Author: StJohn Piano
Published: 2018-12-09
Datafeed Article 77
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2608 words - 291 lines - 8 pages

[excerpt: page 7]

The 'gold piece' here used as the regular monetary standard is the Latin aureus, a coin worth 100 sestertii, or twenty-five silver denarii ('silver pieces'): it may be thought of as worth roughly one pound sterling, or five American dollars at pre-war value. The 'mile' is the Roman mile, some thirty paces shorter than the English mile. The marginal dates have for convenience been given according to Christian reckoning: the Greek reckoning, used by Claudius, counted the years from the First Olympiad, which took place in 776 B.C.

[Note: Pages 7-8 contain the Author's Note, by R.G. in 1934.]

[end of excerpt]

[excerpt: pages 57-59]

My tutor I have already mentioned, Marcus Portius Cato, who was, in his own estimation at least, a living embodiment of that ancient Roman virtue which his ancestors had one after the other shown. He was always boasting of his ancestors, as stupid people do who are aware that they have done nothing themselves to boast about. He boasted particularly of Cato the Censor, who of all characters in Roman history is to me perhaps the most hateful, as having persistently championed the cause of 'ancient virtue' and made it identical in the popular mind with churlishness, pedantry, and harshness. I was made to read Cato the Censor's self-glorifying works as text-books, and the account that he gave in one of them of his campaign in Spain, where he destroyed more towns than he had spent days in that country, rather disgusted me with his inhumanity than impressed me with his military skill or patriotism. The poet Virgil has said that the mission of the Roman is to rule: 'To spare the conquered, and with war the proud To overbear.' Cato overbore the proud, certainly, but less with actual warfare than with clever management of inter-tribal jealousies in Spain: he even employed assassins to remove redoubtable enemies. As for sparing the conquered, he put multitudes of unarmed men to the sword even when they unconditionally surrendered their cities, and he proudly records that many hundreds of Spaniards committed suicide, with all their families, rather than taste of Roman vengeance. Was it to be wondered at that the tribes rose again as soon as they could get a few arms together, and that they have been a constant thorn in our side ever since? All that Cato wanted was plunder and a triumph: a triumph was not granted unless so-and-so many corpses - I think it was 5,000 at this time - could be counted, and he was making sure that no one would challenge him, as he had himself jealously challenged rivals, for having pretended to a triumph on an inadequate harvest of dead.

Triumphs, by the way, have been a curse to Rome. How many unnecessary wars have been fought because generals wanted the glory of riding crowned through the streets of Rome with enemy captives led in chains behind them and the spoils of war heaped on carnival wagons? Augustus realized this: on Agrippa's advice, he decreed that henceforth no general, unless a member of the Imperial family, should be awarded a public triumph. This decree, published in the year that I was born, read as though Augustus were jealous of his generals, for by that time he had finished with active campaigning himself and no members of his family were old enough to win triumphs; but all it meant was that he did not wish the boundaries of the Empire enlarged any further, and that he reckoned that his generals would not provoke the frontier tribes to commit acts of war if they could not hope to be awarded triumphs by victory over them. None the less he allows 'triumphal ornaments' - an embroidered robe, a statue, a chaplet, and so on - to be awarded to those who would otherwise have earned a triumph; this should be a sufficient incentive to any good soldier to fight a necessary war. Triumphs, besides, are very bad for military discipline. Soldiers get drunk and out of hand and usually finish the day by breaking up the wine-shops and setting fire to the oil-shops and insulting the women and generally behaving as if Rome were the city they had conquered, not some miserable log-hut encampment in Germany or sand-burrowed village in Morocco. After a triumph celebrated by a nephew of mine, whom I shall soon be telling you about, 400 soldiers and nearly 4,000 private citizens lost their lives one way and another - five big blocks of tenements in the prostitutes' quarter of the City were burned to the ground and 300 wine-shops sacked, besides any amount of other damage.

But I was on the subject of Cato the Censor. His manual of husbandry and household economy was made my spelling-book, and every time I stumbled over a word I used to get two blows; one on my left ear for my stupidity, and one on my right for insulting the noble Cato. I remember a passage in the book which summed up the mean-souled fellow very well: 'A master of a household should sell his old oxen, and all the horned cattle that are of a delicate frame; all his sheep that are not hardy, their wool, their very pelts; he should sell his old wagons and his old instruments of husbandry; he should sell such of his slaves as are old and infirm and everything else that is worn out and useless.' For myself, when I was living as a country gentleman on my little estate at Capua, I made a point of putting my worn-out beasts first to light work and then to grass until old age seemed too much of a burden to them, when I had them knocked on the head. I never demeaned myself by selling them for a trifle to a countryman who would work them cruelly to their last gasp. As for my slaves, I have always treated them generously in sickness and in health, youth and old age, and expected the highest degree of devotion from them in return. I have seldom been disappointed, though when they have abused my generosity I have had no mercy on them. I have no doubt old Cato's slaves were always falling sick, with the hope of being sold to a more humane master, and I also think it likely that he got, on the whole, less honest work and service out of them than I got out of mine. It is foolish to treat slaves like cattle. They are more intelligent than cattle, capable besides of doing more damage in a week to one's property by wilful carelessness and stupidity than the entire price you have paid for them. Cato made a boast of never spending more than a few pounds on a slave: any evil-looking cross-eyed fellow that seemed to have good muscles and teeth would do. How on earth he managed to find buyers for these beauties when he had quite finished with them I cannot say. From what I know of the character of his descendant, who was supposed to resemble him closely in looks - sandy-haired, green-eyed, harsh-voiced, and heavily built - and in character, I guess that he bullied his poor neighbours into taking all his cast-off stuff at the price of new.

[end of excerpt]

[excerpt: pages 109-110]

'I see now, though I hadn't considered the matter before, that there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth. The first is Livy's way and the other is yours: and perhaps they are not irreconcilable.'

'Why, boy, you're an orator,' said Pollio delightedly.

Sulpicius, who had been standing on one leg with his foot held in his hand, as his habit was when excited or impatient, and twisting his beard in knots, now summed up: 'Yes, Livy will never lack readers. People love being "persuaded to ancient virtue" by a charming writer, particularly when they are told in the same breath that modern civilization has made such virtue impossible of attainment. But mere truth-tellers - "undertakers who lay out the corpse of history" (to quote poor Catullus's epigram on the noble Pollio) - people who record no more than actually occurred - such men can only hold an audience while they have a good cook and a cellar of Cyprian wine.'

[end of excerpt]

[excerpt: pages 289-292]

'Will you swear to do as I ask? Will you swear by your own head?'

I said: 'Grandmother, I'll swear by my head - for what that's worth now - on one condition.'

'You dare to make conditions to me?'

'Yes, after the twentieth cup; and it's a simple condition. After thirty-six years of neglect and aversion you surely don't expect me to do anything for you without making conditions, do you?'

She smiled. 'And what is this one simple condition?'

'There are a lot of things that I'd like to know about. I want to know, in the first place, who killed my father, and who killed Agrippa, and who killed my brother Germanicus, and who killed my son Drusillus. ...'

'Why do you want to know all this? Some imbecile hope of avenging their deaths on me?'

'No, not even if you were the murderess. I never take vengeance unless I am forced to do so by an oath or in self-protection. I believe that evil is its own punishment. All I want now is just to know the truth. I am a professional historian and the one thing that really interests me is to find out how things happen and why. For instance, I write histories more to inform myself than to inform my readers.'

'Old Athenodorus has had a great influence on you, I see.'

'He was kind to me and I was grateful, so I became a Stoic. I never meddled with philosophical argument - that never appealed to me - but I adopted the Stoic way of looking at things. You can trust me not to repeat a word of what you tell me.'

I convinced her that I meant what I said, and so for four hours or more I asked her the most searching questions; and each question she answered without evasion and as calmly as if she had been some country steward relating the minor casualties of the farm-yard to the visiting owner. Yes, she had poisoned my grandfather, and no, she not poisoned my father in spite of Tiberius's suspicions - it was a natural gangrene; and yes, she had poisoned Augustus by smearing poison on the figs while they were still on the tree; and she told me the whole Julia story as I have related it, and the whole Postumus story - the details of which I was able to check; and yes, she had poisoned Agrippa and Lucius, as well as Marcellus and Gaius, and yes, she had intercepted my letters to Germanicus, but no, she had not poisoned him - Plancina had done that on her own initiative - but she had marked him out for death as she had marked out my father, and for the same reason.

'What reason was that, Grandmother?'

'He had decided to restore the Republic. No, don't mistake me: not in a way which violated his oath of allegiance to Tiberius, though it meant removing me. He was going to make Tiberius take the step himself voluntarily, and allow him all the credit for it, keeping in the background himself. He nearly persuaded Tiberius. You know what a coward Tiberius is. I had to work hard and forge a lot of documents and tell a lot of lies to keep Tiberius from making a fool of Sejanus. This republicanism is a persistent taint in himself. I even had to come to an understanding with the family. Your grandfather had it.'

'I have it.'

'Still? That's amusing. Nero has it too, I understand. It won't bring him much luck. And it's no use arguing with you republicans. You refuse to see that one can no more reintroduce republican government at this stage than one can reimpose primitive feelings of chastity on modern wives and husbands. It's like trying to turn the shadow back on a sundial: it can't be done.'

She confessed to having had Drusillus throttled. She told me how close I was to death when I first wrote to Germanicus about Postumus. The only reason that she had spared me was that there was a possibility of my writing him information as to Postumus's whereabouts. The most interesting account she gave me was of her poisoning methods. I asked her Postumus's question - whether she favoured slow poisons or quick ones - and she answered without the least embarrassment that she preferred repeated doses of slow tasteless poisons which gave the effect of consumption. I asked how she managed to cover up her traces so well and how she managed to strike at such long distances: for Gaius had been murdered in Asia Minor and Lucius at Marseilles.

She reminded me that she had never contrived a murder which might be held to benefit her directly and immediately. She had not, for instance, poisoned my grandfather until some time after being divorced from him, nor had she poisoned any of her female rivals - Octavia, or Julia, or Scribonia. Her victims were mostly people by whose removal her sons and grand-children were brought closer to the succession. Urgulania had been her only confidant, and she was so discreet and skilful and so devoted that not only was it most unlikely that the crimes they planned together would ever be detected but, even if they were, they would never have been brought home to her. The annual confessions made to Urgulania in preparation for the festival of the Good Goddess had been a useful means of removing several people who stood in the way of her plans. She explained this fully. It happened sometimes that confession was made not merely to adultery but to incest with a brother or son. Urgulania would declare that the only possible penance was the death of the man. The woman then pleaded, was there no other possible penance? Urgulania would then say that there was perhaps an alternative that the Goddess would permit. The woman could purify herself by assisting the Goddess's vengeance - with the help of the man who had caused her shame. For, Urgulania would tell her, a similarly detestable confession had been made some time before by another woman, who had however shrunk from killing her ravisher, and so the wretch was still alive, though the woman herself had suffered. The 'wretch' was successively Agrippa, Lucius, and Gaius. Agrippa was accused of incest with his daughter Marcellina - whose unexplained suicide gave colour to the story; Gaius and Lucius of incest with their mother before her banishment - and Julia's reputation gave colour to this story too. In each case the woman was only too glad to plan the murder and the man to execute it. Urgulania assisted with advice and suitable poisons. Livia's safety lay in the remoteness of the agent, who if he were to be suspected or even taken red-handed could not explain his motive for the murder without further incriminating himself. I asked whether she had had no compunction about murdering Augustus and either murdering or banishing so many of his descendants. She said: 'I never for a moment forgot whose daughter I was.' And that explained a great deal. Livia's father, Claudian, had been proscribed by Augustus after the Battle of Philippi and had committed suicide rather than fall into his hands.

[end of excerpt]

[start of notes]

I have a book copy of I, Claudius by Robert Graves in my possession.

Some details from one of the first few pages:
- Published by the Penguin Group
- 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
- First published by Arthur Barker 1934
- Published by Methuen 1939
- First published in Penguin Books (in two volumes) 1941
- New edition in one volume 1953
- Copyright 1934 by Robert Graves
- Made and printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk

I manually transcribed the excerpts in this article.

Changes from the original text:
- I have removed word-breaking hyphens.
- I have not preserved the original line breaks. I treat each paragraph as a single line.
- I have not preserved page divisions or page numbers.
- I have replaced any use of indentation at the start of a new paragraph with an empty line between paragraphs.
- I have substituted a hyphen (-) for the dash used in the original text. Each dash already had a space either side of it.
- In the original text, the single and double quotation marks were curled to indicate whether they were positioned at the start or end of a phrase / sentence / sentence_group. I have replaced them with straight quotation marks.
- I have replaced curled apostrophes with straight single quotation marks.
- In the section {776 B.C.}, the letters "B" and "C" were originally set in small capitals.
- In the section {and each question she answered without evasion and as calmly}, the word "question" was originally "questions". I think this was an error.
- If I begin an excerpt in the middle of a section that was surrounded by quotation marks in order to indicate speech, I add a new quotation mark at the beginning of my excerpt.
{'I see now, though I hadn't considered the matter before, that there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth. The first is Livy's way and the other is yours: and perhaps they are not irreconciliable.'}
was originally
{'It's not disillusion, sir. I see now, though I hadn't considered the matter before, that there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth. The first is Livy's way and the other is yours: and perhaps they are not irreconciliable.'}

[end of notes]