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 Amazon.com