I, Claudius: Queen of Heaven
September 21, 2017 9:39 PM - Season 1, Episode 6 - Subscribe

Rome, AD 23/29. Claudius is invited to a dinner where the hostess, Lollia, unexpectedly relates how she was forced to prostitute herself to Tiberius, and then stabs herself. Tiberius now only lives for his perversions, in which Caligula is only too happy to join. Sejanus effectively rules the empire, overseeing continual treason trials of notable citizens and seizing their property for the crown.

Warning: this post contains (written only!) material not suitable for children. As will most I, Claudius posts from now on...
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Somehow, despite open admissions of countless deaths, audiences are able to look at Livia with sympathy and genuine sadness at her passing. Graves crafted a vibrant femme fatale in Livia Drusilla. A woman that was indisputably powerful and respected and doted on by one of the largest Empires of history. The actual Livia was granted the special title of “Augusta” and “Mother of the Country”. She later was granted godhood by her nephew Claudius. She was also a major influence on almost all of the Julio-Claudian dynasty as she was one of the key advisors to Augustus and the primary maternal figure for Tiberius, Claudius, and even for a short-time, Caligula. Graves took the negative rumors of Livia but combined her reputation as grand and incredibly devoted in performing her duty. The end result is that Livia is a type of evil that is too big to genuinely judge. Livia was one of the greatest persons of all-time. One must remember that “great” does not connote good deeds, but simply deeds that shall last the ages.
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After a long and formal introduction, Claudius clumsily presents Livia with an Indian vase for her birthday. Livia, delighted by the present, regrets that Rome didn't expand that far and laments the loss of fine cheap merchandise. Claudius then takes his life into his own hands by repeatedly quaffing kylix after kylix in a polite gesture of confidence. When he comments on Livia's lovely presents, she tells him about her favorite- a personal Thrasyllian horoscope courtesy of Tiberius. Of course she knows the real reason he commissioned it- but it was thoughtful nonetheless.
posted by the man of twists and turns (6 comments total)
 
Watch the camera movement in the scene where Caligula brings Tiberius the porn. Sometimes I think the camera operators on this series must've been, or should've been, comedy writers.

"My Dinner with Livia" is an amazing scene. So full of tension and emotion.

Livia: Tiberius wants to be loved, at least after his death if not before. And the best way to insure that...

Claudius: ...is to have someone worse to follow him. Yes, naturally. He's certainly no fool.

Livia: He's the biggest fool in my family. I've always thought that that was you. But I think now... I was wrong.

Claudius: [Claudius pauses, crafting a response] Grandmother, after all these years you didn't invite me to dinner just to tell me this.

Livia: Wine has made you bold, hasn't it.

Claudius: You said you kept in with Caligula because he was to be the next emperor.

Livia: Lost your stutter too I see.

Claudius: But if by then you're dead, what difference can it make to you?

Livia: Oh, it makes a lot of difference. And that's really why you're here.

[Pleadingly]

Livia: I want to be a goddess, Claudius.

posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:53 AM on September 22


"[G]iven complete freedom to love - or, perhaps more to the point in the case of the Caesars, to violate - others, [man] will do so, going blithely from male to female as fancy dictates." - Gore Vidal "Robert Graves and the Twelve Caesars"

I completely didn't remember the opening scene of this episode. It's an insanely jarring scene. We get an extended scene of Lollia recounting being gang raped by Tiberius and his slaves before killing herself in front of friends and family. The composition of the scene is bizarre, she's walking around with a knife talking about cutting bits out of herself for a solid minute, and noone does anything. It also has a negative impact on the episode, we open with a clear and unambiguous statement that Tiberius is an utter monster. But having established that Tiberius has just gone straight into Caligula territory, the show then seems to drop it. Beyond a newfound taste for antique pornography Tiberius seems to be more or less the same. When Agrippina confronts Tiberius as he's making an offering to Augustus, she describes what he's done as Tiberius "humiliating" Lollia into suicide. No-one else so much as mentions it. You could chalk it up to this being 1976 TV based on ‎1934 book. Whatever the reason, it was remarkably discordant in a show that's otherwise really good at establishing its characters.

Speaking of which, John Hurt's Caligula arrives, and the prodigious acting on display in this series starts to border on gratuitous. At times Caligula moves with this odd and seemingly unnatural deliberation. Hurt seems to me to be portraying Caligula as someone putting on these little performances for his own amusement and acting as someone acting and pulling it off is not easy. Then there's Caligula's voice sliding back and forth between a soft gentle tone and this croaking, leering, growl. It's an amazing achievement to give a performance that is at once flesh crawlingly uncomfortable and compelling to watch.

Going back to "Poison is Queen" and my theory that in that episode Old Claudius made the connection that he was ultimately the cause of Augustus being poisoned, this episode makes implicit the two twists of the knife I mentioned. Claudius knows that Livia poisoned Augustus, and swears to Livia that he will see her made a goddess. He also says to Livia that if he ever got the chance he'd restore the republic. Well, Old Claudius is emperor, presumably Livia's been made a goddess, and there's no republic. When he sees the stolen will, Claudius knows that Postumus was to be named Augustus' successor but for Livia's machinations. That was really the last chance for the restoration of the republic. He indirectly caused not just the death of Augustus, but the death of the republic, and he made the woman who engineered it all a Goddess. And there she was, all those years ago, laughing at him. Livia always got her way in the end.

The scene with Pina, Herod, Claudius, and Antonia kind of sums Claudius up. Why is Claudius marrying Sejanus' sister? Because "he asked me", Herod (kind of) coming to his defence: "At least he's still here". Claudius in a nutshell.

Cheeses: Definitely agree on "My Dinner With Livia".

Claudius: When people die, so much dies with them. And all that's left are just pieces of paper that tell lies, lies, lies... (Interesting comment in a work of historical fiction)

Livia: He wants to know the truth and he calls it a 'small condition' (Livia cannot believe the idiots she has to make do with these days.)

Final words to and from Livia: "Go on playing the fool Claudius"
posted by Grimgrin at 8:54 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]


Whatever the reason, it was remarkably discordant in a show that's otherwise really good at establishing its characters. I think the idea is that depravity ratchets up and that this scene is an attempt to confront her friends into what they have already in reality acceded to. That they do nothing and on Rome slides is the story for a while.

Hurt is good here in not coming on too strong early. When he leaves Livia and Claudius you feel like the acting power in the scene goes up. Siân Phillips is amazing in the party scene - you can't help but feel for Livia.
posted by hawthorne at 10:34 AM on September 22



Speaking of which, John Hurt's Caligula arrives, and the prodigious acting on display in this series starts to border on gratuitous. At times Caligula moves with this odd and seemingly unnatural deliberation. Hurt seems to me to be portraying Caligula as someone putting on these little performances for his own amusement and acting as someone acting and pulling it off is not easy.


I love John Hurt and his ways but there is a quote about him I want to quote from Angela Carter, whom I always misremember as discussing his performance in I, Claudius although she was actually discussing him in Crime and Punishment. but I think it's all pretty much the same as far as this goes:

...John Hurt feels it necessary to contort every single facial muscle, until the very hairs within his nostrils seem to rhumba, in a balked effort to convey spiritual turmoil. (...) Mind you, I don't want to put John Hurt down. He is a highly competent character actor in the classic British theatrical style

...The peculiarly external quality of the British school of acting, as if it were done in the third person, suits the personation of posturing fakes very well. It also suits the personation of other actors and of people who live with a high degree of self-consciousness; the upcoming Brideshead Revisited serial ought to turn out rather nauseatingly well because of this.


she also says "Most British actors are trained to project emotion rather than to embody it. Nobody needs to project in close-up, unless he or she is selling something. British actors are very good at television comercials." in spite of liking I, Claudius a lot and Livia especially, it is always hard to tell A. if you are really seeing any Romans through all the Englishes, and B. if you're actually meant to or if wondering whether you are is a waste of time.

but although I would definitely rather watch John Hurt and Sian Phillips be Romans than, say, James Dean and Jane Russell [1], I can never believe how many EMOTIONS English actors are busy having all of the time and conveying through intricate convulsions of the face. they have so many! don't they get tired

[1] OR WOULD I
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:48 PM on September 22


John Hurt feels it necessary to contort every single facial muscle, until the very hairs within his nostrils seem to rhumba, in a balked effort to convey spiritual turmoil

This feels like a pretty accurate description of his later Caligula scenes!

The peculiarly external quality of the British school of acting, as if it were done in the third person, suits the personation of posturing fakes very well. It also suits the personation of other actors and of people who live with a high degree of self-consciousness

To me, this fits the Caligula character *perfectly*. Remember, this is a guy whose degree of batshittery historians can't agree on. Here, the character definitely is self-conscious, at least until he's really far gone. I even read/saw somewhere a hypothesis that Caligula was not deranged in any way, but just slyly and fearlessly witty, and virtually all of the more-or-less plausible nutty stuff he did (like make his horse a senator) was just him prankin' everybody around him. (If so, I can only assume that he thought everybody around him had his same offbeat sense of humor—because it's not like they weren't going to laugh when he laughed!—and that that misperception led to his downfall.) If Caligula really was mostly just a proto-Jerky-Boy, it's understandable how he could have gotten that way, growing up within the Imperial family "bubble"—and you can read Hurt's performance, in part, that way.

Since my first viewing of this series, Caligula has always been the character that puzzled me the most, and this tidbit about the British acting style elucidates things a little.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:33 AM on September 24




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