I, Claudius

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This article is about the novel. For other uses, see I, Claudius (disambiguation).
I, Claudius
I Cladius 1st edition book cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Robert Graves
Cover artist John Aldridge (1st ed.)[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Arthur Barker (1st ed.)
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 468 pp (paperback ed.)
ISBN 978-0679724773
OCLC 19811474
823/.912 20
LC Class PR6013.R35 I2 1989
Followed by Claudius the God

I, Claudius (1934) is a novel by English writer Robert Graves, written in the form of an autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius. Accordingly, it includes history of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BC to Caligula's assassination in 41 AD.

The 'autobiography' of Claudius continues (from Claudius's accession after Caligula's death, to his own death in 54) in Claudius the God (1935). The sequel also includes a section written as a biography of Herod Agrippa, contemporary of Claudius and future King of the Jews. The two books were adapted by the BBC into an award-winning television serial, I, Claudius.

In 1998 the Modern Library ranked I, Claudius fourteenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.[2]

The novels[edit]


Claudius was the fourth Emperor of Rome (r. 41–54 AD). Historically, Claudius' family kept him out of public life until his sudden coronation at the age of forty nine. This was due to his being perceived as being a dolt due to his stammering, limp and other nervous tics. This made others see him as mentally deficient and also therefore not a threat to his ambitious relatives. Even as his symptoms begin to wane in his teenage years, he runs into trouble for his work as a budding historian. His work on a history of the civil wars was too truthful and too critical of the reigning emperor Octavian, and his mother and grandmother quickly put a stop to it. This episode reinforced their initial suspicions that Claudius was not fit for public office. This is how he was defined by scholars for most of history, and Graves uses these peculiarities to develop a sympathetic character whose survival in a murderous dynasty depends upon his family's incorrect assumption that he is a harmless idiot.

Graves's interpretation of the story owes much to the histories of Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, Plutarch, and (especially) Suetonius (Lives of the Twelve Caesars). Graves translated Suetonius before writing the novels. Graves claimed that after he read Suetonius, Claudius came to him in a dream one night and demanded that his real story be told. The life of Claudius provided Graves with a way to write about the first four Emperors of Rome (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius) from an intimate point of view.

In addition, the real Claudius was a trained historian and is known to have written an autobiography (now lost) in eight books that covered the same time period. I, Claudius is a first-person narrative of Roman history from the reigns of Augustus to Caligula; Claudius the God is written as a later addition documenting Claudius' own reign.

Graves provides a theme for the story by having the fictionalised Claudius describe a visit to Cumae, where he receives a prophecy in verse from the Sibyl, and an additional prophecy contained in a book of "Sibylline Curiosities". The latter concerns the fates of the "hairy ones" (i.e. The Caesars – from the Latin word "caesar", meaning "a fine head of hair") who are to rule Rome. The penultimate verse concerns his own reign, and Claudius assumes that he can tell the identity of the last emperor described. From the outset, then, Graves establishes a fatalistic tone that plays out at the end of Claudius the God, Claudius predicts his own assassination and succession by Nero.

At Cumae, the Sibyl tells Claudius that he will "speak clear." Claudius believes this means that his secret memoirs will be one day found, and that he, having therein written the truth, will speak clearly, while his contemporaries, who had to distort their histories to appease the ruling family, will seem like stammerers. Since he wishes to record his life for posterity, Claudius chooses to write in Greek, since he believes that it will remain "the chief literary language of the world." This enables Graves to offer explanations of Latin wordplay or etymologies that would be unnecessary for native Latin speakers.

The novels also focus upon the nature of freedom and security inherent in a republic and a monarchy. As Livia sees it the Republican freedom leads to civil war and Rome must be a monarchy for its own good. While Claudius believes in a Republic he is convinced to remain Emperor, and leads a benevolent reign which he views as worse than being a cruel monarch as it made monarchy acceptable to the Roman people.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

The I, Claudius novels, as they are called collectively, became massively popular when first published in 1934 and gained literary recognition with the award of the 1934 James Tait Black Prize for fiction. They are probably Graves's best known work aside from his myth essay The White Goddess, his English translation of The Golden Ass and his own autobiography Goodbye to All That. Despite their critical and monetary success, Graves later professed a dislike for the books and their popularity[citation needed]. He claimed that they were written only from financial need on a strict deadline. Nonetheless, they are today regarded as pioneering masterpieces of historical fiction.


Film and television[edit]

In 1937, abortive attempts were made to adapt the first book into a film by the film director Josef von Sternberg. The producer was Alexander Korda, who was then married to Merle Oberon, who was cast as Claudius' wife Messalina. Emlyn Williams was cast as Caligula, Charles Laughton was cast as Claudius, and Flora Robson was cast as Livia. Filming was abandoned after Oberon was injured in a serious motor car accident.

In 1976, BBC Television adapted the book and its sequel into the popular TV serial, also entitled I, Claudius. The production won four BAFTAs in 1977 and three Emmys in 1978.

In 2008, it was reported that Relativity Media had obtained the rights to produce a new film adaptation of I, Claudius. Jim Sheridan was named as director.[3]

In 2011, rights then passed to HBO and BBC2 to film a miniseries adaptation. Jane Tranter and Anne Thomopoulos, who previously worked on HBO/BBC2's miniseries Rome have been named as producers.


In November and December 2010, as part of the Classic Serial strand, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a series of six-hour-long episodes of a dramatisation of both novels, adapted by Robin Brooks and directed by Jonquil Panting. Performers were Derek Jacobi, Tom Goodman Hill and full cast. It won the 2012 Audie Award in the "Audio Dramatization" category.[4][5]


The novel has also been adapted for theatre. The 1972 production I, Claudius was written by John Mortimer and starred David Warner.[6]


Several audio recordings of the novel have been produced.

Derek Jacobi performed two separate readings of the novel, both as abridged versions, one for Dove Audio (1986) and one for CSA Word (2007).

Nelson Runger performed unabridged readings of both I, Claudius and Claudius the God for Recorded Books, copyright 1987.

In 1988, Jonathan Oliver performed an unabridged reading for ISIS Audio Books.

Frederick Davidson performed an unabridged reading for Blackstone Audiobooks in 1994.

Later references[edit]

A. E. van Vogt wrote a novel, Empire of the Atom, which is a wholesale translation of Graves's novel into science fiction.

In the last page of The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman includes a table comparing his "future works" with I, Claudius.

The self-referential title has influenced the names of other works of fiction and autobiographies:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Modern first editions – a set on Flickr
  2. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  3. ^ Kit, Borys (12 September 2008). "Director Jim Sheridan eyes I, Claudius". Reuters. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  4. ^ I Claudius, AudioGo, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4084-2755-2
  5. ^ "2012 Audie Awards, Audio Dramatization category". Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "The View from London". TIME. 18 September 1972. Retrieved 14 September 2008. 

External links[edit]