I, Claudius

I, Claudius Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-8


Chapter 5 begins with Claudius’s description of his early childhood. The last of children to be born before his father’s death, Claudius is remarkably sickly, suffering from numerous diseases as an infant, including malaria, measles, erysipelas, and colitis. As a result of these diseases, Claudius is deaf in one ear, had a permanent limp from infantile paralysis, and suffered from tics and stammers. Even though Claudius is the youngest child, Antonia, his mother, has a severe dislike of him and views him, like the rest of his family, as nothing more than a worthless idiot.

The most significant event in his childhood occurred when Claudius is eight years old. While Claudius and his siblings are playing the garden, several eagles began to fight each other in the sky above, and a wounded wolf cub (the prize they were fighting over) falls from the sky and lands in Claudius’ arms. An Augur who is present at the time tells Claudius’ mother that the wolf cub is a sign that Claudius would eventually become the protector of Rome.

Claudius’ primary friends during his youth are his brother, Germanicus, and Julia’s son, Postumus. Both boys love Claudius and strive to protect him from maltreatment from the rest of the family. Claudius’ only other friend is Athenodorus, a philosopher who becomes Claudius’ tutor. Through the guidance of Athenodorus, Claudius learns how to become a historian and to control his stammer in public speaking.

In Chapter 6, Claudius digresses from the account of his personal experiences to describe what happened to Tiberius after he married Julia. Tiberius is extremely unwilling to marry Julia because the connection forces him to divorce Vipsania, his current wife whom he loves dearly. Thus, Tiberius undertakes the marriage with strong feelings of coldness toward his future wife, even though Julia is initially in love with him. The situation is not helped when Livia pretends to give Julia a “love-philtre” to help her relationship with Tiberius, but actually gives her a strong aphrodisiac which makes her sexually promiscuous. Tiberius’ relationship with his step-sons, Gaius, Lucius, and Postumus, is equally strained, and eventually Livia agrees to allow Tiberius to take some time away from both Rome and Julia.

After Tiberius left Rome, Julia is still sexually insatiable by the addictive aphrodisiac compound that Livia had given her, and she begins to engage in affairs with anyone who will have her. Eventually Julia becomes so reckless that Augustus is forced to recognize her inappropriate behavior, and he tells Livia to banish her for life and never speak of her again. Livia takes this opportunity to revenge herself of Julia and banishes her to a tiny island without any companions or luxuries of any sort.

During Tiberius’ absence, Augustus showers affection on Julia's sons, Gaius and Lucius, giving them numerous political honors and seeming to favor them as the new heirs to his position. A few months later, both Lucius and Gaius die mysteriously. Augustus requests that Tiberius return to Rome to assume his former position, and he decides that both Tiberius and Postumus will be his sons and heirs.

In Chapter 7, Claudius returns to the description of his youth and recounts his first engagement at the age of thirteen. Germanicus has already married by this time, and Livia intends Claudius to marry Aemilia, the granddaughter of Julia and Agrippa. Augustus is unwilling to match Aemilia with his stuttering grandson and decides to marry Claudius to Medullina Camilla, the granddaughter of one of Augustus’ old generals.

When Claudius meets Medullina Camilla, he swiftly falls in love with her, and it seems as if the couple will make a good match. Livia is displeased by Augustus’ independence of thought in this matter and, on the day that Camilla is supposed to marry Claudius, the girl is stuck with a poisoned needle and dies, leaving Claudius free to marry Aemilia. However, Livia suspects that Julilla and Aemilius, Aemilia’s parents, might be obstacles to her design to make Tiberius the sole successor of Augustus. She accused the couple of treason and breaks off Claudius’ engagement to Aemilia.

Livia still intends to marry Claudius to someone for her own advantage, but ultimately settles on the daughter of her close friend, Urgulania, as a private joke for the two of them. Urgulania is Livia’s sole confidant and, as Claudius discovers later in the novel, she is often Livia’s accomplice in murder. Urgulania’s daughter, Urgulanilla, is very unattractive, over six feet tall, and gifted with no endearing qualities. Claudius is forced to enter an engagement with Urgulanilla and kiss her while Livia and Urgulania look on and laugh.


Throughout these chapters, Livia maintains her position of supreme power behind Augustus. Even when Augustus attempts to assert his independence from her and make his own decisions, Livia still ultimately gets her own way. Her primary ambition remains the continuation of the Claudian line with Tiberius as the next emperor and, yet again, she will stop at nothing to ensure this outcome. In order to achieve this end, Livia arranges for the deaths of Lucius, Gaius, and Camilla while simultaneously ensuring that Julilla, Aemilius, and Julia are also politically incapacitated.

Significantly, Claudius continues to be largely ignored by Livia and the rest of his family. Livia, in particular, refuses to be around him because his constant tics and stammers. While Augustus tries to be kind to Claudius, he also cannot hide his disappointment in Claudius and prefers to show affection to his more attractive grandchildren, such as Germanicus, Lucius, and Gaius.

The one moment in Claudius’ childhood when he seems to have a worthwhile destiny is when the wounded wolf-cub falls into his arms. This omen foreshadows Claudius’ role as savior of Rome in the same way that the prophecy of the Sibyl at Cumae insists that he will be emperor. This event adds to the general fatalistic tone of the novel. Even though Claudius has not become emperor at this point in the text, he has already provided the readers with two specific prophecies that make this claim. As a result, Claudius’ actions throughout his life are not so much personal choice, but simply steps on the path to his ultimate destiny.

Although Claudius’ childhood is unhappy, his lack of popularity in the family also provides him with some protection that make his fate to be emperor more of a possibility. Because he is overlooked and viewed as a fool, no one in the family (particularly Livia) views him as any sort of a threat. Claudius has already outlived several of his better-liked cousins who were sacrificed for the benefit of Tiberius’ claim to the throne, and this trend will continue in later chapters.

Sadly, though Claudius may become emperor, the death of Medullina Camilla makes it clear to the readers that Claudius will never find complete personal happiness. Claudius presents Camilla as his first true love and, for a brief moment, it seems as if he might actually be able to marry her. Yet, Camilla becomes a casualty of Livia’s power struggle with Augustus and, with her death (by poison, yet again), we see the destruction of Claudius’ hopes for joy in married life.