The Construction of Authenticity in the Claudius Novels
By John Leonard
Gravesiana: The Journal of the Robert Graves Society, Vol.2 Issue 3-4 (2001)
Introduction: At one point in Claudius the God Claudius quotes his open letter to the Senate and People concerning his own shortcomings. Towards the end of this document he writes:
You all know the Old Patrician saying: Aquila non captat muscas. The eagle… does not hawk for flies… Let me quote an enlargement made many years ago by my noble brother, Germanicus Caesar:
Captat non muscas aquila; at quaeque advolat ultro
Faucibu augustis, musca proterva perit.
…(The couplet, translated means: ‘The eagle does not hawk for flies, but if an impudent fly comes buzzing…into its august throat, that’s the end of the creature’).
This is an entirely typical passage from the Claudius novels in which Graves imaginatively extrapolates a passing reference in Seutonius, and uses his knowledge of Latin and the Roman mindset to build an amusing, apposite and believable reference. But what few readers of 1934, and probably few since, have realised is that although aquila non captat muscas is a genuine Latin proverb it was also the Graves family motto.