I, Claudius Summary and Analysis
The people of Rome, with the exception of Livia and Tiberius, are devastated by Germanicus’ death. Livia and Tiberius pretend to be in mourning for Germanicus, but secretly except that Rome will soon recover from the loss. Upon Agrippina’s urging, Castor takes it upon himself to avenge Germanicus’ death and accuses Piso of murdering him. Piso is brought to trial, but few people expect that justice will actually be served because Tiberius is the judge, and his connection with Piso is known by all. Although Piso is almost certain to be acquitted, Piso’s wife, Plancina, becomes fearful that the grieving mob in Rome will kill them. Plancina decides to go to Livia for help, and the two of them plot to kill Piso and have it staged as a suicide. Plancina is then tried for Germanicus’ murder and found to be innocent. The public is outraged by outcome of the trial and assume that Livia must have had something to do with it.
Tiberius is pleased by Livia’s unpopularity, but he still feels insecure about his position of power. Sejanus continues to poison Tiberius’ opinion of those around him, particularly Germanicus’ children. With the death of Vipsania, Tiberius also no longer feels the need to conceal his sexual depravity, and the tales of his perverted exploits make him an even more despicable figure in the eyes of the public.
With Germanicus’ death, Sejanus decides to take the opportunity to achieve greater power in the government. He suggests an engagement between his daughter and Claudius’ son, Drusillus. Claudius is not thrilled by the prospect of becoming related to Sejanus but he is afraid to refuse and face Sejanus’ wrath. Livia is extremely concerned by the possibility of Sejanus becoming a part of the imperial family and promptly orders Drusillus’ death by strangulation.
Tiberius appoints Castor as the Protector of the People, a position which is tantamount to naming Castor as his heir. However, Sejanus actually suggests Castor’s appointment to Tiberius in an effort to pit himself against Castor. He confronts Castor and Livilla in a private study and, with Livilla’s help, antagonizes Castor so much that Castor strikes Sejanus. Sejanus then convinces Tiberius that Castor is disloyal to him and attempting to gain power among certain senators. Tiberius believes him and promptly tries and imprisons all of the senators who might be supporting Castor. Before the conflict can become too severe, however, Castor dies of a tuberculosis-like illness and leaves Sejanus free to reveal his secret relationship with Livilla.
Sejanus and Livilla then begin to work on achieving their ambitions to become emperor and empress, particularly in plotting the deaths of Germanicus’ sons Nero, Drusus, and Caligula, each of which was a potential heir to Tiberius. Sejanus and Livilla begin by casting doubt on the loyalty of Agrippina, her children, and any friends of the family. Tiberius is easily deceived by their displays and accuses many friends of Agrippina and Germanicus as being traitors.
In the midst of these attempts to undermine Agrippina and her children, Sejanus continues to try to become a member of the imperial family through marriage. He suggests that Claudius divorce Urgulanilla and marry Sejanus’ adopted sister, Aelia. Although Claudius is not thrilled with the prospect of marrying Aelia, he agrees.
The relationship between Livia and Tiberius worsens, and they become completely estranged from another. Livia invites all of the wives of the senators for an all-day entertainment and takes the opportunity to read to them several private letters written by Augustus in which Tiberius’ character is questioned to the full extent. In response to Livia’s actions, Tiberius removes Livia’s name from all public documents and rules that any senators who praise her will be guilty of treason. He is still humiliated by Livia’s exposure of him and decides to move to Capri and allow Sejanus to rule in his place.
On the occasion of her birthday, Livia invites Claudius to dine with him. Claudius is shocked at her invitation, having been ignored and denigrated by his grandmother for his entire life. While at dinner, Claudius drinks a great deal of wine and is able to overcome his fear of Livia for the first time in his life. The conversation becomes very candid, and Livia reveals that a prophecy has foreseen that Caligula will become emperor and Claudius will avenge his death. Livia then begs Claudius to promise that he will make her a goddess when he becomes emperor; also Caligula has promised to do it, Livia does not trust that he will keep his word. Claudius promises to do as she asks only the condition that she tells him the truth about everything that she has done and everyone she has killed. Livia agrees and spends the next four hours telling Claudius all of the secret murders that she has committed over the course of her life.
Tiberius’ jealous insecurities are continuing to determine the actions that he takes against those around him. Even with Germanicus’ death, Tiberius is still so jealous of him that he assumes that Germanicus’ children must be equally treacherous. His paranoia becomes increasingly pronounced, even to the point of persecuting Agrippina’s friends, simply because of their connection to Germanicus and his family.
Tiberius is also ruling with Livia’s support for the first time in his reign as emperor, and it becomes clear that he does not have the temperament or the intelligence to keep the government running as smoothly as she did. Moreover, Livia continues to humiliate Tiberius in public; it is clear that Tiberius is no match for her in terms of political sabotage.
Even as Tiberius’ reign seems to be full of death and paranoia, it is still important to remember that Claudius is only reporting from a small circle of the Roman Empire. Claudius admits that the majority of people are continuing to thrive under Tiberius’ leadership; it is only those that are close to him that recognize his numerous faults.
Tiberius’ decision to move to Capri is significant in that it continues the fatalistic theme that pervades Claudius’ narrative. Tiberius’ departure ensures that Sejanus has even more personal power and perhaps even the opportunity to overthrow Tiberius directly. Yet, because Thrasyllus has assured him that Sejanus will die before Tiberius, Tiberius does not fear being overthrown by him, and, as Claudius will reveal in later chapters, Thrasyllus is correct: Tiberius has nothing to fear from Sejanus.
Unaware that his future is pre-ordained, Sejanus continues to work toward his goal of becoming emperor. His actions continue to demonstrate the extent of his ambition and his ability to manipulate those around him, particularly in terms of using Tiberius’ fears to gain additional power and remove problematic senators. At the same time, Sejanus’ relationship with Livilla also allows him to remove Castor as an obstacle; he manipulates Livilla into betraying Castor in the same way that she betrayed Postumus because Livilla believes that he actually loves her. Claudius is the only person who remains immune to Sejanus’ charms. Yet, Sejanus arranges for Claudius’ divorce and practically forces him into a marriage with Aelia. Claudius has no choice but to agree.
In Chapter 25, Livia finally comes clean to Claudius about all of the murders she has committed. The only reason that Livia agrees to tell Claudius the truth is because of his promise to make her a goddess. Here again, we see a fatalistic mentality: because Livia knows that Claudius is fated to become emperor, she can be guaranteed that he will eventually have the power to fulfill his promise. Significantly, though Livia admits to numerous murders, her character suddenly becomes more and more benevolent in Claudius’ narrative. Not only has she accepted him as her grandson for the first time in his life, she has taken the opportunity to be completely honest with him. Although he can recognize the malignity in her actions, Claudius cannot help but respect and admire Livia’s courage, ambition, and determination, all of which quickly overpower any and all of her moral inclinations.
In her confession to Claudius, we also see evidence of her unusual relationship with Caligula. At this point, Caligula’s crime against Germanicus is still a secret that only Livia knows, but Claudius begins to have suspicions about his nephew. He knows that Caligula will become emperor and that he will follow him, but Claudius still does not know how the rest of the plot will play out.
I, Claudius Essays and Related Content
- I, Claudius: Major Themes
- I, Claudius: Questions
- I, Claudius: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Robert Graves: Biography
- I, Claudius Summary
- About I, Claudius
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-14
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-25
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-28
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 29-34
- Fact or Fiction: The Historical Inaccuracies of "I, Claudius"
- Related Links on I, Claudius
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources