Claudius the God

by Robert Graves

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Claudius the God, the sequel to I, Claudius, takes up the story from the moment its hero was acclaimed as emperor. Where the first novel covered the latter part of the reign of Caesar Augustus as well as those of Tiberius and Caligula, the sequel runs longer while mostly restricting itself to the thirteen-year reign of Claudius, the narrator. A long flashback early in the novel provides the backstory of Claudius' charming and clever friend Herod Agrippa, whose advice helps him survive the confused first days after Caligula's assassination. Then it's on to the accomplishments of the man who survived because people thought him a harmless fool. It's hard to disagree with Graves' assessment that the man who recovered the eagles lost by Varus in the German forest, made Ostia a thriving port, wrote a dictionary and history of the Etruscans the loss of which haunts scholars to this day, and - what else? - oh yes, conquered Britain and added it to the empire, was anything but a fool.

Claudius was, however, unlucky with women, and his reputation was not enhanced by his long ignorance of his wife Messalina's true nature. There's poignancy in the cuckolded emperor's attitude to her betrayals, but readers of literature will be happy to have her adventures made vivid, if only so they can understand the phrase "another Messalina" when it is bandied about. The wife who followed was no great improvement, although this time the emperor understood very well that his marriage to Caligula's sister Agrippina was destined to turn out better for his stepson Nero than for himself. Nero is by no means the only future emperor who figures in this rich novel about an Empire that had by now become a fixed institution, no matter how much the emperor himself might long for the restoration of the Republic. Claudius the God is a worthy capstone to Graves' powerful and original overview of a key stage in history. (1935, 583 pages)

More about Claudius the God at Powell's Books or

Claudius the God appears on the list of The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History

Other novels in which Claudius appears:

I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934), about Claudius in the years before he became emperor; the novel to which Claudius the God is the sequel. See review or More info at Powell's Books

Empire by Steven Saylor (2010), about Imperial Rome from 14 A.D. to 141 A.D. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Domina by Paul Doherty (2002), a sympathetic mystery novel about Claudius's wife Agrippina the Younger, the mother of Nero.

Nonfiction about Imperial Rome:

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (circa 121 A.D.), a gossipy and very readable account of the twelve rulers of Rome from Julius Caesar to Domitian by a Roman historian used as a character in Empire. More info

The World of Rome by Michael Grant (1960), an overview of Roman history and culture from 133 B.C. to 217 A.D. More info

Claudius by Barbara Levick (1990). More info

At the Movies:

I, Claudius, the acclaimed 1977 BBC television series starring Derek Jacobi as Claudius. Highly recommended.


Claudius at the BBC History website

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