A-Mus­ings I, Claudius

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

The novel I, Claudius, writ­ten by the Bri­tish au­thor Robert Graves tells the tale of Tiberius Claudius who was born in the year 10 B.C., only to be murdered then de­i­fied 64 years later. Claudius, be­cause of his phys­i­cal in­fir­mi­ties, was con­sid­ered an id­iot, yet he was one of the great sur­vivors in a par­tic­u­larly tur­bu­lent pe­riod of the Ro­man Em­pire. In fact, Claudius sur­vived the in­trigues and poi­son­ings of the reigns of Au­gus­tus, Tiberius, and the in­sane Caligula to be­come em­peror in 41 A.D.

Robert Graves, whose book was pub­lished in 1934, pre­sented the tale as an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mem­oir by the Ro­man Em­peror. Claudius was well aware of his own weak­nesses and short­com­ings; he was phys­i­cally weak, af­flicted with stam­mer­ing, and in­clined to drool. He was, in fact, an em­bar­rass­ment to his fam­ily and was kept well away from the lime­light of im­pe­rial af­fairs. Claudius used his weak­nesses to his ben­e­fit and be­came a scholar and his­to­rian even though he was seen as a bum­bling fool. Though he was sur­rounded by palace in­trigues and murders, he was spared the worst cru­el­ties in­flicted on the im­pe­rial fam­ily by its own mem­bers. Claudius, it seemed, was im­per­vi­ous to the im­pe­rial fam­i­lies' end­less greed and lust for power, and yet he ended up em­peror, leader of all he sur­veyed.

Robert Graves, one of ten chil­dren, was born in Wim­ble­don, south-west Lon­don on July 24, 1895. As a child he was greatly in­flu­enced by his mother's pu­ri­tan­i­cal be­liefs and his fa­ther's love of Celtic po­etry and myth. As a young man he was more in­ter­ested in sports, box­ing and moun­tain climb­ing than study­ing al­though po­etry, he later said, sus­tained him through his tur­bu­lent ado­les­cence. In 1913 he won a schol­ar­ship to St. John's Col­lege, Ox­ford; a year later he en­listed as a ju­nior of­fi­cer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Dur­ing the First World War he fought in the Bat­tle of Loos and was in­jured in the Somme of­fen­sive in 1916. While con­va­lesc­ing he pub­lished his first col­lec­tion of po­etry, Over the Bra­zier. By 1917, though still an ac­tive ser­vice­man, Graves had pub­lished three vol­umes. In 1918 he spent a year in the trenches where he was again se­verely wounded.

In Jan­uary 1918, at the age of twen­tytwo, he mar­ried eigh­teen-year-old Nancy Ni­chol­son; they had four chil­dren. He took a po­si­tion at St. John's Col­lege, Ox­ford. His early vol­umes of po­etry, like those of his con­tem­po­rary war poets, deal with nat­u­ral beauty, bu­colic plea­sures and the con­se­quences of war. In 1927 Graves and his wife sep­a­rated per­ma­nently. Shortly af­ter­ward he de­parted to the Span­ish is­land of Ma­jorca with Laura Rid­ing, the Amer­i­can poet and the­o­rist. In ad­di­tion to com­plet­ing many books of verse while in Ma­jorca, Graves also wrote sev­eral vol­umes of crit­i­cism, some in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rid­ing. Al­though he claimed that he wrote nov­els only to earn money, it was through these that he at­tained sta­tus as a ma­jor writer in 1934 with the pub­li­ca­tion of the his­tor­i­cal novel I, Claudius, and its se­quel, Claudius the God and His Wife Mes­salina, that the BBC adapted in the 1970s into an in­ter­na­tion­ally pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries.

At the on­set of the Span­ish Civil War in 1936, Graves and Rid­ing fled Ma­jorca, even­tu­ally set­tling in Amer­ica. In 1939 Laura Rid­ing left Graves for an­other writer; one year later Graves be­gan a re­la­tion­ship with Beryl Hodge that lasted un­til his death. Af­ter the Sec­ond World War Graves and Hodge re­turned to Ma­jorca where he con­tin­ued to write. By the 1950s he had at­tained an enor­mous in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as a poet, nov­el­ist, lit­er­ary scholar, and trans­la­tor. From 1961 to 1966 Graves re­turned to Eng­land to serve as pro­fes­sor of po­etry at Ox­ford where he was con­sid­ered Eng­land's “great­est liv­ing poet” and in 1968 he re­ceived the Queen's Gold Medal for Po­etry.

Dur­ing his life­time Graves pub­lished more than 140 books in­clud­ing fifty-five col­lec­tions of po­etry, fif­teen nov­els, ten trans­la­tions, and forty works of non-fic­tion, au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, and lit­er­ary es­says. In the 1970s his pro­duc­tiv­ity be­gan to fall off; and the last decade of his life was spent in si­lence and se­nil­ity. Robert Graves died in Ma­jorca in 1985 at the age of ninety. In 2012 it was re­vealed that Graves was con­sid­ered for the 1962 No­bel Prize but was re­jected be­cause even though he had writ­ten sev­eral his­tor­i­cal nov­els, he was still seen as a poet. No­bel com­mit­tee mem­ber Henry Ols­son re­fused to award any An­glo-Saxon poet the prize be­fore the death of Ezra Pound, be­liev­ing that other writ­ers did not match his ta­lent – so ar­bi­trary is the se­lec­tion process of that au­gust body!

An­other lit­er­ary giant, nov­el­ist Gra­ham Greene, it is said, was turned down be­cause he had an af­fair with the wife of a No­bel com­mit­tee mem­ber. His novel Eng­land Made Me is set mainly in Stock­holm, seat of the No­bel Com­mit­tee. In the film ver­sion the set­ting be­came Nazi Ger­many. As Greene put it, “In hu­man re­la­tion­ships, kind­ness and lies are worth a thou­sand truths.”

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