book-reviews

Claudius the God

by Robert Graves

Rating: ★★★★

Claudius the God is the sequel to I Claudius, set for the most part during Claudius' reign as Emperor. Despite it covering the time when Claudius was most able to act as an important agent, the novel seems to be easily the lesser of the series due to a number of mistakes by the author.

The first of these is Graves' decision to spend a sizeable early chunk of the book writing in some backstory for Herod Agrippa, revisiting events covered in the previous book to position him about them. It's not really clear to me why this was done, or generally why so much effort is expended on including Herod in the story, save that he's an interesting character (and I suppose lends another perspective to a policy wrangle about the Jews).

The second slip-up is an overuse of primary sources, either real or fictional. Often, letters are presented in the text either immediately followed by or immediately following from a narrative summary of what is in them, encouraging you to either not read them (in which case, what's the point of including them?) or to suffer reading the same information twice.

The most interesting aspect of the story is watching Claudius, an avowed Republican, gradually settle into his role as Emperor, justifying his authority to himself in terms of the public good or gradual restoration of the Republic. His story does stretch a little thin towards the end, though -- it's hard to believe that he is that oblivious to the manoeuvres of his wife and slaves.

The story's focus on Britain and its occasional reference to early Christianity are obvious hooks for Graves' audience. While the concluding idea of the autobiography -- that Claudius intended for Britain to become Rome's successor -- seemed fairly clumsy and cheesy to me, for the most part this pandering wasn't too intrusive.