Claudius the God by Robert Graves is my Summer book this year. It isn’t the only book which I’ve read this Summer. But it is the one which I will remember as the Summer’s best read.
Not a new book, Claudius the God was fist published in 1934. It is the sequel to I, Claudius. I read the first part on a Summer holiday when I was 13. So it seemed natural to read the second part on another holiday, although I’m definitely not 13 any more.
What is the Claudius Series About?
The I, Claudius series is about the future and actual Roman Emperor Claudius. It is a historical novel written in the style of an autobiography. Claudius narrates the events of his life in Ancient Rome from a first-hand perspective.
You might think that I, Claudius will be too dry and historical for you. From my description above, I can see why you might think that. It is an old book after all. And novels as old as the Claudius series can be tough to get through. But remember, I read the first part when I was a kid. And I was not one of those child geniuses (not even close).
I read War and Peace earlier this year (find a War and Peace review here). By which I mean that I tried to battle my way through it for most of the year. That novel is at the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum to I, Claudius.
Claudius is about the daily lives of the people of Ancient Rome. So don’t expect to be bogged down in Roman politics or religion.
Who are the Main Characters in the Claudius series?
- Claudius. A member of the Roman imperial family. He has a number of physical disabilities. These have been with him since birth. He eventually becomes Roman Emperor despite wanting to restore Rome to a republic.
- Tiberius. A Roman Emperor famous for his sadistic behaviour. A cruel tyrant and paranoid ruler. Numerous important Romans are killed as part of his subordinates’ schemes. Macro and Sejanus are the most prominent examples of his henchmen.
- Caligula. Emperor after Tiberius and before Claudius. Another example of a sadist and tyrant. Proclaimed himself a living god. His assassination led to Claudius’ becoming emperor.
- Herod Agrippa. One of my favourite characters from the novels. Herod Agrippa is a descendant of Herod the Great who spends much of his time in Rome. He plays no small part in Roman politics, is the first to be noticed in times of joy and makes himself scarce in turmoil.
Why is the Claudius Series a Great Read?
I, Claudius and Claudius the God are both great reads. It would be hard to say which is the better novel. The two create a single narrative, so there is no break in the plot between them.
The story of I, Claudius and Claudius the God is compelling. Claudius is a man who does not want to and should not be the Roman Emperor. In spite of this that is exactly what he becomes. You could say that this is a book about fate.
In Ancient Greece a tyrant was one man who held power over many. The same concept was taken up in Rome. All Roman Emperors were therefore tyrants. Tiberius and Caligula turned tyranny into sadism, and the latter died as a result. Perhaps Claudius was the only candidate who could break that tradition. His lack of a desire to have power makes his character the perfect person to rule Rome.
Robert Graves uses I, Claudius and Claudius the God to make grand statements like the above. But he also tells a compelling story about the lives of people in Ancient Rome. These are the reasons for the Claudius series being a great read.