Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: The Nero of the Shadow Cabinet

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: The Nero of the Shadow Cabinet

Article excerpt

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor in the Corbynite splinter-group, has announced that £120 billion is waiting to be reclaimed from tax avoidance, evasion and other schemes. Nero was equally detached from reality.

The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that in ad 65 a fantasist from Carthage by name of Caesellius Bassus bribed his way into an interview with Nero and told him that on his estate there was hidden a vast quantity of gold, not in coin but in unworked bullion -- great columns of it. It had been hidden there, he said, by Dido, the Phoenician queen who had founded Carthage.

Nero was thrilled. Triremes filled with soldiers and rowed by top oarsmen were immediately dispatched, and the escapade was the talk of the town, the general populace utterly convinced, the sensible taking an alternative view. Sycophantic orators praised the emperor, announcing that earth had invented a new form of fruitfulness, and this windfall must surely signal divine intervention. …

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