Saturday, 26 December 2009
Taxpayer-funded duck house… try self-dedicated temples, divine powers and horses awarded senatorial powers
Until I graduated, my attempts at reading classic novels (other than those stipulated by my course) seemed to dissolve after an enthusiastic first chapter. Despite best intentions, I was always thwarted by trips to the pub, box sets of senseless comedy in the lounge or the descending haze of a hangover.
When I started my internship, the daily trundle into work on the train (when not spent slumped against the train window snoozing) became ideal ‘enforced reading time’. I found myself storming through the first chapter of novels before Vauxhall, and I can now tick off a few classics from the generic list of ‘must-read novels’.
I recently finished ‘I Claudius’, by Robert Graves. I was prompted to read it following an inspiring visit to Rome. Bemused by the plethora of Gods, Goddesses, Julians and Augustus’, guilty twinges at my lack of knowledge (despite a. Ancient Rome module in first year) compelled me to try and improve my sparse knowledge.
Graves’ novel seemed like the most pain-free option – historical fiction, based wholly on the work of classical writers such as Suetonias, Tacitus, Plutarch and Claudius: none of his characters are invented, and none of the events described are completely fictional. My dad lent me his old copy – a 45 pence edition that hasn’t been opened for over 30 years – and I found myself spending a happy fortnight engrossed in the turbulent tyranny of Emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula.
I was initially somewhat bewildered by the succession of Germanicus’s, Drusus’s and Aggripina’s, but soon the names became irrelevant. The novel quickly becomes a glut of inventive murders, backstabbing bribes and sexual intrigues – which makes for a bloody good story! The entangled self-seeking motives of the senate, pride of the generals, divinity of the Emperors and schemes of their wives, which are narrated matter-of-factly by Claudius, enthralled me. To be honest, reading about the political intrigues 2000 years ago makes the expenses scandal pale into insignificance.
It wasn’t long before I scrutinised the extended version of Gladiator, and I am now stuck into Graves’ sequel: ‘Claudius the God’. I even received a box set of the TV series in my stocking this year.
In fact, on reflection, I am amazed that my lecturer at university managed to make such a captivating period so boring that I don’t remember a word of what he talked about!