Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Deeper Wisdom of "I, Claudius"

There was a moral lesson in "I, Claudius," despite the overall depressing, even morbid storyline. Claudius survived a corrupt nest of snakes--the Roman palace--while the snakes fed upon one another until none were left. He was the survivor. Did he survive through courage? No. Did he survive through cunning? No. He survived by being a fool. To an extent, his was a calculated act, but he was born with a speech impediment and a twitch, minor deficiencies that were little understood in Roman times. They called him a fool, but he was wiser than they. Appearances deceive. Even in our times, there are many things that are misunderstood. The beginning of wisdom, I think, is to accept that everyone is a fool to an extent. The question is only--how much of a fool?

I sympathize with Claudius and even identify with him. I think he was an interesting character. He was the only Roman Emperor of the Julian family really and seriously concerned with intellectual subjects. He was a historian. The rest of them were concerned with power and debauchery. Claudius spent his time among old scrolls and old historians. He could have been a good Emperor if he had only pulled off a splendid succession. Instead, he permitted Nero to follow him, which was unfortunate for Rome. As portrayed in "I, Claudius," the Emperor Claudius died a drunkard, his half-baked plans for succession gone awry. Perhaps Claudius was indeed a fool, a learned fool, but still a fool.

It is human nature to procrastinate, and no one wishes to think of death, least of all their own. So plans that should be made are left unmade, and much is left to random chance or to the greediest and most ruthless of the heirs. Dysfunctional families reveal their stripes most of all when the spoils of inheritance are up for grabs. That is when the ugly truth of familial relationships becomes most apparent. Perhaps it is better to know the truth and never be deceived again. Wisdom and insight have real value. Claudius had his revenge, at least in the fictional world of "I, Claudius," if not the real world. The television show is supposedly based upon a recently discovered tell-all autobiography of the Emperor Claudius. If such priceless scrolls were found, academia would be turned upside-down. Many previous assumptions would be either confirmed or challenged. Of course such scrolls have not been found, at least not yet, but it is a pleasing fantasy of revenge for a sympathetic character, one of the few really good people in a nest of snakes. The revenge of Claudius for the many wrongs done to him was to write about his family. He told their dark and shocking secrets, some of which only he knew. That is an interesting method of revenge, but perhaps not quite so unusual. I think there have been many precedents.

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