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The Values of a Classical Education: Satirical Elements in Robert Graves's Claudius Novels

Author(s): Philip Burton


Source: The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 46, No. 182 (May, 1995), pp. 191-218
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/518554
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THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION:
SATIRICAL ELEMENTS IN ROBERT GRAVES'S
CLAUDIUS NOVELS1
By
PHILIP BURTON
THERE has
always
been a
two-way relationship
between the ancient
world and modern attitudes towards it. Classicists have
traditionally
claimed that
study
of
antiquity gives
us an
insight
into the
society
of
today;
at the same time the
questions
we ask of the
past,
and the
answers we
receive,
depend
to a
large
extent
upon
the
preconceptions
which we
import
from
contemporary society.2
This article deals with
one
particularly strong
instance of the use of the Roman world as a
locus for the
analysis
of the
problems
of the twentieth
century,
the
historical novels of Robert
Graves, I, Claudius,
and
(more particu-
larly)
Claudius the God
(both 1934).
I
suggest
that these novels are
not
only
well-researched and
imaginative
reconstructions of the
early
Principate,
but also offer a
wry
and often satirical
commentary
on
events in Graves's own life and on the wider
political
climate of Britain
and
Europe
in the mid-1930s.
This
analysis
is
admittedly
somewhat tendentious.
However,
so is a
great
deal of Graves's own
writing;
and his novels can be read with
greater understanding
if we
approach
them with a view both to their
literary
antecedents,
and to their creator's critical
preoccupations.
1
I am indebted to friends and
colleagues
at
Cambridge
and St Andrews who have commented
on this
paper
in its various incarnations:
especially
Dr
J. Henderson,
Dr M.
Whitby,
and the
anonymous
reader for the Review
of English
Studies.
2
Of the various recent works in this field see
esp.
H.
Lloyd-Jones's
Blood
for
the Ghosts and
Classical Survivals
(both 1982),
F. Turner's The Greek
Heritage
in Victorian
England (1981),
R.
Jenkyns's
The Greeks and the Victorians
(1981),
and more
recently
G. W. Clarke's
Rediscovering
Hellenism
(1989)
and 0.
Taplin's
Greek Fire
(1989).
The titles reveal a
general
concentration on the Greeks rather than the
Romans,
and the latter half of the 19th
century
as
opposed
to
any
other
epoch.
Clarke in
Rediscovering
Hellenism
argues
that this reflects a real
preoccupation
with Hellas over Rome at this time. This is in
part
a function of his
very high
definition of
'culture';
but R. F. Betts
('The
Allusion to
Rome',
Victorian
Studies,
15
(1971))
states
(p. 159)
that there was little 'allusion to Rome' in middlebrow and
popular
culture. The
subject
should still be
open.
For the
background
to the Claudius novels see R. P.
Graves,
Robert
Graves: The Years With
Laura,
1926-40
(1990),
chs. 10 and
15,
and M.
Seymour-Smith,
Robert
Graves,
His
Life
and Work
(1982),
ch.
16,
II. On historical fiction of the ancient world see H.
Riikonen's excellent Die Antike im historischen Roman des 19.
Jahrhunderts (Societas
Sci-
entiarum
Fennica, 1978),
R.
Poignault, 'Images
de
l'empereur
Hadrien
d'apres
l'Histoire
Auguste',
relue
par
M.
Yourcenar,
Revue des Etudes
latines,
69
(1992),
203-18.
(Place
of
publication
is
London,
unless otherwise
stated.)
RES New
Series,
Vol.
XLVI,
No. 182
(1995) ? Oxford University
Press 1995
Accordingly,
I discuss first Graves's
literary progenitors
in the
genre
of Roman historical
fiction,
and
especially
the influence of Samuel
Butler
upon
him. I then consider some of the incidents in the
Claudius novels
(and
in his 1938 novel of
sixth-century Byzantium,
Count
Belisarius),
which can be linked
directly
to events in his life and
in the
contemporary
scene. The final section addresses some instances
of more
complicated allegories
between
past
and
present,
and in
particular
Graves's love-hate
relationship
with the traditions of
classical education.
The Historical Novel Tradition
There is no
shortage
of historical novels on Roman life from the late
Victorian to the Edwardian
period,
when Graves was
growing up.
Bulwer-Lytton
had set the tone for the earlier Victorian era with his
melodrama of
love,
rivalry, religion,
and
murder,
The Last
Days of
Pompeii (1835);
but the mood of the late Victorians was more serious
and moralistic. Walter Pater's now
scarcely
readable Marius the
Epicurean (1885) combinedfin-de-siecle
aestheticism with an earnest
medievalism
owing
to the Arts and Crafts
movement,
while William
Morris's House
of
the
Wolfings (1889)
described the life of a band of
'Goths',
a
peace-loving
folk
unconscionably
harrassed
by
the
intruding
Romans. Morris's idealized
picture
was
interpreted
at the time
by
some critics as a
projection
back into the
past
of a
primal proto-
Socialist
community
such as he was
trying
to foster in
England.
Morris denied the
applicability
of such a strict
allegorical reading,
but
in view of the close relation in his
thought
between art and
ideology,
a
connection of some sort must be
acknowledged.3
These novels show a
common
suspicion
of the value of
purely
academic
scholarship
for a
re-creation of 'what it was
really
like' in the ancient
world,
which is
sometimes made
explicit; Bulwer-Lytton
has
frequent gibes
at the
opinions
of 'the
blundering
learned'.4
Occasionally
too the theme of
contemporary
relevance is
spelt
out: in the introduction to his work
Bulwer-Lytton
avows that his intention is to 'select those
[materials]
which would be most attractive to a modern reader . . . the shadows
that,
when
reanimated,
would
present
to him such
images
as,
while
they represented
the
past, might
be least
uninteresting
to the
specu-
lations of the
present'.5
Alongside
these works
may
be set the numerous books written
by
schoolmasters
(and
not
infrequently
with Roman
schoolboys
as
hero)
3
On the
politics
of this
novel,
see A.
Hodgson,
The Romances
of
William Morris
(Cambridge,
1987),
133 ff.
4
The Last
Days of
Pompeii (edn.
of
1902),
97. 5 Ibid. 6.
192 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 193
to arouse their
charges'
interest in
things
ancient,
often
providing
moral
exempla
for those who will soon
go
out to
govern
the far-distant
provinces
of the 'second Rome'. For the most
part
these now
appear
jejune
and
didactic,
though
the
self-deprecation
with which the
authors often make ancient schoolmasters the butt of their humour is
touching.
This
equation
between the British and Roman
empires
is
found not
infrequently
in
Kipling,
and is
given
a
grim
twist
by Joseph
Conrad in the
opening pages
of
Youth,
where the
narrator,
as a
prelude
to his own tale of
imperial expansion,
reflects on the sordid
world that the Romans found on the banks of the Thames.
Samuel Butler and the
Utopian
Tradition
We do not know which of these historical novels were on the
young
Graves's bookshelves. His earnest
parents probably
knew their Pater
and
(despite
his
Socialism)
Morris,
of whom Graves often
speaks
highly.6
But the most
important
influence on Graves was that of
Samuel Butler
(1835-1902).
Butler does not
strictly belong among
the
historical
novelists,
being
best known for his
semi-autobiographical
work The
Way of
All Flesh
(published posthumously
in
1903),
for the
Utopian
satires Erewhon
(1872)
and Erewhon Revisited
(1901),
and
for his
half-jesting riposte
to
nineteenth-century
Homeric
criticism,
The Authoress
of
the
Odyssey (1897);
however,
there is a
similarity
between the use of the
past
as a means of
discussing
the
present
found
in historical
fiction,
and his use of
Utopian
satire and fictionalized
autobiography.
As Butler is now
regarded
as
something
of a
period
piece,
it
may
be
appropriate
to
give
a few
specimens
of his
work,
especially
those
aspects
of it that were
picked up
later
by
Graves.
The first
passage
illustrates the
reductive,
ironic
technique by
which Butler
attempts
to undermine both the internal rhetoric of the
Odyssey
and its status as a 'classic'. His thesis is that the
style
and
concerns evinced
by
the writer of the
Odyssey
could
only
be those of a
woman,
and one
'excessively
jealous
for the honour of her sex'. Here
he
alleges
that
Penelope
connived at the continued attentions of the
Suitors,
and that the Authoress is
'whitewashing'
her:
Sending pretty
little
messages
to her admirers was not
exactly
the
way
to
get
rid of them. Did she ever
try snubbing? Nothing
of the kind is
placed
on
record. Did she ever
say,
'Well, Antinous,
whoever else I
may marry, you
may
make
your
mind
easy
that it will not be
you.'
Then there was
6
e.g.
in the
essay
'Wordsworth and
Coleridge'
from
Epilogue (the
short-lived
journal
edited
by
Laura
Riding
and dedicated to her
cult, c.1936), repr.
in The
Crowning Privilege
(Harmondsworth, 1955),
291: 'Of
[the Pre-Raphaelites] only
William Morris had the
healthy
energy
for
carrying
the
group's
idealistic
principles
into
healthy practice.'
boring-did
she ever
try
that? Did she ever read them
any
of her
grand-
father's letters? Did she
sing
them her own
songs,
or
play
them music of her
own
composition?
I have
always
found these courses successful when I
wanted to
get
rid of
people.
There are indeed
signs
that
something
had been
done in this
direction,
for the suitors
say they
cannot stand her
high
art
nonsense and aesthetic rhodomontade
any longer
...7
The
Authoress,
he
suggests, obligingly
leaves a
portrait
of herself in
the
person
of
Nausicaa;
a
suggestion
which invites
comparison
with
his own
self-portrait
in The
Way of
All Flesh. The references to
'high
art nonsense and aesthetic rhodomontade
[sic]'
are of obvious contem-
porary
relevance in the era of
Pater,
Beardsley,
and
Wilde,
while the
mention of the value of one's own music in
driving guests
away
strikes
a wistful
autobiographical
note;
Butler was a
highly
unsuccessful
composer.
The
two-way relationship
between
past
and
present
is
nearly explicit.
The next two
passages
relate to the
schooling
of the anti-hero Ernest
Pontifex
(Samuel Butler)
at
Roughborough (Rugby)
under Dr
Skinner
(Arnold),
while in the third
passage
he is
up
at
Cambridge
and
publishing
in a
university magazine:
[Ernest's
unspoken thoughts]:
Besides,
Latin and Greek are
great humbug;
the more
people
know of them the more odious
they generally
are;
the nice
people
whom
you delight
in either never knew
any
at all or
forgot
what
they
had learned as soon as
they
could ...
Only
once in the whole course of his school life did he
get praise
from Dr.
Skinner for
any
exercise,
and this he has treasured as the best
example
of
guarded approval
which he has ever seen. He had to write a
copy
of Alcaics
on 'The
dogs
of the monks of St
Bernard,'
and when the exercise was
returned to him he found the Doctor had written on it: 'In this
copy
of
Alcaics-which is still
excessively
bad-I
fancy
that I can discern some faint
symptoms
of
improvement.'
Ernest
says
that if the exercise was
any
better
than usual it must have been
by
a
fluke,
for he is sure that he
always
liked
dogs, especially
St Bernard
dogs,
far too much to take
any pleasure
in
writing
Alcaics about them.8
'Why,
I ask
myself,
do I see much that I can
easily
admire in
Homer,
Thucydides,
Herodotus, Demosthenes,
Aristophanes,
Theocritus, parts
of
Lucretius,
Horace's satires and
epistles
. ..
yet
find
myself
at once
repelled
by
even those works of
Aeschylus, Sophocles
and
Euripides
which are most
generally
admired ... How
far,
I
wonder,
did the Athenians
genuinely
like
these
poets
.. . . . [The most reliable
guide
to
popular opinion
is
Aristophanes, who]
makes no secret of
heartily hating Euripides
and
7
Butler,
The Authoress
of
the
Odyssey (1897),
130.
8
Butler,
The
Way of
All Flesh
(1903; Harmondsworth, 1966),
158
(ch. 31),
217
(ch. 44).
In
subsequent
references the
page
nos. are those of the
Penguin
edns.
(unless
stated
otherwise),
whose
year
of
publication
will also be
given
on first citation.
194 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 195
Sophocles,
and I
strongly suspect only praises Aeschylus
that he
may
run
down the other two with
greater impunity
... It
may
be observed that while
Euripides
accuses
Aeschylus
of
being "pomp-bundle-worded,"
which I
suppose
means bombastic and
given
to
rodomontade, Aeschylus
retorts on
Euripides
that he is a
"gossip gleaner,
a describer of
beggars,
and a
rag-stitcher,"
from which it
may
be inferred that he was truer to the life of his
own times than
Aeschylus
was.'9
This theme is resumed in the next
passage,
from Erewhon. Even
without a
key
it is
easy
to see what is
being
satirized:
Thus
they
are
taught
what is called the
hypothetical language
for
many
of
their best
years-a language
which was
originally composed
at a time when
the
country
was in a
very
different state of
civilisation,
a state which has
long
since
disappeared
and been
superseded. Many
noble maxims and valuable
thoughts
which were at one time concealed in it have become current in their
modern
literature,
and have been translated over and over
again
into the
language
now
spoken....
But
[the
store]
the Erewhonians ... set
by
this
hypothetical language
can
hardly
be
believed;
they
will even
give any
one a
maintenance for life if he attains a considerable
proficiency
in the
study
of
it;
nay, they
will
spend years
in
learning
to translate some of their own
good
poetry
into the
hypothetical language-to
do so with
fluency being
reckoned
a
distinguishing
mark of a scholar and a
gentleman.10
It is clear from Butler's work that he was
exposed
to classical texts at
an
early
date and retained a
lively
interest in
them;
however,
it is a
sign
of the intellectual
maturity
of his
counterpart,
the
young
Ernest,
that he is able to criticize the classical authors. It
may
further be noted
how Ernest's
description
of
Aristophanes' affecting
a
respect
for
Aeschylus purely
in order to do down
Euripides
and
Sophocles
is
exactly paralleled by
his own
expressions
of
respect
for
Homer,
Thucydides
et
al.-perhaps
made
ironically
with the
purpose
of
revealing
the others in an unfavourable
light.
I
suggest
that such
methods are
present
also in the work of Graves.
Butler and Graves's Satirical
Technique
The
early
influence of Butler
upon
Graves is well documented. The
posthumous publication
of The
Way of
All Flesh in 1903
put
Butler's
reputation
higher
than it had been since the Erewhon novels. His
guerrilla
campaign-a
sort of intellectual Boer War-on the twin
institutions of
Evangelical Christianity
and the British
public-school
system captured
the
imagination
of the
young
Graves as he
sought
to
cope
with the miseries of life at Charterhouse and the
pressures
of his
pious family (the
details of which are related in
Goodbye
to All
That,
10
Erewhon
(1872; Harmondsworth, 1981),
186
(ch. 21).
9
Ibid. 226-7
(ch. 46).
chs.
1-8). Siegfried
Sassoon,
who met him as a
young
officer in the
trenches,
writes that 'At that
period
Samuel Butler was the source of
much of David's
[i.e. Graves's] ingenuity
at
knocking
established
names and notions off their
perches';11 among
the heresies with which
Graves had shocked his brother-officers was the Butlerian notion that
the
Odyssey
was the work of a woman. Graves himself recounts how
he 'infuriated' his
uncle,
'a
good
Victorian',
by using
a
'tip'
to
purchase
Butler's Note
Books,
The
Way of
All
Flesh,
and the Erewhon novels.12
Graves's novella
My
Head!
My
Head!
(1925),
a work which
anticipated
his later historical and biblical
reconstructions,
sprang
from 'a
lightheartedly
rationalistic
correspondence
between
"Erewhon" Butler and his friend Miss
Savage'.13
This influence
persists
into his later
work;
in his
Utopian
novel Seven
Days
in New
Crete
(1949)
he evokes a
community
founded in
part
on the ideas of
'an Israeli
Sophocrat
named ben-Yeshu'
(i.e.
'Son of
Jesus'),
whose
book A
Critique of Utopias
was 'a detailed and learned
analysis
of some
seventy Utopias
...
including
Plato's Timaeus and
Republic,
Bacon's
New Atlantis . . . Morris' News
from Nowhere,
Butler's Erewhon'.14
Seven
Days
in New Crete is a linear descendant of
Erewhon,
but I
suggest
that Graves's historical
fiction,
like the
Utopian
tradition,
creates an
imaginary
world whose values mirror
(and
therefore
invert)
those of the writer's own world.
Butler, then,
was influential in
giving
Graves an intellectual
stimulus which was to last well into his mature work. He was the
model Graves set himself to emulate and
outpass,
the
King
of the
Wood whom Graves had to
slay
to succeed. So as late as 1960 Graves
published
his
highly
eccentric version of the
Iliad,
a work
showing
the
persistence
of Butler's influence. But the thesis on the character of the
Iliad advanced in the Introduction is a radical re-evaluation on a scale
worthy
of his mentor:
Now,
the
original High King
of the Achaeans was a
living god;
his
palace,
a
temple;
his
courtyards, holy ground.
He
corresponded
on
equal
terms with
the
High King
of the
Hittites,
a
fellow-god.
But
by
Homer's time this
religious High Kingship
had
perished,
all the
great
cities had
fallen,
and the
I
Sassoon,
Memoirs
of
an
Infantry Officer,
Pt. 6 ch. I
(p.
106 Faber and Faber edn. of
1969).
Sassoon's two series of
autobiographical
works-Memoirs
of
a
Fox-hunting Mian (1928),
Memoirs
of
an
Infantry Officer (1930),
Sherston's
Progress
(1936),
and The Old
Century (1938),
The Weald
of
Youth
(1942), Siegfried's Journey (1945)-in
some
ways parallel
Butler and Graves
in their combination of
autobiography
and fiction. To this
genre may
be added Edmund Gosse's
Father and Son
(1907), probably
also known to
Graves,
and Alec
Waugh's
The Loom
of
Youth
(1917).
12
Goodbye
to All That
(1929; Harmondsworth, 1986),
62
(ch. 10).
This
reproduces
Graves's
revised text of
1957,
which in
places
is
considerably
different from that of the 1929
original;
however,
the variations do not touch on the
passages
quoted
here.
13
From the
Argument
to
My Head!My Head!
14
Seven
Days
in New
Crete,
ch. 4.
196 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 197
semi-barbarous
princelings
who
camped
on their ruins were ennobled
by
no
spark
of
divinity.
It is
clearly
these
iron-age princes
. . . whom Homer
satirizes in
Mycenean disguise
as
Agamemnon,
Nestor,
Achilles and
Odysseus....
The
Homeridae,
being
sacrosanct servants of
Apollo,
could risk
satire,
so
long
as
they
remained serene and
unsmiling throughout
their
performances,
pointed
no
finger, tipped
no wink.15
Here we
may
trace
directly
the Butlerian motif. Butler had
given
the
Odyssey
a
reductive,
non-heroic treatment
by reading
it
according
to the canons of
contemporary
fiction as if it were a
bourgeois
novel.
Graves outbids
this;
he chooses the Iliad-a work still more 'heroic'
than the
Odyssey-and
likewise
interprets
it in the
light
of modern
literature. The
genre
he chooses
is, however,
more earnest than that
chosen
by
Butler;
he reads it as a satire on
incompetent military
commanders,
along
the lines of the
war-poetry
fostered
by
the
experiences
of his
generation
of
poets
over
forty years
before. His
reading
is
altogether
more
rigorous
than Butler's. Butler's theories on
the
Odyssey, though
he was
genuinely
convinced of them
himself,
are
presented frivolously,
as an intellectual tour
deforce
which
effectively
devalues the work. Graves's Iliad is
deadly
serious. The theme of the
Apollonian
bard,
under the
protection
of the
god
and
using
the
figures
of a distant
past
to satirize the leaders of the
present,
should also be
noted;
it will be central to our
understanding
of the Claudius novels.16
A further instance of Graves's attitude towards satire and war-
poetry may
be seen in his
response
to a
poem
of Sassoon's written in
1917.
[Sassoon's
poem]
To these I
turn,
in these I
trust,
Brother Lead and Sister
Steel;
To his blind
power
I make
appeal,
I
guard
her
beauty
clean from rust ...
had
originally
been
inspired by
Colonel
Campbell,
V.C's
bloodthirsty
'Spirit
of the
Bayonet'
lecture at an
army
school.
Later,
Siegfried
offered it as a
satire;
and it
certainly
comes
off,
whichever
way you
read it.17
There is a
continuity
between this and Graves's later views on the
Iliad;
the satirical
poem may equally
be read
perfectly 'straight',
or as
an
Apollonian,
vatic
utterance,
whose true
meaning
is hidden from the
unenlightened.
Indeed,
Graves comes across as
something
of a
15
The
Anger ofAchilles (1960), pp.
xiv-xv.
16
The same characterization of the court
poet
as satirist is made in The
Crowning Privilege,
20.
17
Goodbye to All That, 226
(ch. 25).
conspiracy
theorist for his readiness to
impute
a covert and satirical
motive behind a work. In 1956 he
published
a translation of
Lucan,
whose introduction is a fine
specimen
of his mind at its most
idiosyncratic.
His thesis is as follows. Lucan is a bad
poet.
However,
most of the modern
poets currently
in
vogue
are also bad. Therefore a
translation of Lucan is
likely
to be well received
among
those who
cannot read this ancient
poet
for themselves. The essential badness of
Lucan's
poetry
could not have
escaped
the notice of his main
editor,
A. E. Housman
(a good poet); why
then had Housman not com-
mented on it? Graves's answer is that-he had:
Prevented
by
the
self-denying
ordinance to which textual critics subscribe
from
expressing any poetic judgement,
he
merely
allows himself a few
dry
comments,
in an
appendix,
on Lucan's astronomical
ignorance.
But the
savagery
of his attack on former editors
suggests
that he was
using
them as
whipping-boys
for
Lucan;
did not Lucan himself use Caesar as a
whipping-
boy
for Nero .. ?18
Whatever the merits of Graves's theories on Housman at this
point,
the mental
pattern
behind them is
becoming
clear. He is
very ready
to
impute
satirical intention to the work of
others,
who use the
figures
of
one historical
period
to ridicule those of another. These satirists are
under the
patronage
of
Apollo,
and like him love to hide the true
import
of their
words;
their work has to be coherent within its own
primary
frames of
reference,
both to conceal its subversive
message
from the
people
it
mocks,
and to add
pungency
to the
enjoyment
of
those who
penetrate
to the hidden core. We shall see how this
theory
works when
applied
to some of Graves's own works.
Satire and Allusion in Graves's Fiction
The Claudius novels
(and
Count
Belisarius)
are
primarily
works of
historical fiction.
This, however,
does not of itself
preclude
the
possibility
that
they may
contain allusions to the world in which and
for which
they
were
written;
we have seen how this is
something
of a
feature of the
genre,
and one in which Graves had a
special
interest. In
this section I
give
a
fairly
random,
and
by
no means
comprehensive,
choice of instances where Graves
consciously
and
ironically toys
with
the
relationship
between the ancient and modern worlds. Not all these
cases are alike. Sometimes the
parallel
is
obscure,
and sometimes it is
explicit
but
apparently gratuitous.
Sometimes Graves uses
obviously
anachronistic
language
to
convey
the
similarity,
sometimes the re-
lationship
is more
broadly
thematic. We are fortunate in
possessing
18
Lucan,
The Civil
War,
trans. R. Graves
(1956),
23.
198 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 199
not
only
Graves's
autobiography Goodbye
to All That
(a
title which has
now become
proverbial,
but which was a
coinage
of
Graves's-loosely
reminiscent of The
Way of
All
Flesh),
but also his social
history
of the
inter-war
years,
The
Long
Week-end
(1940,
with Alan
Hodge),
a
useful index of what Graves
regarded
as the
important
social
phenomena
of the
period.
Graves wrote the Claudius novels while
living
in
Deya, Majorca,
in
1933-4. Like
many
other
English
intellectuals of this
period
he was
concerned
by
the
worsening
international
situation;
and the most
general
themes of the novels-the
paradoxes
of
power,
the
dangers
of
corruption
and the
perils
of
compromise,
the
position
of the
notionally
absolute ruler-are of
great
relevance in the decade of
Mussolini,
Hitler, Stalin,
and Franco.
Certainly
the resonances of his work were
not lost on
Mussolini, who,
intent on
reviving
the
ideology
of the
Roman
Empire,
had Graves's novels banned for their unfavourable
representation
of
imperial
Rome. Even the choice of characters
may
have curious
overtones;
it is
interesting
to note how the consonants of
the name 'Messalina' are
precisely
those of 'Mussolini'.
Historically
this is the merest accident
(though
one
against
which the odds would
be
fairly formidable).
But Graves was
probably
aware of this simi-
larity;
his father was a keen
pan-Celticist,
and at an
early age
Graves
had learnt the
cynghanedd
verse-scheme of Welsh
bards,
which
depends
on the use of the same
sequence
of consonants in successive
lines,
but with different vowels.19 There is no direct correlation
between the actions of Messalina and those of
Mussolini,
but Graves
may
have
enjoyed casting
the
portentous
dictator in the role of
Claudius' lascivious and
intriguing
wife.
The resemblance between these two characters is
admittedly
tenu-
ous.
However,
a clearer instance of Graves's satirical
technique may
be found in his treatment of the Germans in his 1930s novels. Graves
was himself
half-German,
through
his
mother,
and had written of the
Germans with
great respect
in
Goodbye
to All That. In the aftermath
of the 1933
putsch
that
put Germany
in Hitler's
hands,
his attitude
shifted.
By
his own account he
perceived
earlier than
many
the threat
posed by
a
resurgent Germany;
in The
Long
Week-end he
quotes
from
his own
diary
how he met with Churchill to discuss the situation at a
time when
any
talk of war was
regarded
as militaristic.20 A
large part
of
I,
Claudius is
given
over to the
campaigns
of Claudius' elder
19
He illustrates it with the
English
lines 'Billet
spied
|
bolt
sped I
Across field
I
Crows fled
I
Aloft, wounded, I
Left one dead'. See The White
Goddess,
ch. 1. R. P. Graves also records
similar
word-games played by
Graves and
Riding
in the
early
1930s. See also 'The Ghost of Mr.
Milton' in The
Crowning Privilege,
341.
20
The
Long
Week-end
(1940),
410-11
(ch. 24).
brother Germanicus
(whom
he
idolizes)
in the
Rhineland,
avenging
the massacre of Varus'
legions
in AD 9. The Germans he encounters
are bold and
warlike,
but
unstable,
and need to be beaten
firmly
and
shown their
place:
If Germans ever become civilized it will then be time to
judge
whether
they
are cowards or not.
They
seem, however,
to be an
exceptionally
nervous and
quarrelsome people,
and I cannot make
up my
mind whether there is
any
immediate chance of their
becoming really
civilized. Germanicus
thought
that there was none.21
The
myth
of the
hardy, primitive vigour
of the Germans
(for
which
Tacitus is
largely responsible)
was one which
Germany's
new rulers
were keen to foster. A
particular
hero of the National Socialists was
Hermann,
the brave chieftain who
repelled
the Romans. In Graves's
account,
Hermann is valiant but
lacking
in statecraft and
responsible
for the defeat of his
folk;
he is ridiculed in a curious
quasi-Aris-
tophanic ditty
for
having
'lost his sweetheart
|
And his little
pot
of
beer'.22
Despite
the threat
they pose
to the northern frontier of the
Empire,
the Germans
perform
a vital service in Rome
by providing
the
Imperial Bodyguard;
the
Emperor
is thus
obliged
to retain the
goodwill
of the Germans if he is to
keep
his life.
However,
when
Claudius,
in a successful
attempt
to discover the whereabouts of the
missing
Roman
Eagle,
makes trial of their
oft-professed yearning
for
the rude life
they
had left
behind,
he finds it
wanting:
'And these
Germans at
Rome,
though technically
slaves,
lived a most
easy
and
enjoyable
life,
and their
regret
for home was not at all a sincere
emotion,
merely
an excuse for tears when
they
were maudlin-
drunk. '23
The
Germans, then,
are
portrayed
as fierce
warriors,
but
lacking
in
counsel and
prone
to demoralization in times of
peace.
If this
interpretation
is set in the context of the
mid-1930s,
it is hard not to
see it as a
response
to recent German
history-to
the First World
War,
the
collapse
of the Weimar
Republic,
and the rise of the Third Reich.
As noted
above,
Graves was
among
the first to
acknowledge
the
necessity
for rearmament in the face of the
deteriorating
situation in
Europe, though
his own views on the German soul were not
wholly
logical;
around this time he comes to
'explain
the
schitzophrenia [sic]
in the German soul in terms of an unresolved conflict between their
patriarchal Aryan
strain and their matriarchal Mediterranean strain'.24
21
The
Anger ofAchilles, pp.
xiv-xv.
22
I,
Claudius
(1934; Harmondsworth, 1975),
192
(ch. 16);
cf. the
parody
of
Euripidean
metrics in
Aristophanes'
The
Frogs
1208
ff.,
XA'KV0Qov
aTorwn
e
('lost
his little
pot
of
oil').
23
Claudius the God
(1934;
Harmondsworth,
1976),
137
(ch. 10).
24
See The
Crowning Privilege, 271,
repr.
from
Epilogue.
200 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 201
The same theme of the conflicts and deficiences of the German
national soul is reiterated in Count
Belisarius; when Belisarius attacks
the Vandal settlers in North
Africa,
he finds that
these
fair-skinned,
fair-haired Northerners had
now,
by
the third
generation,
become acclimatized to Africa.
They
had intermarried with the
natives,
changed
their diet and
yielded
to the African sun
(which
makes for
ill-temper
rather than
endurance)-and
to such luxuries as silk
clothes,
frequent
bathing, spiced
foods,
orchestral music and
massage
instead of exercise. This
enervating
life had
brought
out
strongly
a trait common to all Germanic
tribes,
namely
an insecure hold on the emotions.25
Later Belisarius
again
faces a Germanic
people,
the Goths
holding
Italy.
These had fallen into the other extreme:
They
had not
degenerated,
as the Vandals
had,
under the luxurious
spell
of
civilization;
but neither had
they profited by
their
sixty years'
residence in
Italy
to
improve
their
good
sense
by literary
education . . . Thus
they
neglected
to reinforce their barbarian
fighting
qualities
with such
military
knowledge
as can be derived from books.26
It is
important
to note here that while William Morris's Goths had
been a
prototype
of the
English people,
Graves's Germans are not.
The Britons in the Claudius novels are
Celts,
and Graves's
represen-
tation of Celtic customs functions as a subtle
parody
of
contemporary
British institutions
(see pp.
212ff.
below).
If the
prevailing ideologies
of
Italy
and
Germany
are criticized in
the Claudius
novels,
that of
Spain
comes in for some
oblique
comment in Count Belisarius
(the
former novels
having
been written
before the
Spanish
Civil
War,
the latter
after).
This novel is rather less
susceptible
of the sort of wider
allegories
found in the Claudius
novels;
there seems to have been a
steady
shift in Graves's
writing
away
from the
overtly political.
Nevertheless,
there are elements of
the
Spanish
Civil War to be found in Belisarius. The hero's
reconquest
of
Italy
is
opposed by
a 'Gothic
Army
of National
Defence'27-a blatant anachronism in the context of
sixth-century
Germanic
war-bands,
but
quite
at home in the
Spain
of the mid-
1930s.
Similarly
the Persian commanders whom Belisarius encounters
in the East are sometimes described as
'generalissimo'28-a
term in use
in
English
since the seventeenth
century
but
applied particularly by
the Nationalist
partisans
to General Francisco Franco. It is not found
in the Claudius
novels,
written before the
Spanish
Civil
War,
and its
25
Count Belisarius
(1938),
181
(ch. 11).
26 Ibid. 214
(ch. 12).
27
Ibid. 246
(ch. 15).
28
e.g.
ibid. 110
(ch. 7);
the term is used of Belisarius
himself,
319
(ch. 15).
presence
in Belisarius is therefore
likely
to be a direct
spin-off
of the
Civil War.
However,
it is not
merely
the
Right
which attracts Graves's
attention.
Although
Graves
had,
as he
says
in his
autobiography,
'called himself a socialist' in the
early
1920s,
his fervour had
evap-
orated as the decade wore on. He never seems to have subscribed to
Communism,
though
that doctrine
appears-and by
name-once in
Count Belisarius:
Khosrou abhors and
persecutes Christianity.
. . . He also
persecutes
a
doctrine called
Communism;
this was first
preached by
one
Mazdak,
who
derived it from
early
Christian
practice,
but who wished the
community
of
possessions
to include not
only goods
and
money
but also women.29
I have not been able to trace the Persian cult in
question,
if indeed it is
not
wholly
invented
by
Graves. The motivation for
giving
this detail
(irrelevant
to the
plot)
is a desire to
bang
Christian and Communist
heads
together by reminding
them of the fundamental similarities of
their beliefs. Less
explicit,
but in some
ways
more
interesting,
is a
minor
episode
in Claudius the God in which Messalina
encourages
her
husband to
adopt
a centralized control of the
grain supply
of Rome
through
a
system
of state
monopolies.30
The narrative is too
long
to be
conveniently quoted
here,
but the
concepts
and the
language
are
closely
modelled on classical socialist theories. Claudius-who
expounds
a
surprisingly prescient
version of market-force economics
-allows himself to be
persuaded.
Messalina, however,
accepts
bribes
in
exchange
for the
right
to administer the
monopolies,
and the
system
collapses.
Claudius is indeed known to have
attempted
such a
policy,31
but in
choosing
to relate this incident
(not important
for the action of
the
novel,
save in so far as it illustrates Messalina's hold over her
husband),
Graves is
giving
a historical event a
contemporary
twist.
There is one more brief allusion in Count Belisarius which a British
reader
may
remark. On the
day
after Belisarius' defeat of the Vandals
in
Africa, Justinian promulgates
his new
Digest,
in the
prologue
to
which
he had
already styled
himself
'Conqueror
of the Vandals and the Africans'-
Pious, Victorious,
Happy
and
Glorious-and,
without
mentioning
that
anybody
else had shared in the
victory,
referred to 'the sweats of war and the
night-watches
and fasts' on his own
part
that had secured it.32
29
Count
Belisarius,
388-9
(ch. 23).
30 Claudius the
God,
204-7
(ch. 15).
31
See B. Levick, Claudius
(1990), 84, 110;
A.
Momigliano,
Claudius
(Oxford, 1934;
repr.
Cambridge, 1961),
49-50.
32
Count
Belisarius,
199-200
(ch. 12).
202 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 203
The reference is a not inaccurate translation of the title
given
to
Justinian
in the 'Confirmatio
Digestorum'-'pius
felix inclutus victor
ac
triumphator'-but
its inclusion
here,
combined with the
slight
shift
in
word-order,
and the terms used to translate
them,
must be a
sidelong glance
at the National Anthem-'Send him
Victorious,
Happy
and Glorious'.
Justinian
is criticized for
claiming
credit for a
victory
in which he was a non-combatant-and it is
implied
that such
a
ploy
is not confined to
sixth-century Byzantium.
Indeed,
Graves's wider
practice
of
translating
ancient terms into
English
deserves attention. It is evident that
any
translation from a
classical
language
must
perforce
seek to strike a balance between
comprehensibility
to the modern reader and
fidelity
to the
original
text. There
are, however,
some
recognized
conventions for
Angliciz-
ing
some of the more common Latin technical terms. Most
moderately
educated readers
would,
I
suggest,
be familiar with words such as
'Forum', 'centurion',
and
'legion',
even if
they
lacked a detailed
knowledge
of Roman
military
and social life. Graves will have none of
this. He
regularly
uses the terms
'Regiment' (= 'legio'), 'sergeant'
(
'centurio'), 'captain' (the
Latin terms here seem to
vary; perhaps
=
'tribunus',
'centurio
primipilus').
These
patent
anachronisms
may
be
justified
on the
grounds
that it is the
duty
of the
translator,
and even
more of the historical
novelist,
to
represent
the ancient world in
contemporary
terms. Yet it is hard to dismiss the
suggestion
that this
choice of
phrase
is
actively misleading,
in that it
implies
a
degree
of
similarity
between the ancient and modern world which does not in
fact exist. But this also serves to
emphasize
the conscious
playing-off
of the two cultures. As an extreme
example,
Graves chooses to render
the Germanic 'framea' as
'assegai'-and
in a
lengthy apologia explains
that it is not
misleading,
as 'the Germans of Claudius's
day
had
culturally
much in common' with the Zulu warriors of the nineteenth
century;33
Latin had borrowed the Germanic word
just
as
English
had
borrowed the Zulu. This
similarity
is most
apparent
in the
way
these
two
peoples
were
perceived by
the dominant
imperial powers
of their
day.
The
Germans,
unlike the
Parthians,
were seen not as a
major
threat to the
stability
of the
Empire,
but as a
primitive
tribe at the
edge
of the civilized
world,
who had
preserved
their
primitive vigour.
The Zulus were viewed
by
the British in much the same
light.
Even
the massacre of Varus'
legions
and the
carnage
of Rourke's Drift could
be seen as evidence of the
fighting qualities
of these
peoples,
in
taking
on and
defeating
a better-trained and
previously
invincible force-
though
this
may
be
partly
because neither the Romans nor the British
33 I, Claudius,
7-8
(Author's note).
wanted to admit defeat at the hands of a
pack
of
savages utterly
devoid
of
any redeeming
features.34 So in
using 'assegai'
to render
'framea',
and in his
general
translation
practice,
Graves is not
basing
his choice
on
purely linguistic
criteria. Rather he is
actively exploiting
the
cultural resonances between the ancient and modern worlds.
Although
the Claudius novels
(or
at least
I,
Claudius)
have
through
their TV dramatization become the most
widely
known of Graves's
works,
he saw himself
primarily
as a
poet
rather than a novelist.
However,
as his
politics
had
diverged
from his 1920s socialism
(which
would
arguably
have been more at home in the
1930s),
so his
poetics
veered
away
from the
increasing preciosity
of the modernist move-
ment with which he had associated himself at
first,
towards a
grittier
and more
physical style.
It is therefore not
surprising
to find his
Claudius too
reflecting
on
contemporary
tastes in
poetry:
For
my part,
I would
exchange
all twelve books of
Virgil's
'Aeneid' for a
single
book of Ennius 'Annals'. Ennius ... was what I would call a true
poet;
Virgil
was
merely
a remarkable verse-craftsman.
Compare
the two of them
when
they
are
writing
about a battle: Ennius writes like the soldier he was
(he
rose from the ranks to a
captaincy), Virgil
like a cultured
spectator
from a
distant hill.35
This
preference
for Ennius over
Virgil
is not
wholly
unhistorical,
though
it seems that Graves has attributed it to Claudius in
error;
the
Historia
Augusta
ascribes it to Hadrian.36 But it
appears
that Claudius
is
acting
as Graves's
spokesman
on this issue. On
going up
to Oxford
after the First World War Graves had been
obliged
to
study
both
Anglo-Saxon
and
Augustan poetry-and
had found the former much
more to his
liking:
The
Anglo-Saxon
lecturer was candid about his
subject:
it
was,
he
said,
a
language
of
purely linguistic
interest,
and
hardly
a line of
Anglo-Saxon
poetry
extant
possessed
the
slightest literary
merit. I
disagreed.
I
thought
of
Beowulf
lying wrapped
in a blanket
among
his
platoon
of drunken thanes in
the Gothland
billet; Judith going
for a
'promenade'
to Holofernes'
staff-tent;
and
'Brunanburgh'
with its
bayonet-and-cosh fighting-all
this came far
closer to most of us than the
drawing-room
and
deer-park atmosphere
of the
eighteenth century.37
34
An attitude which finds its classic
expression
in
Kipling's
affectionate
apostrophe
of the
Sudanese warrior in his
poem 'Fuzzy-wuzzy':
'You're a
pore benighted
'eathen but
you
broke the
British
square!'
35
Claudius the
God,
318
(ch. 24).
36
Scriptores
Historiae
Augustae,
Hadrian 16.6.1.
37
Goodbye
to All
That,
239
(ch. 27).
Graves
similarly compares
the
boxing-match
in Aen. v.
362-483 with that in
Idyll
XXII of
Theocritus,
who had
'obviously
been a bit of a bruiser
himself';
see The
Crowning Privilege,
65
(Lecture 3).
204 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 205
There is a
strong
thematic
similarity
here. Both Graves and
Claudius
express
a
preference
for the
older,
more
earthy poetry,
above
the
merely
technical virtues of more recent writers. Even the
fragment
of Ennius that Claudius
goes
on to cite
('Fraxinus frangitur atque
abies consternitur alta . .
.')
is reminiscent
(in
its alliteration and
verse-structure)
of
Anglo-Saxon poetry.
Graves's
paraphrase
of
Anglo-Saxon poetry
is cast in anachronistic
language ('platoon',
'billet', 'staff-tent')
which recalls the anachronistic translations of
Roman terms
already
noted. There is also a certain historical
irony
in
Claudius
hypothetically saying
that he would trade all the Aeneid for
one book of the Annales. In his
day
Ennius'
epic
was
presumably
still
extant,
and therefore the
question
did not arise. It
is, however,
the
sort of comment that
latter-day
classical scholars make when discuss-
ing
which of the lost works of
antiquity they
would wish most to have
preserved.
It seems furthermore that Graves is
perpetrating
a
particularly
bad
pun
in his
description
of Ennius as a soldier who 'rose from the ranks
to a
captaincy'.
Graves too had been a
soldier-poet,
and
one,
like his
Ennius,
noted for his realistic battle-scenes. He did not rise 'from the
ranks',
having
enlisted as a second
lieutenant,
but he did rise 'to a
captaincy'.
Rather
unusually,
he achieved that rank at the
age
of 20-a
feat of which he was rather
proud
and at which some of his
fellow-officers were rather
jealous.
This resentment was fuelled
by
the
fact that he was half-German and had the aristocratic middle
name,
von Ranke.38 Ennius therefore rose to his
captaincy despite being
'from the
ranks',
Graves
despite being
'von Ranke'.
At this
point
it
may
be
appropriate
to
quote
further from the
introduction to Graves's version of Lucan
(see p.
198
above),
in which
he asks
why
the modernist movement in
Anglo-American
poetry
which Ezra
Pound,
T.S. Eliot and T.E.
Hulme,
and others started over
forty years ago, by way
of revolt
against
the
Virgilian
tradition of
Tennyson, Longfellow,
William
Morris and
others,
has
enjoyed
such success. The truth is that at the close of
the First World War much the same moral and aesthetic
gap separated
neo-Georgian
from Victorian
London,
as had
separated
Neronian from
Augustan
Rome.39
Again
there is a
two-way relationship
between the classical and the
modern. On the immediate level the modern world and the success of
modernist
poetry
are adduced to
help
the modern reader understand
38
References in
Goodbye
to All That:
promotion
and
age,
141-2
(ch. 16); age
and German
name,
172
(ch. 19); age again,
200
(ch. 22); post-war
attitude to
rank,
248
(ch. 28).
39
The Civil
War,
23.
the ancient. But
given
Graves's
outspoken
damnation of Lucan's
poetry,
there is also a backhanded
jibe
at the modernists. Like
Lucan,
they
are
technically
unskilled
poets
who
gain popularity
more
by
their
novel effects than
by
their intrinsic worth. It is
interesting
to note that
elsewhere in his introduction Graves taxes Lucan and the 'modernists'
(ancient
and
modern)
with a fondness for 'rodomontade'40-a
criticism which seems to have been
something
of a favourite with
Samuel Butler
(see pp.
194-5
above).
Two more
examples
will suffice to illustrate the
relationship
between Graves's own world and that of his novels. In
1916,
just
before his 21st
birthday,
Graves was
severely
wounded in an
artillery
bombardment,
one of his
injuries being
caused
by
'a little
chip
of
marble ... Later I had it cut
out,
but a smaller
piece
has since risen to
the surface under
my right eyebrow'.41
This
may
be
compared (even
down to the
eyebrow)
with an
injury
to a Roman commander
during
Belisarius'
reconquest
of
Italy:
Trajan
. . . was
pierced
close above the
right eye
and near the nose
by
the
long,
barbed head of an arrow. The shaft had been
insecurely
fastened and
fell off at the moment of
impact
... but he lived on ... for
days
and months
...
and suffered no
pain
or
inconvenience,
though
the barbed head remained
embedded in his flesh. Five
years
later it
began slowly
to
emerge again.
Twelve
years
more,
and he was able to
pluck
it out like a thorn.42
There is no
allegory
intended
here,
as with the case of the allusions to
Communism. It
is,
in
fact,
a fusion of an event in Graves's life with
one found in our main historical source for the
period, Procopius.43
It
is not
particularly
subtle,
and does not serve
any great
thematic or
narrative
purpose.
Rather it
gives
the novel the
appearance
of
being
something
of a
pot-boiler;
Graves himself wrote around this time that
historical fiction was to him a
job,
a source of income-as
opposed
to
his true vocation of
poetry.44
A more
delicately
handled
example
of the same
technique may
be
found
by comparing
another incident in
Goodbye
to All That with one
in Claudius the God. From his
sojourn
in
Egypt
Graves recounts a
story
which
may
be summarized as follows: A
wealthy Egyptian
in a
fit of
temper
with his wife shouts out the Islamic divorce-formula 'I
divorce
you
I divorce
you
I divorce
you'. Immediately
he
repents,
but
the domestics have overheard and therefore the divorce is
legally
binding.
But he and his wife are unable to
remarry immediately,
as the
law dictates that a second
marriage
must intervene. The woman is
40
The Civil
War,
13. 41
Goodbye
to All
That,
181
(ch. 20).
42
Count
Belisarius,
263
(ch. 15).
43
Procopius,
Wars VI. 5. 25-7.
44
See The
Crowning Privilege,
212.
BURTON 206
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 207
then
given
a
marriage
of form to an
aged
servant,
with a view to
being
divorced
by
him and
remarrying
her first husband. But before this last
stage
of the
plan
can be
completed
the woman is run over and
killed,
leaving
the servant to inherit her considerable estate.
This incident is
recycled,
but to
good
effect,
at the
'catastrophe'
to
Claudius the God.
Again
a bare
summary
will
bring
out the
points
of
comparison.
Claudius' wife Messalina wishes to
dispose
of her
husband,
usurp
the
Empire,
and
marry
the handsome Consul-Elect
Silius. She tells Claudius that she has had her
horoscope
cast,
and that
a violent death is
portended
for her husband.
They
consider a
temporary
divorce;
but Claudius
points
out that under Roman law a
second
marriage
must intervene.
They agree
therefore that she is to be
married,
'as a
technicality',
to
Silius,
who will then be killed
off,
allowing
them to
remarry.
Claudius
approves
of this
scheme,
seeing
a
way
to
liquidate
a
political opponent.
The
plan goes
ahead;
but
Messalina has seduced Silius and after their
marriage
the two take
advantage
of Claudius' absence from Rome to
stage
a revolt. This
fails,
and leads to the death of
Silius, Messalina,
and their
conspira-
tors.45 The similarities are
unmistakable,
and here Graves has some
historical
authority
for the incident. The fact that Messalina had
celebrated a
proforma wedding
to Silius
prior
to the
attempted coup
is
known to
Tacitus, who, however,
does not seem to know
why
this
should have occurred.46 Suetonius too is
puzzled
and
very dubiously
retails the
story
which forms the kernel of Graves's account.47 But in
the choice and the
handling
of the
story,
Graves seems to be
recalling
the
Egyptian
incident. His treatment of it is
notably
more work-
manlike than that of the
wound-story
in Count Belisarius. It is not
lifted wholesale from one text to the
other,
and it serves to advance a
major
incident in the action of the novel.
Apollo
and Claudius in Britain
In this section I draw
together
some of the themes discussed
above,
and concentrate on two
aspects
of the novels: the
importance
of
Apollo
as the
patron
and
guarantor
of the
text,
and the
significance
of
Claudius' British
campaigns.
We have
already
seen
(pp.
6-7
above)
how Graves
regarded
the
Iliad as a satire on the
incompetent
Bronze
Age
chieftains,
and how
the
Homeridae,
under the
patronage
of
Apollo,
could risk their satire
so
long
as it was not
explicit. Though
this was written a
quarter
of a
century
after the Claudius novels and Graves's views no doubt
45 Claudius the
God,
362-73
(ch. 28).
46
Tacitus,
Annals xi. 27.
47
Suetonius,
Claudius 26.
evolved over this
time,
it is
probable
that
they
did not
change
in their
general
tenor. The Claudius
novels,
like the
Iliad,
are
Apollonian
texts. In the
opening chapter
of
I, Claudius,
the
young
narrator
goes
to
consult
Apollo's prophet
the
Sibyl
of Cumae.48 She foretells his
unlikely
accession to the
imperial
throne,
and
prophesies:
'But when
he's dumb and no
longer
here
I
Nineteen hundred
years
or near
|
Clau-Clau-Claudius shall
speak
clear.'49 Claudius
interprets
this oracle
as
meaning
that his work will be discovered nineteen hundred
years
thence,
and
suggests
that his work
may
have more relevance then than
many
of the established classics: 'all other authors of
to-day
will seem
to shuffle and
stammer,
since
they
have
only
written for
to-day,
and
guardedly, [but] my story
will
speak
out
clearly
and
boldly'.
A similar
pattern
occurs in relation to another
Apollonian
text,
Horace's
Hymn
to
Apollo
and
Diana,50
which Claudius has
performed
at the Secular Games after his British
victory:
Moved
by
the solemn voice of
prayer
Both deities shall make
great
Rome their
care,
Benignly
turn the direful woes
Of famine and of
weeping
war
From Rome and noble Caesar
far,
And
pour
them on our British foes.
As he
observes,
this verse 'was now more
appropriate
than when it was
first
composed'.
The same
may
be said of much of Claudius'
putative
autobiography,
whose real relevance is as a
commentary
on contem-
porary
life.
One of the most
significant passages
for our
understanding
of these
novels is an
argument
between the historians
Livy
and Asinius
Pollio,
on the
writing
of
history.
It takes
place
in
Augustus'
new
Library
of
Palatine
Apollo;
the
significance
of this is
emphasized by
an
explicit
pun
on
Pollio/Apollo.
The
young
Claudius has been
surprised
while
reading
a volume of Pollio's work:
Pollio
appealed
to me. 'Now sir-I don't know who
you
are but
you
seem to
be a lad of sense-have
you
read our friend
Livy's
work? I
appeal
to
you,
isn't
that at least trashier than mine?'
I smiled.
'Well,
at least it's easier to read.'
'Easier,
eh. How's that?'
'He makes the
people
of Ancient Rome behave and talk as if
they
were alive
now.'
48
The
Sibyl's disjointed, prophetic
utterances seem to have
appealed
to the modernist
imagination:
cf. Eliot's citation of Petronius'
description
of her in the
preface
to The Waste Land
(1922).
49
, Claudius,
13
(ch. 1).
50 Odes i.
21,
though
Graves seems to be
confusing
it with the Carmen Saeculare; Claudius
the
God,
348
(ch. 27).
BURTON 208
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 209
Pollio was
delighted.
'He has
you
there,
Livy,
on
your
weakest
spot.
You
credit the Romans of seven centuries
ago
with
impossibly
modern motives
and habits and
speeches.
Yes,
it's readable all
right,
but it's not
history.'
. . .
Livy
said: 'The trouble with Pollio is that when he writes
history
he feels
obliged
to
suppress
all his
finer,
more
poetical feelings,
and make his
characters behave with conscientious
dulness,
and when he
puts
a
speech
into
their mouth he denies them the least oratorical
ability.'
Pollio said:
'Yes,
Poetry
is
Poetry,
and
Oratory
is
Oratory,
and
History
is
History,
and
you
can't mix them.'
'Can't I? Indeed I
can,'
said
Livy.
'Do
you
mean to
say
that I mustn't write
a
history
with an
epic
theme because that's a
prerogative
of
poetry
or
put
worthy
eve-of-battle
speeches
in the mouths of
my generals
because to
compose
such
speeches
is the
prerogative
of
oratory?'
'That is
precisely
what I do mean.
History
is a true record of what
happened,
how
people
lived and
died,
what
they
did and
said;
an
epic
theme
merely
distorts the record. As for
your generals' speeches they
are admirable
as
oratory
but
damnably
unhistorical.'51
The immediate
irony
is
apparent,
as Pollio's
plain
and unvarnished
works are lost and much of
Livy's
colourful and rhetorical account has
survived to be one of our
major
sources of Roman
history.
But there is
a second
irony.
Graves's novels have
something
in common with both
the Livian and the Asinian
approach.
Claudius insists that his books
are a
straightforward telling
of the
truth,
and Graves was at
pains
to
stress that his works were well documented and not at odds with the
historical evidence. Pollio's insistence that
history
'is a true record of
what
happened'
recalls the
oft-quoted
dictum of Graves's
great-uncle
the historian
Leopold
von Ranke that
history
is a record of what
happened
as it
actually happened ('wie
es
eigentlich gewesen ist').
But
at the same time Graves does credit his characters with motives and
habits and
speeches
which are
aggressively,
if not
impossibly,
modern. The novels are thus at once Livian and Asinian.
The debate between
Livy
and Pollio forms a convenient
bridge
between the
Apollonian aspects
of the
novels,
and the theme of
Claudius and the Britons.
Following
his invasion of
Britain,
Claudius
fights
a
pitched
battle with the main
body
of the natives at Brentwood.
He
composes
a
speech
to whet his men's mettle:
I had
prepared
what I considered a
very
suitable
speech.
It was somewhat
reminiscent of
Livy,
but I felt that the historical
importance
of the occasion
called for
something
in that
style.
It ran:
Romans,
let no
tongue among you wag
and no voice bellow
vainly,
praising
the
days
of old as the
days
of true
gold,
and
belittling
the
present age,
of
51
I, Claudius,
104
(ch. 9).
whose
glories
we should be the
doughty champions,
as a
graceless age
of
gilded
plaster
...
... The Roman
soldier,
whether his battlefield be the
icy
rocks of
Caucasus,
the
burning
sands of the desert
beyond
Atlas,
the dank forests of
Germany,
or
the
grassy
fields of
Britain,
is never unmindful of the
lovely City
which
gives
him his
name,
his
valour,
and his sense of
duty.
I had
composed
several more
paragraphs
in this same
lofty
strains
[sic],
but
strangely enough
not one word of the
speech
was delivered.
Instead,
Claudius is overcome
by
the
moment,
delivers a
short,
colloquial
and humorous
speech,
and
'They
cheered me till
they
were
hoarse,
and I knew then that Pollio was
right
and
Livy
was
wrong.
A
good general
couldn't
possibly
deliver a studied oration on the eve of
battle. .'52
The allusion to
Livy
and Pollio is casual and
easy
to miss. There
have been no references to their debate since it occurred in
I, Claudius;
in the framework of Claudius the God alone it is
meaningless.
But it
serves to
re-emphasize,
at a critical
point,
the
problematic
nature of the
historical novel.
Furthermore,
within this
passage
there are references
to the world in which the novels were written. The
style
is
presented
from Claudius'
point
of view as a
respectful pastiche
of
Livy,
and
doubtless a Latin
'original'
could be
prepared
in that vein. But from the
point
of view of a
classically
trained
Englishman
such as
Graves,
it is as
much a
parody
of the sort of translationese that
schoolboys
were
(and
are) encouraged
to
produce;
a
creaking style, heavy
with
archaisms,
which
only
serves to make the author in
question
seem more remote
and alien. In this
respect
it
may
be
compared
to Housman's famous
'Tragic Fragment',
in which the excesses of the
tragic style,
and
contemporary public-school
translationese,
are
similarly
ridiculed.
Again,
themes from
Goodbye
to All That
resurface;
Graves observes:
Anglican chaplains
were
remarkably
out of touch with their
troops.
The
Second Battalion
chaplain, just
before the Loos
fighting,
had
preached
a
violent sermon on the Battle
against Sin,
at which one old soldier behind me
grumbled,
'Christ,
as if one
bloody push
wasn't
enough
to
worry
about at the
time!' A Roman Catholic
padre,
on the other
hand,
had
given
his men his
blessing
and told them that if
they
died
fighting
for the
good
cause
they
would
go straight
to Heaven
or,
at
any
rate,
be excused a
great many years
in
Purgatory.
When I told this
story
to the
Mess,
someone else said that on the
eve of a battle in
Mesopotamia
the
Anglican chaplain
of his battalion had
preached
a sermon on the commutation of tithes. 'Much more sensible than
that Battle
against
Sin.
Quite
up
in the
air,
and took his men's minds off the
fighting.'53
52
These two
passages
are from Claudius the
God,
253 ff.
(ch. 19).
53
Goodbye
to All
That,
159
(ch. 17).
210 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 211
The
similarity
is evident. Likewise
(though
not
quoted here)
some
words of Claudius'
speech
become the basis for the
nicknaming
of
several of the
legions
who
fight
in the battle. This too is
paralleled
in
the Great
War,
where there is
good
attestation for such
nicknaming
of
British
regiments,
and for the
accompanying aetiologies.54
The attention
given
to Claudius' British
campaigns,
which Roman
writers such as Suetonius and Strabo were
apt
to
play
down,
is an
anachronism,
but one with
special
relevance for a British
public.
Some
aspects
of Claudius' Battle of Brentwood bear a loose resem-
blance to the
fighting
of the Great
War;
Claudius counters the British
chariot-charge by stretching ropes knee-high
in the
grass
to disable the
horses,
and
by deploying
a
camel-corps,
whose smell distracts the
horses and whose
appearance
terrifies the charioteers. This is followed
by
an attack
by
African
auxiliaries,
who also strike terror into the
British hearts. These are
similar,
in broad
terms,
to the use of barbed
wire to
repel
the
cavalry,
and of
poison
gas, tanks,
and colonial
troops
in the 1914-18 war. These similarities should not be
over-stressed,
but their
presence
would not be inconsistent with Graves's
technique.
More
significant
is Claudius' account of the Druidical
system
of
education. Now Graves had a
long-standing
interest in Celtic
lore,
and no doubt could
justify
much of this account from later Irish or
Welsh sources. But the use to which he
put
those sources can best be
understood in the
light
of British educational
practice
in the late
nineteenth and
early
twentieth centuries. His father had been a
distinguished
educationalist
(another similarity
with Samuel
Butler,
whose
grandfather
had been a celebrated headmaster of
Shrewsbury
School),
and had withdrawn him from his first dame-school on
finding
him
studying'a
Question
and Answer
history
book ... which
began:
Question:
Why
were the Britons so called? Answer: Because
they
painted
themselves blue.'55 It is
just
this sort of
learning,
albeit at a
higher
level,
which will
delight
Claudius. The choice of
public
school
for the
young
Robert was dictated
by
his
'inability
to
conjugate
1uTrhLL,
and
IqrLt conventionally'
in the Common Entrance
paper:
'But for
these two verbs I should
certainly
have
gone
to the
very
different
atmosphere
of Winchester.'56 Instead he
goes
to
Charterhouse,
and
receives much the same education that Butler 'Ernest Pontifex' had at
'Roughborough'.
The Claudius novels
provide
a
complement
to the
picture painted
in
Goodbye
to All That. I have
suggested
that Graves is
using
the
world of Claudius to discuss
many topical
issues of his own world.
54
e.g.
ibid. 79
(ch. 12);
Edmund
Blunden,
Undertones
of
War
(1928;
Harmondsworth,
1987),
181
(ch. 18).
55
Goodbye
to All
That,
21
(ch. 3).
56 Ibid. 25
(ch. 3).
This relies in
part
on an identification between the Roman and British
empires,
an identification which is
something
of a
commonplace
in the
late Victorian to Edwardian
period,
when Graves was a
boy,
and
though by
this time
probably
less
self-evident,
nevertheless
implicit
in
the text. So when Claudius describes the Britons of his
day,
he
observes that
they 'speak
a
language
akin to
primitive
Latin',57
and
quotes
Julius
Caesar on the
affinity
between Briton and Roman. The
reference to a
relationship
between Latin and Celtic
may
mean no
more than that
they
are both
Indo-European languages;
but Graves is
classifying
them
together,
over
against
the
Germans,
who also
speak
a
language
of
Indo-European
stock. This
suggests
that he was aware of
and is
exploiting
the
hypothesis
of a distinct 'Italo-Celtic'
group
within
Indo-European.
The modern Britons therefore are sometimes
rep-
resented in the
figure
of the ancient
Britons,
who can claim a
special
kinship
with the Romans.
Graves's account of Druidical
training
is written with the detached
fascination of the
ethnologist,
but shows
many
similarities to the
contemporary
education of the British elite:
The Druid
priesthood
is recruited from
young
men who have attained a
high
rank in their secret societies and to whom certain marks of divine favour have
been
given.
But
twenty years
of hard
study
at the Druidical
college
are first
called for ... The first twelve are
spent
in
being
initiated in turn into all the
other secret
societies,
in
learning by
heart enormous
sagas
of
mythological
poetry
and in the
study
of
law,
music and
astronomy.
The next three are
spent
in the
study
of medicine. The next three are
spent
in the
study
of
omens and
magic.
The tests
put upon
candidates for the
priesthood
are
immensely
severe. For
example,
there is a test of
poetical composition.
The
candidate must lie naked all
night
in a coffin-like
box,
only
his nostrils
protruding
above the
icy
water with which it is
filled,
and with
heavy
stones
laid
upon
his chest. In this
position
he must
compose
a
poem
of considerable
length
in the most difficult of the
many
difficult bardic
metres,
on a
subject
which is
given
him as he is
placed
in the box .... Another test is to stand
before the whole
body
of Druids and be asked
verse-questions
in
riddling
form which must be answered in further
riddles,
also in verse. These riddles
all refer to obscure incidents in the sacred
poems
with which the candidate is
supposed
to be familiar .... The candidate's last test but one is to
spend
the
longest night
of the
year
seated on a
rocking-stone
called the 'Perilous Seat'
which is balanced over a
deep
chasm in the mountains somewhere in the west
of the island. ... There are three ranks of Druid
priests.
There are those who
have
passed
all the
tests,
the true
Druids;
then come the
Bards,
those who
have
passed
in the bardic tests but have not
yet
satisfied the examiners in
soothsaying,
medicine and
magic
..
58
7
I, Claudius,
212
(ch. 16).
212 BURTON
58
Ibid. 221 ff.
(ch. 16).
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 213
Graves's source for this
passage
is Caesar's account of the
training
of
the Gallic
Druids,59
but
again
the
language
in which Graves chooses
to couch it
suggests
that he is
thinking
of more modern times. At the
most obvious
level,
the reference to candidates
satisfying
'the exam-
iners in
soothsaying,
medicine and
magic'
is little less than a
pastiche
of the Statutes of the universities of Oxford and
Cambridge.
But
there are other
parallels.
The
youth
of Britain's
ruling
class,
ancient
and
modern,
spends
much of its time
swallowing
vast tracts of
mythological poetry.
The ritual cold baths and
freezing
dormitories of
the
public-school legend correspond
to the trainee Druid's
night
in a
water-filled coffin.
Apart
from the formal
examinations,
the Druid is
'initiated . . . into all the other secret
societies';
this is not unlike the
sort of furtive locker-room
sodality
which Graves encountered at
Charterhouse.60 The
verse-composition
has no
specific counterpart
in
Goodbye
to All
That,
but the
'many
difficult bardic metres' recalls
Ernest Pontifex's
struggles
with Alcaics
(probably
as hard a metre as
any, except
such oddities as
Galliambics).
Graves is not averse to
airing
his
expertise
as a Latin
versifier,
and on one occasion rather
smugly
shows off his
ability
to handle dubious
quantities;
an effect
rather marred
by
the fact that in the verses in
question
there is one
quantity
which is
indubitably
false.61 The last ordeal of the
aspiring
Druid,
the
night
on the Perilous Seat in the west of
Britain,
has some
similarity
with the
young
Graves's
mountaineering exploits
on the
hills of Wales.
Graves, then,
is
using
the world of the ancient British to
poke
fun at
the world of the moderns. The finest education of his
day
is
represented
in the
guise
of a set of remote and barbaric
practices.
In
this his satirical
technique
resembles that which he ascribes to the
Homeridae in the
Iliad;
he is
pointing
no
finger
and
tipping
no
wink,
but the satire is there. But it would be mistaken to assume that that is
the end of the
story.
The same classical education which he satirizes is
also the one which has
given
him the
training
to enable him to write
these novels. In this
respect
too he
may
be
compared
to
Butler,
who
had
mercilessly
mocked his classical formation
yet
had continued to
write works of Homeric criticism. So while on the one hand Graves
uses his novels to attack the British
public-school system,
on the other
59
De Bello Gallico vi. 13.
60
Cf.
especially
the
'New-bug's
Exam' described in
Goodbye
to All
That,
48 ff.
(ch. 8).
61
Ibid. 167
(ch. 19);
the verses are
O
si
bracchipotens qui fulminat
ore clericus and
O
si
bracchipotens
clericus
qui fulminat
ore
(with long
and short i
respectively
in
clericus,
which
should have a
long
e
(Gk. KXYPLKoS")).
I
suspect,
however,
that Graves
may purposely
have left
the false
quantity
in the
verse,
to insult the
intelligence
of all who fail to
spot
it. This would not
seem out of character. I also
suspect
that the
original
of the
bracchipotens
clericus
(why
this
adjective?)
was a Revd
Armstrong,
but Crockford's has not
supported
this.
hand there are various incidents and themes in them which amount to
a defence of old-fashioned classical education. These deserve
attention.
After
receiving
his
prophecy
from the
Sibyl guaranteeing
the
survival of his work
(see p.
208
above),
Claudius determines to write
in
Greek,
on the
grounds
that 'Greek ... will
always
remain the chief
literary language
of the
world,
and if Rome rots
away,
will not her
language
rot
away
with her?
Besides,
Greek is
Apollo's
own
language.'62
As with the reflections on the relative merits of Asinius
and
Livy
as
historians,
and of
Virgil
and Ennius as
poets,
Graves
plays
ironically
on the reader's
knowledge
that Latin has not
perished.
The
ancient
language
is known and used much more than Ancient
Greek,
and the number of Romance
speakers
is much
higher
than that of
Greek-speakers.
Claudius in effect writes Latin off as
being ultimately
a dead
language,
even if it is not so
yet.
To the
objection
that Latin is
inevitably
a dead
language,
and so of no use in the modern
world,
Graves is
implicitly replying
that such
pessimism
is
premature.
Claudius
spends
most of his
life,
before
becoming Emperor,
working
as an
antiquarian,
and in the course of his studies he has
occasion to learn various
languages
which were
being
or had been
killed off
by
the
spread
of Rome and
Latin,
such as Sabine and
Etruscan. His
family regard
this as a
pedantic
irrelevance and advance
the sort of
arguments
that are often used
against
the
teaching
of the
classical
languages;
Tiberius
jibes:
'There's no ancient Etruscan left to
protest
and no modern Etruscan who
cares,
so
you
can write as
you
please.'63
But this
knowledge
is to serve Claudius well. When
Augustus
dies,
Claudius'
knowledge
of Etruscan and the Etruscan art
of
interpreting portents
enables the
imperial family
to
proclaim
his
apotheosis.64 Again, years
later,
when Messalina
plots
her
coup
with
Silius,
Claudius receives a secret
message
from a former
prostitute
and
companion
of
his,
Calpurnia,
to whom he had
taught
Etruscan. The
note,
written in Etruscan so as to be
unintelligible
to all
others,
warns
him of his wife's
actions;
he is able to return to Rome in time to
quell
the
uprising.
Claudius' education in the 'dead'
languages
enables him
to survive in the harsh
political
realities of the
present.
Claudius also shows considerable
respect
for the institutions of
British
education, which,
as I have
argued,
in
many ways
reflect the
Victorian-Edwardian
public-school system.
When towards the end of
his life he muses
upon
his successes and
failures,
he finds himself
turning
to British verse-forms:
62
I, Claudius,
14
(ch. 1).
214
63
Ibid. 266
(ch. 23).
64
Ibid. 162
(ch. 14).
BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 215
My
statements
fell,
for some reason or
other,
into related
groups
of
three,
like
the 'tercets' of the British Druids ...
I love
liberty:
I detest
tyranny.
I have
always
been a
patriotic
Roman.
The Roman
genius
is
Republican.
The British
public-schoolboy
learns to write Latin
verses;
conversely,
the Roman
Emperor
writes British verses.
His final
plan
for the restoration of the Roman
republic,
after his
death,
rests on his
son,
significantly
called Britannicus. Claudius
perceives
that if he
grows up
in
Rome,
he will either be
disposed
of or
become
corrupted by
the
prevailing
decadence. Instead Claudius
resolves to send him off to
Britain,
where he will be safe from
Agrippina,
Nero,
and the moral
turpitude
of Rome. When the time is
right
he will return to Rome and restore the
republic.65
Just
as a
background
in the classics formed the
ruling
class of the British
Empire,
so a British education will be the salvation of the Roman. But
the
experiment
is never
tried;
when Claudius
puts
the
plan
to
Britannicus,
he
objects
that such education is
outmoded,
and
opts
for
a more vocational
training:
'The
Republic's
dead,
except
for old-
fashioned
people
like
you
and Sosibius. Give me
proper
tutors.
My
present
ones are no use to me. I want to understand finance and
legal
procedure,
I want to learn how to be an
Emperor!'66
Britannicus' wish
is
granted.
But his
training
in the latest
political theory
does not save
him.
Shortly
after Nero's accession he is murdered.
The debate on educational
theory
and
practice (the
relative
import-
ance of the classics and modern
studies,
the value of the
games
tradition,
of mixed and
single-sex
education,
boarding-schools,
compulsory religion)
was intense in inter-war
Britain,
and Graves as
the son of an educationalist had
opinions
of his own. His attitude
towards the traditional education
was,
like
Butler's,
ambivalent. The
tone of the
chapter
of The
Long
Week-end devoted to 'Education and
Ethics'
may
be seen in the
following passage:
[The
liberal educationalist
A.S.Neill]
himself cherished a resentment
against
his own
repressive
Scottish education: he had come to abominate the
Classics,
suspecting anyone
who had
any liking
for them ... He was a
kindly
and
generous
man and
gave everyone
at Summerhill
equal rights
. . . He
counted as his
greatest discovery
the fact that children were born
sincere,
and
remained so unless
warped by
conventional education. Some turned out
sincerely good,
a few
stayed sincerely
bad.
Everything got
broken.67
This is
hardly
an endorsement of liberal educational
policy,
and one is
left with the
impression
that Neill's intellectual
shortcomings
were not
65
Claudius the
God,
415 ff.
(ch. 32).
66
Ibid. 417
(ch. 32).
67
The
Long Week-end,
ch. 13.
unconnected with his abomination for the
classics,
though
it allows
his
personal qualities.
He then rounds on Bertrand
Russell,
describing
him as 'another man with a
grudge against
his
education'-though
this
description
is at least to some extent true of himself. But within the
wider
picture
of this
debate,
we
may point
to one
specific develop-
ment.
Graves had matriculated to Oxford in 1919 with a
scholarship
to
read
'Greats',
that course in classical literature and
philosophy
ancient
and modern which is one of the ornaments of Western culture. He
later
changed
to
reading English
literature,
and continued to live in
the Oxford area until 1926. In 1923 a new course was introduced at
Oxford,
that in
Politics,
Philosophy,
and Economics
(PPE).
This was
conceived as a
contemporary
version of the classical
course,
and was
accordingly
known as 'Modern Greats'. The introduction of a new
course,
explicitly
set on a
par
with the
prestigious
traditional Greats
course,
was not well received
by
all;
one future
novelist,
then an
undergraduate,
described it as 'a
new, disreputable
school . . . for
"publicists
and
politicians"'.68
Graves's views on Modern Greats are
not
known,
but the
relationship
between Greats and Modern Greats is
suspiciously
similar to that between the traditional and new edu-
cational
options open
to
Britannicus;
perhaps
Graves too was unim-
pressed by
PPE.
There exists therefore a tension in the attitudes towards education
in the Claudius novels. The discussion on the best sort of education
within the novels is not innocent. As with
many
other themes and
episodes
in
them,
it is treated with half an
eye
on the
present.
The
overlap
with the
contemporary
world is not
accidental;
the anachron-
ism is deliberate and serves to
emphasize
the tensions between the
different
approaches
to education. For
comparative purposes
there are
two other works of Graves which show a similar tension in attitude
towards the
study
of
antiquity.
After the
publication
of the Claudius
books Graves was invited to review a historical
novel,
Sulamith
Ish-Kishar's
Magnificent Hadrian,
in the Observer.69 In this review
he
wittily
demolished the work on the
grounds
that the author was
both ill-informed
('[in]
the
bibliography
of two hundred mixed titles
... three of the five
ordinary
Classical historians of the
period
did not
appear')
and
over-imaginative;
the review consists of
excerpts
from
the novel rewritten
'soberly
and
honestly'. Clearly
Graves believed
there was a
place
for an
imaginative
reconstruction of the ancient
68
Evelyn Waugh,
A Little Learning
(1964),
ch. 8. See also the advice
given
to Charles
by
his
right-thinking
older cousin
Jasper
in Brideshead Revisited
(1945),
to the effect that Modern
Greats was a school more
disreputable
than
any
save
English.
69
Observer,
27 Oct.
1935;
also summarized in The
Long Week-end,
341-2. This also has
some
interesting
notes on
contemporary
historical fiction.
216 BURTON
THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION 217
world,
but
preferred
a
straightforward,
even
prosy,
factual account to
an over-creative
retelling. Similarly
his
delightfully
malicious attack
on Ezra Pound and his
fans,
Dr.
Syntax
and Mr.
Pound,70
is cast as a
scene in a classroom between the
schoolboy
Pound and a
pedantic,
donnish,
and
none-too-bright
master of the old school. The title
suggests
that the free and
imaginative approach
to the classics found in
Pound's
Homage
to Sextus
Propertius
is
simply
the inverse of the
fussy
literal-mindedness of Dr
Syntax.
However,
the latter is
distinctly
the
more
sympathetic
character.
Conclusions
The
argument
that Graves's Claudius novels contain such a
degree
of satirical comment is
not,
to the best of
my knowledge,
one that has
been
argued
before,
and does not
immediately present
itself to the
reader. It
may
be
objected
that if there were satirical elements in the
Claudius
novels,
they
would have been noticed
earlier,
indeed when
they
were first
published.
There
are,
I
suggest,
several reasons
why
this need not be the case. In the first
place,
the humour seems
largely
to be a
private
joke
of the author's. In his evocation of the Homeridae
satirizing
the
contemporary
rulers,
it is
evidently
not
'public'
satire,
with the audience
laughing
at the
princes;
if it had
been,
the
princes
would soon have found out and
put
a
stop
to it. So it is with Graves's
own
writing;
the fact that the satire is not
immediately apparent
does
not
prevent
us from
inferring
its
presence.
The
genre
of the work too
tends to
discourage
critical attention. Historical fiction is
generally
seen as
escapist
and second-rate
literature,
and not taken
quite
seriously.
It is
noteworthy
that the
Penguin
texts of Samuel Butler
consulted list him as a 'Classic'
author,
and accord him the full critical
regalia
of
Introduction, Notes,
and
Bibliography,
whereas the same
Press
regards
Graves as a 'Modern Classic' and do not offer
any
editorial assistance as to how to read the text. It is
doubly
ironic then
that Graves should have selected this
genre
as the vehicle of his satire.
This
reading
is,
as I have
said,
tendentious.
Any
one of the instances
alleged may
be dismissed.
However,
it is based on a wider
enquiry
into Graves's antecedents and an
application
to his work of his own
critical
approaches.
But often the tone of the
work,
satirical or
straightforward,
cannot
be
identified,
nor need it be. Like the Sassoon
poem
discussed above
(p. 197),
it is
equally susceptible
of either
reading.
Butler's
descrip-
tion of the 'Authoress of the
Odyssey'
at work is no less true of Robert
70
A
response
to a
eulogy
of Pound in the Times
Literary Supplement,
18
Sept.
1953;
printed
in the Pelican 1960 edn. of The
Crowning Privilege,
242-4.
218 THE VALUES OF A CLASSICAL EDUCATION
Graves: 'At the same time I take it that the writer was one half
laughing
and one half
serious,
and sometimes have been hard
put
to it
to know whether she was more in the one vein than the other.'71
71
The Authoress
of
the
Odyssey,
ch. 15.