Friday, March 07, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 4-6

Chapter 4: Tiberius and Livia circling like wolves

Claudius's father sends a letter to his brother Tiberius. Unfortunately, Tiberius opens it in the presence of Livia and Augustus. Augustus "secretly approved of the sentiments expressed in the letter," (that while Drusus loves Augustus, sadly his own mother is evil, and Tiberius must try to, um, persuade Augustus to retire).

Tiberius and Livia are like wolves circling for the grab, or the feint. For now it is a draw. "And supreme power for her had come to be more important than life or honour; she had sacrificed so much for it. Yet she was able to disguise her feelings. She pretended to take Augustus's view that my father was merely sick, and she told Tiberius that she thought his censure too severe." She sends her doctor.

Drusus is too ill to return. He broke his leg. (Was the doctor there when that happened?) It is now gangrenous. (Would a doctor at that time know how to treat, or to infect, such a wound?) Drusus's last words to Tiberius, "Rome has a severe mother: Lucius and Gaius have a dangerous stepmother." (Julia and Agrippa's children, adopted by Augustus.) I think I need a diagram to keep track of these kids and adoptions and shuffled wives. Livia knows Tiberius knows she likes to poison people. She likes her advantage in this. The Senate pacifies her with statues and privilege.

Claudius reproves himself for not getting to his own story. Of his parents' seven children, only he, his brother Germanicus, and his sister Livilla lived beyond childhood. Livilla, eh?

Chapter 5: How Claudius survives, even thrives
Claudius was a sickly child. How sick was he? Claudius says he "perhaps only lived because the diseases could not agree as to which should have the honour of carrying me off." Measles (German?) malaria, erysipelas, colitis, and infantile paralysis that left a permanent limp.

Livilla taunts Claudius with his mother's ambivalence. Yep, she's a mini-Livia. Germanicus, on the other hand, is one of the good ones. The strong, heartless Livia hardly thinks of Claudius as a person, of course. Augustus, ever attracted to health, was also repulsed, though he did try to be familial. Somewhat. He dissed Claudius in Greek to his friend Athenodorus, not knowing the idiot Claudius understood Greek. A-dorus pulled little Claudius close, inviting him to speak. The usually stuttering Claudius did, perfectly, in Greek.

Hmmm. There are certain people who attract love from all, well all but those who have no heart left to love, and those people seem to be the ones who give love and friendship to the freakish Claudius. Germanicus, Athenodorus, and Postumus, the third (postmortem) son of Agrippa and Julia.

There's a mythic story about eagles fighting in the sky. As feathers drop, the children grab them. Blood spatters. "And then something dark dropped through the air. I do not know why I did so, but I put out a fold of my gown and caught it. It was a tiny wolf-cub, wounded and terrified."
Oh. that's why I was drawn to the wolf metaphor. (The a-ha comes from reading the 3 chapters, then reviewing it to write. I was forgetting the wolf-cub as I described T and L as wolves. The portents.) This also makes me think of the story of Devadatta, Siddhartha, and the Swan. Maybe I'll come back to that.

Being the invalid he is, Claudius spends more time with women than with boys. He doesn't mind. His tutor, Cato, made him read Cato, the Censor, the man's ancestor, "who of all the character in Roman history is to me perhaps the most hateful as having persistently championed the cause of "ancient virtue" and made it identical in the popular mind with churlishness, pedantry, and harshness."

Cato gloried in triumphs, a certain number of thousands people dead in battle. Augustus discontinued the practice, no more public recognition of triumphs. Cato the Censor treated slaves like cattle. Cato the tutor boxed Claudius's ears, and then some. Postumus saved Claudius from that.

{Cato the Censor "brought the Punic Curse on Rome." ... "By harping incessantly on the menace of Carthage he brought about such popular nervousness that, as I have said, the Romans eventually violated their most solemn commitments and razed Carthage to the ground." You know what I'm thinking of... }

Postumus stops Cato, invokes this Roman proverb I find delightful: "Those that can't beat the ass, beat the saddle." He provokes Cato into saying too much, and after that no more beatings. Cato moves on to the Boys College. How'd he get that cushy spot? Livia requires reports on the students to plan future marriage alliances. Livia again! While Postumus is the natural prince among the boys, with Cato spying for Livia, that can't be good in the long run.

The best thing for Claudius, Athenodorus becomes his tutor. "He proposed to teach me not facts which I could pick up anywhere for myself, but the proper presentation of facts. And this he did."

I swear, and Claudius thinks so too, Livia must have got word that Claudius was actually enjoying life, so he got a new tutor, Sulpicus. But A-dorus had given him the tools he needed, and C quickly learned that Sulpicus could give him all the facts he needed to explore the implications of history.

Chapter 6: Tiberius and Julia
Tiberius must play to Livia's every move. Julia is banished for infidelity. Augustus is still no friend to Tiberius. Augustus is grief-stricken over having to banish Julia.

Backstory of T and J: Daddy, I want to marry that man. Daddy, please?
T, you must marry my daughter. I don't care if you love your wife. T is a cold husband.

But wait. It turns out a certain wicked witch gave the smitten Julia (could this be the first time she chose her husband herself?) a potion made from "crushed bodies of certain little green flies from Spain." Julia developed a dependency, couldn't help her infidelities. Or too much time with Livia poisons hearts as well as physical bodies.

After 5 years or more, Augustus finally brings himself to ask how big the island of exile is, and Julia gets moved to a nicer one. Even the people wanted Julia back; Claudius interprets this as hostility to Livia.

Somewhere in there Tiberius' sexual anomalies are mentioned, and Lucius dies mysteriously. Gaius was useful in Livia's machinations. She had pushed him through to appointments he was too young for. Malleable. But he too succumbed to a mysterious ailment and an inexplicably infected wound. Inexplicable things keep happening in this family. Tiberius is back in Augustus' good graces. Livia has everyone where she wants them: in her power, or dead. What, I wonder, is going to happen to good Postumus?

1 comment:

Emperor Ropi said...

In that time, camp doctors had advantage because in Rome post-mortem examination was illegal so their knowledge wasn't good compared to camp doctors whom met with death and cut people often on the battlefield. For example Xenophon (who has quite important role in Claudius, the god) was a camp doctor.