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.