Claudius the man

Claudius the God

Having rescued Claudius' character so wholeheartedly in the prequel I, Claudius, Robert Graves continues to fabricate the autobiography of his unlikely protagonist. Claudius is a sort of off-white sheep of the otherwise black-as-night Julio-Claudians, afflicted with plenty of unfortunate hereditary problems but free (more or less) of the psychotic nature that blossomed into flowers of mistrust, paranoia and megalomania among his relatives. But why should Graves pursue Claudius' character any further? In doing so, after all, he's created a chronologically lopsided diptych, as this volume spans around a quarter of the time covered by the first. It all looks a bit like overreaching. Is there any need?

Well, whereas the first book redefines Claudius as a quiet savant worthy of his scheming genes---less the fool, more playing the fool---the sequel goes some way to rescuing him as a human being. The test of all his kinsmen's characters was, ultimately, how each fared as emperor; so Claudius must also undergo this baptism of fire. History demands it, and Graves tells it. And he pulls off the trick of making the sequel, however weaker in synopsis, largely as enjoyable, as layered and as strong as I, Claudius.

In his lengthier battle descriptions the tone of Graves' primary sources does sometimes sneak in, an ethos of actually caring whether or not the elephants were on this hill rather than that one, or the chariots were going down the left or right flank. But it's all told through Claudius' rich, sympathetic, occasionally cantankerous narration and this helps paper over any minor cracks. He even handles Claudius' sudden change of leadership, after betrayal by Messalina comes to light, exceptionally well given its historical incomprehensibility. That, like every other known fact about the man, is enlarged and enriched by this insightful, startling uprooting of dry history in order to replant in the fertile, inner soil of the individual life.