Is Claudius a reliable narrator? Why or why not?
At the beginning of the novel, Claudius assures the reader that he is presenting an unbiased, historical work. However, Claudius still tells the story from his point of view and, as such, the narrative cannot help but contain his personal biases. One example of this is Claudius’ deferential treatment of his grandfather and father because of their republican ideals. Although Claudius attempts to remain detached from the narrative, he is unable to do so. This also brings up an issue which is common in history: fact versus truth and the importance of authorship.
Which government is better: the tyrannous empire of Livia and Tiberius or the idealized republic of Claudius and his father?
Throughout the novel, Claudius is an avid republican and presents a republic as the idealized form of government for Rome. However, Claudius eventually acknowledges that the empire run by Livia is much more stable and successful than a republic. A republic would result in many difficult problems among the social classes and could even lead to civil war. While an empire can be oppressive to some members of the population, Livia’s form of government helps Rome to maintain its universal dominance and prosperity.
Why does Graves choose to write the novel through Claudius’ eyes instead of as a third-person narrator? Do you agree with his decision?
Graves’ intention was to explore the world of the Julio-Claudian line on a personal level. Instead of writing yet another history of the family, he wanted to give a more intimate version of their lives; the best way to do this was to use Claudius as a first-person narrator. On one hand, this strategy provides the narrative with a lot more emotional depth and drama than a third-person history account would. On the other hand, the fictionalized approach to the events makes it difficult to determine which parts of the narrative are historically accurate.
Is Livia an admirable character? Why or why not?
In many ways, Livia is presented as the villain of the first part of the book. She murders any individual who is an obstacle to the fulfillment of her ambitions, and even poisons Augustus in order to allow Tiberius to take the throne. At the same time, Claudius eventually shows a different side of Livia's character, highlighting her strength, courage, and intelligence. Moreover, as Claudius realizes, Livia's government was far more stable and prosperous than any of the subsequent ones.
How does I, Claudius differ from typical histories?
One of the main differences between I, Claudius and typical histories is the first-person perspective. In addition to providing insight into Claudius' personality, this perspective allows for a much more specific version of the events and characters involved. Granted, these specific details are not necessarily accurate, but they still provide a unique view of the time period. The novel also differs from typical histories in terms of the format: instead of a chronological order, Claudius' history is written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style, often with many digressions and personal anecdotes.
Does Claudius survive to become emperor through Fate or through his own actions?
From the very beginning of the text, Claudius presents a fatalistic attitude. According to him, his rise to become emperor is due solely to Fate, and the evidence is clear in Sibyl's prophecy and the omen of the wolf cub. Claudius expresses the belief system of his time period and is unable to accept the idea that he could have become emperor through his own actions. Yet, Claudius' decision to "play the fool" is key to his survival in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. By exaggerating his stammer and limp, Claudius was able to outlive all of his relatives and was the indirect cause of his own poltical success.
What role does love play in the novel, if any?
Although love does appear at certain points in the novel, it is usually suppressed or manipulated for personal gain and ambition. Claudius suspects that Livia truly loves Augustus, but she still murders him in order to ensure that Tiberius will become emperor. Livia manipulates Postumus' love for Livilla in order to remove him as Tiberius' political opponent. Even Claudius' childhood love is unable to survive, and Camilla is poisoned by Livia before Claudius can even marry her. Clearly, the political climate of Rome makes love a problematic, even dangerous emotion that must be supressed to survive.
Why is Livia so desperate to become a goddess after her death? How is this significant to her characterization?
Livia's desperation to become a goddess after her death provides the reader with insight into her psyche. As a goddess, Livia realizes that she will not be held accountable for all of the murders that she has committed. If she does not become a goddess, she risks spending eternity in Hades paying for her crimes. This sense of fear provides a human element to Livia's somewhat cold persona. Moreover, Claudius' vow to fulfill Livia's desire, even after Caligula has refused, creates a closer bond between the two and emphasizes Claudius' sympathetic nature.
How would the narrative change if Livia had not married Augustus?
Livia's influence on the structure of the government in Rome is unparalleled, particularly in terms of Augustus' reign. Although Claudius emphasizes Livia as the primary villain of the first part of the book, he does not highlight the benefits that Livia's influence influence brings to the Empire. On a more personal level, Livia's decision to marry Augustus leads to allow the important events in the novel, specifically Tiberius' rise to power, the deaths of many of Claudius' family members, and even Caligula's ascension to the throne. Livia's significance cannot be overstated, and her absence from Roman political structure would have completely changed the course of history.
Is Claudius the hero of the novel? Why or why not?
Because Claudius is the narrator of the text, Graves' automatically presents him as a likable protagonist. Readers can easily sympathize with his character because of the cruel treatment he receives at the hands of his family members. At the same time, however, Claudius' constant passivity and personal anxiety make him a difficult character to admire. While those around him fight and die for their beliefs, Claudius assumes a pretense of foolishness for his entire life and never stands up for what he believes in. In some ways, Claudius' decision shows a great wisdom and personal fortitude, but a reader cannot help but wonder if Claudius would be a better hero if he had decided NOT to play the fool.