I, Claudius Summary and Analysis
In Chapter 9, Claudius breaks away from his narrative once again; this time, in order to describe an influential interaction he had with Livy and Pollio, two of the most important historians of the time. As an aspiring historian, Claudius was thrilled at the prospect of meeting such significant historians in the library, particularly when Pollio asked him to analyze the flaws in each of their styles of writing. Claudius ultimately admits that, while he is intrigued by Livy’s literary style, he prefers Pollio’s commitment to accuracy. When he introduces himself as Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, Pollio is amazed that Claudius has a reputation as a supposed half-wit. He urges Claudius to exaggerate his limp and stammer and continue to play the fool. If he does, Pollio declares, Claudius will stay alive. Pollio also tells Claudius that his father and grandfather were poisoned and encourages him to discover the truth if he can.
In Chapter 10, Claudius resumes his narrative thread with a description of his marriage to Urgulanilla. Although the couple is badly matched, the marriage is relatively successful because of shared indifference for one another and, shortly after the wedding, Urgulanilla gives birth to a son named Drusillus. Although Claudius continues to be ignored by Livia and the rest of his family, Augustus feels guilty for his bad treatment of Claudius and decides to appoint him the public duty of a priest of Mars. Livia is not pleased with this appointment because of her personal distaste for Claudius, but she is too occupied with the problem of Postumus to take much notice. Postumus is still positioned as Augustus’ son and heir alongside Tiberius, so Livia begins to strategize a way to remove Postumus as a political obstacle.
However, while Livia has primarily written off Claudius as an idiot, she does discover that he is investigating the deaths of his father and grandfather as Pollio had suggested. She orders him to cease his activities immediately and thus places the beginnings of Claudius’ suspicions about the role she played in the deaths.
One night while Claudius is sleeping, he is awakened to the sounds of an alarm in the distance and sees Postumus secretly climb over his balcony. Postumus confesses to Claudius that he has been banished because he has been accused of raping Livilla, Claudius’ sister. According to Postumus, Livilla had asked to meet him secretly that night and then, when he tried to embrace her, began to scream as if he was raping her. When he was confronted by Livia and Augusta and the guards attempted to restrain him, Postumus broke free and came to tell Claudius the truth before making his escape. Postumus hears more guards coming and flees, leaving Tiberius as the sole remaining heir to Augustus. Eventually Postumus is caught and banished to a small island in the Mediterranean.
With Postumus in exile, Germanicus leading the armies in Germany, and Athenodorus returning to Tarsus, Claudius is left with only his historical work to distract him. He attempts to begin a biography of his grandfather but is once more stopped by Livia who suggested that he write a historical account of the reorganization of religion in Rome since Augustus’ reign instead. In the meantime, the war in Germany takes a heavy toll on the financial prosperity of Rome. Although Claudius begs Augustus to let him fight as a soldier, nothing comes of it, and Claudius is forced to hear about the war through the letters he received from Germanicus.
Although Tiberius is essentially determined as Augustus’ primary heir, Augustus himself is not pleased with the outcome. However, he allays his fears at Tiberius’ unpopularity with the reminder that the well-loved and heroic Germanicus will be Tiberius’ natural successor. At seventy years old, Augustus becoming short-tempered and difficult for Livia to control. At Claudius’ urging, Germanicus tells Augustus about the truth behind Postumus’ so-called rape of Livilla. Augustus quickly reverts to his original opinion of Postumus as innocent and secretly visits him on his island prison. Although Livia suspects that Augustus’ secret trip was not completely innocent, she does not realize that Augustus has taken Postumus off of the island and had a slave take his place.
When Livia discovers that Augustus had taken a slave with him who looked exactly like Postumus, she realizes that Augustus might soon restore Postumus to favor and pass over Tiberius as his successor. Soon afterward, Augustus becomes ill. Now aware of Livia’s propensity for poison, Augustus refuses to let her nurse him. Instead of eating anything that Livia cooks for him, Augustus limits his diet to bread figs that he picks off of the tree himself. Despite his best efforts to avoid Livia’s wrath, Augustus still dies: Livia had cunningly smeared poison on all of the figs on the tree.
After Augustus’ death, Rome has a difficult time adjusting to the prospect of Tiberius taking his place. Although he technically possesses all of Augustus’ political titles and positions, Tiberius still has to gain the support of the Senate in order to perpetuate the monarchy. Through Livia’s influence (and her possession of numerous treasonable letters that she had intercepted from senators), Tiberius is slowly voted all of the additional powers that are necessary to be an emperor. Germanicus is saddened by Augustus’ death but still feels obligated to give Tiberius his full support.
Through the anecdote about Pollio and Livy at the beginning of this section, Claudius provides some additional background into his own historical tendencies. Although he admits that he enjoys both styles of writing, he is most attracted to Pollio’s accurate accounts. Clearly this section serves as part of Claudius’ continued effort to convince the readers that his histories are always unbiased and completely factual. Claudius realizes that the plots and intrigues in the narrative are becoming increasingly convoluted, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the reader to decide who can be trusted.
This scene is also important because of Pollio’s advice. At this point in the novel, Claudius has gained a reputation for idiocy, but he has not attempted to perpetuate this reputation of his own volition. Moreover, his studies with Athenodorus have helped him overcome his stammer, and even Augustus has started to question whether or not Claudius was actually an idiot. Pollio assures him that the only way to continue to stay alive in such a hostile political environment is to play up all of his defects and continue to be perceived as an innocuous idiot. Later in the novel, Claudius will consciously play the fool in order to save himself; Pollio’s advice becomes the key to his survival and eventual ascendancy as emperor.
In early chapters, Livia was certainly ambitious in her determination to guarantee Tiberius as Augustus’ sole heir. However, at this point in the novel, Livia is calling upon new levels of cunning and shrewdness to achieve her desires. In order to get Postumus out of the way, Livia uses a subtler approach than poison and takes advantage of his long-time love for Livilla. This way, she is able to get Postumus banished without killing him and exposing herself.
After Augustus learns that Postumus is innocent, however, Livia no longer has any reason to keep either Augustus or Postumus alive. Augustus is going to die soon anyway, and Livia cannot risk that he will change his will to suppress Tiberius’ claim to the throne. In yet another act of cunning, Livia poisons all the figs on the fig tree so that Augustus will be sure to eat one. Even though Livia kills Augustus, her feelings toward her husband are still questionable. After being married for fifty years, it is difficult to believe that Livia had avoided any sort of emotional attachment to Augustus. It seems more like that, despite any personal feelings, Livia’s desire to see Tiberius crowned as emperor surpasses any other emotions.
At this point in the novel, we also see Claudius being overlooked in all of the important historical events of his day. In particular, Claudius is unable to fight in the war against the Germans and is forced to write an unimportant historical of religious reformation instead. Although Claudius is unhappy about his inactivity, it provides him with yet another layer of protection against those in search of political power. Because his life has little meaning and influence, his death will not provide anyone with additional power.
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