Recap for 'I, Claudius,' Episode Eleven: 'Fool's Luck'

Combining Roman history with campy, soapy melodrama, "I, Claudius" is a must-see for TV fans and history buffs alike. Keep up to speed with these treacherous Romans with KCET's recap series and character guide.

Where we left off:

Caligula, who during his reign as emperor turned Rome into a carnival of debauchery and depravity, genuinely thought he was a god. Fed up with the way things were going in the city, members of the Praetorian Guard conspired against Caligula and killed him, leaving Claudius as heir to the throne.


With crazy old Caligula gone, Claudius (Derek Jacobi) officially takes the Roman throne. Our wise friend Herod (James Faulker) returns in the nick of time once again and advises Claudius that he should not trust anyone, not even his wife, Messalina (Sheila White).

Herod can only stay for a little while, however, and Messalina suggests Claudius hire Appius Silanus (Lyndon Brook) in his stead. Later on, Silanus marries her mother.

You didn't think the death, scheming and manipulation stopped with Caligula, did you? The only reason Messalina suggested Silanus be brought to Rome was so she could sleep with him. You see, behind her sweet exterior, she wants to be the Livia to Claudius' Augustus -- the manipulative woman behind the scenes, always scheming to her advantage. Messalina tells Silanus the affair is something Claudius suggested, but he is disgusted. As a result, he tries to assassinate poor Claudius, who has no idea why he's a target.

Oh, remember when Livia asked to be deified as her dying wish? Well, Claudius made it happen. The standards of being a goddess seem to be pretty low.

Messalina as painted by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, via Wikipedia.

The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when...):
Messalina's attempt at seducing Silanus is fairly pathetic. She throws herself at him and blatantly lies to make it happen. He turns her down; she tries again. Finally, she threatens him and says she will tell Claudius that he is defying orders (because supposedly, this tryst was all Claudius' plan so he could sleep around).

Silanus doesn't care. He oh-so-delicately tells Messalina that he wouldn't touch her with a 10-foot pole. Obviously, the emperor's wife won't have that. Silanus gets a nice slap across the face for his trouble.

Line of the night:
Claudius gets the line of the night for finally sticking up for himself. Various members of the senate tell him he isn't good enough to rule because of his stutter, because he is hard of hearing or because he isn't intelligent enough. Fed up, he rattles off a list of why he is qualified to rule. He ends his speech with: "As for being half-witted, well, what can I say except I have survived to middle-age with half my wits, while thousands have died with all theirs in tact. Evidently, quality of wits is more important than quantity."

You tell them, Claudius!

Historical spotlight:
It turns out the real-life Messalina was quite the promiscuous woman. Historians allege she constantly cheated on Claudius, and one historian, Tacitus, says she even competed with a prostitute to see who could sleep with the most men in one nice. Messalina was also known to have manipulated Roman policy for her own material gain.

In the year 48 A.D., she married Gaius Silius while Claudius was away. It is not clear whether or not she had actually divorced Claudius. Regardless, the marriage and affair ended in both Silius' and Messalina's execution.