This is a book I have recently read that I have used to analyze the reliability of the historical source
“Living in the Apple’s Core” the importance of the subjective voice in I, Claudius I, Claudius
by Robert Graves is a fictional biography that Graves creates about life in ancient Rome during the time of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus. Based on an imagined autobiography of Emperor Claudius, I, Claudius is written in the first person. It begins with the rise of Augustus, and highlights Livia, the second wife of Augustus, who is prominent in guiding selective members to the throne of Rome by culling all who stand in her way. Claudius is an invalid who most likely suffered from cerebral palsy and was despised because of his ailment. Graves uses the novel to create historical narrative enlivened by the gossip of Rome and the intelligence of Claudius for comic relief. As well, I, Claudius
addresses ideas such as liberty, morality, bias, and fate. In this paper I will address the main themes of I, Claudius
, as well as analyze the reliability of this historical source. In the section in which I will concentrate on the text’s usefulness and relevance as a historical source I will include several of the characters who are relevant to that subject.
Claudius often addresses issues such as virtue, the Roman sense of liberty, and morality in the same breath. “Germanicus, on the other hand, was wholly inclined to virtue and, however evil the age into which he had been born, could never have behaved any differently from the way he did.” (p.218) There is much corruption in the Roman Empire that is shown clearly by Robert Graves through the voice of Claudius, and Graves creates a contrast between the minority who still have integrity, and the other Roman nobility who are involved with corruption, power hunger, and the orgies of Rome. “‘Is it safe for Uncle Claudius to be told things? Or are you going to poison him?’ ‘Oh, he’s quite safe, without any poison…Your uncle Claudius is a phenomenon. He’s so old-fashioned that because he’s sworn an oath to life and protect his brother’s children you can always impose on him’” (p.336) The corrupt Roman officials despise Claudius’s integrity and take advantage of his traditional Roman virtue.
During the Julio-Claudian era much time was spent consulting oracles and observing omens; superstition was well observed, and throughout I, Claudius
it is interesting to note how fate unfolds. The pagan Romans relied heavily on predictions, oracles, and the importance of fate. In the first chapters of the novel, there was a strange happening with a group of eagles and a wolf cub. Upon consulting an augur, it was predicted that Claudius would become emperor. The consultation of Claudius and Sibyl was also a prediction of future events that gradually came about as the autobiography progressed. The superstition and omens in I, Claudius
are important because they play a role in the foreshadowing. “But you cannot fight against Fate.” (p.337) Livia has a foreknowledge of Caligula’s rise to power, and must have taken the astrologer Thrasyllus’s prediction as fact.
Although Robert Graves relies on Suetonius, he is selective in his interpretation of his records. However, Suetonius himself is hardly a sober, impartial source, for he too deals with rumor, scandal and innuendos. Graves accentuates Tiberius’s and Caligula’s downfalls, but passes Augustus’s shortcomings perhaps because of Livia’s influence. Graves writes in the subjective voice that makes I, Claudius
a valuable historical interpretation for many reasons. I, Claudius
becomes interesting because it is less factual. It captures details of ordinary every-day life; this entertains the audience through the use of the gossip of Rome. It is engaging because it sympathizes with Graves’s viewpoint, and we start to care about Claudius. One way we sympathize with Grave’s perspective is with Livy. Livy was a contemporary historian with Claudius. Livy, in his discussion with Pollio in the Apollo library, teaches young Claudius a valuable lesson about the documentation of history. “there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth.” (p.122) They show him the two ways to write history which must have been a key point in Claudius’s occupation as a historian. This also reveals Grave’s view of writing history by making it more readable and interesting. I, Claudius is an excellent example of Graves endeavoring to entertain.
However, Graves’s subjective voice does have numerous limitations one of which is a lack of the whole picture. I, Claudius
deals only with the nobility of Rome and although the laboring Romans are addressed, the reader cannot see what factors were at work with the lower classes. Graves’s view of Claudius’s prominent contemporaries is biased. “‘Rome has a severe mother: Lucius and Gaius have a dangerous stepmother.’” (p.51) This supposed statement has quite an impact on the reader, and we are immediately turned against Livia. Livia was “One of the bad Claudians” as Claudius states; her name means ‘malignity’ in Latin, and she was successful in using people to achieve her goals. (p.338) In I Claudius
, Graves uses a conversation between Claudius and Livia to make Livia look quite evil, but this conversation may never have happened and including it in the novel is evidence of bias. This conversation involves an exchange; Claudius promises to deify Livia if she will agree to answer several questions about mysterious deaths that were to political importance. The limitations of the subjective voice are evidenced by the fact that I, Claudius
only deals with a short period of his life. It does not depict Emperor Claudius’s successes as a Roman general in Britain. 
Of the many characters Robert Graves includes, Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius are important to our impression of the time period.
Augustus was emperor of Rome from BC 63- AD 14. Rome achieved great glory under the rule of Augustus who expanded the empire greatly during his reign. Although his wife, Livia, who seemed to be the real protector of Rome, ruled him, the people loved Augustus and he was one of the better emperors.
Tiberius was the son of Livia, and the uncle of Claudius. Robert Graves describes him as “one of the bad Claudians.”…“Yet he was, at times, easily tempted to virtue…But the age was not a noble one and his heart had been hardened, and for that hardening Livia must, you will agree, bear the chief blame.” (p.219) Although Graves gives the impression that this is primarily because of Livia’s influence, we still see, in the records of Suetonius, that Tiberius was indeed a tyrant, and is responsible for his own actions.
The general populace regarded Claudius as a moron and half-wit because of his limp, stutter, and proneness to disease. His tutor, Athenodoras, helped plant within him a love of history. Claudius writes numerous histories, many of which are not appreciated because of the general view of the people about Claudius. Although he was looked down upon, Sibyl prophesied that Claudius was to become the Emperor of Rome. There was also a sign with the eagles that predicted Claudius would become the protector of Rome. (p.58)
In closing, I, Claudius
by Robert Graves, with its many fascinating characters, is a valuable example of historical fiction if it is alongside other primary sources, but separately I, Claudius,
is not a reliable historical source.
Works Cited: I, Claudius
by Robert Graves…  Claudius the God,
the second book of this series, addresses Claudius’s successes as a Roman General.
Sorry that it is that long, but this is a good novel to read when studying the culture of Rome