A great novel written by Robert Graves in the 1930's. It's a highly fictionalized account of the life of Claudius, "the Idiot Emperor of Rome" and has done much to improve that ruler's historical image.

Graves' Claudius bumbles through the novel on a predestined course propelled almost it seems by pure luck. Graves turns many of the contemporary Roman histories (most notably Suetonius' Private Lives) on their ear and nicely accounts for the slings those historians leveled at Claudius.

When the book was released, Graves, as a publicity stunt, claimed that he had dug up the manuscript on a trip to Italy and translated it. The resulting confusion, when combined with Graves' deep characters and impeccable "Roman historian" voice, left many people fooled for years.

Eventually Graves started publishing the book as "By Robert Graves" instead of "Translated By Robert Graves", and the forward in which Graves tells the story of finding the manuscript has become part of the text.

Graves also wrote a sequel Claudius the God.

Also the title of a thirteen-part miniseries adapted from Graves' two books, produced by the BBC and originally televised on PBS' Masterpiece Theater in 1977.

Many consider this to be the single greatest work of entertainment ever shown on TV (at least until the advent of The Wire on HBO) helping to add to the lustre of many British actors, including:

  • Derek Jacobi - Claudius
  • John Hurt - Caligula
  • Sian Phillips - Livia
  • Brian Blessed - Augustus
  • Patrick Stewart - Sejanus
  • George Baker - Tiberius
  • Margaret Tyzack - Antonia
  • Patricia Quinn - Livilla

    Full of sex, violence, royalty, (not entirely accurate) political intrigue, wonderful set design and costumes, the miniseries stirred quite an interest in the history of the Roman Empire when initially televised.

    A little known fact: Patricia Quinn also played Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

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