The book, a fake autobiography, tells the story of Claudius’ life from his childhood until the day he is proclaimed emperor.
A very appropriate literary device is applied by the author: the protagonist in fact talks in the first person. He is lame, stuttering, not prone to social life but gifted with great intelligence, a vast cultural knowledge and fine political sense: Claudius is depicted by Graves as a multifaceted character, ironic and psychologically well portrayed. All elements that make him likeable to the readers. The other characters, all real-life historical figures, are also carefully depicted and very credible, although the author gives a negative connotation to most of them. First of all Livia, the emperor’s grandmother, is portrayed as a real black soul, able to kill and manipulate anyone who stands in her way, merciless even to her husband and children.
Graves carefully describes the Julius-Claudian society and political life as well as the royal court’s environment, with its intrigues, envy and its internal dense network of more or less legal relationships.
The book, a direct descendant of the great historical novels of the nineteenth century, combines a rigorous historical research with lively and brilliant storytelling which is never dreary; it alternates colloquial register with a more philosophical one as well as deploying one typical of historical writings, but always tinged with a subtle British humour. Balanced, exciting and memorable, to be recommended to anyone who really loves reading.
A classic of English literature, perfect for the connoisseurs of the quality historical genre.
Translation by Anna Anzani (edited by Sabrina Macchi)