Places: I, Claudius

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1934

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 10 b.c.e.-41 c.e.

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Rome

*Rome. I, ClaudiusAncient walled city of central Italy built around seven hills. The emperor Augustus’s palace is on the Palatine Hill. During the Palatine festival in honor of Augustus, wooden stands for seating sixty thousand people are erected in the southern courtyard. After his death, his widow, Livia, has a magnificent gold statue of Augustus placed in the palace’s hall. During the reign of Augustus’s successor, Tiberius, Tiberius builds a two-story palace for himself on the northwest part of the hill that is three times larger than Augustus’s palace. Most of the other houses on this hill belong to senators. The house where Claudius’s father and his uncle Tiberius were brought up and in which Claudius lives through most of his childhood is near the hill. Nearby is the temple of Apollo built by Augustus and the Apollo Library, in which Claudius spends much of his time researching his histories of Etruria and Carthage.

The Palatine Hill looks down on the market place. Under the steepest part of the hill is the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Originally built of wood, it is rebuilt in marble by Tiberius, and its interior is richly painted and gilded. Later, Caligula transforms the temple into a vestibule for his own temple, cutting a passage between the statues of the gods. The Temple of Saturn is west of the Palatine Hill, where Tiberius builds an arch celebrating Germanicus’s victories in Germany.

North of the Palatine Hill, on the Capitoline Hill, is the capitol, the Temple to Jove. Caligula orders the building of a shrine next to it with a gold statue of himself, three times larger than life, to celebrate his own godhood. Also on this hill is the Tarpeian Cliff from which traitors are hurled; great use is made of the cliff during Tiberius’s reign.

To the northwest lies Mars Field, where the funeral pyres of leading citizens are lit. Augustus’s mausoleum, in which the ashes of most of Claudius’s relatives are interred, is at the north end. The amphitheater in which gladiatorial contests are fought is not the famous Roman Colosseum, which was not to be built for another seventy years, when Vespasian becomes emperor.

Claudius owns a villa with a farm attached to it near Capua, where he spends as much time as possible.

*German frontier

*German frontier. Northern extent of the Roman Empire that has the empire’s only unsecured border. The frontier runs along the Rhine River; Claudius’s brother Germanicus spends much of his time there commanding Roman legions. The territory across the Rhine is forested. Roman Germany is divided into two provinces. The upper province, whose capital is Mainz, extends into Switzerland. The lower province, whose capital is Cologne, reaches north to the Scheldt and Sambre. Germanicus builds a fleet of ships and sails them down the Rhine, through a canal, and by sea, to reach the mouth of the Ems. The Weser River runs parallel to the Ems, fifty miles to the north, a short march for the army, where the Germans are massing. The battleground is a narrowing plain on the far side of the Weser, between the river and a range of wooded hills. A birch and oak forest bounds the plain at its narrow end.

*Bay of Naples

*Bay of Naples. Area off the Campanian coast of southern Italy. Naples is in the northern corner and Pompeii to the south. The Isle of Capri is about three miles off the southernmost headland. The climate is mild in winter and cool in summer. There is only one landing place, as it is surrounded by steep cliffs. Tiberius has twelve villas here, and it is the place where he spends most of his leisure time after leaving Rome. A number of rocky islands lie north of the bay where various members of the imperial family are exiled. Augustus’s daughter, Julia, and later, her daughter Agrippina, are sent to Pandataria, Nero to Ponza, and Postumus to Planasia.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. Robert Graves. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Bloom gathers what he calls the most useful available criticism of Graves. Entries most pertinent to the study of I, Claudius are “Autobiography, Historical Novels, and Some Poems,” by J. M. Cohen, and “Claudius,” by Martin Seymour-Smith.Canary, Robert H. Robert Graves. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Contains a biography and a thorough discussion of Graves as poet and prose writer, with one section devoted to I, Claudius and its sequel, Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina.Graves, Robert. Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina. New York: Smith and Haas, 1935. Readers who enjoy I, Claudius will want to continue Claudius’ story with this sequel, which takes up exactly where I, Claudius ends. It covers Claudius’ successful reign as emperor and his death by murder.Kernowski, Frank L. The Early Poetry of Robert Graves: The Goddess Beckons. University of Texas, 2002. A portrait of Graves and his work that benefits from the author’s own interviews with his subject and input from Graves’s daughter.Seymour-Smith, Martin. Robert Graves: His Life and Work. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982. A full-length, definitive biography by a friend who knew Graves for more than forty years. Discusses Graves’s interest in ancient history and contains much information about the creation of I, Claudius. Good photographic illustrations.Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Translated by Robert Graves. London: Penguin, 1957. Graves, who achieved distinction as a translator, drew on the Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-122) for information fictionalized in I, Claudius and its sequel. Since I, Claudius is a popular introduction to Roman history, Suetonius himself is an easy next step for further exploration.
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