Before "The Sopranos" promoted a negative stereotype of Italians, before the "Game of Thrones" families taught the world how to stab each one another in the back, and before those "Downton Abbey" folks showed off the cushier side of period dramas, there was "I, Claudius," the 1976 BBC series that tells the story of Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome. 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 this treacherous Romans with KCET's recap series and the character guide.
Where we left off:
Claudius' father, Drusus, died after injuring his leg in an accident. Julia (Frances White) and Tiberius (George Baker) have been suffering from marital issues, because Tiberius is still in love with his ex-wife. Augustus (Brian Blessed) has grown very fond of his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius (Simon MacCorkindale).
Gaius, Julia and Agrippa's oldest son, has died, and Tiberius has been exiled to Rhodes as a result how poorly he treated Julia. Gaius' death is a mystery -- no one knows how it happened, and his body was burned. Augustus sends Lucius to command an army in Spain.
Julia, meanwhile, has been sleeping around with the men of Rome -- nobles and slaves alike -- and everyone but Augustus has heard the rumors. Eventually, Livia (Sian Phillips) finds out that Julia has been sleeping with a friend of Lucius, her surviving son. Always keen to seize an opportunity, Livia makes this young man collect a list of everyone who has come to know Julia so intimately. If that weren't enough, Livia then uses the list to manipulate Lucius into ratting his mom out to Augustus, who promptly banishes Julia for her lascivious behavior.
A young Claudius happens to catch wolf pup that falls from the sky when two eagles are fighting over it. It's taken as a sign that he will protect and take care of Rome when it is as sickly as the pup in his hands.
After Julia's exile, Lucius mysteriously dies in shipwreck. Tiberius is brought back from his banishment, leaving him and Postumus as heirs to the throne.
The juice (A.K.A. that awkward moment when):
The very serious first world problems Julia and Antonia (Margaret Tyzack) have inherited. They discuss the headache of owning slaves. Apparently, you can't trust them to do things properly, they don't want to work and they eat you out of house and home. It's just not easy to buy good slaves anymore. Don't you just feel awful for these women?
Also, things take a turn for the seriously awkward when Augustus questions all the men Julia has slept with. He goes insane -- and rightfully so -- screaming at the assembly of men lined up before him, "Is there anyone in Rome who's not slept with my daughter?"
Line of the night:
Livia takes home the trophy for best one-liner. As she is interrogating Lucius' friend about his "relationship" with Julia, she asks, "Does Lucius know you're plowing his mother's furrow with such ferocious skill and energy?"
So what's the significance of Claudius finding the baby wolf? The answer lies in the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who, according to Roman myth, founded the city of Rome. In their infancy, the brothers were abandoned and left to die, but they were saved by a she-wolf who suckled them. Claudius having to care for a wolf is symbolic of him returning the favor, rescuing the city in its time of need.