Nero

Nero

Nero

Nero

Synopsis

The Roman emperor Nero is remembered as the vain and immoral monster who fiddled while Rome burned. He murdered his younger brother and rival to the throne. He then murdered his mother, with whom he may have slept. He killed his pregnant wife in a fit of rage, then castrated and married a young freedman because he resembled her. Without seeking to rehabilitate Nero, Champlin reinterprets his enormities on their own terms, as the self-conscious performances of an imperial actor with a formidable grasp of Roman history and mythology.

Excerpt

Can you remember, Acte… how much easier our belief in Nero made life for us in
the old days? And can you remember the paralysis, the numbness that seized the whole
world when Nero died? Didn't you feel as if the world had grown bare and colourless
all of a sudden? Those people on the Palatine have tried to steal our Nero from us,
from you and me. Isn't it splendid to think that we can show them they haven't suc
ceeded? They have smashed his statues into splinters, erased his name from all the in
scriptions; they even replaced his head on that huge statue in Rome with the peasant
head of old Vespasian. Isn't it fine to teach them that all that hasn't been of the slightest
use? Granted that they have been successful for a few years. For a few years they have
actually managed to banish all imagination from the world, all enthusiasm, extrava
gance, everything that makes life worth living. But now, with our Nero, all these things
are back again.

LION FEUCHTWANGER

After lunch one afternoon in the latter half of March, AD 68, the emperor Nero learned while staying in Naples that Julius Vindex, the governor of Lugdunensis, one of his provinces in Gaul, had rebelled. He showed himself serenely undisturbed by the news, going on to visit and even to participate in a local athletic contest. An upsetting letter arrived at dinner, but this roused him merely to make threats against the rebels. For eight more days Nero ignored the problem, as Vindex bombarded him with insulting edicts. His one response was to send a letter to the senate in Rome, urging it to take vengeance in his name and in the name of the state, but excusing himself from attendance in person: he had a sore throat. Otherwise he largely ignored the charges which Vindex flung at him. Only two of the rebel's many taunts stung the emperor into reaction: when he accused him of playing the lyre badly, and when he called him Ahenobarbus rather than Nero. The latter gibe he deflected by declaring that he would indeed resume his old birth-name, Ahenobarbus, and give up the name Nero, which was his by adoption. But the calumny against his talent, he as-

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