Author: Robert Graves
Publisher: Arthur Baker (First Edition), Vintage
Publishing Date: 1934 (Originally published), 23rd October, 1989 (Re-published)
Genre: Classic Fiction
Cost: Rs. 271 (Paperback), Rs. 280.14 (Kindle edition), Rs. 6,785 (Hardcover)
Robert Graves's ‘I, Claudius’ brings the ancient world to life with startling clarity and meticulous realism. Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the side lines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula.
Written in the form of Claudius' autobiography, this is Robert Graves's brilliant account of ancient Rome and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.
I, Claudius is a historical novel written in the form of an autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius, it tells the history of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and the early years of the Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar 's assassination in 44 BC to Caligula’s assassination in AD 41. Though the narrative is largely fictionalized, most of the events depicted are drawn from historical accounts of the same time period by the Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus.
This book explores Roman dynasty and there’s a complexity about the Roman history. So, the long, patronising details about the history may seem never-ending. Claudius (Claudius’s voice, given to us by Robert Graves) is a meticulous historian. His accounts of events immersed with amusing anecdotes and interesting bits of history takes the plot forward.
Much of the earlier part of the autobiography is devoted to the evil deeds of this Livia, third wife of Augustus, her lust for power at any cost, her unfaltering ultimate goal to have her son Tiberius succeed as emperor. She is pictured to be so ruthless that she is shown to take any drastic measure to fulfil her wish even thinking of using poison to eliminate anyone who stood in her or her dream’s way.
There is a range of tone here that enables Claudius, in his persona as professional historian to deal with vastly diverse matters at his hand and to be equally convincing whether talking about the military triumphs, the fate of Varus and his regiments in the forests of Germany, or the never ending curiosity for potentiality to dominate or control the members of the royal family.
This ‘autobiography’ continues in a sequel, Claudius the God (1935), which covers the period from Claudius' accession to his death in AD 54. The sequel also includes a section written as a biography of Herod Agrippa, a contemporary of Claudius and a King of Jews.
- In 1937, abortive attempts were made to adapt the first book into a film by the film director Josef von Sternberg. Filming was abandoned after a cast member was injured in a serious motor car accident.
- In 1976, BBC television adapted the book and its sequel into the popular TV serial, also entitled I, Claudius. It won four BAFTAs in 1977 and three Emmys in 1978.
Milestones of the Book:
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked I, Claudius fourteenth on its list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME as one of the 100 best English language novels from 1923 to present.
About the Author:
Robert von Ranke Graves (24th July, 1895- 7th December, 1985) was a British poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist. He was born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King's College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon & Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford. After a course of dramatic events in his life, he and poet Laura Riding founded and edited the literary journal Epilogue, and wrote two successful academic books together: A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928).
In 1927, he published Lawrence and the Arabs, a commercially successful biography of T.E. Lawrence. Good-bye to All That (1929, revised and republished in 1957) proved a success but cost him many of his friends, notably Sassoon. In 1934 he published his most commercially successful work, I, Claudius. Using classical sources he constructed a complexly compelling tale of the life of the Roman emperor Claudius, a tale extended in Claudius the God (1935). Another historical novel by Graves, Count Belisarius (1938) recounts the career of the Byzantine general Belisarius.