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I, Claudius/Claudius the God

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Clau-Clau-Claudius the stammerer was known as a buffoon and a pitiful fool. He made it his business to watch from the sidelines and record the antics, funny, violent and lustful, of the imperial household as its members vied with each other for power. Then he found himself Emperor. From the great days of Augustus and the cruelties of Tiberius to the deified insanity of Calig Clau-Clau-Claudius the stammerer was known as a buffoon and a pitiful fool. He made it his business to watch from the sidelines and record the antics, funny, violent and lustful, of the imperial household as its members vied with each other for power. Then he found himself Emperor. From the great days of Augustus and the cruelties of Tiberius to the deified insanity of Caligula, he records a story breathtaking in its murderousness, greed and folly. Throughout the swings of fortune, his own disastrous love affair with the depraved Messalina and surprisingly successful reign, his voice sometimes puzzled, sometimes rueful, always sane, speaks to us across the centuries in two great, classic historical novels.


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Clau-Clau-Claudius the stammerer was known as a buffoon and a pitiful fool. He made it his business to watch from the sidelines and record the antics, funny, violent and lustful, of the imperial household as its members vied with each other for power. Then he found himself Emperor. From the great days of Augustus and the cruelties of Tiberius to the deified insanity of Calig Clau-Clau-Claudius the stammerer was known as a buffoon and a pitiful fool. He made it his business to watch from the sidelines and record the antics, funny, violent and lustful, of the imperial household as its members vied with each other for power. Then he found himself Emperor. From the great days of Augustus and the cruelties of Tiberius to the deified insanity of Caligula, he records a story breathtaking in its murderousness, greed and folly. Throughout the swings of fortune, his own disastrous love affair with the depraved Messalina and surprisingly successful reign, his voice sometimes puzzled, sometimes rueful, always sane, speaks to us across the centuries in two great, classic historical novels.

30 review for I, Claudius/Claudius the God

  1. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    This stuttering, doddering, somewhat foolish Roman monarch, whose reign was nestled between that of the brutally murdered madman Caligula and the suicide-selecting megalomaniac Nero, owes much of the public's actual awareness of his rule to Graves' inspired fictional memoirs. Growing up either ignored or despised in the sprawling court of Augustus Caesar, Claudius is re-imagined as a scholastic boy with a sharp mind who suffered a dearth of confidence and lacked for any opportunity that would al This stuttering, doddering, somewhat foolish Roman monarch, whose reign was nestled between that of the brutally murdered madman Caligula and the suicide-selecting megalomaniac Nero, owes much of the public's actual awareness of his rule to Graves' inspired fictional memoirs. Growing up either ignored or despised in the sprawling court of Augustus Caesar, Claudius is re-imagined as a scholastic boy with a sharp mind who suffered a dearth of confidence and lacked for any opportunity that would allow his peculiar talents to shine. Carefully negotiating his way amidst an amiable-but-distracted Augustus, a heroic-but-doomed Germanicus, and a superbly sinister Livia—spinning her political and dynastic webs with a ruthlessness, cunning, and foresight that would put most modern dictators to shame—perhaps the best testament to his subtle skills, and copious luck, is the fact that he survived to ascend the Roman throne in middle-age. A nervous and perpetually imperiled courtier to the stochastic insanity and malice of his nephew Caligula, Claudius' story becomes a touch less interesting after he has been elevated to the purple and enters into the dangers and betrayals of marriages with the lascivious Messalina and the viperous Agrippina. The older, calcified Claudius, after half-hearted attempts to restore the Republic that he perhaps does not truly miss, settles both himself and the sprawling empire within the stagnating confines of autocracy. Graves is a fantastic writer, and this is an effortless read, a prose-pure tour through the tumultuous—but always engrossing—life of an early Roman emperor, master of the Mediterranean world but so often a victim of those whose love and trust he never received in a commensurate measure to the amount he gave. Highly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Ah, the story that launched a thousand melodramas about the Roman Empire. At last I know the inspiration for HBO's Rome, Showtime's Spartacus, and yes, even Gladiator. For this is where it all began: every tale of debauched and insane emperors and cruel, manipulative women being the power behind the throne. All can trace their lineage back to the O.G. crazy-Roman-schemers-wracking-up-a-body-count book. And this is it. The (much abridged) plot: an unlikely uncle of crazy ole' Caligula accidentall Ah, the story that launched a thousand melodramas about the Roman Empire. At last I know the inspiration for HBO's Rome, Showtime's Spartacus, and yes, even Gladiator. For this is where it all began: every tale of debauched and insane emperors and cruel, manipulative women being the power behind the throne. All can trace their lineage back to the O.G. crazy-Roman-schemers-wracking-up-a-body-count book. And this is it. The (much abridged) plot: an unlikely uncle of crazy ole' Caligula accidentally becomes Emperor after spending his whole life being overlooked and underestimated because of his stammer and his limp. And it turns out he does a damn good job of it, which is a big relief to the Romans, who had to endure Tiberius (a cruel, selfish, impotent tyrant) and then Caligula (a fucking criminally insane egotist who bankrupted the empire). This is how--in a story over 500 pages long--Claudius was raised and educated, survived, ascended to the emperorship, and went about fixing the huge mess his predecessors left him. It has a supporting cast of literally hundreds, and spans literally decades. I'm going to be honest, the sheer number of characters (many of whom either have the same name or confusingly similar names) was the most mind-boggling part of reading this book. I made the wise decision of listening to it on audiobook, which helped not only because I could speed up the narration, but different voices were used to differentiate characters. Otherwise I fear I would have been hopelessly lost. I walked away with an impression of disbelief. I'm sure Graves exaggerated some details for dramatic effect and the sake of meaningful fiction. But the basic facts are all pulled straight from the history books. And that history is fucked up. Like, it's insane that Augustus's mistress just went about poisoning everyone in the line of succession until her own son was next in line to be emperor... with no one stopping her! It's insane that Caligula ran the empire into the ground with his ridiculous extravagances and there were no checks and balances in place to stop him. It's insane that a republic couldn't be restored because of fear of the military's independent power as a king-making force. It's insane that a former reality TV star and failed businessman won the election to be President of the United--wait, sorry, that's reality, not I, Claudius. But believe you me, our recent election and everything that's happened since could fit pretty damn well in this classic tale of political corruption, moral debauchery, and elitist abuse of the working class. And yet this fucking happened (for the most part). I did feel at some points that I had read this story before... and that's when I realized that so many contemporary fiction about Rome drew heavily from Graves as their source material. This book is so sweepingly influential and groundbreaking that it has been the model for most Roman empire fiction to follow it. And if that isn't the mark of great literature, I don't know what is. But let's talk about Claudius. The "idiot" who survived simply because no one thought he was worth killing. As a character, he is fascinating. He survives through a combination of luck (being born a lame stutterer among handsome, accomplished, athletic brothers tends to make one fade into the background) and his own wits (he's so fucking smart he ends up talking his way out of any scrape his natural pathetic demeanor can't get him out of). He's perfectly placed to take over the empire and fix its shit simply because his predecessors wiped out so much of the competition that there's literally no one left able to challenge him. All the heroic patriots are dead. All the vicious schemers have blundered into their own demises. All that are left are the survivors, who are either so relieved to have a sane emperor that they fall in line to help him, or so cunning that they play the long game in opposing him. The story is narrated in the first person, so we spend a lot of time in Claudius's head. And that's a pretty good place to be. Whether by historical fact or the author's artifice, Claudius is a historian. And as such, he's pretty damn good at explaining all the moving pieces and how they fit together. But more than simply being an effective narrator, Claudius has an interesting voice. He's narrating from his deathbed, so he is in turns tired and regretful. He's wise, but still slightly pathetic. His feelings are easily hurt. But unlike Caligula, who would simply murder anyone who so much as looked at him wrong, Claudius responds to his hurt feelings by accepting that he probably deserved to be shat upon anyway. His self esteem is so startlingly low that he takes his many heartbreaks and personal insults in stride. The narration is ridiculously dense. This is not a light read (another reason I'm glad I listened to it instead). But it is fascinating, and I'm certainly glad I read it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Coady

    For me, this is the historical novel. This edition contains two books, the original I, Claudius and the sequel, Claudius the God. I devoured them one after the other, and I have read them again many times since. From the very first paragraph you're rooting for poor old Clau-clau-claudius. The author manages to portray an entire character in just a few beautifully chosen words. And, despite the debauchery and the Machiavellian intrigues, of which there are plenty, this book is an unrivalled charac For me, this is the historical novel. This edition contains two books, the original I, Claudius and the sequel, Claudius the God. I devoured them one after the other, and I have read them again many times since. From the very first paragraph you're rooting for poor old Clau-clau-claudius. The author manages to portray an entire character in just a few beautifully chosen words. And, despite the debauchery and the Machiavellian intrigues, of which there are plenty, this book is an unrivalled character portrait. The settings put you in ancient Rome, but it's the characters that bring it so vividly to life as Claudius manages to dodge his way through the lives of some of history's most famous monsters long enough to write his autobiography. A must read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jannelies

    An almost unbelievable story (well, it's more fiction than fact). I cannot count how many times I've read the book and saw the television series. An almost unbelievable story (well, it's more fiction than fact). I cannot count how many times I've read the book and saw the television series.

  5. 5 out of 5

    K.M. Weiland

    I, Claudius was one of my most riveting reads of the year. Reading on to Claudius the God just as fast as I could was a no-brainer - and if it disappoints at all, it's only in comparison to its nigh-on perfect predecessor. Claudius the God provides just as scintillating a look into Claudius's reign as the previous book did into Augustus's, Tiberias's, and Caligula's. But it's also a more ponderous journey, and the exploration of the Empire as a whole does pale in comparison to the lively soap op I, Claudius was one of my most riveting reads of the year. Reading on to Claudius the God just as fast as I could was a no-brainer - and if it disappoints at all, it's only in comparison to its nigh-on perfect predecessor. Claudius the God provides just as scintillating a look into Claudius's reign as the previous book did into Augustus's, Tiberias's, and Caligula's. But it's also a more ponderous journey, and the exploration of the Empire as a whole does pale in comparison to the lively soap operas of Claudius's immediate family, as found more prominently in the first book. Still, this is historical fiction at its finest and absolutely worth the read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jane Greenhalgh Weinkrantz

    Fascinating book about the Roman Empire but in a distinctly British voice. Everyone should read these books.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marcus Salerno

    Absolutely fantastic! The author did not only manage to describe what happened in his life and what he accomplished. He also managed to describe why he acted as he did in different situations, what choices he had and what he could have done different. He really gives the readers a good insight into the culture and mentality of his society. Prepare for a historical journey!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fred

    This is a combined review for the audiobook editions of both "I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God" by Robert Graves. Like so many others, I was drawn to these books after watching the 1976 PBS adaption which enthralled and intrigued me. This was my first foray into Roman history and I've never been the same since. That said, for those (like me) comparing Jack Pulman's screenplay to the actual book will be both impressed and disgusted. Mr. Pulman certainly got all the plot points but in the proces This is a combined review for the audiobook editions of both "I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God" by Robert Graves. Like so many others, I was drawn to these books after watching the 1976 PBS adaption which enthralled and intrigued me. This was my first foray into Roman history and I've never been the same since. That said, for those (like me) comparing Jack Pulman's screenplay to the actual book will be both impressed and disgusted. Mr. Pulman certainly got all the plot points but in the process of doing do took some curious "liberties" with both the source material and (I've come to find out) history itself. I won't disappoint the reader by revealing of to what exactly I'm referring - better if you ferret it out yourself, I think. So how are the books, you may ask? Simply amazing. I know it's a cliche' but the books are most definitely better than the movie. And Derek Jacobi's reading is just as inspired and delightful as his screen performance was as Claudius in the PBS mini-series. I enjoyed them both immensely and will, no doubt, be taking another trip through them both again. Finally I am a Christian, and as a final note to my fellow believers I encourage these books and/or the PBS television series for no other reason than to put the New Testament in historical context from the Roman side. I think you'll find, as I did, your depth, breadth, and understanding of the Gospels, Book of Acts, and the epistles exploding as you work through Mr. Grave's fine research and writing. Highest recommendation. These books are classics!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Asya

    I loved this book for what Graves has to say, via Claudius, about writing history, historical fictional, and memoir. My favorite passage, which is so hammy really (aka, look at what I'm doing, dear reader!), is Claudius' encounter with Livy and Pollio and the discussion that ensues on the proper way to write history. The historical narrative itself gallops in places and wades through mud in others (I found myself skipping the long chapters of Tiberius' and Caligula's various atrocities, though I I loved this book for what Graves has to say, via Claudius, about writing history, historical fictional, and memoir. My favorite passage, which is so hammy really (aka, look at what I'm doing, dear reader!), is Claudius' encounter with Livy and Pollio and the discussion that ensues on the proper way to write history. The historical narrative itself gallops in places and wades through mud in others (I found myself skipping the long chapters of Tiberius' and Caligula's various atrocities, though I suppose that was the point, to pile them up to the point of nausea and almost desensitivity). Graves is at his best when his style is terse and crisp, and when that style perfectly matches Claudius' attitude toward the events in question. He never moralizes or steps aside to give us perspective, hence the style must be our gloss to the events narrated. When it is, the book is brilliant. It's interesting to read this knowing Graves thought it was hack work. There are patches of it for sure, but the whole rises way way above the sum of the great and not so great parts. Now on to the show!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christina Stenstrom

    Haven't yet read Claudius The God pending a reread of I, Claudius this summer to refresh my memory on the particulars. I, Claudius is one of my all-time favorites. Rich, detailed, historic and accurately melodramatic. To this day I revere and aspire to emulate Livia, vile though she may be. Such a driven and successful woman undergirding the power of the empire and fiercely pursuing the interests of herself and her family... I've rarely seen so strong a female lead, which is to say such an hones Haven't yet read Claudius The God pending a reread of I, Claudius this summer to refresh my memory on the particulars. I, Claudius is one of my all-time favorites. Rich, detailed, historic and accurately melodramatic. To this day I revere and aspire to emulate Livia, vile though she may be. Such a driven and successful woman undergirding the power of the empire and fiercely pursuing the interests of herself and her family... I've rarely seen so strong a female lead, which is to say such an honest portrayal of a woman in power. The BBC mini series from the 70s is a must see. Sian Phillips is amazing as Livia. Derek Jacobi (Judi Dench's brother!) does very well as Claudius.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Just finished I, Claudius yesterday 2-5-09 for Classix. Have always wanted to read this but never got to it. Now I'm inspired to rewatch the old PBS series too. Plus I haven't read Claudius the God yet, but will put it on my list. I really enjoyed reading and learning again about ancient Rome. It must have been horrible to live with those wicked men ruling though. Just finished I, Claudius yesterday 2-5-09 for Classix. Have always wanted to read this but never got to it. Now I'm inspired to rewatch the old PBS series too. Plus I haven't read Claudius the God yet, but will put it on my list. I really enjoyed reading and learning again about ancient Rome. It must have been horrible to live with those wicked men ruling though.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vessela Desheva

    I greatly enjoyed this book - it was very interesting and really well written...:) I learned a lot about the history and culture of Rome and at the same time I greatly admired the subtle sense of humour of the author! :) Two thumbs up! :)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dena

    Total soap operas. Awesome.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    Wonderful work of literature. Couldn't put it down until I finished it, many years ago... And I'm thinking of reading it again just to relive the experience. Wonderful work of literature. Couldn't put it down until I finished it, many years ago... And I'm thinking of reading it again just to relive the experience.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gautam Patnaik

    Good book. Well written. Holds your attention. Some of the historical facts can be debatable. Makes it interesting to watch this on Masterpiece Theatre.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    One of the very best works of historical fiction, this is just great.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Murder, backstabbing politics, infanticide - Good summer reading. LOL

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sathya Srinivasan

    “And what thoughts or memories, would you guess, were passing through my mind on this extraordinary occasion? Was I thinking of the Sibyl's prophecy, of the omen of the wolf-cub, of Pollio's advice, or of Briseis's dream? Of my grandfather and liberty? Of my grandfather and liberty? Of my three Imperial predecessors, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, their lives and deaths? Of the great danger I was still in from the conspirators, and from the Senate, and from the Gaurds battalions at the Camp? Of M “And what thoughts or memories, would you guess, were passing through my mind on this extraordinary occasion? Was I thinking of the Sibyl's prophecy, of the omen of the wolf-cub, of Pollio's advice, or of Briseis's dream? Of my grandfather and liberty? Of my grandfather and liberty? Of my three Imperial predecessors, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, their lives and deaths? Of the great danger I was still in from the conspirators, and from the Senate, and from the Gaurds battalions at the Camp? Of Messalina and our unborn child? Of my grandmother Livia and my promise to deify her if I ever became Emperor? Of Postumus and Germanicus? Of Agrippina and Nero? Of Camilla? No, you would never guess what was passing through my mind. But I shall be frank and tell you what it was, though the confession is a shameful one. I was thinking, 'So, I'm Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I'll be able to make people read my books now. Public recitals to large audiences. And good books too, thirty-five years' hard work in them. It won't be unfair. Pollio used to get attentive audiences by giving expensive dinners. He was a very sound historian, and the last of the Romans. My history of Carthage is full of amusing anecdotes. I'm sure that they'll enjoy it.”

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    The second volume, I found, was a more difficult story than the quiet boy in the background of I, Claudius.. Once the humble reporter of the misdeeds and ghoulish behaviour of Rome's rulers, those designated as gods and emperors and those who connived behind the scenes, once the lame stutterer finds himself with godlike powers the autobiography begins to take on a need to justify, to beg forgiveness, to shift the blame. It is almost believable that the all-powerful ruler is defending his claim o The second volume, I found, was a more difficult story than the quiet boy in the background of I, Claudius.. Once the humble reporter of the misdeeds and ghoulish behaviour of Rome's rulers, those designated as gods and emperors and those who connived behind the scenes, once the lame stutterer finds himself with godlike powers the autobiography begins to take on a need to justify, to beg forgiveness, to shift the blame. It is almost believable that the all-powerful ruler is defending his claim on divinity as well as his desire to be remembered as fair and wise compared to those who preceded him.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Susan Hamilton

    After watching the 1976 BBC series, I just had to read the book. I also have the dvd of the entire series and am overdue for a 'Claudathon'. I often discover books after seeing the corresponding movie/tv version first and usually find that they never seem to do the book justice or were not true to the book. Not so here. Reading the book was like reliving the series in my mind. Derek Jacobi will always be 'Claudius' to me. After watching the 1976 BBC series, I just had to read the book. I also have the dvd of the entire series and am overdue for a 'Claudathon'. I often discover books after seeing the corresponding movie/tv version first and usually find that they never seem to do the book justice or were not true to the book. Not so here. Reading the book was like reliving the series in my mind. Derek Jacobi will always be 'Claudius' to me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Oyedacmin

    Great book. Master author using great language. Enjoyed every bit while reading. At some points it gets too complicated to understand the relationships between characters and events. There are some very exciting points where some pretty dramatic conspiracies. This book will keep you up all night curious about what will happen next in this reality show of the family life of Roman royalty told by the eyes of Claudius.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Erwin Blonde

    I read Graves' masterpiece in the eighties and used it as my last school assignment in high school. I watched the BBC's series of I Claudius based on the novels of Robert Graves, but the book has something more, I felt very close to the main character. The book and the Dvd's are still on my top shelf and probably will stay there for a very long time. I read Graves' masterpiece in the eighties and used it as my last school assignment in high school. I watched the BBC's series of I Claudius based on the novels of Robert Graves, but the book has something more, I felt very close to the main character. The book and the Dvd's are still on my top shelf and probably will stay there for a very long time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    P.J. Skinner

    Wonderful evocative history with nasty homocidal characters and a central character who seems to have wandered out of Narnia into a fully fledged massacre of his relatives over a series of changes in the Roman Ruling family. Great historical detail, you can almost smell Rome and feel the heat in the streets. One of my favourite history books and one I reread frequently.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave J

    It's been many years since I read these so I thought I'd pick them up again. I was glad I did. Then again, I do like historical novels and the Romans have always interested me (Ben Hur is my favourite film). I'm sure that some will find the books dull but for me they were very readable. And I can imagine the amount of research behind them - impressive! It's been many years since I read these so I thought I'd pick them up again. I was glad I did. Then again, I do like historical novels and the Romans have always interested me (Ben Hur is my favourite film). I'm sure that some will find the books dull but for me they were very readable. And I can imagine the amount of research behind them - impressive!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mercedes

    If Italy has ever been your home, these two books are for you.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vince Quackenbush

    Read this years ago, when the Masterpiece Theater show was shown. Great!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeroen Van de Crommenacker

    Fantastic fictionalised account of the life of Emperor Claudius. Rightfully a classic, even though it starts to tire a bit towards the end (it’s very long..)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    A novel I read back in High School. Fantastic read. Detailed, complex, and entertaining.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Phillip Beighton

    Gripping

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sujith Ipe

    Interesting read.

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