Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 14-16

Chapter 14: Augustus a god, Tiberius an emperor
~Augustus is declared a god.
~Previous chapter: flash-forward. This chapter: flashback. Before he died Augustus visited Claudius, their usual roles reversed. Claudius asks, "Claudius, do you bear me any ill-will? ...I hope to be able to earn both your love and your gratitude. ...[Germanicus] says that you are loyal to three things--to your friends, to Rome, and to the truth. I would be very proud if Germanicus thought the same of me." It says something about his character that at that late age, this man could change his mind, could so thoroughly admit his previous lack, and then set about doing the right thing. Augustus improves in my mind. He hints that he's left a new will with the Vestal Virgins. Uh-oh. They may be good, but they are under the thumb of the evil Urgulania.

~Of course Augustus's new will is rejected, and the older one disinheriting Postumus is used. (It doesn't appear Urgulania had anything to do with it.) While Augustus had been rich in power, he died without so much money. After it was divided among so many descendants (still plenty left after all those poisonings) there was little left for the troops. Apparently they get a bonus for serving their dead monarch, but they are restless because it's not a very big bonus and they've been waging war a long time.

~While the Senators would love to name Germanicus the new emperor, he is, as he always is at the wrong time, away at war. They dare not pass by Tiberius, so they ask him to be the next ruler. Symbolic protests of unworthiness ensue, on both sides. The bold Gallus calls all bluffs, and challenges Tiberius to name how he would divvy up ruling between three heads.

~Thus begins a shaky partnership between Livia and Tiberius. She holds all the state secrets, Ancient Rome's version of CIA and NSA intel. He depends on her to hold power; she depends on him to wield power. She yields some of the secrets, but not the super-secret dossiers.

~The faux-Postumus is murdered...and Livia wasn't the one to orchestrate it! Poor Claudius doesn't yet know of Postumus's escape.

Chapter 15: Mutiny
~Sure enough, never-ending war without enough compensation takes its toll. The soldiers mutiny, first in the Balkans, then in Germany. I muse to myself on how civilians conducting a stop-work demand are on strike, but how soldiers do not strike, they mutiny. Our modern soldiers are hardly compensated enough, return home to grudging medical care, and are being deployed too long and too often. How long before they abandon an ill-begotten foreign war? Oh, wait, many of them are going AWOL rather than report for yet another deployment. We just don't hear about it in the propaganda press. Sorry, back to Claudius...

~A fortunately timed (for Rome) lunar eclipse convinces the men in the Balkans to make peace with their commanders. Who knew grunts were so superstitious?

~The mutiny on the Rhine is much worse. These had been commanded by Tiberius. Germanicus works miracles. His courageous and calm manner keeps him from getting slaughtered. Because there were many old men recalled to duty (never-ending war syndrome) they remembered his father's just command. When Germanicus spoke of his father, they thought he meant their long-dead commander, while he meant Tiberius. It gets them to listen.

~The soldiers would have Germanicus be their emperor. Germanicus shouted, "You're mad, men, to talk like that. What do you think I am? A traitor?" They do NOT like Tiberius. Without the masses behind him, Tiberius's days as ruler are numbered. Cassius hears of a plot to send news to troops in the Upper Provinces, urging revolt.

~Germanicus "committed the first and only crime of his life: he forged a letter purporting to com from Tiberius..." He promised retirement for the long term soldiers, and double the bonus.

~Meanwhile, back in Rome, Tiberius is booed in the streets.

~Claudius receives the letter begging him to raise the money, and keep it quiet. Along with Germanicus's money, Claudius puts in half. When Livia hears that he's sold property, he blames his gambling. There's a little aside about his funny book on playing dice, but no one gets it because they don't know all the stuff Claudius knows, so everybody thinks it a pedantic book.

Chapter 16: We meet Little Boot; Germanicus prevails
~Drunk and still spoiling for mutiny, the soldiers riot in the night. Brilliant Germanicus:

When dawn came Germanicus told the trumpeter to blow the Assembly, and stepped on the tribunal, putting the leader of the senatorial deputation beside him. ...He stood up, commanded silence, and then gave a great yawn. ...and apologized, saying that he had not slept well because of the scuttling of mice in his quarters. The men liked that joke and laughed.

~After their scolding, the men get the rest of their money. More drunken brawls loom, so Germanicus sends his wife away. We, the readers, meet little Caligula.

"This pretty child had become the army mascot, and someone had made him a miniature soldier-suit, complete with tin breast-plate and sword and helmet and shield. Everyone spoilt him. ...he used to cry and plead for his sword and his little boots to go visiting in the tents. So he was nicknamed Caligula, or Little Boot."
~Agrippina would stay, but Germanicus reminds her that Livia would be her children's new mother if she died.

~Again, superstition saves the day. The soldiers want their Little Boot back. Germanicus makes his demands, and the men comply. They round up and execute the lead mutineers. Germanicus offers them full pardon if they will avenge the Governor's defeat in Germany.

"So everything was all right again at Bonn, and Caligula was told by the men that he had put down the mutiny single-handed and that one day he'd be a great emperor and win wonderful victories; which was very bad for the child, who was already, as I say, disgracefully spoilt."

Oy. I'll bet he was. A fiend in the making.
~Germanicus is ruthless across the Rhine, "burning the villages and slaughtering the inhabitants without respect for age or sex."

~Because Tiberius is one of the bad ones, he cannot understand the loyalty and sincerity of Germanicus. And Germanicus does not suspect Tiberius's collusion with Livia. It takes 3 years for Germanicus to return, all the while exchanging letters "of dutiful affection" with Tiberius.

~Claudius keeps doing this to us. Agrippina's new babe in arms, daughter Agrippinilla, "turned out one of the very worst of the Claudians--in fact, I may say that she shows sign of outdoing all her ancestors and ancestresses in arrogance and vice." How could she be worse than Livia?!

~ Caligula is recognized everywhere, still everyone's mascot, and consequently a big brat. When Claudius's mother spanks him, little Caligula starts a fire out of spite. Claudius sells his last valuable property to rebuild.

~Germanicus captures the German ringleader's wife (one of the former spies) and proceeds finally to defeat the Germans. False news that the battle was lost reaches the bridge where Agrippina waits. The captain would retreat.

But Agrippina was there and countermanded the order. She told the men that she was captain of the guard now and would remain so until her husband returned to relieve her of her command. ...Her popularity now almost equalled that of her husband. She had organized a hospital for the wounded as Germanicus sent them back.... Ordinarily, wounded soldiers remained with their units.... The hospital she paid for out of her own purse.
I just couldn't leave that out. Agrippina is amazing.

~Again, cliffhanger end to the chapter: "But there was still no news of Postumus, and Livia, until she was certain of his death, could not be easy in her mind." Part of Livia's evil genius is that she fortuitously chose the right man's strings to pull. It occurs to me that Livilla did not. What if she had done the same with Postumus? Maybe she couldn't because the timing wasn't right, with Livia still so strong. I so hope Postumus causes Livia's and Livilla's downfalls.

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