The Big Read II: I, Claudius

Chapters 17-19

I am, of course, behind again on my recaps.  This continues to be one of those books that really rewards you for a close reading.  If you zone out and skim, it loses all its vim and vigor and turns dull.  I think that’s the problem with a lot of “classics,” actually, or rather the reason why people think they’re boring.  If you’re not willing to pay attention, the book’s not going to give you anything.  A lot of less-literary newer stuff doesn’t demand quite so much from the reader.  Me, I like a variety.  Some challenges, and some breaks.  Anyway, enough of the generalizations and blanket statements.

Chapter 17:  I love that there are senators who will pick on Tiberius.

Gallus was therefore fond of referring, as if accidentally, to Tiberius as ‘His Sacred Majesty.’  When Haterius, who was always ready to carry on the gag, rose to rebuke him for this incorrect way of speaking he would apologize profusely and say that nothing was farther from his mind than to do anything in disobedience of the orders of His Sacred…oh, dear, it was so easy to fall into that mistaken way of speaking, a thousand apologies once more…he meant, contrary to the wishes of his honoured friend and fellow-senator Tiberius Nero Caesar Augustus.

Not Augustus, fool,” Haterius would say in a stage whisper.  “He’s refused that title a dozen times.  He only uses it when he writes letters to other monarchs.

Mostly I love that they can (at least temporarily) get away with this.

We learn more about Claudius’ relationship with his son, who is being raised by grandma: “my mother scolded me so often in his presence that he learned to have no respect for me.”  Of course, by this point in the story I can’t remember anything about Claudius’ mother and what we’re supposed to think of her, but I can’t help but think this is on purpose.  Or at least that she doesn’t go out of her way to be nice to her son.  Sheesh.

Oh, the prophetic dream!  I do love a good prophetic dream.  “So choose a good tree, Master Claudius, and don’t come down till the last of the thieves are dead.”  Of course, Claudius then tells us that this was “all very remarkable in the light of what happened later,” but that he has “no great faith in dreams.”  Didn’t he say the same thing about omens?

Chapter 18:  Why am I not surprised?

Chapter 19:  What’s with all the side stories about Hermann?  And very interesting that he gets himself killed only because he tries to act like a king (sound familiar?).  Also, I can’t help but wonder how much Recent World Events effected Graves’ depiction of Germans.  Ya think?  “‘The Germans…are the most insolent and boastful nation in the world when things go well with them, but once they are defeated they are the most cowardly and abject.  Never trust a German out of your sight.'”  Thanks for that bit of wisdom, Germanicus.  Graves mentions in the author’s note that he used the most familiar geographical names for convenience, but I can’t help but wonder if he wanted the place names to have added resonance for a post-WWI audience.

“A class of professional informers sprang up.”  That never bodes well.