Monday, March 10, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 7-10

If I can find the time (yeah right) I really must make a chart of all these names and intrigues. I could try using or mind42. A history teacher comments at BoD that it does settle down.

Chapter 7: Betrothals and Loves
"I shall try to devote these next chapters strictly to events that happened between my ninth and sixteenth years. Mostly it is a record of the betrothals and marriages of us young nobles."

Methinks Claudius is channeling the future historian Robert Graves.

There is trouble among the nobles: they're not marrying (but are fooling around with slaves and freedwomen), and Augustus scolds them, "by this old man with all the petulance and crankiness of an old man who has been at the head of affairs his whole life."

Claudius sees that it is the women, really, who don't want to marry. They lose autonomy, as well as dowry, by marrying. Perhaps feminism has been around a long long was just more hidden back then. Augustus compensates by making his grandchildren marry young. [Me slapping hand on forehead. Ooooohhh! That's why they do that. Duh.]

Augustus is tickled that Claudius has found a girlfriend, Medullina. Claudius calls her by her last name, Camilla, referring to hunting priestesses dedicated to Diana. Camilla is a "champion runner." Claudius also uses his last name, because it means "cripple." The two bond.

Augustus actually makes a decision without Livia, and arranges their betrothal. Of course, Camilla is poisoned. Why does Livia care so much to ruin Claudius's life? Livia pretends she doesn't like to have to do it, but she arranges a betrothal between Aemilia and Claudius. Aemilia is one of the bad ones.

Postumus is in love with Livilla. That can't be good.

The chapter ends with a cliffhanger. Claudius seems to like to do that. He says, "Meanwhile [Livia] had to pay a debt of honour to her friend Urgulania, a woman whom I have not yet mentioned bu who is one of the most unpleasant characters in my story."

Chapter 8: Arranged marriage
Livia secured religious power through Urgulania. Urgulania judges which Vestal Virgins are actually virginal.

Now I've been calling Livia evil all along, bet here's the first time (that I've noticed) that Claudius calls her evil. They've arranged his betrothal to U's daughter Urgulanilla. Rhymes with Godzilla, she's a "young, female Hercules."

They stood there, Claudius "nervous and fidgety," Urgulanilla "massive and expressionless."

"...the solemnity of the two evil old grandmothers gave way, and they burst into uncontrolled laughter. was...a hellish sobbing and screeching, like that of two old drunken prostitutes watching a torture or crucifixion." It is a joke to them, like the crossing of a camel and an elephant.

Chapter 9: Prophetic advice
In Chapter 5, Athenodorus arranges for Claudius to meet Livy, a historian. For Claudius this is like meeting a pop star. I didn't mention it because I'm already trying to write way too much. So now Livy comes along with another historian, Pollio. These old know-it-alls place a bet on what Claudius might be reading. Claudius wins Pollio's championship by first seeming to insult him, "I'm glad to say, sir, that you lose." And then revealing that he is reading Pollio's books.

This sparks an argument between Livy and Pollio, because their philosophy of history differs. It reminds me of the debate back when I was in college, whether to read Homer translated by Lattimore, or by Fitzgerald. The first was more literal, the latter more poetic. Pollio is to Lattimore as Livy is to Fitzgerald. Claudius is quite the diplomat.

Pollio says, "History is a true record of what happened, how people lived and died, what they did and said; an epic theme merely distorts the record."

Pollio presses Claudius to reveal inaccuracies he'd found in Livy's epic themes. Sepicius moderates, "You make it very difficult for the boy, you jealous fellows. What do you expect him to answer?" Ah, if Livia only knew the champions Claudius was gaining.

"It would serve the cause of the truth," said Pollio gently. "Wouldn't that be something?"
"And if by serving the cause of truth we admit our revered ancestors to have been cowards, liars, and traitors? What then?"

Claudius thinks perhaps the two views "are not irreconcilable." I wonder if we see a bit of Robert Graves' own internal dialog. It is Pollio who tells Claudius that if he wants to live long, he should exaggerate his limp, his stammer, his sickness. It is Pollio who warns him that his father and grandfather were both poisoned. He is an old man; he knows he is going to die. Before he does, he leaves books to Claudius in his will. Nobody thinks Pallio could have meant this Claudius, so Tiberius gets them.

Chapter 10: Marriage, letters, Postumus done for...
Livia keeps Claudius's coming of age and marriage a private affair. He has a child, Drusillus, a spiteful and haughty one.

Claudius learns what his grandparents thought of him after their deaths, in their letters. Ah, Augustus, why are you such a fool with Livia over and over? He tells her in a letter that he secretly witnessed Claudius demonstrate exemplary oratory argument. Fortunately for Claudius, Livia dismissed the story, taking Claudius for a parrot. (Or did she? We shall see. I never ever ever trust something Livia says.) Claudius is given light priest duty for public show.

Postumus is pushed further out of favor by Livia and her toadies. He stops playing the sociopath's game.

He is then called to account by Augustus, and shows no contrition, insisting that Plautius deserved his ducking for speaking in an insulting way to me; at the same time he complains to Augustus that his inheritance is being unjustly withheld. [it is of course] Soon he is reprimanded by Livia for his changed manner and for his surliness towards her. "What's poisoned you?" she asks. He replies, grinning, "Maybe you've been putting something in my soup." When she demands an explanation of this extraordinary joke he replies, grinning still more vulgarly: "Putting things in soup is an old trick among stepmothers."


Heidi said...

look at me, commenting on my own blog. I left this comment over on BoD, referring to the comments over there:

I like Urgulanilla's name too. I said, "rhymes with Godzilla." My turtle's name is Godzilla. I have a teensy bit of hope that Urgulanilla will surprise us, and somehow help Claudius...the whole enemy of your enemy is your friend thing.

As one of the "good ones" that has fallen for one of the "bad ones" I can somewhat get Postumus' fascination for Livilla. Such people do know how to say the right things, but pull away just when you think you're getting close, and part of your love is your frustration with their not allowing that love. Their touch is an electric spark, like they're operating on a slightly different circuit, and that is exciting and slightly dangerous to us "good ones." We delude ourselves though, because that spark is just static, not deep currents, and that danger could be really really dangerous, not slightly. Along with that is a faith in love, born out of love, that thinks love will set them free. That these "bad ones" can only get out of this horrific psychological trap if indeed they are loved. Again, deluded.

Hey...I just thought of this. Maybe Postumus doesn't care because he's been blasted to pieces by Livilla. Of course you all may know this because you've already read the next chapters.

Unknown said...

I think Livia knew that Claudius is going to be an Emperor sooner or later. Before her death she tells that but I think she knew it much before it. There was a part when 2 eagles fought for a fox and Claudius caught it.

Unknown said...