Uit: I, Claudius
« I dictated most of the first four volumes to a Greek secretary of mine and told him to alter nothing as he wrote (except, where necessary, for the balance of the sentences, or to remove contradictions or repetitions). But I admit that nearly all the second half of the work, and some chapters at least of the first, were composed by this same fellow Polybius (whom I had named myself, when a slave-boy, after the famous historian) from material that I gave him. And he modelled his style so accurately on mine that, really, when he had done, nobody could have guessed what was mine and what was his.
It was a dull book, I repeat. I was in no position to criticize the Emperor Augustus, who was my maternal granduncle, or his third and last wife, Livia Augusta, who was my grandmother, because they had both been officially deified and I was connected in a priestly capacity with their cults; and though I could have pretty sharply criticised Augustus’ two unworthy Imperial successors, I refrained for decency’s sake. It would have been unjust to exculpate Livia, and Augustus himself, in so far as he deferred to that remarkable and—let me say at once—abominable woman, while telling the truth about the other two, whose memories were not similarly protected by religious awe.
I let it be a dull book, recording merely such uncontroversial facts as, for example, that So-and-so married So-and-so, the daughter of Such-and-such who had this or that number of public honours to his credit, but not mentioning the political reasons for the marriage nor the behind-scene bargaining between the families. Or I would write that So-and-so died suddenly, after eating a dish of African figs, but say nothing of poison, or to whose advantage the death proved to be, unless the facts were supported by a verdict of the Criminal Courts. I told no lies, but neither did I tell the truth in the sense that I mean to tell it here.
When I consulted this book to-day in the Apollo Library on the Palatine Hill, to refresh my memory for certain particulars of date, I was interested to come across passages in the public chapters which I could have sworn I had written or dictated, the style was so peculiarly my own, and yet which I had no recollection of writing or dictating. If they were by Polybius they were a wonderfully clever piece of mimicry (he had my other histories to study, I admit), but if they were really by myself then my memory is even worse than my enemies declare it to be. Reading over what I have just put down I see that I must be rather exciting than disarming suspicion, first as to my sole authorship of what follows, next as to my integrity as an historian, and finally as to my memory for facts. But I shall let it stand; it is myself writing as I feel, and as the history proceeds the reader will be the more ready to believe that I am hiding nothing—so much being to my discredit.”
Robert Graves (24 juli 1895 – 7 december 1985)
Scene uit de Britse tv-serie met o.a. Derek Jacobi als Claudius (rechts), 1976