I’m a little late for the game, but I’m going to try & join in Leila’s Big Read discussion of I, Claudius. A lot of the reason why I enjoy these discussions is because part of me misses being in college lit classes – reading about librarianship is not a substitute for reading Howards End. They each have their place, and I miss this kind of reading and discussing.

At any rate, I’m just caught up with Chapters 1-3. I finally remembered to pull a copy off the shelf at work last night – a Modern Library edition that my library acquired in 1962 for the high price of $1.30. It’s lovely and well-worn and the pages are incredibly soft, and for some reason this seems suited to the nature of the book (a manuscript which Claudius is sure will survive 1900 years, thanks to the Sibyl’s prophecy).

First off, Rome seems to be popping up a lot lately, but it’s probably just because I’ve started to notice it. Kitri is addicted to her fluffy Roman mysteries (set a bit later in time, but still). We’ve started watching the TV show Rome – we weren’t sold on the first episode, but the second one got us hooked and now we’re eagerly anticipating the next disc. Watching the show reminded me that all I know about Roman history comes from reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and taking an art history class – hardly a comprehensive study. I probably know more about the Romans in Britain than I do about Romans in Rome. So I might have to check out one of those “How We Lived In Ancient Rome” type books from the children’s section, to fill in any gaps. Oddly enough, what I know about the characters on the TV show is actually helping me keep track of the characters in I, Claudius, even though the book is set a few years later.

The relationships are pretty tangled, especially with all the divorces and multiple marriages and cousin marriages and such, but I’ve got a decent grasp on what’s going on. A family tree might help, but it might leave things just as confusing.

I love the first sentence:

“I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and no so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled.”

I’m enjoying the tone – much more of a dry wit than I expected (“It was nine years before Agrippa’s services could be spared.  Then he died suddenly…”) – and the digressions. I also like that while Claudius claims he is going to tell the story from “egg to apple” (I’ve never heard that expression before), he is clearly NOT. He was wandered and teased us and introduced us to his style of writing for two full chapters before he gets around to that egg. But what use is a first-person narrative if it’s not unreliable?

The story requires attention, but so far it’s rewarded me well. Plus, my ignorance about Roman history is adding a nice element of mystery to the story. Sure, the subtitle tells us that it is “from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, born BC 10, murdered and deified AD 54,” but of course the suspense lies in how he reached that point. And I do love me some good historical fiction.