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Chapter Four: In which we learn about the circumstances behind Claudius' father's death.
• Back at the beginning of Chapter Two, there was a bit that suggested Livia had an issue (to put it mildly) with Claudius' father -- her own youngest son. Now we know why:
By ill-luck the letter was delivered to Tiberius while he was in the presence of Augustus and Livia. "A despatch from your noble brother!" the Imperial courier called out, handing it to him. Tiberius, not suspecting that there was anything in the letter that should not be communicated to Livia and Augustus, asked permission to open and read it at once. Augustus said: "By all means, Tiberius, but on condition that you read it aloud to us."
And he was! No kind huntsman* for poor Drusus. Instead, he gets a physician sent by his loving (hah!) mother who lets him die of gangrene or maybe poison (or hell, maybe both).
• I know the Very Private Letter That is Read Aloud to Exactly the Wrong People device has been used in lots of other things, but I can't think of any at the moment. It makes me cringe every time -- it's always so painful because as the reader, I usually know what's coming and that just makes it all the worse.
• I've got to say, I want to kick Augustus. Livia, I can respect. She's conniving and manipulative and scary, but she's also strong-willed, very smart and very tough. Augustus just lets himself be bossed. Is Tiberius really the only person who suspects Livia of being a poisoner? Everyone who ticks her off ends up sick or dying! Eating dinner with her must have been nerve-wracking.
• "Claudius, you tedious old fellow..." I love him.
*I don't know why I thought of Snow White. Because he was in Germany?
Chapter Five: In which Claudius finally shows up in his own autobiography and we learn about his early years.
• "My grandmother Livia made him do this to please Augustus, I may say. Tiberius was not religious-minded and very stingy with money." His little asides are hilarious, and the build-ups to them -- in this case, about what the temple had been before and the changes that had been made -- are so well done.
• "Well, I must be thankful, I suppose, that I have never had the strangury." This made me laugh so much that I snorted. Again with the build-up.
• Claudius' sister Lavilla sounds like a real peach. Not.
• In another voice, this early history could be full of self-pity -- in Claudius', it sounds like he's smirking at everyone. There's pain, for sure, and anger, but the humor balances it out, and then some.
• I will not be pleased if something bad happens to Athenodorus.
She interrupted, laughing noisily: "Wretched Rome, with him as her protector! I hope to God I'll be dead before then!"
The Auger turned on her and pointed with his finger. "Impudent girl," he said, "God will no doubt grant your wish in a way that you won't like!"
Couldn't you hear a thunderclap there? I could. That and Nelson Muntz.
• "He was always boasting of his ancestors, as stupid people do who are aware that they have done nothing themselves to boast about." Nice.
• I love it when an author can make history so human:
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.
I mean, obviously history is human, but I don't think it's an easy thing to make it feel that way. You think?
• He made me laugh out loud again with the stories of Cato and the thunderstorm and about Cato and Postumus. But now I'm all worried about Postumus. Practically every time Livia takes an interest in someone, they end up dead.
• Claudius, rather than dismissing Sulpicius as useless, made use of his talent -- seems like that's a character trait that will serve him well.
Chapter Six: Which is a showcase of Livia's Amazing Manipulation Skills.
• I go back and forth between thinking Livia is horrible (killing off Drusus) and awesome (her handling of Augustus and everyone else she comes into contact with). She's such a fantastic character. And she has a spy-system!
• This bit starts out so very soap-opera-y, but then takes quite the turn:
"Julia decided to forget that she had ever loved Tiberius. She had suffered much from him. Not only did he treat her with the greatest contempt whenever they were alone together, but he had begun cautiously experimenting in those ludicrously filthy practices which later made his name so detestable to all decent-minded people; and she had found out about it."
First sentence: Right hand to forehead, swoon. Second sentence: Left hand to forehead, swoon. Third sentence: Uhhhh... yikes.
• "What Livia very cruelly gave her was a distillation of the crushed bodies of certain little green flies from Spain, which so stimulated her sexual appetite that she became like a demented woman." Oh. My. God.
• "She did a good piece of business on the side, too, by singling out for special mention as Julia's partners in adultery three of four men whom it was to her interest to ruin." The woman is AMAZING. No opportunity wasted.
• "But somehow he was given the wrong medical treatment, and his health, which from no apparent cause had been failing him for the last two years, became seriously affected: he lost all power of mental concentration." HAH! Somehow. From no apparent cause. I say again, HAH!