If time travel ever becomes a reality, DO NOT travel back to ancient Rome -- unless you have a death wish, because according to this book, everyone in Rome is trying to kill everyone else. I, Claudius is like the Sopranos, but with togas but no baked ziti (tomatoes didn't arrive until the 1500s). First published in 1934, this is the story of Claudius, an unlikely Roman emperor who lived from 10 BC to 54 AD. Claudius stuttered, walked with a limp, and was slightly deaf. Not the first choice for an emperor, normally, but he basically escaped being assassinated like everyone else for that exact reason -- everyone treated him like an idiot, and he never seemed like a threat to anyone. He kept his mouth shut and his ears open and managed to outlive most of his family, which is pretty amazing.
It's quite a fascinating read, but it took awhile -- I can only read about so many backstabbers (sometimes literally) and murderers and plotters, and then I have to take a break. There was so much plotting and deception, I can't believe people carried on normal lives. At one point, Claudius does mention that most of this craziness actually involved only several hundred people, and that four million Roman citizens were basically enjoying normal, productive lives -- it was just the senators and aristocracy and their wives that were all involved in this mayhem.
I liked this book but it took a lot longer than I expected. It's 468 pages, which doesn't usually take me that long, but this book is not a fast read. There's hardly any dialogue, and it's densely packed with historical facts and people, sometimes it just seemed like Roman history thinly disguised as fiction. Graves does a lot of telling, and not showing. I don't know if he was imitating the style of classical writers, but it did get a bit tiresome.
|Bust of the actual Claudius from a museum in Naples, Italy.|
I really wish I'd gotten around to reading this last winter, before I actually visited Rome. Sadly, I didn't have nearly enough time to see all the things I wanted, though the Colisseum was amazing, and we saw the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill as well. I missed the Circus Maxims and the Appian Way, but we drove under an aqueduct before we even checked into the hotel. There are ruins EVERYWHERE.
|There's the Colisseum, just smack in the middle of Rome. No big deal.|