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Claudius #1

I, Claudius

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Into the 'autobiography' of Clau-Clau-Claudius, the pitiful stammerer who was destined to become Emperor in spite of himself, Graves packs the everlasting intrigues, the depravity, the bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, soon to culminate in the deified insanity of Caligula.

I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God, are among the most celebrated, as well the most gripping historical novels ever written.

Cover illustration: Brian Pike

468 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1934

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About the author

Robert Graves

455 books1,507 followers
Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985), born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King's College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon & Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford. While at Charterhouse in 1912, he fell in love with G.H. Johnstone, a boy of fourteen ("Dick" in Goodbye to All That) When challenged by the headmaster he defended himself by citing Plato, Greek poets, Michelangelo & Shakespeare, "who had felt as I did".

At the outbreak of WWI, Graves enlisted almost immediately, taking a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He published his first volume of poems, Over the Brazier, in 1916. He developed an early reputation as a war poet and was one of the first to write realistic poems about his experience of front line conflict. In later years he omitted war poems from his collections, on the grounds that they were too obviously "part of the war poetry boom". At the Battle of the Somme he was so badly wounded by a shell-fragment through the lung that he was expected to die, and indeed was officially reported as 'died of wounds'. He gradually recovered. Apart from a brief spell back in France, he spent the rest of the war in England.

One of Graves's closest friends at this time was the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was also an officer in the RWF. In 1917 Sassoon tried to rebel against the war by making a public anti-war statement. Graves, who feared Sassoon could face a court martial, intervened with the military authorities and persuaded them that he was suffering from shell shock, and to treat him accordingly. Graves also suffered from shell shock, or neurasthenia as it is sometimes called, although he was never hospitalised for it.

Biographers document the story well. It is fictionalised in Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. The intensity of their early relationship is nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in Graves's collection Fairies & Fusiliers (1917), which contains a plethora of poems celebrating their friendship. Through Sassoon, he also became friends with Wilfred Owen, whose talent he recognised. Owen attended Graves's wedding to Nancy Nicholson in 1918, presenting him with, as Graves recalled, "a set of 12 Apostle spoons".

Following his marriage and the end of the war, Graves belatedly took up his place at St John's College, Oxford. He later attempted to make a living by running a small shop, but the business failed. In 1926 he took up a post at Cairo University, accompanied by his wife, their children and the poet Laura Riding. He returned to London briefly, where he split with his wife under highly emotional circumstances before leaving to live with Riding in Deià, Majorca. There they continued to publish letterpress books under the rubric of the Seizin Press, founded and edited the literary journal Epilogue, and wrote two successful academic books together: A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928).

In 1927, he published Lawrence and the Arabs, a commercially successful biography of T.E. Lawrence. Good-bye to All That (1929, revised and republished in 1957) proved a success but cost him many of his friends, notably Sassoon. In 1934 he published his most commercially successful work, I, Claudius. Using classical sources he constructed a complexly compelling tale of the life of the Roman emperor Claudius, a tale extended in Claudius the God (1935). Another historical novel by Graves, Count Belisarius (1938), recounts the career of the Byzantine general Belisarius.

During the early 1970s Graves began to suffer from increasingly severe memory loss, and by his eightieth birthday in 1975 he had come to the end of his working life. By 1975 he had published more than 140 works. He survived for ten more years in an increasingly dependent condition until he died from heart failure.

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Profile Image for Henry Avila.
458 reviews3,241 followers
August 4, 2020
Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (Claudius to his embarrassed family), born in Lyon in what is now France, a sickly, lame, twitching, stutterer, a nonentity, thought an idiot by his relatives the most prominent in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar began their more than century long reign as the rulers of the vast expanding Roman Empire. But he Claudius survives the treacherous, deadly byzantine atmosphere where killing an enemy is common, all for power influence and money nothing else matters, destroy your opponent before they eliminate you ( he was too insignificant, to be murdered). Claudius father was a famous Roman general Drusus gaining glory in Germany, winning battle after battle until dying in a mysterious way, his mother Antonia a very influential woman daughter of Mark Amthony. Livia his grandmother the wife of the Emperor Augustus Caesar Julius's great- nephew. He preaches family values as his daughter Julia breaks them all, but his relatives suffer greatly , constant early strange deaths to its members, unexplained there is a curse a menacing unseen force that is always ready to strike them down, everyone is quite vulnerable...To pass the time Claudius becomes a historian, talking to Titus Livy and other famous authors writing many books that his scornful family doesn't read, sadly they have not survived his best about the mysterious Etruscans the first history of these prosperous people. Poor Claudius forced by others more powerful to marry women he loathes for political reasons, to reluctant wives who detest the unattractive man but still from the most important family in Rome, divorce soon follows and frequently insolvency he prefers undemanding kind prostitutes . Tiberius becomes Emperor his grandmother's Livia's son and his father's brother, a paranoid ruler who kills anyone that remotely threatens him or so alleges Sejanus, his most trusted ruthless and ambitious servant the captain of the potent Praetorian Guards, who protects the sovereign of Rome of course they're innocent. But how would Tiberius know he lives in luxury on the beautiful island of Capri, off the coast of Italy near Naples away from danger and prying eyes and his evil dominating mother, Livia yet rumors of perverse sexual habits filter back to the disgusted capital. When his uncle at last dies the even worse (his nephew), Caligula becomes the mad Emperor of the world, committing incest with his three sisters telling the astonished Senate that he is a god (throwing poor Claudius into a river, he abides and floats back up), everyone must worship, butchering at will the citizens from the highest to the lowest, seeking revenge against the Germans because of his father's untimely death, but while Julius Caesar wrote, "I came, I saw , I conquered", Caligula saw and ran... A brilliant novel more gossip than history maybe, but an enormously entertaining read.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,828 followers
March 15, 2011
Things had to have been boring in ancient Rome with no TV, internet or video games. But after reading I, Claudius, I think that the average Roman citizen’s chief entertainment probably came from watching what the imperial family did to each other. There was the crime and intrigue of a show like The Sopranos. All the narcissism and betrayal of a season of a reality TV show. More sex than cable on-demand porn channels and enough family dysfunction to make Jerry Springer’s guests look classy. You could have kicked off your sandals, put your feet up and watched out the window as all kinds of people got married, divorced, betrayed, robbed, disgraced, exiled and murdered. You can’t put a dollar value on entertainment like that.

The story is told from the perspective of Claudius, a member of the royal family who managed to survive because he was widely considered to be an idiot due to his stammer and bad leg, and because he never had enough money for anyone to bother killing him for his estate. Shunned and forgotten by most of the family, Claudius becomes a historian and scholar who documents the terrible things that happen around him as everyone seeks to gain and keep power.

Over his life, Claudius will have to deal with three emperors; the noble Augustus, the sullen and paranoid Tiberius and the crazy Caligula. His grandmother Livia, who married Augustus, would ruthlessly manipulate and destroy generations of her own family through various schemes and murders to make sure that her son, Tiberius, would one day inherit the throne.

Great book that really makes Roman history come alive. Claudius is a sympathetic narrator and there’s a streak of hilarious deadpan humor along with all the palace intrigue.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,484 followers
February 7, 2012
I Claudius reviewed by Manny :

- Claudius, come here, sit down right by me, don't be shy.

- O o o o o oh, M-m-m-m-m-

- Yes?

- essalina!

I Claudius reviewed by Mariel :

All i can dream about is rabbits every day. every day rabbits. i can't tell you why.

I Claudius reviewed by Ian Graye :

You've seen The Sopranos, so you think you know about gangsters.

But Imperial Rome didn't get its reputation by organising knitting circles.

No, it didn't.

Claudius became emperor accidentally. They found him cowering in a cupboard and they dragged him kicking and screaming to the throne.

That might be a metaphor.

Or not.

I Claudius reviewed by Bird Brian :


Graves dishes up nothing less than the most incisive deconstruction of the Bush regime and by extension the entire ediface of oppression which perpetuates from one administration to the next. If Hilary Clinton had beat Obama in the primaries in 2008 and had then won a second term this year America would have had two dynastic families running the whole shooting match from 1989 onwards - do you see any difference with Ancient Rome? I sure don't.

I Claudius reviewed by Karen Brissette:


okay, i know you have all been waiting on the edge of your seat for "what will karen do this summer to follow up her extraordinary summer of 23 pasta salads??"

here is your answer, friends.

i claudius. or i clavidvs if you check out the cover of the copy i have . wooh. here we go, eviscerations, deflorations and probably pasta fazool.

I Claudius reviewed by Praj

Prolonged use of both valium and absolute power may do unusual things to people's libido but who is going to draw such a moral from the romping morass which we can tinopen here in the untangleble tale of the nincompoop emperor. Kings and lords and high spastic rulers and their horrid affairs, filthy fate, covetousness, allegiance, brutalities, treachery and chastisements metamorphosing from the coccoon of mighty power and disgusting love, such as it may be so-called. I not however. Discordant waves of love and nastiness like bad songs sung loudly by good singers dangerously destabilizing romantic notions; overwhelming morality and raison d'être; all is destroyed where it is not altered beyond you ever noticing it was something that you loved. A book for everyone that lives. You got it.

Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
February 10, 2017
Compelling, humorous, entertaining and even at time times deeply disturbing, this traces the peripheral rise of an unlikely Caeser.

Historical fiction at its best, Graves provides an in-depth, behind the scenes look at early Roman Imperial intrigue. First published in 1934, this has been selected as one of the finest English language works in the twentieth century.

Profile Image for Kushagri.
37 reviews
April 24, 2023
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I would again say, that the more I like a book, the less I feel I have to say about it. So if you wish you may not call it a review but my enthusiastic ramblings to a friend on the book I just read and loved haha :D

Some books just deserve a standing ovation, don’t they?
This is one of those.

So, I will quote my friend Mark (though said in a different context), ‘This makes Game of Thrones look like Play School’. This story was full of debauchery, incest, betrayals, intrigues, suicides, assassinations, murders, changing allegiances, misdirects, wars, and what not! Even the superstitious aspect of those times fulfils the fantasy part (if we get to brass tacks in comparing with Game of Thrones)

I know this is fiction but if novels like these are encouraged as supplementary readings for students of appropriate ages, it would build up interests in many historical subjects.

Also, a disclaimer: I am going to read the sequel as well, so my views on Claudius might change when I get ahead in his story.

The story is narrated by the Fourth Roman Emperor, Claudius, who was intelligent and gentle but badly misunderstood and underestimated by his family.

I, TIBBRIUS 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.

"That man ought to be put out of the way! He's as stupid as a donkey - what am I saying? Donkeys are sensible beings by comparison - he's as stupid as ... as ... Heavens, he's as stupid as my son Claudius!”

This book follows his story and the story of Roman Empire, from the time of his childhood to assassination of Caligula (which leads to him becoming a reluctant Emperor), while he watches from the side-lines to record the reigns of its Emperors before him: from Augustus to Caligula.

We get to study characters of very important historical figures, mainly, Augustus, Livia, Tiberius, Germanicus, and Caligula.

Talking about Claudius. We see he is underestimated, ignored, and ridiculed by his family, but he is a scholar. He is an educated historian, who has studied under Athenodorus and was respected by historians like Livy and Pollio.

Especially we see how important a role Livia played in controlling all of the affairs of the Empire. Now that Mark has placed that analogy in my head haha, I will continue to ponder, and say that I think the character of Cersie Lannister was very much modeled after Livia.

Though Tiberius hated his mother more than ever, he continued to let her rule him. All the appointments which he made to Consulships or provincial governorships were really hers: and they were very sensible ones, the men being chosen for merit, not for family influence or because they had flattered her or done her some private service. For I must make it plain, if I have not already done so, that however criminal the means used by Livia to win the direction of affairs for herself, first through Augustus and then through Tiberius, she was an exceptionally able and just ruler; and it was only when she ceased to direct the system that she had built up that it went wrong.

Livia, and her son Tiberius very sincerely required a joint counselling session! They had a mutually destructive and mutually beneficial relationship. It seemed, Tiberius did some of his actions as Emperor deliberately to spite Livia, and basically was a proxy Emperor for his mother. A lot of the story is about the governance of Rome by Livia and Tiberius, and their internal equations. Also, the internal equations of the imperial family.

Tiberius asked, who was Emperor, he or she? Livia said that if he was, it was by her connivance and that it was foolish of him to be rude to her, because as she had found means to make him, she could find means to break him. She took a letter from her purse and began reading it: it was an old letter written to her by Augustus during Tiberius's absence in Rhodes, accusing him of treachery, cruelty, and bestiality, and saying that if he were not her son he would not live another day. 'This is only a copy,' she said. 'But I have the original in safe keeping. It's only one of many letters in the same strain. You wouldn't like them handed about the Senate, would you?'

The most important theme we see in the book is Power. The effect of power on different characters in different ways and the propensities of people to use the power in different ways. It was very interesting to note.

There is also an important focus on the character of Germanicus. It is only him, and Augustus’ grandson Postumus who are the best friends of Claudius.

The writing makes one so involved with these characters, that some points in the story, some murders and assassinations were really sad. This book stimulated every emotion in me, joy, laughter, sadness, sorrow, disgust, fear, and anger!

I would highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,547 followers
January 23, 2020
Robert Graves' classic I, Claudius is a masterpiece of historical fiction about the stuttering, lame unlikely emperor Claudius ending just as he mounts the imperial throne (one must read Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina for the rest - high on my TBR now). It is a mesmerizing text detailing the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula with all the accompanying betrayals, violence and sexual exploits that you would expect from a particularly gruesome early episode in the Game of Thrones. Well, the sexual exploits are mostly hinted at without gory details, but the rest is, well, rather violent to say the least.

There are moments of humor too. The debate between Livy and Pollio about their various approaches to history with Claudius in the middle was memorable. With his typically cutting wit, Claudius sums up the two approaches: "It's not disillusion, sir. I see now, though I hadn't considered it before, that there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth. The first is Livy's way and the other is yours and perhaps they are not irreconciliable." (p. 122). In this book, Graves follows Claudius' leaning towards Pollio's view because the morals of all the protagonists are certainly not something that would compel any sane person to truth.

This same Pollio, before passing away, gave Claudius the best advice he ever received: "Then exagerrate your limp, stammer deliberately, sham sickness frequently, let your wits wander, jerk your head and twich with your hands on all public or semi-public occasions. If you could see as much as I see, you would know that this was your only hope of safety and eventual glory." (p. 125). Fortunately for him, Claudius does take this advice to heart.

Graves seems to speak though his protagonist as he reacts to various pronouncements that occur in the book, but doubtless also during his lifetime in early 20th C Britain: "To recommend a monarchy on account of the prosperity it gives to the provinces seems to me like something that a man should have liberty to treat his children as slaves, if at the same time he treats his slaves with reasonable consideration." (p. 163).

In another example of dark humor, when Drusillus is murdered, he is found with a pear shoved down his throat in a lame attempt to excuse the assassination as an accident. "It is clear that Livia, not having been consulted about the marriage of one of her great-grandchildren, had arranged for the child to be strangled and the pear crammed down his throat afterwards. As was the custom for in such cases, the pear tree was charged with murder and sentenced to be uprooted and burned." (p. 294). This may sound particularly awful, but there are worse fates awaiting children under Caligula's reign.

As for historical fiction, this one rates for me nearly as high as Youcenar's Mémoires d'Hadrien which for me is the most beautiful evocation of a Roman emperor's inner life. In this book, it takes about 75 pages to build a head of steam and then it runs us right over the cliff over and over again with the evil characters of Livia and Caligula in particular, the manipulation of Augustus and Tiberius, and the foreshortened fates of literally dozens of family members and thousands of Roman citizens. A must read. And, if I may, the insanity of Caligula and his particular communication and governing style bears comparison to that of the orange menace at 1600 Penn Ave at the moment...
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,683 followers
June 6, 2015
Game of Romes

History is the lie of the victors. Or so that’s what they say. But in the case of I, Claudius hailed as one of the best pieces of historical fiction written to date, the so-called lie is either heightened or degraded, depends on how you see it, into a dramatic tale of cunning, deceit, depravity and the glories of ancient Rome chalked with enough back-stabbing, affairs, incest, assassinations, and debauchery you’d doubt whether you’ve unearthed an ancient tabloid. Granted there are certain truths that only a tabloid can tell. Of course, in this case it is idiotic to look for historical accuracy in fiction but certain things that happen are just so wicked that you have to wonder whether these lies are just that. This review aims to take on the impossible task of diluting the deceitful mixture to separate the lies of the writer from the more essential lies of the victors.

There's actually very little in I, Claudius that's entirely unattested. But the thing is Robert Graves based on historical works that are biased and unreliable and he portrays the characters in a way to fit his underlying narrative. Graves relied most heavily on Suetonius and Tacitus. He drew on Suetonius and a host of late Roman authors who are inaccurate at best, particularly for his narration of the earlier emperors to provide all sorts of juicy gossip that those works are full of. But then he had a problem. There was a sharp division among writers of the 1st and 2nd Centuries, A.D. as regards Claudius. Many of his contemporaries, and particularly the Neronians, saw Claudius as the bumbling old idiot that you can find in the pages of Seneca and Suetonius. However, under the Flavians Claudius became a model emperor, who was a struggling intellectual and who expanded Roman power militarily and through his public works, rather than the idiot who let everyone else do all the work for him and eventually had to rely on his wife so much that he fell into her trap easily. Graves chooses the Flavian view of Claudius, and attempts to explain away the aspects of his character seen negatively by Suetonius and Seneca by various means. Graves claimed that it occurred to him while reading through Suetonius and Tacitus that perhaps Claudius was not really as stupid as everyone else thought and that he was cleverly trying to stay alive in a time of intrigue and plotting that undoubtedly would have killed him otherwise. As a result, the works are highly sifted and selected to provide particular, no matter how unlikely, versions of the events that took place.

There's nothing to suggest that Claudius, Livia, Augustus, or any of the other characters thought many of the things that Graves puts in their minds. We know they did certain things, and there are a number of reasons why they might have done so. Graves picks the reasons he particularly likes and crafts a very good story from it, imagining that it is true, whether it is or not. The other thing that Graves fabricates is holes in the record. Graves is very fond of linking events together that probably didn't have any connection--the famous example is the important character of Cassius Chaerea, who appears all over the place and is a major plot-driver. The historical Cassius Chaerea is only known as the prefect of the Praetorian Guard who was hated and teased by Caligula and eventually was one of the leaders of the plot to murder him. Whenever Chaerea appears elsewhere in I, Claudius Graves is in fact imposing his character on a historical person. Basically, whenever Chaerea appears before then he's actually playing someone who the record says was named Cassius, and that Graves assumes or pretends was Chaerea, for plot purposes. There's no reason to suggest, for example, that the same Cassius who led the survivors out of the Teutoburg was the guy who killed Caligula--Cassius was, after all, the name of one of the largest families in Rome.

As I end, let me entertain you a bit. If you’ve ever watched Game of Thrones then you should know never to underestimate the weak, repulsive ones. What they lack in strength or in beauty, they make up for in cunning and intelligence. Permit me to say this but I do think Grave’s version of Claudius is, in a certain sense, the true Tyrion. Of course he’s not a dwarf, but he’s deformed in his own way. He’s lame, bowlegged, and a chronic stammerer. He comes from a family that comes to power because of a deceitful but nevertheless remarkable woman Livia aka Cersei then becomes the steward of sorts to his insane nephew Geoffrey or Caligula rather. Not that I’m trying to say Game of Thrones is based on I, Claudius or Roman history, or that Tyrion will become king of the seven realms. I’m just saying that they’re both entertaining, they’re both fiction, but that doesn’t mean they’re both trash. Sometimes you need a lie to get to the truth. Immediately after the book was published the classical community exploded, with some denouncing the book and condemning Graves (who explicitly states that he was not attempting any sort of historical or professional publication with the book, merely his own fancy), but it also initiated scholars to go back and revisit the textual material. In general the book prompted a mass re-reading of all the material on Claudius, if only to fact-check Graves, and a great deal of things that were overlooked until then popped out. This coincided with a revisiting of the emperors in general. So it did have some sort of significance for academics, and it did and continues to awaken the layman’s curiosity about roman emperors and consequently about ancient roman history.

And for Game of Thrones, well the truth is, it’s just awesome.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,549 reviews1,825 followers
January 29, 2019
I was going to write that Graves having translated The Twelve Caesars recycled the Suetonius with a dash of Tacitus and some added murders to create I Claudius - ostensibly the memoirs of the Emperor Claudius.

This, however, seems to be entirely false as Graves wrote I, Claudius more than twenty years before he made that translation. He was though living on Majorca, which is not quite Capri, and if isolated and obsessing over his muse, not quite in Tiberian style.

In my imagination then I have to place I, Claudius back in the 1930s, a few years after this memoir of the First World War Goodbye to all that and put this portrait of an imagined secret life of an Imperial family with its incest, non-normative elective sexual activities some of which remain illegal in various countries, and family murders to gain or maintain power mentally in the context of the official rigid Victorianism of the Britain of George V.

Is I, Claudius just a fictional interpretation of the really already quite turbulent Julio-Claudian dynasty, or is it worth thinking about it as the continuation of Goodbye to all that? Is this Graves drawing back the Imperial curtain and showing us the archetypal family life of all Emperors? Don't be fooled by the noble faces on the coins he says, they may not smell but their daily reality is sordid all the same.

Alternatively this is just some whimsy on my part and the genesis of I, Claudius was simply Graves' need to earn some pennies while living on Majorca so that he could continue to obsess over his muse in decent isolation.

Anyhow this is a fun bit of historical fiction even if the reality may well have been slightly less murderous than Graves' novel, even without which the Romans seem to have been the least shy of all earthly empires to date when it came to prematurely terminating the reigns of Emperors.

Mary Beard in Confronting the Classics in a review of a biography of Augustus suggests that I, Claudius, and particularly the 1976 BBC TV version has influenced at least a generation of scholars so that when they are writing about Livia they are thinking of Siân Phillips' performance rather than the dark hints that she may possibly have been up to no good from Tacitus and Suetonius, still less of how one might reasonably understand a Livia in her times. One might look at Beard's argument with dismay, then again from another viewpoint it shows the power of fiction writing and characterisation, of creating a narrative.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
October 24, 2020

This is the third time I have read this book. There are few I have read so many times. But this book and its sequels formed the groundwork for my understanding of classical Roman times, at least of its Empire. I first read this when I was very young but even if my main concern then was to decipher the English it left its roots for my understanding of everything Roman and a positive taste for historical fiction. The second time I concentrated on learning the genealogical tree of the Claudians. This time I have concentrated on the way Graves builds a logical development of events.

The book spans roughly sixty years: from around 25 BC – [when Augustus had been Emperor for a while and his sister Octavia and his friend Agrippa are still alive, so before 11BC] – until Caligula’s death in 40 AD. Reading it, and particularly watching the BBC serial in parallel, it seems the span of time is shorter, considering how fast events unfold. The plot of the novel can be understood as an obstacle race. How many lives had to be ended so that Augustus would be succeeded by his unbeloved stepson Tiberius? These were eight, and in this order: 1. Marcellus (Augustus’ nephew – dead in 23BC), 2. Agrippa (his close and trusted friend, partner and son in law – dead in 12BC), 3. Drusus (stepson – gone in 9BC), 4. Julia (daughter – banned in 2BC), 5. Lucius (grandson and son of Julia’s – done for in 2AD), 6. Gaius (grandson and brother to Gaius – perished in 4AD), 7. Postumus (grandson and brother to Lucius and Gaius – exiled in 6AD and dead in 14AD), 8. And finally Augustus’s own life also in 14AD.

This succession, if surveyed fast, seems like the Claudians were playing the Russian roulette.

So Graves’ main proposition is that all these deaths were not really random, but the result of a sustained, purposeful, resourceful, astute planning. And the executor of this plan was Livia, Augustus’s wife. She was the one who kept turning around the roulette of destiny dissolving those obstacles with poison. And was this an act of love? Love for her son Tiberius? Not really, for remember that number 3 above, Drusus, was also her son. What was at stake was something else.

For Tiberius was not particularly fond of his mother either. So, why did Livia push her ambition to the keep her family in power at the expense of exterminating several of its members included her husband whom she did love? Her own ambition? Partly. Tiberius was a better candidate than Drusus because she could manipulate the former; he was scared of her and was insecure. She would rule through him for fifteen more years after Augustus death, until her own death in 29AD.

Graves is devising a plot and a directing thread to his novel is not just offering us a soap opera. There is a political interpretation too. For us it is now almost indisputable that the Empire would follow the Roman republic for several centuries. But in Livia’s time it was not. The peace enjoyed under Augustus had been welcomed with such relief by those who had lived through the civil wars was still very much associated with him. If he went, so would the peace and prosperity of all. And this is what Livia tried to preserve and for her only through an Empire, with a firm an unquestioned centralization of power under one man (yes, there was that Senate, but one could always go around it), could this be achieved. Based on this premise, that Livia was the true artificer of a lasting Empire, Graves presents Livia’s poisoning of her husband as the last necessary measure to preserve the Empire, since Augustus himself entertained doubts about reestablishing the Republic.

Her hand is therefore also felt once her son rules and the roulette continues turning around, but it gradually loses its political purpose, becoming a circus when her grandson Caligula takes on the eagle. Livia’s peace of mind and forgiveness for all her sins could only come were she to enter the Olympus as a goddess. Her plan failed at the end because her understanding of Empire did not consider how easily it could degenerate into a Despot-system and her own descendant decided that she could rot in Hell.

In this third read then I have tried to track the way Graves imposes some sense, thanks to human intention, onto a set of incomprehensible events in history. Underlying this we have the proposition of human will versus the randomess of destiny.

Soon, I will continue with Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina and follow how Graves produces and order in the events of history.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,841 followers
July 19, 2021
I need to read up on the background behind this book as I am not sure how much is fiction and how much is just actually history told as a story by a character who lived it. To me, Historical Fiction means a fiction story set in a historical time period and maybe told with real historical figures. In this case I am thinking it is more than that; not really a fictional story at all but could possibly be characterized as non-fiction.

I was fascinated by this story. It is a time period that I am aware of but that I don’t really know much about. I knew some of the characters names and a bit about their reputations, but this book really filled in everything else for me. At times it was a bit heavy and I found my mind wandering – picture listening to a history lecture – but I do like history in general, so I was able to enjoy the majority of the book.

One thing that might get tiresome for you if you decide to read this is that it is a bit repetitive. Now, that is not the fault of the author. In this case, the history itself was very repetitive and it was usually the not so pleasant stuff (murder, suicide, corruption, etc.) that was repeated. I guess you could say that it is an early Soap Opera!

This book is not for everyone. If you don’t like history or in-depth – sometimes sterile – narration of events, I don’t think it is worth giving this a try. But, if you like history, tales of the Roman Empire, the development of early Europe, etc. it may be a book that you will enjoy.
Profile Image for Sarah (Presto agitato).
123 reviews162 followers
July 18, 2012
Poor Clau-Clau-Claudius. He stuttered, had a limp, and was deaf in one ear. Considered the family idiot, he had the misfortune to be born into a family that suffered from a congenital lack of compassion.

Robert Graves’s choice of the hapless Claudius as the narrator for this work of historical fiction was ingenious. Seen as dull-witted and harmless by his ruthless relatives, Claudius managed to avoid the poisoning, banishment, starvation, stabbing, and suicide to which many of his more prominent associates fell victim. He was the family outcast, but innocuous enough to be left alone to observe the antics of those around him, and, as a historian, he recorded it all to share with us.

Claudius, Emperor of Rome from 41 to 54 AD

Graves does an excellent job of taking us into Claudius’s mind, despite the 2,000 year gap in time. Claudius would have considered himself a “good Claudian” (compared to most of his relatives), but he had his flaws, including a cold indifference to slaves and conquered nations and a fondness for drink and gambling. Still, compared to his nephew Caligula, who made his horse a Senator and had entire sections of the crowd thrown to the lions out of boredom, Claudius can not help but seem refreshingly sane and humane.

Claudius’s grandmother, Livia, is depicted as a devious schemer and poisoner, but Claudius even managed to be fair to her. Though he disliked her as much as she disliked him and had the good sense to be afraid of her, he tells us, “...however criminal the means used by Livia to win the direction of affairs for herself...she was an exceptionally able and just ruler” (p. 228).

Livia, the real power behind Caesar Augustus

Graves occasionally allows himself to give commentary through Claudius. I, Claudius was published in 1934, on the eve of World War II, and Graves doesn’t miss the opportunity to stick it to the Germans. He has Claudius’s brother, Germanicus, say, “The Germans...are the most insolent and boastful nation in the world when things go well with them, but once they are defeated they are the most cowardly and abject. Never trust a German out of your sight, but never be afraid of him when you have him face to face” (p. 249). He gives a plug to the English, too, when he lists as one of three impossible things the idea of subduing the island of Britain (p. 232).

Historical fiction is always a bit risky; when it’s bad, it can be really bad, particularly when characters from hundreds of years ago talk like they’re on an MTV special. I, Claudius, however, is excellent historical fiction. The characters are believable, depicted with wit and even a touch of modern relevance. There is the added bonus that modern taxation doesn’t seem nearly so onerous when compared to Caligula’s, when he imposed “a tax...on all married men for the privilege of sleeping with their wives” (p. 425). This is the kind of story that lets you imagine what it would have been like to live in a different age, and then to feel very grateful that you don’t.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews7,023 followers
September 7, 2012

Yo, Claudio

The review I really have in mind will be attempted for this book only after I finish reading Claudius the God (to quench the burning curiosity of how this ‘Clau-Clau-Claudius’, a man, who in the first shock of being made emperor had this outrageous thought come rushing to his mind - "So, I'm Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I'll be able to make people read my books now.”, will conduct himself as a God-Emperor), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, so that I can apply the same criteria for reviewing any work of history, as suggested by Claudius (original source for much of Pliny's work) himself, through Livius and Pollio (all works unfortunately lost).

Meanwhile, have a short and enjoyable snapshot sampling of the book by going through the-easy-to-follow family tree given below. Ah, the tales that can be told while tracing those lines…

Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,778 followers
June 15, 2022
“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…”

So begins the story of how the most unexpected man reluctantly finds himself Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Through Claudius’s own historical narration the reader is thrown into a sea of unimaginable intrigue and drama. This novel spans some 50 yrs, so there are a lot of characters to keep track of but the story is told in a way that when confusion for the reader is expected clarity is quickly provided. It does jump around from person to person & event to event quite a bit, so you really have to pay attention or else you’ll get confused. When I found myself even the tiniest bit distracted I went back to make sure of what was going on. I took off half a star because of this.

Very glad I chose to listen to this rather than reading it… think I would’ve grown frustrated trying to keep the timelines and characters straight.

I’m surprised at how much I ended up enjoying this. I have grown very attached to Claudius and am completely invested in his story, enough so that I’m heading straight into Claudius the God which picks up right where this novel ends. I highly, highly recommend this well written novel to readers that enjoy deep-diving into history. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Blaine DeSantis.
903 reviews113 followers
February 21, 2020
My word, what a book! I began 2020 by saying that this was one book from my library I wanted to read, and I am so glad I started the year with it. Being Italian, loving History and having visited Rome many times helped me enjoy this book. Is allegedly an autobiography of Claudius, but is really a historical fiction book which does a super job of seeing Rome and the empire through the eyes of the physically challenged Claudius, a relative of Augustus Caesar who is so non-threatening that nobody tries to kill him and who will eventually rise to become Emperor of Rome. Great historical details taken from works of Suetonius and Tacitus and, again, is supposed to be Claudius writing his and his families history. Shows how his grandmother, Livia, is the power behind the crown, and does not really write highly about Augustus and especially Tiberius. Caligula gets the last 70 pages of the book and we easily see why he was assassinated! It is not the fastest book to read, partly due to very small font size, but I found the last 250 pages flew by. A great read, and now I must make the effort to read the 2nd book of the series, Claudius the God. Very happy I made this my reading priority for 2020!
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
February 8, 2012
- Ave, Imperator!

- A-a-a-a-ave Manny. Heri o-o-o-ccurabamus?

- Parodis Paulii Bryantii erat.

- A-a-a-absit invidia. Latinam loquitis?

- Googlam Translatam utiliso.

- Non i-i-i-intelligo.

- Malefice! Logicus coprae est.

- P-p-parodis Bryantii melius erat.

- Bastarde!
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,385 reviews2,258 followers
January 18, 2023

If only I'd found a family tree beforehand which I'm sure would have made it much easier getting to grips with all the family members, their relationship to each other, and those who died - it's a lot of them. There is death, madness and murder in these pages. My Roman empire knowledge has always been pretty limited but one thing I always knew was that we're dealing with some of the most astonishing people in the history of the human race. Alright, this is a fictional account, but the way Graves brings ancient Rome to life in such rich detail through the eyes of Claudius was quite breath taking. 10/10 for him doing his homework on the subject. The focus is less on Claudius himself here, and more on the likes of Augustus, Claudius' nephew Gaius (Caligula), the debauched uncle Tiberius - whose legendary orgies I thought would definitely feature more!, and the evil ruthless mastermind Livia, grandmother to Claudius. God, what a character. One of the most memorable I've come across in ages. As for Claudius, I felt a fear and Paranoia building up inside him - and for good reason, whilst he also came across as a caring and rational person - unlike some of his other clan. It's no doubt one hell of a book, but the dense structure was tough I cant lie. Not such yet as to whether I'd read the follow up, Claudius the God.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,385 followers
December 7, 2015
I like I, Claudius a lot, but what is it?

It's a slow character study of subtle, canny Claudius, who's one of the most likable protagonists I've read recently. Self-deprecating and brilliant, he's more proactive than he chooses to mention.

It's a history lesson, but not a trustworthy one. This is a good example of something I think of as the Nero Rule. Nero, see, put cages on poles and set Christians on fire in them and used them as streetlights. He probably didn't, actually, but that's a cool story. There are lots of cool stories in history - did you know how Alexander the Great died? Aristotle poisoned him! - and most of them aren't true or at least can't be verified. So responsible history tends to be a little more boring, but if you want to be sure about what happened, there you go. I, Claudius is like a master class in Nero Rule History: if it probably didn't happen, it's in here.

It's basically impossible to keep all the characters straight, and after trying really hard to do so I guess my advice to you would be don't bother. You'll learn the major characters - Livia, Tiberius, Germanicus, Claudius himself - and the rest...whatever. Here's a chart I referred to constantly, but it did me no good.

I found it best to enjoy it without overthinking it. Loads of exciting things happen. Claudius is a master of the soft approach - redirecting attacks instead of countering them. It's not great history, but it's great fun.
Profile Image for Dagio_maya .
914 reviews256 followers
March 20, 2021
Ho iniziato questo libro dopo aver visto una puntata di Passato e presente su Messalina (puntata che inspiegabilmente non è più disponibile su Raiplay).
Tra le letture suggerite a fine puntata c’era questo libro, pubblicato nel 1934, dallo storico inglese Robert Graves; in realtà qui di Messalina c’è poco e niente in quanto il racconto si ferma all’acclamazione di Claudio imperatore dopo che i pretoriani lo trovarono tremante nascosto dietro le tende.

“Io, Claudio” è un biografia romanzata sotto forma di mémoir,

”Io, Tiberio Claudio Druso Nerone Germanico eccetera eccetera (perché non voglio infastidirvi enumerando tutti i miei nomi), che ero una volta, e non molto tempo addietro, noto a parenti e amici e conoscenti sotto gli appellativi di Claudio l'Idiota, o quel Claudio, o Claudio il Balbuziente, o Cla-Cla-Claudio, o nel migliore dei casi Povero Zio Claudio, mi accingo a scrivere la strana storia della mia vita; “

Così comincia il racconto di un periodo storico intrigante ed intricato.

La gens giulio-claudia costruisce il suo dominio su una trama di omicidi, tradimenti, delazioni.
Un sistema di adozioni e/o mogli ripudiate rinnova a ciclo continuo la geografia dinastica che certo non disdegna neppure spade o veleni, se il fine è quello di eliminare chi intralcia la strada verso il proprio obiettivo.

Graves costruisce un racconto storico dove la penna si tramuta nello sguardo di Claudio che è testimone ed osservatore delle molteplici manovre dei familiari e non.
I difetti fisici che lo caratterizzano fanno sì che non sia mai pienamente coinvolto nella vita politica. Il suo rifugio è lo studio assiduo che lo porterà a diventare uno storico e come lui stesso definirà «uno storico imparziale»
Da Augusto e le subdole manovre di Livia a Caligola che regnò soli quattro anni.
Uno storpio balbuziente su cui nessuno avrebbe scommesso.

Ottima lettura.
Oggi ci sono storici che tendono a rivedere alcune ricostruzioni di Svetonio e Tito Livio su cui Graves basa il romanzo, ciononostante, è una lettura coinvolgente che dà un’idea concreta non solo delle figure imperiali ma di tutta un’epoca.

”E adesso il lettore può giudicare se ho saputo, o no, valermi dell'occasione offertami dal Destino.
In fede mia ritengo di non aver abusato nemmeno di quella libertà che è tuttavia un privilegio dello storiografo provetto, della libertà cioè di inventar di sana pianta i dialoghi relativi ad argomenti dei quali conosce tutt'al più, e solo vagamente, la sostanza.”
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,309 reviews757 followers
September 17, 2014
There have been multiple periods of time in my life during which I developed a fascination for different historical families, usually of infamous repute. Elementary school was devoted to the Tudors, focusing heavily on the Princess Elizabeth, while middle through high school was preoccupied with the Borgias, an interest more balanced between its equally intriguing members. Every so often those fascinations will spark up again, and I will find myself consuming relevant impressively rendered fiction and biographically accurate nonfiction with equal fervor. I would not be able to tell you why these subjects had attracted me while I was young, but I do have a hypothesis as to why they continue to interest me today.

Both the Tudors and the Borgias were at the center of major confluences in their day, and both rested in the eyes of storms largely fueled by religion. While the Borgias clawed their way to the top of the papal throne amidst vicious rumors of debauched blasphemy, the Tudors with Henry VIII as their figurehead rejected that system of belief completely in favor of one that would serve their own ends. And it is this intersection of human figures in places of immense power with religious forces, and what results, that makes for truly spellbinding tales, fictional or no.

I, Claudius is an example of this theological maelstrom, but is even more striking when taken into consideration that the Emperors of Rome could be deified, whether by popular plea by the public or by the crazed hysterics of the ruler himself. Not a king in consultation with powerful people both religious and otherwise, nor a pope equipped with papal infallibility in the spiritual sense. A god.

The effect that this mentality must have had on its believers is not fully explored, as Claudius is not one for psychological profiles or sociocultural analysis. His two interests throughout the story are largely restricted to the realms of historical recountal and simple survival, as his family discredits, banishes, poisons, and pushes to suicide any member they deem in their way. I do not blame him in the slightest, but I cannot help but wish that there was more to the story than the bare facts and occasional personal inputs that Claudius limited himself to. Or I suppose the matter would have fallen to Graves, seeing as this for all its evidence of substantial research is a work of fiction.

For the potential of deification works its way into the heart of every major player, beginning with Augustus' boasts of his relations to the deified Julius Caeser, and ending with Caligula's assumption of the role of any god or goddess, a decision dictated only by his increasingly errant and murderous behavior. Of special note is Livia Drusilla, the wife of Augustus, who of all the characters proved to be the most controversially engaging. Her first manipulation on a grand scale removes her from her first husband and places her at the side of Augustus, then called Octavian, an enemy of her family that drove her father to suicide. From thereon out she is strongly present in the ruling of the Roman Empire, a time when women were banned from the senate and widowed mothers were placed under the guardianship of their own sons. She goes to any lengths without any seeming sentiment in order to ensure the health of the Empire, a health that she believes can be maintained only by her line. When considering her considerable prowess in ruling through Augustus, this was not a bad assumption to make at all.

In fact, I would have preferred reading the story from her point of view, if it were not for that fact Claudius survived her and lived to see the tumultuous reigns of her son Tiberius and her grandson Caligula. It is through his eyes that one is able to see that, while Livia was a masterful player at the game of all-powerful leadership, she did not give much thought to the psychological damage she was wreaking on those she expected to continue her rule, or how they would manage to cope without her complete control of the realm. If she had, it is hard to say how the history of Western Roman Empire would have evolved. My bets are on that it would not have ended with Nero, and maybe would even have continued for far longer than it ended up doing.

That is pure conjecture, though. What is not is that the book ends with Claudius becoming Emperor, whose story is continued in Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina. Based on the brief insights into his character that he chose to insert into his historical account, within the academically inclined soul of his there lies some small worms of grandeur, lofty views of himself that so far his career of pandering and pretending have not substantiated. It will be interesting to see whether these worms grow any, and how they express themselves when his hands grasp the reins of the Empire and they are let loose on a much wider field of play. He is the newest member of this train of deified royalty, and how he chooses to handles this powerful mantle remains to be seen.
Profile Image for Carlos Bazzano.
79 reviews29 followers
November 15, 2018
"Al fin y al cabo no existe la historia; no hay más que la descripción de la vida." (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Pocas veces me encontré con un libro que me haya apasionado tanto como esta magnífica obra de Robert Graves que he tenido el gusto y el placer de leer, lo que resulta inaceptable es que este maravilloso libro haya quedado tanto tiempo relegado en mi estantería sin que le prestara la atención que se merece. Desde siempre, cuando escuchaba hablar de ficción histórica (o novela histórica) recuerdo haber oído hablar sobre un Señor Libro titulado Yo, Claudio, que era, según decían, un deleite. Lo encontré en una librería, lo compré y ahí quedó olvidado en mi estantería, hasta que este año impulsado por el disfrute que me produjo la lectura de la novela Juliano el Apóstata de Gore Vidal, libro que el mismo autor reconoce estar escrito tomando como referencia al de Robert Graves, resolví desempolvarlo y leerlo. No pude haber tomado una mejor decisión al respecto.

En esta magnífica novela Robert Graves nos traslada a la primera época del Imperio Romano, si bien los inicios de la época imperial ya han pasado, estamos en el germen de aquello que llegó a ser el mismo con posterioridad. Claudio, relegado por la familia a un segundo plano a causa de su cojera y su tartamudeo, se toma el trabajo de contarnos su vida, desde su nacimiento hasta el momento en que, inesperadamente, es elevado al trono imperial. Robert Graves se sirve así de una voz autorizada, al tratarse de un testigo de primera mano, para relatarnos los avatares y pormenores de los reinados de Augusto, Tiberio y Calígula, relatándonos tanto la situación general y política del imperio (a veces con demasiados detalles), los pormenores de la vida doméstica y sus quehaceres personales.

En este punto debo señalar que no han de confundirse las cosas. Esta es una novela no una obra histórica, pero ello no impidió a Robert Graves documentarse exhaustivamente para escribir tanto esta obra como su secuela, por ello debe entenderse que ciertos hechos pudieran ser ficticios. En puridad, salvo por las crónicas que han sobrevivido de ese tiempo, no tenemos forma de conocer muchas cosas, imagínense si ya resulta difícil la escritura de un libro bien documentado sobre eventos ocurridos cincuenta años atrás cuanto más lo será respecto a una época tan remota como la del Imperio Romano. Así pues, el diario del emperador Claudio, es en realidad una construcción maravillosa derivada de la imaginación portentosa de Robert Graves y del hábil trabajo de documentación que éste realizó.

Aunado a lo expuesto al final del párrafo anterior he de decir que, si bien esta es una obra de ficción y muchos hechos pueden ser ficticios, el autor nos los relata con altas dosis de realismo, ya que mucho de lo expuesto ha sido corroborado en otras excelentes obras de no ficción, como la biografía de Augusto escrita por Anthony Everitt (Augusto: el primer emperador, reseña aquí), como ser por ejemplo, el divorcio de Tiberio y Vipsania y el hecho de que éste siguiera enamorado de la misma mucho después de su divorcio y el exilio voluntario de éste.

Resulta extraordinaria la habilidad de Graves para trabajar con datos históricos y sobreponerlos a los ficticios, para trabajar el carácter y la complejidad de cada personaje (si bien ya contaba con apoyo de obras históricas para tal menester) y, por sobre todo, para relatar evento tras evento en un libro de casi 600 páginas sin abrumar con la cantidad de datos, ni aburrir tan solo un instante. Ciertamente loor a quien loor se merese: Robert Graves fue portento.

Por otra parte, la caracterización de Claudio es magnífica, su personalidad es tan rica, tan compleja, y todo ello está tan bien trabajado que incluso nosotros que vivimos 2000 años después, tras leer este libro podemos decir que conocemos a Claudio como quien lo ha tratado toda la vida. Más allá de la historia del Imperio Romano que se nos cuenta, considero que Claudio es un ejemplo de perseverancia y superación de las adversidades. Su cojera, su tartamudez, el desprecio de su familia que lo consideraba un ser abyecto, afectado de epilepsia, las burlas hacia su persona de parte de su propia madre cuando no era más que un niño, no le impidieron llegar a ser un estudiante brillante, un gran estadista, un buen estratega militar, y un emperador razonablemente bueno, las fuentes que he consultado le reconocen diversos logros al frente de la administración de un estado tan colosal como lo era el romano. Si dejamos de lado su azarosa vida privada (se casó en cuatro ocasiones), puede decirse que fue un buen gobernante, mejor que muchos de la actualidad.

En ciertas partes he de decir el libro se torna un tanto pesado y la lectura cansa un poquito, pero no me malentiendan, de ninguna manera resulta aburrida, sino que en partes pareciera como que estamos leyendo una antigua crónica repleta de detalles y nombres más que el relato de los hechos acontecidos, pero pienso que es parte de la riqueza de la obra. Como soy un romanófilo empedernido esta obra me permitió conocer más de cerca a un emperador del que siempre había oído hablar bien, ahora iré en busca de buenas obras de no ficción acerca del mismo a fin de profundizar dicho conocimiento.

Más allá de todo, es la primera vez que veo a un emperador romano retratado como un simple ser humano, olvidado, relegado, afectado de diversas taras y sin ese carácter todopoderoso con que la figura sería tratada a posteriori, Gore Vidal procede de manera similar con Juliano, pero el mismo exagera ciertas habilidades de su personaje, lo magnifica en ciertos puntos y da a entender que estaba destinado a reinar y por ello todos los caminos se le abrían. No sucedió eso con Claudio a quien su fama de "tonto" le evitó la muerte y llegó a emperador muy a su pesar. Por todo eso, empaticé con Claudio como no lo hice con ningún otro emperador.

¿Quieren conocer como era la vida cotidiana en los primeros tiempos del Imperio? Den una oportunidad a este libro y permitan que Robert Graves y Claudio los guíen en los entresijos del poder romano, conocerán de primera mano las conspiraciones, las tramas ocultas y todo aquello que sucedía de puertas para adentro. Si gustan de la novela histórica este libro, que ha venido a ser un verdadero clásico del siglo XX, es imprescindible.

Lectura altamente recomendada.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,180 reviews1,941 followers
April 10, 2023
“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.”
There is a famous TV adaptation of this from 1976 which I was not allowed to watch, it being for too wicked!! Graves wrote this and the sequel entirely to make money and quite consciously so. He had moved to Majorca and was living with Laura Riding at the time. He picked Claudius as he felt he was the only one of the main characters who would be credible as a narrator. Claudius was intelligent and erudite, although he was considered a fool because of his stammer. The characters are larger than life as Graves writes the outrageous rather well. It is based on actual events. Graves has done his research but his characters he has certainly developed! We know little about Livia for instance, but here she is magnificently evil and scheming:
“Augustus ruled the world, but Livia ruled Augustus.”
“Though Tiberius hated his mother more than ever, he continued to let her rule him. All the appointments which he made to Consulships or provincial governorships were really hers: and they were very sensible ones, the men being chosen for merit, not for family influence or because they had flattered her or done her some private service. For I must make it plain, if I have not already done so, that however criminal the means used by Livia to win the direction of affairs for herself, first through Augustus and then through Tiberius, she was an exceptionally able and just ruler; and it was only when she ceased to direct the system that she had built up that it went wrong.”
The novel also reflects the times. There is a level of anti-German sentiment which feels uncomfortable and probably reflects Graves own experiences in the War and his feelings about his own German ancestry.
All the main characters are caricatures and the whole feels quite Dickensian. Even Graves however is quite coy about the worst excesses. There are elements of Game of Thrones and Martin used the Claudius books as part of his inspiration. Stannis Baratheon being based on the character of Tiberius Caesar.
There is always a tension between the empirical and literary invention and this is worked out in all historical novels. Graves tended to believe that the poetic is non-empirical and non-historic as opposed to actual historical figures. This tends to make the narrative a little plodding at times and the historiographical story lacks a bit of literary inventiveness.
Profile Image for Luke Peterson.
45 reviews19 followers
February 20, 2007
Best book I'd read in years. I, Claudius is a brilliantly written piece of historical fiction from the perspective of a hapless-yet-intelligent black sheep of the Julio-Claudian house during the Augustan era of the Roman Empire who stumbles his way through to survive the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula only to be made emperor himself.

At times hilarious, others disturbing, very interesting all the way through, Robert Graves wrote a masterpiece with this. I challenge anyone to read 'I, Claudius' who doesn't at least begin the less-favored sequel (Claudius the God) at its conclusion.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading in high school world history courses. It is dirty and violent enough to hold the interest of any hormonal teenage boys, has enough intrigue and behind-closed-doors politicking to trap the attention of young women. I finished this book and began a year-long dive into all the Roman history I could find, culminating in a vacation to the Eternal City in November '06.
Profile Image for Raul.
283 reviews203 followers
November 19, 2017
This was fun reading! It reminded me of the 'A Song of Fire and Ice' series. Claudius, is a stammering lame fellow whose disabilities and weaknesses bring him both mockery and his salvation in a family plagued with scheming, deceit, betrayal, poisoning, the lust for power and the like. The humour and action in the book makes it a great page turner and Livia has become one of my favourite villains of all time.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,788 reviews308 followers
April 2, 2015
A fictional autobiography of a Roman Emperor
23 February 2015

Well, here is another historical novel that I actually quite enjoyed, but that may be because, unlike most historical novels that deal with fictional characters placed in an historical time period, this deals with real characters, namely the Imperial Family from the establishment of the empire to the ascension of Claudius to the throne. As can be seen by the title, the main character is the emperor Claudius before he became emperor (the story of when he was emperor is the subject of the sequel Claudius the God).

I appears that Graves stuck quite close to the two major sources we have on this time period, namely Suetonius and Tacitus, though he also used a lot of poetic license since a much of the book deals with the interactions of Claudius with many of the other major figures at the time (though he does footnote a couple of things, such a Nero, since we are likely to think he is the emperor Nero when he isn't). Okay, the book did drag a bit in the middle, but it began to pick up again when Caligula ascended the throne and we begin to see how the power went to his head.

Claudius is an interesting character, which is why Graves chose him as the subject of the novel. He suggests it is because he gives us a good sweep of the early imperial period, something that Augustus and Tiberius don't, and Nero and Calligula are simply too obsessed with power to be able to adequately write from their point of view. Also, Graves suggests, since Claudius was also a writer (then again most Emperors were), he felt that writing a history from his point of view would be the most plausible. This, of course, is despite the fact that he is a cripple and a stutterer, however that does not necessarily mean that he is neither unaware of the world around him, nor eloquent in the use of the written word.

One of the things that struck me as I read this book was the idea of how the transition of an empire from a non-functional democracy to a dictatorship does not necessarily bring about better times for the subjects. I decided that instead of discussing that to a large extent here it would be better to have a look at a couple of case studies – namely France and Rome – in my blog (and I will link the two posts below). However, I will say a few things about the period after the fall of the Republic here because it does relate closely to this book.

Now I, and probably many others, would consider Augustus to be a benevolent dictator. At the time of his ascension the Republic had effectively collapsed into warring factions and Augustus, after dispatching his enemies, brought about stability and peace to the empire under his rule. While he remained in control the ancient historians seem to hold him in high regard and do not indicate that he ever abused his power. From what it appears Rome once again began to prosper under his rule and the average person on the street got a pretty good deal.

However that all changed when he died because while Tiberius began as a reasonably benevolent ruler he did not remain that way. As it is suggested, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As Graves points out, Tiberius became a sexual deviant and in fact pretty much had sex with whomever he chose, and because he was emperor nobody could actually say no. It is even suggested that women committed suicide rather than living with the thought of having been violated by him.

Calligula went one step worse – he was outright insane. In a way he was like a spoilt brat that never grew up (much like a certain King Joffrey whom I believe nobody actually likes). In Calligua's mind, the Roman Empire was his and his alone to do with what he wished. All property belonged to him, and if anybody even showed a hint of wanting to do away with him, they would be executed (and Tiberius was much the same – he quite enjoyed throwing people off of the Tarpeian Rock). Calligula did end up meeting a rather sticky end, and since he had pretty much dispatched all of his rivals, there was only one person left to rule – poor old Claudius.

Thrown off the Tarpeian Rock

In a way Graves does very really in crafting his character, and in many ways to begin to empathise with them. He is born a cripple and treated like an idiot, yet manages to survive two brutal dictatorships to find himself inheriting the throne by default. It is also interesting that despite Caligula being put to the sword, his assassins decide that returning to the Republic would not be the best for the future of Rome and instead decide to put what they consider to be a harmless, and mailable, person on the throne.

My case study on the French Revolution can be found here.

My case study on the Fall of the Roman Republic can be found here.
Profile Image for Rob.
511 reviews107 followers
April 26, 2018
It's generally accepted that I, Claudius is one of best Roman historical novels ever written. Given this, it has to be assumed that amount of research that Robert Graves did for this book would have to have been prodigious.
Now, this is a novel and not an historical textbook. And if only half of it is accurate it's still a miracle that the Romans were able to create an Empire that would, to this very day, influence world history.

The life of Claudius is told by Claudius, himself, as he reads his memoirs to the reader. And what a story it is.
Being born into either the Julian or Claudian families was not something you would wish on your worst enemy. Ninety percent of either family usually ended up being brutally murdered or poisoned at a young age.
The ruling families were despotic to the extreme. Every cide known to man was committed by them. Patricide, matricide, infanticide. Their sexual proclivities were only limited by their imaginations. They were either all mad or psychopaths, or both.
Claudius was considered to be an idiot by the rest of his family because he was lame and had a speech impediment. Ironically Claudius was probably the most normal member of his family.

There's not much here about military campagnes, the topic is touched but not in any detail.
This is more about the hunger of power and the excesses that people are prepared to go to achieve it. Achieving power is only half of the battle. Holding on to it is the other half.
Prepare for a blood bath.

Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Annie.
926 reviews314 followers
December 1, 2018
It's just boring and pointless. I mean, it’s well-researched, and it’s probably pretty accurate as far as fictionalized biographies can be. But my God, is it dull. It’s just this endless, joyless recitation of facts and events.

I read somewhere (probably Wikipedia) that Graves only wrote this because he needed cash, and it’s so clear. These are not words of inspiration or love but of pedantry and weariness.

It reads like this: “Early the next year, early 19 AD, the last harvest in Egypt was not good, but there was plenty of corn stored from years before in granaries. Alexandria was the cultural center of the world, but Rome was, and is, the political one. Concerned by the corn famine, Tiberius went to Egypt and made a public complaint against the Senate.”

What, exactly, am I supposed to care about there? I minored in classics in college, but this is so dry, nothing like the vivid, passion-filled literature of ancient Rome.

It natters on like that forever until the very end Tiberius is dead and Caligula is dead and some soldiers joke about making his horse the emperor but decide Claudius is a better choice. At first he's like, "Please don't make me do this," but then it occurs to him that he now has a captive audience and can finally force people to read his books--which he insists that they are good books and most definitely not such bad books that you'd have to force people to read them.
Profile Image for Sara Jesus.
1,155 reviews103 followers
September 3, 2018
Uma narrativa histórica que aborda o período contrurbado do Império Romano.
Roma descrita por Cláudio, desprezada e visto pela sua família como um bobo e imbecil. Através dos seus olhos exploramos o reinado dos imperadores Augusto, Tibério e Calígula.

Deslumbra-nos com os episódios sanguinários e de extrema crueldade estimulados de intrigas palacianas. Germânico, o sábio imperador Augusto e a sua malvada mulher Lívia nos supreendem com a sua audácia.

Cláudio torna-se muito mais do que a caricatura que fazem dele, sobrevive ao sadismo de Tibério e a loucura de Calígula por saber manobrar magnificamente o jogo do poder. A sua cultura, o seu conhecimento e seu sentido de humor faz dele a figura mais trascendente da época dos imperadores.

Eu, Cláudio representa a luta audaz pelo poder supremo. Demonstra que um grande império é sustendado não de riquezas mas de sangue dos inocentes.
Profile Image for Sinem A..
449 reviews247 followers
September 16, 2016
Tarih kitabı olmasına rağmen öğretici ama sıkıcı değil ve kurgu olmasına rağmen yavan bir kitap değil. Kitap boyunca - özellikle konuya merakı olanların ilgisini ayakta tutmayı başarıyor. Yazarın mizahi anlatımı da oldukça etkileyici.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
874 reviews1,761 followers
November 3, 2016
My first HF book on ancient Rome, and I must say am impressed. Royal family kept providing so much drama and entertainment.

Story is told from PoV of Claudius, a stutterer and a cripple, also widely considered a dimwit by his own family. And because people thought him to be a fool, unambitious and harmless to Roman throne that he outlived his siblings and cousins, who were poisoned or died in mysterious circumstances. Since Claudius was considered incapable of taking part in politics, he became a historian and started writing books about his ancestors and many other famous people. No one paid attention to poor Claudius.

Over the course of this book we get to read about three emperors; Augustus, a brilliant and bright one but its his wife who ruled him and Rome in reality, Tiberius, a very clever opportunist but mistrustful and timid man, and last but not the least Claudius's nephew Caligula, a mad man in every sense. Claudius did a wonderful job in describing these three and their reign in addition to politics, crucial events and effect royals killing each other in their quest for power.

A big portion of this book was dedicated to Germanicus, Claudius's brother. He was a great warrior and won numerous battles for Rome against Germany. It was his bad luck that Tiberius was emperor than who put his trust in bad people and Germanicus suferred badly for this. It was sad to see his end.

While this book was full of shocks, deaths, betrayals, incest, assassinations, and political ambitions, it became dull in middle. Each chapter was very detailed but it also dragged but the book picked up again when Caligula became emperor. His outrageous deeds brought back all the fun in the book.

One of the character that I must mention here is Livia, wife of Augustus. She was responsible for the deaths of half of royal clan and other half bowed to her for either they're too scared of her or because she was the only one who could have made their political dreams a reality. But even with this fearsome image, she truly ruled the Rome when Augustus and Tiberius were emperor. She was the mastermind who ruled Rome and she did an amazing job of it.

All in all it was a great book on Rome, very informative. This is an apt read for those who love historical fiction.
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