Where is Claudius? by Barbara Nadel

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If you are as antique as I am you will recall a BBC TV Drama based on the books of Robert Graves called ‘I, Claudius’. For those of you who are younger (or less British) then ‘I, Claudius’ was about the life of the Roman emperor Claudius and his perilous ascent to and tenure as first citizen of the greatest empire of the ancient world.

Claudius was given a tough hand in life right from the start. In spite of being the grandson of the great Emperor Augustus’s second wife Livia, nobody cut him any slack. He stammered, had one leg longer than the other, limped and was bookish. Most people tended to ignore him. Occasionally he’d be be dragged out and married off to someone unpleasant for political reasons but most of the time he was entirely overlooked.

However after Augustus came the Emperor Tiberius who was cruel, inept and riddled with syphilis. And after him was the Emperor Caligula and what can one say about him? To dub him mad is an insult to those who struggle with mental health problems. Caligula was power crazed, obscenely cruel, moral free and unable to see what was wrong with the idea he had one day of making his horse a senator. Eventually, afraid that the empire would founder under the rule of such a person, the Praetorian Guard assassinated Caligula and only after he was dead did they worry about who might come after him.

There weren’t many members of the imperial family left. Those who hadn’t been murdered by Tiberius or his mother, Livia, had been killed by Caligula, often for his own amusement. In fact only one real blood relative remained, Claudius, and he made it clear right from the beginning that he didn’t want the job.

To certain members of the Praetorian Guard just the idea of having a ‘cripple’ with a stammer on the throne of Augustus was anathema. But others, who became the majority, disagreed. Claudius they reasoned, just by virtue of not wanting to be Emperor, was the perfect candidate. Of course self interest was at issue here too and certain elements within the Guard did like the idea that maybe they could manipulate Claudius. As it turned out however, once forced to be Emperor, Claudius couldn’t be easily swayed and his reign was one of the finest in Rome’s history.

So what I hear you say, is the point of this history lesson? What’s the Emperor Claudius got to do with life, the Universe, everything and me? Well I think a lot, potentially. The Emperor Claudius was educated, knew both suffering and compassion and he really didn’t want to lead Rome or have dominion over others. He was a ‘good egg’ who kept his head down and hoped that his ghastly relatives didn’t kill him or anyone that he loved. Significantly he didn’t want power and that is the point of this article today.

You may think I’m mistaken but in my opinion, those who want and actively seek power are wrong in ways that the rest of us can only barely understand. And by ‘wrong’ yes I do mean that they have something amiss with them that means they need on some level to be able to boss the rest of us about. Without imposing often nonsensical rules governing our fiscal status, our access to goods and services and even, in the case of women, whether we should be able to walk around by ourselves or not, these weirdos do not feel as if their lives are complete unless they are in control. And as a result of this obsessive mindset other ghastly things follow. In order to stay in power and fulfil their ‘destiny’ our glorious leaders often have to lie to us and to themselves about their motives. They’re making our lives a misery because ‘we need to be fiscally prudent’, ‘I truly believe this is the right thing to do’ or even ‘God has told me this is the way it has to be and you don’t want to fall into sin do you?’ It’s all bullshit. Take the UK right now and fiscal prudence. Yes I agree we do need to save money as a nation but at the expensive of the poorest in our society who have been demonised by our leaders? What about the rich who pay very small taxes or no taxes at all? Ah well they contribute so much to the economy of the country. Do they? How? Or is it just that they happen to be big buddies with our current less than glorious leadership? If you live here in the UK you will know the answer to that one.

‘Wrong’ leaders like these are easily leant on by those who promise to love them and do their bidding without question. And if such sycophants can bring more money and power to the table then all the better. It’s a depressing cycle of privilege and absence of fairness that is repeated over and over and over again.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t imagine for a moment that finding a ‘Claudius’ somewhere in the back of the Houses of Parliament (possibly cleaning the toilets) will fix a thing. He or she could be as thick as a plank, as corruptible as flesh and as greedy as any Prime Minister past, present or future. But wouldn’t just giving someone from outside the political elite a chance be at least one step forward? Better still if a person could be found who was educated and possessed a sense of fairness. What have we got to lose? Look at the world honestly and you’ll find yourself saying ‘not much’. From Brazil to Egypt people are standing up and saying that what they want more than anything else is some fairness and some choices in their lives. They don’t want to be told they are ‘scroungers’ or ‘sinners’ or ‘stupid’. They want to work out what they are for themselves and they don’t want some bloody wrong’un with delusions of grandeur and an Olympic stadium named after him or her  acting like some kind of Caligula around them.

So let’s have a Claudius. Let’s tell what we’ve got at the moment to pack its wrong shaped bags and fuck off. And let’s not listen when they say how they will be lost out in the wilderness and how they will die without our approval and our love. Let them.

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