“I, Claudius” was published in 1934. by Robert Graves. It is written as an autobiography of the Roman Emperor, Claudius. It starts at the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC and ends with the assassination of Caligula in 41 AD. This book was chosen as one of the hundred best English novels.
Claudius was reviled by his family because of his physical deformities. They thought he was an idiot because he was deaf in one ear and stammered. His royal family thought he was useless, so they left him out of the ruthless ambition. He becomes a historian and spends most of his time buried in books. When he tried to write a history of his family, his grandparents put a stop to it and claimed him unfit for any public office. History sees him as the character his grandparents called him. This makes him a sensitive character for the story.
Graves said that Claudius came to him in a dream and told him to write the story. Graves used the histories of Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus as research. He was forced to translate the work of Suetonius. Graves used this platform to write about the first four emperors of Rome through the point of view of someone on the inside of the family.
Claudius tells the story of the machinations of his grandmother, Livia, as she manipulates and murders to hold control through the men she puts on the throne. Beginning with Augustus, then Tiberius, Caligula and lastly, Claudius.
“I, Claudius” begins with a fifty-one-year-old Claudius introducing himself, “Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This that and the other.” He also goes on to say that some refer to him as “Claudius the Idiot,” “That Claudius,” “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau- Clau- Claudius,” and sometimes “Poor Uncle Claudius.” This is the story of his life and written in A.D. 41.
Since he visited a Sibyl at Cumae and was told he would be Emperor of Rome, and that happened, he decided to listen to the other thing she said; he would speak clearly in nineteen hundred years. To Claudius this meant he should write an autobiography since that is the only way he can keep his stutter from showing. So he wrote about what happened to the Julio – Claudian line.
Claudius cannot remember his father but tried to gather as much information as he could from other sources, even though his efforts were stymied by his grandmother, Livia. He also points out that his wife, Agrippinilla, would damage anyone who tried to help him get his history into the hands of readers. “How that woman loathes me!”
“There is a popular ballad, still sometimes sung by old people, of which the refrain is that the Claudian tree bears two sorts of fruit, the sweet apple and the crab, but that the crabs outnumber the apples.” Claudius believes his grandfather was one of the best Claudians. He loyally followed Julius Caesar. But after the assassination of Caesar he was forced to leave Rome. His grandmother, Livia was the worst of fruit. She divorced his grandfather while pregnant with his child. She told him the child belonged to a more powerful and easily manipulated nobleman that she had already lied to about his own wife. She told him his wife was having another man’s baby. So he divorced her and gave her baby to an unknown family, even though she was innocent. Livia was seventeen at the time.
After his father is born, he is sent to the home of Claudius’ grandfather to be raised with his brother. When Livia learns her ex-husband is teaching her sons his republican beliefs she is incensed. His grandfather dies during a dinner at a friends house that Livia and her new husband are attending. Claudius suspects his grandmother had a hand in poisoning him.
Livia starts her campaign to rule through the power of her husband. She uses his impotence with her as a tool to further manipulate him. She sends beautiful slave girls to him in order to torment him. Though her movements he quickly becomes Consul of Rome. With this he gains control of the armies, the senators and knights of the Public Treasury. Then he becomes the High Pontiff and is in control of the entire religious system of Rome. In no time he is the king in everything but name. There are shrines built in his honor, and Livia is the puppet master.
With his supreme power, she looks for an heir she can also manipulate. Augustus wants Marcellus, who is his daughter’s husband. But Livia hates his daughter and Marcellus’ mother. So her choice is Agrippa. She finds ways to make Agrippa look better to Augustus. Finally, she poisons Augustus making him ill and waiting till he thinks himself near death to force him to appoint Agrippa, his heir. But, Agrippa is Augustus’ long time friend and a soldier. He refuses to be put in the position of conflict and exiles himself to Syria.
Even though Livia works against him, Marcellus gains political power in Rome. But, he also falls ill and then he dies. Claudius thinks Livia poisoned him. Livia plans on Julia, his widow, to marry her son, Tiberius, but Augustus thwarts her by promising his daughter to Agrippa in order to get him to come back. Livia is unhappy with this but must wait to make any moves because Agrippa is important to the government. When his importance wanes, he becomes mysteriously ill and dies. Leaving Julia to marry Tiberius. Claudius says he is one of the worst Claudians.
While all this manipulation is going on, Claudius’ father has married Antonia, Claudius’ mother. He has become a successful soldier and military strategist. He has become worried about the way the government in Rome is being run, so he sends a letter to Tiberius listing the flaws. He also gives negative remarks about Livia, who intercepts the letter. She becomes outraged and sends her personal physician to treat her son at the camp. Tiberius tries to get to his brother, but is too late. He arrives just in time to see Claudius’ father die.
Claudius is the last child born to his father. He is a sickly child. “A very battleground of diseases,” according to his doctors. He was born prematurely and had an allergic reaction to the nurse’s milk. Then he had malaria and measles which left him deaf in one ear. He also had erysipelas, colitis and infantile paralysis that shortened his left leg and left him with a limp. His mother never showed him any pity for his illnesses. She developed a severe dislike for him and thought him worthless and stupid, as did the rest of his family. When he was eight years old, some eagles were flying overhead while he was in the garden. They were fighting over a wolf cub that they dropped. It landed in Claudius’ hands which prompted a Augur to state that it was a sign. He said Claudius would become protector of Rome.
Not everyone was cruel to Claudius. His brother, Germanicus and Julia’s son, Poshumus protected him from the rest of his family. He was also close to his teacher, Athenodorus. From him, Claudius learned how to control his stammer for public speaking and how to become a historian.
Meanwhile, Tiberius has been forced to divorce his wife, Vipsania, who he loves and marry Julia. He is cold to her, so Livia gives her a potion that is supposed to make him desire her. But the potion makes her insatiable with anyone. She becomes extremely promiscuous. She has sex with anyone and everyone who will have her.
Tiberius is disgusted by her and doesn’t get along with her sons, so Livia agrees to allow him to leave Rome for a while. After he leaves, Julia’s promiscuity becomes worse. Finally, Augustus is forced to banish her for life. Livia gets her revenge on Julia by sending her to a tiny deserted island with no luxuries. While Tiberius and Julia are gone, Augustus begins to spend time with her sons. He begins to think of them as heirs, until Lucius and Gaius both die mysteriously. Then he sends for Tiberius and names him and Postumus as his son and heirs.
When Claudius is thirteen he becomes engaged to Aemilia, the granddaughter of Julia and Agrippa. Livia wants the match, but Augustus doesn’t want Aemilia with Claudius because of his stutter. Instead he plans to marry him to Medullina Camilla who is the granddaughter of one of his generals. Claudius falls in love with her and it seems to be a good match, but Livia is still against it. So, on their wedding day Medullina is stuck with a poisoned needle and dies. Now Claudius is set to marry Aemilia. But, Livia begins to think that the girls parents are planning on standing in the way of Tiberius succeeding Augustus, so she accuses them of treason. The engagement is ended.
In her cruelty, Livia finds another match for Claudius. She chooses the daughter of her accomplice in her murders, Urgulanilla. The girl is not pretty at all. She is gangling and tall. Livia makes him kiss the girl while she and her friend, Urgulania look on laughing at them.
Claudius has a very advantageous meeting with two famous historians in the library. Pollio and Livy are surprised when he tells them who he is. They had thought he was rumored to be stupid. Pollio advises him to exaggerate his limp and stutter. These will keep him alive since he will not be seen as a threat. Then he tells Claudius that his father and grandfather were both poisoned and he should investigate the crimes.
Although his marriage is a bad match, Claudius and Urgulanilla had a fairly successful marriage because neither of them care about the other. Shortly after their wedding Urgulanilla delivers a son, Drusillus. Most of the family continues to ignore Claudius but Augustus begins to feel guilty for the way he has treated Claudius so he gives him the job as priest of Mars. This appointment doesn’t make Livia happy, but she is too involved in trying to get rid of Postumus so Tiberius will be the only heir for Augustus to do anything about it. But, Livia is surprised to learn Claudius is investigating the deaths of his father and grandfather. She thought he was an idiot. She gives him a direct order to stop his investigation which makes him suspect her.
One dark night Claudius hears an alarm and sees Postumus climbing onto his balcony. He has come to say goodbye to Claudius and tell him the truth of why he must leave. Claudius’ sister, Livilla tried to set up a meeting with him. When he came to her, she embraced him and began to scream rape. He was able to escape the guards, but Augustus and Livia are after him. He leaves, and Tiberius is now the sole heir. Later Postumus is captured and banished to a small island.
Now Claudius is truly alone. Postumus is in exile, Germanicus is in Germany commanding armies, and Athenodorus has returned to Tarsus. Claudius spends his time on historical studies. He begins a biography on his grandfather but is stopped by Livia who tells him to write about the changes in religion under Augustus.
The succession of Tiberius makes Claudius uneasy because of his unpopularity, but he reasons that Germanicus is his successor and he is a well loved military hero. Augustus is seventy years old now and getting harder for Livia to manipulate. He is short tempered. Claudius has Germanicus plead Postumus’ case and tell Augustus the truth. He goes to the island to see him and find out the truth. Livia thinks Augustus is going for an innocent visit, but what she doesn’t know is Augustus substitutes a slave on the island and removes Postumus.
Livia figures out the trick and decides Augustus must go. He becomes ill and refuses to allow her to nurse him. He won’t eat anything she cooks because he suspects she uses poison. He only eats figs he picks himself. But he dies anyway because she smeared poison on each fig while it was on the tree. With Augustus’ death, Tiberius steps into his position, but Livia wants more. She uses letters she intercepted from Senators and blackmails them into giving Tiberius more power. Soon he has enough power to become emperor.
Germanicus gives Tiberius his total support. When he goes back to Germany, the troops are committing mutiny. They have discovered the pay they were promised from Augustus didn’t come in his will. They kill twenty commanding officers before Germanicus calms them. He writes a letter promising twice as much money to them from Tiberius and signs his name. Then he begs Claudius to lend him the money to cover it. Even with these concessions, the troops continue to be disorderly, so Germanicus sends his family back to Rome. But the troops ask him to keep his youngest son, Caligula, there because they all love him. They call him “Little Boot.”
Tiberius begins to mistrust Germanicus. Especially his popularity. He is also tired of being controlled by Livia. Although he has complete authority over the Senate, most of his decisions are being made by Livia. Sejanus, his Commander of Guards, has become his closest friend. Sejanus whispers in his ear negative things that make Tiberius’ distrust of Germanicus stronger. But, Claudius doesn’t trust Sejanus and can’t figure out what his motives are.
Meanwhile, Claudius rarely sees his wife, which suits them both. Most of the family has forgotten him and Drusilla are being raised by Antonia. Her continual criticism of him finally prompts Claudius to move to Capua where he can work on his histories in peace. There he meets a prostitute who becomes his friend and trusted companion for several years.
Claudius hears from Postumus and is surprised to find he hasn’t been killed by Livia. He is happy to hear from his old friend and sends him money and clothes. Claudius sends a letter to Germanicus telling him Postumus is still alive. But he never hears back from Postumus or Germanicus. Tiberius learns that Postumus is in Rome gathering support to move against him and Livia. He sends Sejanus and his soldiers to intercept Postumus and has him beheaded.
Eventually, Claudius hears from Germanicus and realizes that his previous letters were intercepted by Livia. Now he is in fear for his life. His anxiety causes his health to fail. He writes to Tiberius to be relieved from his priestly duties because of ill health.
Germanicus is still in Germany. The war has begun its third year. Although he rarely writes to Claudius, he enjoys the letters when they do arrive. Claudius plans to tell Germanicus about all of Livia’s treachery when he comes home to Rome, but she sends Claudius to Carthage so he can’t. Even though Germanicus doesn’t get to talk to Claudius, he decides to tell Tiberius what he knows about Livia. Tiberius feigns shock at his disclosures and promises to take her power away, but tells her what Germanicus says about her. Tiberius suggests that she not retaliate in her usual manner because of Germanicus’ popularity. Instead, he sends him to the East and then chooses Piso as the governor of Syria. He orders Piso to spy on Germanicus.
Piso uses his position to undermine Germanicus at every opportunity. The reports he sends back to Tiberius are geared toward making Germanicus seem treasonous. With Sejanus working the same angle, Tiberius begins to suspect Germanicus is planning to depose him from Syria. Germanicus has decided he is under a witches curse. He becomes ill and sees bad omens everywhere. The number twenty-five is placed around and he hears the midnight crowing of roosters. Although he keeps a talisman under his pillow that is supposed to ward off the evil, the bad omens increase. They find a dead baby under the tile in his house and bloody rooster feathers under pillows.
Germanicus becomes more and more ill. He tells his wife that Piso is killing him. She tells him that as long as he has his talisman he can fight it. He reaches under his pillow and finds it missing. He dies. The people of Rome are sad, but not Livia and Tiberius, of course. Although they pretend to be sad. Agrippina urges Castor to avenge the death of Germanicus by Piso’s hand. Piso goes to trial, but most people think he will be found innocent since Tiberius is the judge. But, Piso’s wife fears the people of Rome will take their justice. When she asks Livia for help, she helps her plan the assassination of Piso while making it look like a suicide.
When Piso is found innocent, the hatred of the people turns on Livia because they think she had a hand in it. Although Tiberius is glad to hear about the hatred towards Livia he also fears for himself. Sejanus keeps whispering in his ear about the people around him, especially towards the children of Germanicus. The public hatred of Tiberius expanded when his sexual depravities begin to show themselves after the death of his wife. Sejanus plans to achieve more power by marrying his daughter to the son of Claudius. Although Claudius is not happy with the idea, Livia doesn’t like it. She makes plans to have Claudius’ son strangled to prevent it.
Sejanus has more plans. He suggests that Tiberius appoint Castor as the Protector of the People. With this appointment, Castor would be the heir of Tiberius. His idea is to get rid of Castor. He arranges a meeting with him and his wife, Livilla. Then Sejanus angers Castor, so he hits him. This prompts Sejanus to convince Tiberius that Castor is disloyal and trying to gain power from certain senators. Tiberius tosses the senators in prison. Before the rivalry can become too, terrible Castor gets an illness that is like tuberculosis and dies. Sejanus reveals his secret relationship with Castor’s wife, Livilla.
Now Sejanus and Livilla decide they want to rule Rome as emperor and empress. Their first step is to kill the sons of Germanicus, Nero, Drusus and Caligula since they could become heirs to Tiberius. While Sejanus is working to make Agrippina out to be a traitor, he is also working at becoming a family member of the Royal line. He arranges for Claudius to divorce his wife so he can marry his adopted sister, Aelia.
Meanwhile, the hatred between Tiberius and Livia escalates. She invites all the senator’s wives over for a party and reads them letters written by Augustus about Tiberius. Because of this Tiberius takes her name off all public documents and rules that if any senators give her any praise, they will be tried for treason. Because of his humiliation, Tiberius moves to Capri and sets Sejanus up as interim ruler.
Livia invites Claudius over for dinner. He is surprised because she has ignored him except to degrade him his whole life. When he arrives, he finds her in a melancholy mood. The two drink too much wine and begin to talk to each other. She tells him about the prophecy that says Caligula will be emperor and then Claudius will avenge his death. Then she makes him promise to make her a goddess at her death. He agrees but only if she tells him about all the murders she has committed. She agrees and spends the next four hours revealing all her secrets.
“Sejanus composed a memorial to Tiberius, begging to be remembered if a husband for Livilla was being looked for.” Sejanus wants to get deeper into the royal family, even though Claudius is married to his adopted sister, but Tiberius doesn’t agree. He is offended by the request although he does appoint him as City Warden while he is in Capri.
Livia is dying. She calls Claudius to her deathbed and apologizes for the way she treated him throughout his life. He renews his promise to make her a goddess when he is made an emperor. After her death, Tiberius sinks further into his life of depravity. He banishes Nero and Agrippina to a small island. He tosses Drusus and Gallus in prison. He learns from Antonia about Sejanus perfidy. Tiberius legally declares Caligula as his heir and appoints Sejanus as Consul. Sejanus is thrilled, but Claudius points out that the last five Consuls were killed.
Tiberius starts to play with Sejanus’ mind. He sends letters that alternate between praise and reproach. Then he tells him that he is sending a letter to the Senate that will appoint him as the High Protector of the People but instead the letter calls for his execution. After he is dead, his whole family is tossed in prison and executed. Claudius divorces Sejanus’ sister and gives their daughter to Antonia to raise. Tiberius gives Antonia the chance to choose the punishment for Livilla when it comes out that she poisoned Castor. She locks her in her room and lets her starve to death.
Caligula spends time with an aging Tiberius. When he becomes ill and appears to be on his death bed, Caligula takes off Tiberius’ ring and declares himself emperor. But, he comes out of his coma and wants his ring back, so Caligula has Macro smother him.
At first Rome is happy with Caligula’s reign. He has inherited a good army and a full treasury. He pays off Tiberius’ debts, doubles the soldier’s wages, and lets all the political prisoners free. Everyone loves him until he becomes ill with a brain fever. Although he is close to death, he survives and becomes insane. He decides he has become a god. Caligula’s madness seems to be only obvious to Claudius. He manages to stay alive by playing along. Caligula kills at random. Then he kills his son and makes Antonia so appalled she kills herself.
Caligula kills friends and family haphazardly, marries the wives of other men, and even sentences people to death for selling hot water and razors on the street. Caligula spends money on entertainments until he has emptied the treasury. To refill it he sells priesthoods and executes innocent men so he can take their wealth. He makes a brothel in the palace and sells sex from Lesbia and Agrippinilla. Then he banishes them. Add to all that he also declares war on the god, Neptune. He collects thousands of seashells as booty.
Finally, Caligula’s madness brings him to the point of assassination by soldiers during a riot. They kill his wife and daughter along with him. Then they find where Claudius is hiding and just when he think he is about to be killed they hoist him onto their shoulders and declare him emperor. The prophecies have finally come true.
Claudius – he is the son of Antonia and Drusus. His grandparents were Augustus and Livia. He carries The blood of the Julio – Claudio family. He was born prematurely and spent his childhood going from one sickness to another. He was even allergic to the milk his nurse fed him. His many illnesses left him deaf in one ear, with a limp and a pronounced stammer. Because of his physical weaknesses his mother hated him and his family was ashamed of him. They called him Claudius the Idiot and Claudius the Stammerer among other names. His grandmother was told he would become emperor someday and that in nineteen hundred years his words would be understood. He took that to mean that he needed to write an autobiography to be read in nineteen hundred years.
Claudius became a historian and began to observe the actions of those around him. He also played the idiot around his family, thus seeming innocuous, so he was left alive when all around him were killed off. In the end, he is the last royal standing and is declared emperor of Rome, against his wishes.
Livia – cruel and blood thirsty. She disposes of her first husband when he isn’t ambitious enough and maneuvers Augustus into marriage. Then she moves him into emperor of Rome. After achieving that she wants her son Tiberius to become his heir. With poison as her weapon, Livia takes out anyone who stands in her way. She despises her grandson, Claudius for his weaknesses. But then, in the end, she admits to him that he is destined to become emperor. When she makes him promise to make her a goddess after her death, she also tells him about the many murders she committed. She calls Claudius to her deathbed.
Augustus – becomes emperor of Rome. He is easily manipulated by his wife, Livia. So he is scared of her. When he tries to stand up to her about not naming Tiberius as his successor, Livia poisons him.
Tiberius – son of Livia and her first husband. He becomes emperor through the manipulations of his mother. Although he is violent and cruel he becomes even more so after he is forced to divorce his first wife and forced to marry Julia, his mother’s choice. As the years pass he becomes more and more depraved. He hates his mother, but every time he tries to stand up against her, she embarrasses him or finds other means to keep him in line. After exiling himself to Capri his death was ordered by Caligula, who succeeded him to emperor.
Robert Graves Biography
Robert Graves was born in 1895 in London. He was the third of five children. His father Alfred Graves was a school inspector and a Gaelic scholar. He wrote the song, “Father O’Flynn.” Three times in his life Graves came close to death. The first was when he was seven years old. He was struck with double pneumonia and measles. The second time was a wound during World War I. Then the last was during the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918.
Graves had a tough time in school. Due to his German sounding name, his tendency to be outspoken, his poverty and his leanings toward a scholarly and moral way of life led him to take up boxing, write poetry and act mad. He was also homosexual and began a relationship with another young boy he met while in a choir.
While in the first World War, he was known as a war poet. He became friends with another poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon’s outspoken complaints against the war effort made Graves fear he would face a court-martial. Graves enforced the idea that Sassoon was suffering from shell shock and he was sent to a hospital instead. Although Graves suffered from it too, he was never hospitalized.
In 1918. Graves came down with the Spanish Flu. He didn’t want to suffer it in Ireland, he deserted the army and traveled to England. When he reached Waterloo, he didn’t have the necessary papers until he met a demobilization officer who wrote the papers up for him with all the secret codes he needed to make his release legal.
After the War Graves married and began to have children. But he was poor and weak physically and mentally. In 1919 he began at the University of Oxford. He became a member of the Fellow of All Souls with T. E. Lawrence. He became an atheist.
Graves tried to run a small shop, but it failed in 1926. Then he left for Cairo University to teach. He was accompanied by his wife and children as well as the poet, Laura Riding. For a short time, he went to London. Riding tried to commit suicide causing Graves to leave his wife and move in with her in Majorca.
In 1927.Graves wrote a biography of T. E. Lawrence titled, “Lawrence of the Arabs.” There followed “Good-Bye to All That”; “I, Claudius”; “Claudius the God”; “Count Belisarius,” to name a few. He and Riding left Majorca in 1939 and moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania. Their relationship was tumultuous.
When it ended, he moved back to Britain and began an adulterous relationship with Beryl Hodge, the wife of his collaborator on The Long Week-End published in 1941 and “The Reader Over Your Shoulder.”
He and Beryl sat up housekeeping with their three children in Majorca. There he kept writing everything from historical to science fiction novels. He even wrote a book of myths, The Greek Myths in 1955.
In 1962 Graves was considered for the Novel Prize in Literature. He was not given the Prize because he was known as primarily a poet. By his eightieth birthday, Graves was beginning to suffer from memory loss. He lived another ten years but became more and more invalid.
He died in 1985 at the age of ninety. Robert Graves was buried in Deia, in Mallorca, on a sacred hill to the White Goddess of Pelion.