Summary by I, Claudius

In the field of English Historical Literature, a novel is known by the name of I, Claudius  (I Claudius), born from the famous pen of the British writer Robert Graves, which was first published in 1935, thanks to the work of the Arthur Barker publishing house.

About the work

According to specialists in Robert Graves’ literary career, the novel I, Claudius can be considered his most important work, followed closely by the continuation of this story, which was embodied in the sequel Claudio, el dios y su esposa Mesalina, published in 1935. Not in vain, in 1976, the BBC, by the hand of the creator Jack Pullman adapted the story told by Graves to a television miniseries, which was transmitted with great success.

Likewise, as for the relevance that Graves’ novel has achieved, it is included in the prestigious magazine Time, a publication that presented it as one of the hundred best novels published in the world until 1935.

Unanimously, the Critics praise how Robert Graves manages to spin a complete vision of the life and government of the Julio-Claudia Dynasty, from the government of Octavio Augusto to the last days of Claudio’s mandate, before being succeeded by Caligula.

What is surprising about Graves’ narrative, however, is the revelation to the West of the true personality and essence of Claudius, an emperor who until the time of his reign, which almost happened by political and genealogical chance, had remained cut off from society by his family, who due to the sequels of a strong meningitis, which had left him lame and stuttered, was considered a person with disability, which protected him for years from a murderous lineage, where the ambition for the throne was the main motive to eliminate from the way whoever stood in the way.

However, Robert Graves, who had the opportunity to meet the real Claudius, through his reading of Suetonius, shows how Claudius really was always a clandestine scholar, who hid in his apparent intellectual impossibility, but was secretly a meticulous historian, who managed to write in Greek – a language he believed would endure for centuries as the universal literary language, over and above Latin – an autobiography, now lost, which at the time, according to historical sources, came to have in reality eight long books, in which Claudius notes the events that the Roman Empire lived from the principality of Augustus to the misfortune represented in Caligula.

As for the impulse that made Graves write this story, beyond his own surprise at discovering Claudius’ true personality, there is an anecdotal fact reflected in several sources, which speaks about the appearance of this historical character in a dream of Graves, where the ancient Roman emperor asked him to write his story, so that the world would have the opportunity to know it.

Summary of I, Claudius

However, as for the specific facts of Robert Graves’ novel, this one has as its argument Claudius’ visit to the Greek city of Cumas, where in an encounter with a sibyl, it gives him a prophecy, where it shows Claudius what would be the fate of the Caesars who would rule Rome. This is how Claudius can see the fate of Rome and her family, as well as his own mandate, and even the destruction of Rome in the hands of Nero.

Robert Graves’ novel is also the author’s opportunity to introduce many explanations of Latin language turns, the etymological origin of several words, as well as some of the most representative Roman customs. An opportunity for today’s West to get to know one of the civilizations that served as its cradle: the Roman Empire.

Image: portrait of the Roman Emperor Claudius, on display at the National Museum of Archaeology in Tarragona / Source:

Summary by I, Claudius
Source: Education  
October 31, 2019

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