Poor poor pitiful me!
Claudius is a kind of nephew to Caesar Augustus and born outside of Italy, but regardless, he’s still among the court, and eventually, as we know, will become emperor after Caligula. Claudius is also afflicted with a stammer and a limp, which both allows him to hide behind his two infirmities, but also forces him to the side of things. His stammer also causes most people in his life to believe he is not very smart. We know of course, from his narration in the novel, and his interaction with many of the characters is that he is wickedly smart, and with the right audience and patience, very articulate and clever as well. The limp also allows him to outlive many of his contemporaries, as he’s not expected to win glory in battle.
The novel follows Claudius’s journey through life in court, silent observer, until the day, to his horror, he’s installed as emperor, as the novel closes.
The novel is a novel of ideas, almost constantly contrasting the thoughtfulness and curiosity of Claudius and Rome, the Republic, with the barbarity of the people of Rome, and Rome, the Empire. My favorite scene in the book involves a young Claudius cornered by Livy and another historian. Having discovered he’s not in fact an idiot, they begin to pepper him for opinions on their writing, both historians. Claudius avers at first, but when pressed, he admits he enjoys the more lively, but less accurate history of one writer, as opposed to the stilted, if accurate history of the other. This gives the game away a little as we read through Graves’s novel and begin to wonder what he should take as fact and what we should take as supposition.