‘…the cripple, the stammerer, the fool of the family, whom none of his ambitious and bloody-minded relatives considered worth the trouble of executing, poisoning, forcing to suicide, banishing to a desert island or starving to death…’
Having finished reading I, Claudius I took a break for a little bit to read some lighter books before delving back into the world of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus. I am very glad I did, as this book was more difficult to get through than the last, and not just because everyone has very long or very similar names. At one point Claudius accuses himself of being ‘dull and prosy’ in his writing style, and I’m afraid I would have to agree with him – at times he wouldn’t go into detail about matters that seemed interesting, while spending chapters going into minute detail about other things, such as the misadventures of his friend Herod, or the various battles undertaken in his conquering of Britain. The former, I’ll admit, was well paced up to a point, but the latter dragged, and I often found myself having to re-read paragraphs or pages as I hadn’t actually taken anything in.
‘I can’t understand you people. It amazes me that after having been ruled for four years by a madman you should be ready to commit the government to an idiot.’
Perhaps the overall pace of the book was slow since there was so much drama and backstabbing in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula – by contrast, Claudius’ reign was fairly peaceful, hence why he dwells so long on Herod’s story, and the conquest of Britain, right down to the precise numbers of how many were killed or injured on either side. Meanwhile, back in Rome, Herod tells Claudius to ‘never trust anyone’, and yet he trusts several people implicitly who end up betraying him. The most dramatic of these betrayals is that of his wife Messalina – I didn’t care for her in the TV series, and I cared even less for her here. For goodness’ sake, Messalina, keep your knickers on. All of Claudius’ marriages were a shambles – and even though his final marriage to his niece, Agrippina, mother of the future Emperor Nero, provides some amusing back and forth, these and other moments of levity throughout the book don’t make up for the overall plodding and overly detailed narrative.
Domitia Lepida said: ‘Be brave, child. It won’t hurt if you drive it home quick.’
The Colonel slowly unfolded his arms: his right hand reached for the pommel of his sword. Messalina put the point of the dagger first to her throat, and then to her breast. ‘Oh, I can’t, Mother! I’m afraid!’
The Colonel’s sword was out of its sheath. He took three long steps forward and ran her through.
One of the most gruesome deaths in the book isn’t even technically on Claudius’ orders, as he’s tricked into signing the death warrant and feels terribly guilt-ridden afterwards. What does it say about me that I preferred reading about the tyranny of Tiberius, and the madness of Caligula? But I suppose the real question is: which is better, the books or the TV series? Obviously they’re both very different mediums, and one was published in the 30s while the other was broadcast in the 70s, so I don’t know that it’s quite fair to try and compare the two. That being said, I know I will be rewatching the series at some point, but I won’t be re-reading the books. I am very glad I read them as I enjoyed the first one especially and haven’t read any of Robert Graves’ work before, and I found it really interesting to see the differences between the books and the series. But I would more heartily recommend the series than the books – which I realise is basically heresy on a book review blog, and so, to paraphrase the final lines of Claudius the God: Write no more now, The Book Wyrm, Hoarder of the Books, write no more.