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I, Claudius by Robert Graves (September 2014 Reading Circle)

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IT IS ASSUMED YOU HAVE READ THIS BOOK BEFORE READING THIS THREAD, THEREFORE SPOILER TAGS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN USED IN ORDER TO FASCILITATE EASIER AND MORE OPEN DISCUSSION

IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK AND INTEND TO, PLEASE READ NO FURTHER!

 

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Synopsis

 

Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius' autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves's brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

 

Some basic questions to consider:
1) Who was your favourite character and why?
2) Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?
3) Was this the first book you've read in this this author, has it encouraged you to read more?
4) Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?
5) Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

Some further questions to consider:

6) Have you read anything else in which the story is narrated by a historical figure? How did I, Claudius compare?

7) How was your knowledge of the period the book covered before reading? Has it improved at all?

8) Do you feel the book was well researched beforehand and presented an accurate picture of the time?

9) How did you cope with all the Roman names and terms?

10) How did you feel about the representation of women in the book?

11) Do you think the autobiographical style worked? If not, what style would have been better?

12) The sequel, Claudius the God, covers his reign as Emperor, will you be reading it?

 

Feel free to leave any other thoughts and comments not covered by the questions.

 

 

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Hello Timstar, I am over 75% of the way through the book and should finish in the next few days.

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It's a long time since I read this book, so I'll not do the questions as I'll not be able to remember all the specifics, but I remember that I loved this book. I loved Claudius and how he just wanted a quiet life. He really does epitomize the phrase, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."

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I've read both the Claudius books a few times, but it's been a long time.  Will reread asap. :)  Mostly to separate the books....what happened when, and all that. 

 

One thing I'd like to do is investigate Livia.  Last year I read a bio of her, and the author (have to pull the book from shelves...) says that Livia is much maligned.  Hmmmmm.  Possible, of course.  Feuding ancient historians and all that. :D

 

I loved the Claudius of Graves books, but don't think he was as benign as Graves seems to intimate.  heh  He was a crafty little fella, and a survivor.

 

Kell, you've called it right, greatness was surely thrust upon Claudius.  If ever there was a prime example, he is IT! 

 

I will answer one question  though, it was the first book by Graves I'd read and I blush to admit the two Claudius books are still the only two I've read, although some others are on the shelf here, staring at me quite reproachfully.  :blush2:

Also, as far as I've been able to ascertain historical events in the book(s) are accurate.  I've not run across anything contrary. 

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Hello Timstar, I am over 75% of the way through the book and should finish in the next few days.

 

:) Look forward to hearing what you think.

 

 

It's a long time since I read this book, so I'll not do the questions as I'll not be able to remember all the specifics, but I remember that I loved this book. I loved Claudius and how he just wanted a quiet life. He really does epitomize the phrase, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."

 

That is very true! Glad you enjoyed it, did you read the sequel as well? How did it compare?

 

 

I've read both the Claudius books a few times, but it's been a long time.  Will reread asap. :)  Mostly to separate the books....what happened when, and all that. 

 

One thing I'd like to do is investigate Livia. 

 

I found Livia fascinating as well, it was very interesting to see the true power behind the Emperors.

 

I found it a bit hard to get into at first, I overestimated how much I knew about Rome and the Emperors, but I have a history of Rome book I bought recently and decided to read that from the beginning up until Emperor Nero then come back to it, after that I found I enjoyed it much more. The politics and the family tree all made a lot more sense.Then by the last 100 pages I was devouring it as quickly as possible.

 

It is an odd format though, as it breaks the rule of show and don't tell, this book only tells. As Claudius wasn't there for the battles we hear them all second hand, but it works really well. Claudius' cynical nature and wit shine through to keep the reader's attention.

 

My favourite character, and therefore favourite section of the book, was Caligula. His madness and unpredictability are witnessed first hand by Claudius and you can feel the genuine fear the people had of Caligula and the elation when he was assassinated.

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This was one of the books on Livia, non-fiction, that I read last year.  http://www.amazon.com/Livia-First-Lady-Imperial-Rome/dp/0300102984/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409714354&sr=1-2&keywords=Livia I'll have to go through and find which (ancient) historian took which side regarding Livia.  If I remember correctly, only one of them was contemporaneous.  Not absolutely sure on that though. 

It's interesting that Barrett seems to come down on Livia's side, almost completely. 

 

I'm 13% in, and am finding that I remember less than I thought I did!  Hah! :readingtwo:

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Wow.  Just Wow!  Finished a little while ago.  Considering the non-fiction book I read before, I think I've revised my opinion of Livia.  Of course I can't find the cursed book at the moment, so will rely on memory.  Barrett spoke of two historians, one Suetonius, but the other was, I believe contemporaneous.  I wish I could remember which one, but I'll find the book! :) 

 

One of them wrote very disparagingly of Livia, and one supported her.  Barrett takes the side of the supporting historian and defends Livia quite strenuously. 

Barrett chronicles the terrible hardships that Livia and her father and (first) husband (father of Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus, known as Germanicus) endured at the hands of Octavian aka Augustus Caesar.  Her second husband.

 

I've always had a hard time reconciling the fact of that treatment, and her marriage to the person that was actually her tormentor.   I originally read the Graves books back in 1978, and twice subsequently, but not within the last 20 years.  However I only read the Barrett book last October.  It really drove home how Livia had been treated.   So, when I came to page 341 of I. Claudius...the section where Livia explains and confesses to all her crimes to Claudius one statement stood out like a beacon to me.

Claudius asked: (page 341-342 or 73%)

""I asked whether she had had no compunction about murdering Augustus and either murdering or banishing so many of his descendants.  She said: "I never for a moment forgot whose daughter I was." And that explained a great deal.  Livia's father, Claudian, had been proscribed by Augustus after the Battle of Philippi and had committed suicide rather than fall into his hands.""

 

It wasn't just her father Augustus persecuted, he and his soldiers chased her and her young children down, attempting to kill them, Livia was in hiding in bad circumstances for some time. 

 

Talk about determined single-minded!  No wonder she'd have no children by Octavian/Augustus!  It all fits so very neatly. 

 

So, to answer one of the question posed, I have to say for her grit and determination, Livia is my favorite character.  Not the one most liked, but definitely the most memorable, IMO. 

Certainly one of the "bad" Claudians, but one has to wonder if she'd been left to her own how she would have turned out. 

 

For likability, I'd have to say Claudius's brother Germanicus was the most likable, and the most honest and the very  best of the Claudians. 

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1) Who was your favourite character and why?

 

Germanicus stood out for me, as a man who tried to be genuinely good while surrounded by intrigue.

2) Was there a particular part you enjoyed/disliked more than the rest?

 

I really enjoyed most of the book.  A few things that aroused my curiosity were the quite astounding amounts of adopting children who already had quite adequate parents, divorce, and suicide (and the very matter of fact way in which they were presented).  I found the surprised comments on the high regard the German men had for their wives and mothers amusing, and the idea of "grandmother hunger" was a new one to me!  I don't remember any parts I disliked terribly, although I thought the end of the book seemed a bit rushed somehow.

3) Was this the first book you've read in this this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

 

I had read both I, Claudius and Claudius the God a very long time ago.  I have gone straight on to reading Claudius the God; so far, good but too many Herods :-( even if they are all known by different names, I can't keep them separated.

4) Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

 

Linked to my last answer, the fact that lots of the characters seemed to have the same names but in a different order or form quite confusing!

5) Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

Yes, I found it entertaining, interesting and very enjoyable.

 

6) Have you read anything else in which the story is narrated by a historical figure? How did I, Claudius compare?

 

I'm not actually sure, I can't think of one offhand.

 

7) How was your knowledge of the period the book covered before reading? Has it improved at all?

 

It was quite basic.  I feel I have a better feel for what life in that time was like, but I probably couldn't answer any more historical questions than before.

 

8) Do you feel the book was well researched beforehand and presented an accurate picture of the time?

 

I do believe it was well researched and before my reread I had thought of it as quite accurate, but the writer of the foreward to the edition I read suggested that there is a lot of Robert Graves' mother in Claudius' mother Antonia, and of a very dominant woman he was involved with in the portrayal of Livia as something of a monster (he says that contemporaries "complained of Livia's virtue rather than her vice", and that "the figure of Livia in the novel is a compound of venomous and unhistorical slanders").  The presentations of Augustus and Tiberius come in for some criticism too. 

 

9) How did you cope with all the Roman names and terms?

 

I coped with the terms quite well, but as mentioned above found the names confusing.

 

10) How did you feel about the representation of women in the book?

 

I can't say it troubled me in any way, either positive or negative.  Should it have?  I can't think of anything!

 

11) Do you think the autobiographical style worked? If not, what style would have been better?

 

I enjoyed the autobiographical style, and thought it brought the characters and way of living to life well.

 

12) The sequel, Claudius the God, covers his reign as Emperor, will you be reading it?

 

Yes, I already am :smile:

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Ooshie, I went right into the next book too, and have finished it. :)  How did you find it on your second reading? 

 

The way the Roman aristocracy adopted out their children was very interesting to me.  I'd read about it in other books on the time I've read, so it wasn't a surprise.  A genealogists nightmare! 

In one of the Colleen McCullough books...First Man in Rome series, she tells how Julius Caesar's father didn't "farm" his children out like his own brother did.  It seems it was as much a financial thing as anything else. 

 

While it's true that women didn't have all the freedom women have nowadays, if they were clever they could do alright.  The thing that truly angered me was the marrying off of children, and the ease of divorce for no real reason.  No reason other than the man wanting to marry someone richer.  All in the connections!  So very corrupt.  But really, the corruption of today isn't any different, IMO.  Just changed it's face a bit. 

 

I read long ago that Rome started falling apart when it's families started falling apart.  One follows the other in any civilization. 

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