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Chapters 1 - 3 
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Post Chapters 1 - 3
Chapters 1 - 3


Let's discuss Chapters 1 - 3 here.




Fri Sep 01, 2006 5:27 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
I've just finished the first chapter and can tell this book will be fantastic. I'm curious how much he deviated from the true autobiography.




Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:59 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
Hi Chris, i read this book proposed on another book group [they just read classics there]. it seems the beginning is pretty much faithful to history. and the astonishing thing is that many a times, yu will catch yourself this is the real autobiography! so well written. but at the very end, it seems the author makes the hero a pretty nice guy, though at the ned of his life Claudius was no better than his predecessor. as for his mother, it seems she really was as pictured here , amazing! ::97
Emma




Sun Sep 10, 2006 5:37 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
(damn. just wrote some nicely spontaneous comments on these first 3 chapters, and lost it. Now you're all going to get the contrived, trying-to-remember-what-I-said comments...)

I like how Claudius is so amazingly human, real, fallible...blind. He thinks he's being subtle, writing around the future of the story, but in the end, it's good foreshadowing.

I like how Graves has set up this character to be this human, to the point that when I write/think 'he', I don't know if I'm contemplating the writer or the character.

Already this chapter, one gets bogged down in the family trees, but he (Claudius? Graves?) continuously reminds us who each person is...sometime repeating himself, which is wonderfully consistent with someone writing on scrolls over a period of time. Again, kudos to Graves.

Also, 'he' writes in Greek, which, along with Claudius' declared reasons, gives him the opportunity to give etymologies for Latin words (an insight cribbed from elsewhere, in my reading about the book! :\ )

"All beings are the owners of their deeds, the heirs to their deeds."

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Celebrating the Absurd




Fri Sep 15, 2006 12:59 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
The words on Livia truly paint a fantastic portrait of greed and hate. I felt that I could see her hiding in the corners to spy and whispering into Augustus's ear.

Wow, I had no idea divorce was so common in ancient Rome. Was this true for all classes or only for the ruling class?

So far a truly incredible fast paced read.

Funda

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, prehaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

-Henry David Thoreau




Sat Sep 16, 2006 2:06 am
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
Okay, first my own reactions, and then some responses to what's already been said.

Chapter I.
The first order of business is to figure out where we stand, especially since the narrator is also the main character. Do we trust his version of events? I think Graves tries very carefully to give Claudius reasons for wanting to be honest. That doesn't necessarily guarantee his sincerity, though. He's a very textured character, and so far I like being in his head. Part of that texture, I think, is that he's intelligent enough to be suspicious of himself, to question his own honesty in how he relates the tale.

Several people have brought up the question of whether or not the book presents an accurate version of history. I think one interesting thing to note in regards to that is the tension Claudius himself raises when he contrasts official history with the sort of confidential history that he intends to write. I wouldn't say it's the purpose of that passage to clarify the question of the novel's accuracy, but it does open a few doors. If nothing else, you can point to it as an excuse for any deviation Graves might make from the documented, official history -- this is the behind the scenes stuff that doesn't make it into the official histories!

A couple of themes leapt out at me, and it might be worthwhile to keep them in mind as we read further: memory, reputation, honor. Power also seems to be a big theme, and it's interesting to me, so far, the differences between the people who want it but can't have all of it (Livia) and the people who don't particularly want it but are saddled with it (Claudius).

And then there's the Sibyl. This is interesting stuff to me, as it's a topic that I've read a lot about over the years. In fact, not long before I bought "I, Claudius" for this reading, I happened to have started reading a non-fiction history of the Oracle at Delphi, which is the prototype for our understanding of most Greek oracles and Sibyls. The author of that book, H.W. Parke, suggested that the Greek beliefs which made the oracle so popular were probably pretty alien to the Romans, so Claudius' visit to the oracle may be a little anachronistic. On the other hand, Claudius seems to have more than the usual respect for the Greeks, so maybe his view of the Sibyl is more antequarian than most. On the other other hand, Greece was held in high estimation by the Roman intelligencia in general -- that doesn't necessarily make any of them capable of the same sort of belief in oracles that a 7th century Athenian would have had. And so on, and so forth. In general, though, it may be noted that the Romans had a more systematic, almost mechanistic religion -- despite its similarities to and adoption of Greek forms -- which contributed to a general decline in the belief in and popularity of oracular pronouncements. So at best, we can say that Claudius' credulity is probably uncommon for an ancient Roman.

One cool little detail: there's an element of theatricality in the oracle, and it's something that Claudius himself notes, saying that the dramatic change in light was probably done by a neophyte on the roof. But despite his realization that the atmosphere is contrived, he still believes, to the extent that he has (apparantly) no doubt his book will be read thousands of years later.

Claudius interprets the Punic curse as the money-madness that's eating away at Rome's social structure. That could be Graves' analysis of the fall of the Roman Empire, but I wonder if he might not also mean it to reflect on us.

And does anyone know if there really were any such things as Syballine books with propecies that were taken to indicate the fortunes of the Caesars, or is that just a narrative conceit?

Chapter II.
It looks as though a lot of the book is going to be about Poor Claudius' relationship to powerful and influential women. So far I count Agrippinilla, Livia, Octavia and the Sibyl. And one aspect of this relationship is that at least some of the women make use of the political ambition of men as a way of furthering their own ambition. The big example is the way in which Livia orchaestrated Octavian's transformation into Augustus -- that, I'm pretty sure, is ahistorical. But it's certainly literary, and Livia is in one sense the descendent, and in another sense the ancestor, of Lady Macbeth.

Another theme that crops up a bit in this chapter: piety. In particular, I'm thinking of Octavian's impotence with Livia, which Claudius attributes to his guilt over the impiety of their marriage; the belief that Claudius the Fair lost a naval battle from impiety; and the portents at Octavian's assumption of the name Augustus.

Another interesting religious detail is the creation of the gods Roma and Julius. And those probably are historical details, even though it seems like a contradiction to say that the Romans could feel pious towards god that they deliberately authored.




Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:06 am
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
Loricat: just wrote some nicely spontaneous comments on these first 3 chapters, and lost it.

Don't you hate that? At the same time, I sometimes wish that I took the time to go back and edit some of my spontaneous comments. You guys probably wish I'd do it to, if nothing else than for length.

I like how Claudius is so amazingly human, real, fallible...blind.

Very three-dimensional, very psycholgically convincing -- and the remarkable thing is that he's spent most of the first three chapters talking about other people, yet I already feel like I have a great deal of insight into what sort of character he is. I'm almost a little worried that it'll come as a disappointment when he does start talking about himself, as I can hardly see how it will get us as close to the character we see in these early chapters. But Graves might pull it off -- he's a phenomenal writer.

Already this chapter, one gets bogged down in the family trees...

My copy actually has a family tree printed on a fold-out in the back. Is that a feature of all copies, or did I just luck out?

funda62: Wow, I had no idea divorce was so common in ancient Rome. Was this true for all classes or only for the ruling class?

You know, I've got a sourcebook on Roman society, which I've hardly ever even scanned. I'll check it for information on divorce in Rome and get back to you with anything I happen to find. Generally speaking, though, I'd bet that divorce was a good deal more common the further you went up the social ladder. It served as a political tool, so the demands of politics would often supercede the demands of religious rite -- and I'm pretty sure that marriage was considered to be one of the fundamental auspices by the Romans, so it definitely had a religious character.




Wed Sep 20, 2006 1:14 am
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
You are so lucky to have the family tree! I've been trying to make one as I read, but have gotten a bit confused with all the adoptions which occur when the children are much older. Is there any way you could post a scan of the family tree? It would be so helpful.

I'm also making a list of questions as I go and have ordered some history books from the library to do some research.

This book is so fascinating and I feel like if real history were written like this everyone would be a fan!

funda

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, prehaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

-Henry David Thoreau




Wed Sep 20, 2006 2:01 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
It isn't a scan of the genealogy in my copy of the book, but this image might help sort out the relationships.




Thu Sep 21, 2006 12:40 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
Wow, that blew my mind for several minutes until I could get it a bit figured out. Thanks for posting.

funda

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, prehaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

-Henry David Thoreau




Thu Sep 21, 2006 2:59 pm
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Post Re: Chapters 1 - 3
I'm really enjoying the book, rereading it after five years. Remembering the broad outlines doesn't interfere with the delightful narrative.




Sun Sep 24, 2006 9:19 pm
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