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Old 03-16-2020, 04:09 PM   #1
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I, Claudius by Robert Graves

'Into the 'autobiography' of Clau-Clau-Claudius, the pitiful stammerer who was destined to become Emperor in spite of himself, Graves packs the everlasting intrigues, the depravity, the bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, soon to culminate in the deified insanity of Caligula.'

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There are two phases of discussion. The first begins immediately and may contain conversations about anything pre-completion of the selection including reading progress, section thoughts, outside info, etc. The second begins on the 1st and also includes anything post-completion. These are recommended to help us discuss things in a similar timeframe but anyone can discuss any part or aspect at any time.


This is the MR Literary Club selection for March 2020. Everyone is welcome so feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time; the more the merrier!



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Old 03-21-2020, 10:02 PM   #2
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I've begun the audiobook and am closing in on two hours in. I am enjoying it so far though it feels like it's still on the prologue (technically I think I'm on chapter 4). The book begins with what seems like will be a quick summary of events before the book's story, but I feel like I'm still in that.

I think it's mainly because first of all Claudius himself is nowhere to be seen yet aside from the very first flash-forward prophecy, and second of all because there has been no showing of events yet, no dialogue etc., only telling, still in a summarising fashion. There is the general advice with writing to 'show, not tell', which I think can be a little reductive, especially since everyone in criticism seems to take that advice as a rule and yet so many famous, classic and/or popular books (even literary ones) are chock full of sections or pieces of 'telling' rather than 'showing'. But really there must be a limit, and I'm hoping this book gets to the showing soon.
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Old 03-22-2020, 04:07 PM   #3
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One other thing I noticed in the very beginning was that Claudius predicts this book, with him being the 'author' during his lifetime, may be uncovered in about 1900 years. I thought that was a little too on the nose.
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Old 03-23-2020, 01:27 AM   #4
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I plan to start the book this week and then alternate between this book and finishing Doctor Zhivago.

Now that I have transitioned to work from home t is affecting my reading since I do so many audiobooks during my commute. And my normal exercise time when I listen to audiobooks has also become shared exercise time with my husband during which he actually expects me to talk to him and not have earbuds in!
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Old 03-23-2020, 12:24 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Bookworm_Girl View Post
And my normal exercise time when I listen to audiobooks has also become shared exercise time with my husband during which he actually expects me to talk to him and not have earbuds in!
The nerve!
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Old 03-24-2020, 02:44 PM   #6
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I'm over five hours into it now and really enjoying it. It's still very anecdotal, flitting from separate scene/mini-story to separate scene/mini-story, but Claudius the character has now entered the chat and there are now scenes with dialogue and not just telling us what happened. Also, while it's jumping all around to little things that happened here and there among the nobles, it's generally related in some way to a few main characters one way or another and so building a world even if from anecdotes presently instead of a more straightforward story or plot.

It's all amusing and I wonder what parts of it are recorded as true and what parts Graves just made up. The anecdotal nature is making me think he took a bunch of historical fragments and built scenes around those, although some parts I think may have been partially made up to suit Claudius being the central character, for instance...

Spoiler:
When Posthumous (and what a terrible name! was that really this person's name?) bursts into Claudius' room after momentarily escaping from being exiled to tell Claudius all what happened before being recaptured.


Nevertheless, it is written in a way that's enjoyable to read, and I'm not caught up on it needing to be so factual; it's more that I'm just curious what parts are and what parts aren't.
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Old 03-29-2020, 10:10 PM   #7
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I just started reading the book this weekend. My reading activity has drastically slowed when I thought it would go up staying at home. It seems I am spending too much time reading the news instead of books. I need to just put the news down because for the most part I'm not actually reading anything new!

So far the book is good. The style is very straight-forward such that it makes the history easy to understand and remembered. I'm glad he decided to use modernized names and geographical locations to make it easier to follow.
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Old 04-10-2020, 06:50 PM   #8
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Sun surfer, Agrippa Postumus was Claudius' uncle. His father Agrippa died before he was born so he was a posthumous son.
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Old 04-10-2020, 11:21 PM   #9
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The family tree with the marriages/divorces and adoptions is super complex! No wonder Claudius makes a joking statement about that in the book.

I am wondering how much is based on factual history versus anecdotal or made up as well.
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Old 04-11-2020, 05:10 PM   #10
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The family tree with the marriages/divorces and adoptions is super complex! No wonder Claudius makes a joking statement about that in the book.

I am wondering how much is based on factual history versus anecdotal or made up as well.
I've heard it was accurate as far as people and dates and events. Some of the motivations and secret acts are less certain though there are ancient sources (or rumors) for those too.

EDIT: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23455774

Last edited by BenG; 04-11-2020 at 05:19 PM.
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Old 04-11-2020, 05:12 PM   #11
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I've seen the imperial family compared to a mafia Family. Augustus is Tony Soprano and his wife Livia is, well, Livia.
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Old 04-11-2020, 06:22 PM   #12
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I was wondering if Livia was as manipulative and forceful a character as the book portrays her. She seems to control Augustus quite strongly.

I found this website, Ancient History Encyclopedia, which looks to have some interesting articles on Roman history.
https://www.ancient.eu

It has biographical articles on the various people. Here is a link to Livia's page. I haven't read through it yet because I don't want to spoil what's coming up in the book.
https://www.ancient.eu/Livia_Drusilla/
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Old 04-11-2020, 06:30 PM   #13
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After a little searching, I found this article in The Guardian that might be informative. I only read a few paragraphs that explain Graves's choice of Claudius as the narrator, and I'm going to save the rest for reflection after I finish the book.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...26#maincontent
Quote:
Unreliable witness: The decadent and brutal Rome that Robert Graves portrays in his books on the Emperor Claudius owes less to what we know of history than the author's talent for fictional recreation
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Old 04-11-2020, 09:21 PM   #14
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I admit I read the Claudius novels a long time ago, but as far as I recall the characterization was not terribly accurate. Some characters were idealized (Postumus, Agrippina the Elder, Germanicus) and some were demonized (Livia, Tiberius to an extent, and there were others). Still, the books are pretty entertaining and I learned a lot of interesting stuff about ancient Rome from them.
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Old 04-19-2020, 05:07 PM   #15
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This book is reading like a soap opera (or HBO drama as BenG suggested earlier)! It is interesting though. Does history believe that Livia really poisoned Augustus? Livia was the "dutiful wife" and the "ambitious schemer" according to this article.

https://www.roman-emperors.org/livia.htm
Spoiler:
The perception that Livia was ambitious for her son made it possible for her to be accused of complicity in Augustus' death. The rumor developed that she had smeared poison on figs still on a tree and then guided him to pick one of these for himself while she selected untainted ones.[[16]] Her motivation came from the fear that Augustus might retrieve from exile his one remaining adopted son, Agrippa Postumus, and that Postumus might be a rival of Tiberius. Postumus was executed shortly after Augustus died, at whose order, it is unclear.[[17]] Although it is implausible that Livia poisoned Augustus, the accusation shows how strongly she came to be perceived as championing her offspring at any cost. Further suspicion fell on her when she failed to announce Augustus' death immediately after it occurred. The military saluted Tiberius on the spot, before it became known that the emperor had died. This was necessary because, although he no longer had a rival within the family, the senate might not confirm for him the unofficial position that Augustus had held. It was better if the succession had been accomplished.[[18]] Suetonius, in a report completely different from the poisoning story, describes a loving and trusting relationship between Livia and Augustus at the end. The emperor's last words were 'Live mindful of our wedlock, Livia and farewell", and he died as he kissed her.[[19]] This detail is probably no more accurate than the poisoned figs, but it represents a second role assigned her. Her reputation was double: dutiful wife and ambitious schemer.
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