Major Nerdiness: I, Claudius Edition

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The past few Monday nights, in Hamilton 602, members of the classics department have been getting together to eat free pizza and watch the celebrated thirteen-hour BBC miniseries I, Claudius. Like the two popular Robert Graves novels on which it is based, the television programme chronicles the early Roman Empire from the point of view of Claudius, the stuttering, drooling laughingstock of the royal family who ultimately becomes emperor.

The production values of this 1976 show are pretty sketchy by today’s standards. Those weaned on Rome and Gladiator will balk at the grainy film stock, inert camerawork, and ill-advised brassy theme song.  But the show’s strength was and is the all-star cast of British actors (Derek Jacobi, Siån Phillips, Patrick Stewart (with hair!)), who perform the whole thirteen hours as if it were one giant Shakespearian tragicomedohistory play. This week we watched John Hurt vamp it up in a threadbare blond wig as Caligula, the demented emperor who made his horse a senator; he gets assassinated for his trouble.

We’ve almost made it through the entire show, so next Monday will likely be your last chance to check out the debauched Roman action and eats lots of free food (I had five slices of Famiglia and two slices of Kitchenette cake).

But mainly I’m curious: do other departments have stuff like this? Do poli sci nerds hijack a room in Hamilton and watch Tanner ’88? Do Urban Studies majors make S’Mores and watch that eight-hour Andy Warhol movie of the Empire State Building? Or does classics stand apart in its nerdery? Let me know in the comments.



  1. not a classics major  

    but I do have a shameful love for I, Claudius. I remember watching it for the first time when I was 8.

    Anything in the Masterpiece Theater genre is pure, pure gold.

  2. chemists  

    hijack Hav309 for long bouts of orgoasms.

  3. HOLY  

    FUCK. That image scarred me forever when I first saw it in high school in Latin III.

  4. Psych Majors  

    Get together every Thursday night at 1020 and watch you.

  5. Elna  

    i've had a healthy exchange of obituaries between my history major friends at other schools...its a game to try and figure out 'how important was this guy that X sent me a record of his demise'

  6. Jon  

    I believe Patrick Stewart was actually wearing a toupee for this production.

    He's been bald since he was 19, which would have been circa 1959. ( http://youtube.com/watch?v=pXOK-ZVJMaU a rather funny interview)

  7. Gerry Visco

    Nice write-up. But dude, we don't order FAMIGLIA pizza at the Dept. of Classics. Nosireeyesireebob! The best pizza around here is Che Bella on Amsterdam. Famiglia uses fake cheese and don't forget, we ARE the Classics Departmeht!

  8. Gerry Visco

    Ooops. Also that cake was definitely NOT Kitchenette (in the J School they'd throw you out for making stuff up!!) but it was from Two Little Red Hens on the UES. Good stuff, no? And let's give credit to Prof. Liz Irwin who had the divine inspiration (from the gods?) to show I Claudius.

  9. Paul  

    Sorry, Gerry, for both my errors.

    Good thing the J School keeps itself completely isolated from the undergraduate community. But I could've sworn I saw Famiglia on the pizza guy's jacket...ah well.

    • Gerry Visco

      Paul, we're all excited you wrote up this event. There's one more screening this Monday at 9 PM in Hamilton. Non=classicists welcome, btw. As an Italian=American, I'd rather die than order from Famiglia, home of plastic pizza. The J School was the best experience I had at Columbia (after two other degrees here). The profs didn't look at their watch when you entered their office and people were exhausted from round the clock deadlines, but they weren't walking around whining and in a bad mood, they had social skills, and they dressed halfway decent.

  10. Neil

    I have just stumbled on your blog whilst searching for details on the I Claudius theme music. I'm glad you are enjoying the series, but to say the theme music is ill advised has left me aghast. It is a superb piece of atmospheric contemporary classical written by one of British TVs great composers of the twentieth century! Anyway... Hope you enjoyed the last episode.

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