after finding out that Caligula has decided to become a god: "This is the most glorious hour of my life. Allow me to retire and sacrifice to you at once, with my remaining strength. The divine air you exhale is too strong for my mortal nostrils. I am nearly fainting." aghaghahghagahghag. 
Clau-Clau-Claudius (OK, he does have a stutter, but that is a joke on a joke of how he writes about himself sometimes, so I'm not poking fun at it, but at him poking fun of himself! That still seems bad. Whatever. You know what I mean!)
  • "I was a very sickly child - 'a very battleground of diseases', the doctors said - and perhaps only lived because the diseases could not agree as to which should have the honour of carrying me off." Hahgahgahgh. Would you like to do the honor, TB? No, no, you have it, typhoid. 
  • On his tutor trying to rid him of his stutter: "Athenodorus made me declaim with my mouth full of pebbles". This reminded me of the scene in 'My Fair Lady' where Professor Enry Iggins tries to make Eliza Doolittle read a poem with her mouth full of pebbles, which doesn't go very well, especially after she swallows one! 
  • Among his many attributes, Claudius is described as 'deaf - but only on one side'. Sound like anyone else we know, friends? ;) Now just make sure you're on her good side!
  • On multi-tasking: "I like having two tasks going at the same time: when I tire of one I turn to the other." Claudius's main role in the book is not emperor (this happens at the very end, and really only by accident) but historian. He makes the above remark in reference to working on his Etruscan history at the same time as his Carthaginian history. I am the same way, Claudie! Is it ok if I call you Claudie? I have been memorizing the US Presidents in order while I work on projects, just to keep my brain sharp! I've got Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, JQ Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, W.H. Harrison, Tyler, Polk, and Taylor. That's over 25%! Do you know who comes next?
  • How Claudius eventually becomes emperor - a pair of soldiers find him in a corner of a room, and one says to the other: "Who's this old gentleman? He doesn't look dangerous." clearly emperor material! What else do you need? The bar is pretty low after crazypants Caligula, after all.

Pop geography quiz...
Where is Carthage? Do you know? I had to look it up. I thought it was in Greece, or thereabouts. Nope - Tunisia. Africa! Man, Rome's empire extended far back in the day.

Brushing up on your Violent Vocab
tyrannicide - the killing of a tyrant
parricide - the killing of a parent or other near relative (sound FAMILIAR, caliggy?)
suicide - the action of killing oneself intentionally (WAYYYY too many people offed themselves in this book. Apparently it was 'the only honorable thing' once you had been accused of a crime. Still, I found it deeply disturbing.)

I'll leave you with these two closing lines about Claudius:

A friend describing Claudius: "He is loyal to three things - to his friends, to Rome, and to the truth."

Claudius, on becoming emperor: "No, you would never guess what was passing through my mind. I was thinking, 'So, I'm Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I'll be able to make people read my books now."

Ahaghahgahgha. Now, if only I could become Empress so I could make people read my blob entries.... I'll have to get on that. Are there any "Empress for dummies" books on sale right now at B and N? ;)

Onwards to Illumination in July. Nailed it!

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