Re-reading I, Claudius for the nth time, I contemplated Graves’ success in making us so believe in his central characters that we devalue any actual historical evidence which would contradict his portraits – a feat similar to that of Shakespeare’s creation of Richard III. And beneath the wonderful fictional portraits lies a similar motive: a political interpretation of historical events for the author’s own time, more veiled and perhaps more pervasive than Shakespeare could achieve in the narrow compass of his play. But on the first reading I was scarcely aware of this subtext, my whole attention being taken up with the hair-raising vices and almost equally alarming virtues of the Imperial clan.
Reading Graves’ novel fed a tentative interest in classical history and literature, encouraging me to read further and more deeply, and I owe him much for that alone. Beginning to understand English literature or European history worked much better with at least a dribble of Homer, Sophocles, and Virgil running in the veins. And the re-reading has sent me off again:
It’s translated by Robert Graves, of course.