When I think about Robert Graves’s achievement with this novel, I am really taken aback. He took a big contentious chunk of Ancient History, teased it out into a cohesive narrative and managed to make it as lively and vital as the most gripping political thriller. Like all the best books it’s a delight to read, and often very funny, and the narrative device of Claudius as the apparently harmless onlooker is a stroke of genius. It’s even more enjoyable than the 70s TV series, and that’s saying something. The major characters leap off the page usually steeped in blood or other excretions, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the inspiring wickedness of Livia and Tiberius. One of the greatest disappointments of my reading life, however, is the sequel Claudius the God, which I found a tedious mess.