The Big Read II: I, Claudius -- Robert GravesChapters 1-3
Chapter One -- In which Claudius tells us of his previous autobiography and about the two prophecies that led him to write this one.
• On his previous life history, and what I assume I, Claudius will not be:
I let it be a dull book, recording merely such uncontroversial facts as, for example, that So-and-so married So-and-so, the daughter of Such-and-such who had this or that number of public honours to his credit, but not mentioning the political reasons for the marriage nor the behind-the-scene bargaining between the families. Or I would write that So-and-so died suddenly, after eating a dish of African figs, but say nothing of the poison, or to whose advantage the death proved to be, unless the facts were supported by a verdict of the Criminal Courts. I told no lies, but neither did I tell the truth in the sense that I mean to tell it here.
• He's got a habit of digressing, of giving out little nuggets of other stories, and it's making me crazy because they're all interesting! I want to know more about everything, everything, everything. He's a huge tease, even if it's inadvertent -- the hints he's given of what's to come have made me eager to read more. He seems self-deprecating and humble (not many characters would have told a story like his about the visit to the Sibyl without editing it to be a bit more flattering) and snarkily funny, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it way:
The verses were copied out in Augustus's own beautiful script, with the characteristic mis-spellings which, originally made from ignorance, he ever afterwards adhered to as a point of pride.
• More digressions here, and they continue to entertain. My favorites were the bit about the popular ballad that lists different members of the Claudian family, including Claudius the Fair, "who, when the sacred chickens would not feed, threw them into the sea, crying "Then let them drink", and so lost an important sea battle" and the bit about Claudia, sister of Claudius the Fair.
• "It is my belief that she put all these scandals about herself in order to have something to reproach him with." Nice. Livia = Queen of Manipulation.
• "About this time Julia went quite bald." The matter-of-factness of this sentence threw me. I had to read it three times before continuing. I'm going to stick with Claudius and hope that the wig made of a "whole scalp of a German chieftain's daughter shrunk to the exact size of Julia's head and kept alive and pliant by occasional rubbing with a special ointment" was not for real.
• Again with the build-up and back-up:
Most women are inclined to set a modest limit to their ambitions; a few rare ones set a bold limit. But Livia was unique in setting no limit at all to hers, and yet remaining perfectly level-headed and cool in what would be judged in any other woman to be raving madness. It was only little by little that even I, with such excellent opportunities for observing her, came to guess generally what her intentions were. But even so, when the final disclosure came, it came as a shock of surprise. Perhaps I had better record her various acts in historical sequence, without dwelling on her hidden motives.
Auuuugh! Just tell me! Sigh. I've never dealt well with suspense.
• Wow. The Roman Senate could just create new Divinities? For real?
• Livia is terrifying, yes. But she's also impressive and fascinating.
Chapter Three -- In which it is implied that Livia is responsible for at least one divorce, two deaths and the threat of a third.
• "The name "Livia" is connected with the Latin word which means Malignity." Seems like you'd be kind of asking for it to give that name to your child, huh?
• "And from this moment Augustus began mysteriously to recover..." HAH!
• Phew. CC wasn't kidding when she said this was the Granddaddy of All Political Intrigue Novels -- I thought about making a chart to make the Livia/Augustus/Agrippa/Marcellus/Julia/Tiberius story more visual and easy to remember, but I didn't. Let's just hope that my brain is big enough to hold on to all of it.
• Part of the reason this book has me so hooked (and it does, in a big way) is that Claudius isn't only talking about the political motivations behind the actions -- he's also talking about the emotional motivations. Marcellus' death had a whole lot to do with Livia's jealousy of Octavia, and Agrippa's reasons for coming back to support Augustus were pretty much purely emotional. (Actually, so were his reasons for his self-imposed exile.) And I love it that Claudius says, "Claudius, Claudius, you said that you would not mention Livia's motives but only record her acts", but then continues to speculate on everyone's motivations. Hooray! I'm enjoying this so much.