erik lundegaard

Me, Claudius

From Robert Graves' I, Claudius, page 467. As a writer, I laughed out loud at Claudius' thoughts when he suddenly became Emperor of Rome:

“So, I'm Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I'll be able to make people read my books now. Public recitals to large audiences. And good books too, thirty-five years' hard work in them. It won't be unfair... My History of Carthage is full of amusing anecdotes. I'm sure they'll enjoy it.”

My current interest in ancient Rome, about which I know nothing, began with a Sunday afternoon at the Seattle Art Museum's exhibition “Roman Art from the Louvre,” after which, in the museum gift shop, I picked up Graves' book, read the first sentence and bought it. From there we began watching the '70s BBC miniseries, “I, Claudius,” starring Derek Jacobi (nine episodes in now), and from there we watched Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Julius Caesar (1953), which was much better than I thought it would be. The three leads are great. Brando stuns. He certainly stunned Patricia, who forgot how good-looking and sexy he was as a young man. I was surprised, not having read the play, and particularly after watching HBO's “Rome,” that Brutus turned out to be the least calculating and most honorable of all the characters in the play. Shakespeare himself makes the argument:

All the conspirators, save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought,
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the word, This was a man!

I knew the speech but didn't know it was for Brutus.

A curious thing about I, Claudius: Claudius is one of those Romans who wishes to restore the Republic, and the actions of the Emperors, particularly Tiberius and Caligula, certainly strengthen his argument. But the Senate is so weak, bends so willingly to those in power, that one wonders what good a restored Republic would be. 


Posted at 08:45 AM on Sat. Jun 28, 2008 in category Books, Culture  
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COMMENTS

Scott Ellington wrote:

I read that moment with similar glee, as the-last -man-standing sees in the body of his work a chronicle of ambition, betrayal and insanity (special interests run amok) in the phantom corpses of dozens of abler relatives. And contemplates aesthetic success (his special interest) before returning the reins of governance to their rightful owners.

The Senate's competence to preserve The State and steward the wellbeing of The People is no less in doubt in that moment than now. I take heart from stuff that was said at NCMR last month in St. Paul; Naomi Klein, Tim Wu, Bill Moyers, Amy Goodman, Michael Kopps, Jonathan Adelstein, Patric Verrone and Michael Winship...
Comment posted on Sun. Jul 06, 2008 at 11:31 AM

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