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Robert Graves’ I, Claudius - Capturing a Strange Moment in History Essay

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Robert Graves’ I, Claudius - Capturing a Strange Moment in History


Tiberius' reign over the Roman Empire stretched the longest of any emperor during Claudius' lifetime. This may be a good reason why Robert Graves, in his historical novel published in 1934, “I, Claudius” devoted more than a third of it to the reign of Tiberius. “I, Claudius”, told through the eyes of the "half-wit" Claudius, records the history of the first Imperial family at Rome, including the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and even Claudius himself. Livia, Augustus' wife and Tiberius' mother, played a crucial role throughout the reign of Augustus and Tiberius by eliminating all possible heirs other than her son to the throne of the emperor. By the use of poison and banishment, she was very successful in her aspirations and even manages to arrange for Caligula to succeed Tiberius, although she died several years before Tiberius. Tiberius also played a key role during this story, undergoing a change from a private army general to a mentally-sick Roman emperor.

Early in Tiberius' life, he had already become unpopular in Roman society. However, although he was sometimes accused of being over-cautious, he led the Roman army to several victories over the Germans, and became a national figure. But, as it was common with the Claudian family, Tiberius turned out to be one of the bad Claudians. Although being a celebrated general worked wonders for his political career, Claudius states that, on a personal basis, he was "morose, reserved and cruel." An excellent general, he won the respect of his soldiers by living as they did on a campaign. He seldom slept in a tent, and he ate and drank often no better than the rest of his troops. ...


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...lthough the author's point-of-view, synonymous with Claudius, often makes the reader forget that it is not Claudius himself writing this, but Robert Graves almost 2000 years later. His writing is exquisite, and although some sections of the novel become static, his elegance and grace with his wording carries the reader through these sections without difficulty. Although it is fiction, to anyone who wants to get "up close" to the family of Augustus, I would recommend this novel. Why? The story of the Augustan age is, in the words of Tacitus, "a story that was the subject of every variety of misrepresentation, not only by those who then lived but likewise in succeeding times: so true is it that all transactions of preeminent importance are wrapt in doubt and obscurity" (iix).

Works Cited

Graves, Robert. “I, Claudius”. New York: The Modern Library, 1934.


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