Monday, March 24, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 30-34 The End

Chapter 30: In Caligula's Wake
~Antonia protests the murder of her grandson Gemellus, not that it would matter to Caligula, and she knows that. She kills herself. She wants Claudius to take care of things.

~Caligula gives Macro the governorship of Egypt....psych! He does the same as Tiberius with Sejanus, lulls him with a promise and arrests him.
~Caligula has turned into a serial rapist murderer. Well, murderer if they don't commit suicide first.
~Calpurnia, that smart cookie, advises Claudius to make sure he stays the favorite butt of jokes. She says, "I mean that people don't kill their butts. They are cruel to them, they frighten them, they rob them, but they don't kill them."

~Mnester, favored actor, serves as 'translator' for a speech by Claudius to keep an audience from becoming a mob. A few jokes, and the Games resume. I am reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Claudius muses, "The simpler and sillier the joke, the better a big crowd likes it. ...Whereas really witty jokes of mine have been quite lost on them." In a past life, I hung out with comedians. This was ever the bane of comedy for them. Actually, the truly brilliant comics can make a joke both simple and witty. So Claudius may have been a decent enough comedian, but he would have been no Jerry Seinfeld.

~Caligula creates a road of ships, a quite involved, pretty amazingly decadent waste of riches. "He was merely about to justify Thrasyllus's statement that he could no more become Emperor than ride a horse across the Bay of Baiae."
~"The effect of drink on Caligula was always to make him a little mischievous." Of course, with Caligula, that meant becoming even more whimsically a mass murderer. I'd heard Caligula was nasty, but I really had no idea.

Chapter 31: How to deflect the whimsical aggression of Little Boot
~After the bridge of ships, there's no money left. Caligula must now get even more creative than Tiberius in the raising of money. People learned to buy high in auctions, and bet on the losing side. "Caligula always played with weighted dice." Treason is reinstated as a crime, and the wealthiest are suddenly traitors.

~Vitellius, when governor of Syria, prevented an invasion by the King of Parthia. Caligulia was jealous. Claudius sends Vitellius a warning. "A letter from me was waiting for him at Brindisi when he arrived, and as soon as he reached Rome and was admitted to Caligula's presence he fell prostrate and worshipped him as a God."

~How to Raise a Serial Killer, as observed of Caligula with his baby girl:

He took delight in teaching her his own "immovable rigour", beginning the lessons when she was only just able to walk and talk. He encouraged her to torture kittens and puppies and to fly with her sharp nails at the eyes of her little playmates. "There can be no reasonable doubt as to your paternity, my pretty one," he used to chuckle when she showed particular promise. And once in my presence he bent down and said slyly to her: "And the first full-sized murder you commit, Precious, if it's only your poor old grand-uncle Claudius, I'll make a Goddess of you."
"Will you make me a Goddess if I kill Mamma?" the little fiend lisped. "I hate Mamma."

~Caligula makes the palace a high-priced brothel, pimping out his sisters. Caligula pushes Claudius in the water, as so many have been murdered, but Claudius survives and returns to deflect the aggression as he so skillfully does. He is saved by verses of Homer. But that puts Caligula in a snit, and he tries to kill Homer by having his poems burned, along with Virgil and Livy.

Chapter 32: Little Boot's World as Stage
~Fake auctions, fake victories, fake triumphs. Caligula seems to delight in the power of creating these obviously fake demonstrations of power. He's also a coward when it comes to the real thing. He learned everything at the age of three when the soldiers hoisted him up in his Little Boots and Armor, and never grew up beyond that. And he's truly crazy.

~Caligula is at war with Neptune, who destroyed his ship road. He has the soldiers battle the sea by fighting the waves, and gathering seashells as bounty. "The troops thought it great fun, and when he rewarded them with four gold pieces a man cheered him tremendously."

Caligula was now publicly Jove. He was not only Latin Jove but Olympian Jove, and not only that but all the other Gods and Goddesses, too, whom he had decapitated and beheaded. [He put his own bust on all the statues.] Sometimes he was Apollo and sometimes Mercury and sometimes Pluto, in each case wearing the appropriate dress and demanding the appropriate sacrifices. I have seen him go about as Venus in a long gauzy silk robe with face painted, a red wig, padded bosom and high-heeled slippers. He was present as the Good Goddess at her December festival, that was a scandal.
~Claudius and two others are summoned. They are sure they are dead. Instead they get a rosy-dawn pageant, and marriage for Claudius. Calpurnia comprehends: "I was in love with her already, Calpurnia said. I felt uncomfortable. Calpurnia had been my only true friend in all those four years of misery. What had she not done for me? And yet she was right: I was in love with Messalina, and Messalina was to be my wife now." Calpurnia leaves for the country.

Chapter 33: Caligula's curtain closes for good
~Oh boy, watch out Claudius. Don't be a December-May fool. Messalina works it.
~Cassius is a soldier of the old school. Caligula has gone too far, and Cassius plots to assassinate him and restore the Republic. Everybody but Caligula, his German guard, and Claudius knows. They plan to kill Claudius too.
~Clever daring Claudius avoids his own whimsical murder yet again:
Caligula says, "How dare you go about with a great ugly bush of hair in my presence? It's blasphemy." He turned to his German guard, "Cut his head off!" Claudius says, "What are you doing, idiot? The God didn't say 'head', he said 'hair'! Run off and fetch the shears at once!" Caligula was taken aback and perhaps really thought that he had said "hair". He allowed the German to fetch the shears.
~I find myself wondering, trying to remember, is this the first assassination in the book that is done with a soldier's weapon, with swords? I also wonder, why are the Germans so devoted to Caligula? He reminds him of their own bloodthirsty gods?

~By sheer luck, Claudius stumbles out of the way of the way of the assassins and survives. He takes refuge in his own reading room.

The pillared portrait-busts of Herodotus, Polybius, Thucydides, and Asinius Pollio stood facing me. Their impassive features seemed to say: "A true historian will always rise superior to the political disturbances of his day." I determined to comport myself as a true historian.

Chapter 34: A Decent Old Stick
~The assassination takes place in the theater. The clever actor Mnester (I keep thinking empty nester) prevents a vengeful massacre by the German guard by pretending Caligula survived and made his way outside. The people are able to disburse before they come back. While soldiers raid the palace of golden doorknobs under the pretense of looking for the assassins, Claudius stumbles out. Gratus recognizes him. "He's Germanicus's invalid brother. A decent old stick." I like that, "A decent old stick." I think we'll see more of Mnester and Gratus in the next book.

~Claudius seems surprised at himself, as his biggest thought is that he'll be able to make people read his books now.

I was thinking what opportunities I would have, as Emperor, for consulting the secret archives and finding out just what happened on this occasion or on that. How many twisted stories still remained to be straightened out! What a miraculous fate for a historian!

Last thoughts
I find myself wondering how this thing with Messalina will play out. Will she be Claudius's downfall, betray him as he is blinded by love? I just don't know enough about her yet to know if she is like Livia or like Antonia. How will Calpurnia continue to be his one true friend? Will Mnester continue to prove valuable? Right now, at the end of the book, Claudius only seems to think of the puttering dry mysteries of an historian's thoughts. Will he resurrect that clever use of history to know the present and the future, as he did when he helped Germanicus? Clearly I must read Claudius the God. Claudius has been very good at hiding behind his low status. Can he flip over successfully to competent leadership?

1 comment:

Emmaco said...

I reckon Claudius would have to be a good ruler, or at least better than his predecessors!