A Reluctant Emperor…
Author: Robert Graves
When a novel is named one of the greatest books of the 20th century, it’s not surprising that its sequel is going to have a hard time measuring up. So it is with I, Claudius and Claudius the God, a pair of historical novels published in 1934 and 1935 by British poet and classicist Robert Graves that combine to tell the story of Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome from 41-54 AD. While the first book tells of Claudius’ life before his ascension to the throne – including all the intrigues of his predecessors, Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula – the second novel recounts the subsequent and relatively less eventful thirteen years of his reign as emperor. Nonetheless, Graves’ sequel still succeeds as an entertaining fictionalized autobiography of a remarkable man.
At the end of the first book, following the assassination of Caligula – along with his wife and daughter – it is unclear who will have the power to fill the vacuum at the imperial palace. Much to his surprise, Claudius – the dead emperor’s uncle – is found hiding behind a curtain and declared emperor by the Praetorian Guard. The second book resumes the story a couple years later, with Claudius trying to half-heartedly defend his position as preeminent monarch, having spent most of his life arguing for a return to Roman Republican rule.