Story type: Essay
Nero, who was a Roman Emperor from 54 to 68 A.D., was said to have been one of the most disagreeable monarchs to meet that Rome ever had. He was a nephew of Culigula, the Emperor, on his mother’s side, and a son of Dominitius Ahenobarbust, of St. Lawrence county. The above was really Nero’s name, but in the year 50, A.D., his mother married Claudius and her son adopted the name of Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus. This name he was in the habit of wearing during the cold weather, buttoned up in front. During the hot weather, Nero was all the name he wore. In 53, Nero married Octavia, daughter of Claudius, and went right to housekeeping. Nero and Octavia did not get along first-rate. Nero soon wearied of his young wife and finally transferred her to the New Jerusalem.
In 54, Nero’s mother, by concealing the rightful heir to the throne for several weeks and doctoring the returns, succeeded in getting the steady job of Emperor for Nero at a good salary.
His reign was quite stormy and several long, bloody wars were carried on during that period. He was a good vicarious fighter and could successfully hold a man’s coat all day, while the man went to the front to get killed. He loved to go out riding over the battle fields, as soon as it was safe, in his gorgeously bedizened band chariot and he didn’t care if the wheels rolled in gore up to the hub, providing it was some other man’s gore. It gave him great pleasure to drive about over the field of carnage and gloat over the dead. Nero was not a great success as an Emperor, but as a gloater he has no rival in history.
Nero’s reign was characterized, also, by the great conflagration and Roman fireworks of July, 64, by which two-thirds of the city of Rome was destroyed. The emperor was charged with starting this fire in order to get the insurance on a stock of dry goods on Main street.
Instead of taking off his crown, hanging it up in the hall and helping to put out the fire, as other Emperors have done time and again, Nero took his violin up stairs and played, “I’ll Meet You When the Sun Goes Down.” This occasioned a great deal of adverse criticism on the part of those who opposed the administration. Several persons openly criticised Nero’s policy and then died.
A man in those days, would put on his overcoat in the morning and tell his wife not to keep dinner waiting. “I am going down town to criticise the Emperor a few moments,” he would say. “If I do not get home in time for dinner, meet me on the ‘evergreen shore.’”
Nero, after the death of Octavia, married Poppaea Sabina. She died afterward at her husband’s earnest solicitation. Nero did not care so much about being a bridegroom, but the excitement of being a widower always gratified and pleased him.
He was a very zealous monarch and kept Rome pretty well stirred up during his reign. If a man failed to show up anywhere on time, his friends would look sadly at each other and say, “Alas, he has criticised Nero.”
A man could wrestle with the yellow fever, or the small-pox, or the Asiatic cholera and stand a chance for recovery, but when he spoke sarcastically of Nero, it was good-bye John.
When Nero decided that a man was an offensive partisan, that man would generally put up the following notice on his office door:
“Gone to see the Emperor in relation to charge of offensive partisanship. Meet me at the cemetery at 2 o’clock.”
Finally, Nero overdid this thing and ran it into the ground. He did not want to be disliked and so, those who disliked him were killed. This made people timid and muzzled the press a good deal.
The Roman papers in those days were all on one side. They did not dare to be fearless and outspoken, for fear that Nero would take out his ad. So they would confine themselves to the statement that: “The genial and urbane Afranius Burrhus had painted his new and recherche picket fence last week,” or “Our enterprising fellow townsman, Caesar Kersikes, will remove the tail of his favorite bulldog next week, if the weather should be auspicious,” or “Miss Agrippina Bangoline, eldest daughter of Romulus Bangoline, the great Roman rinkist, will teach the school at Eupatorium, Trifoliatum Holler, this summer. She is a highly accomplished young lady, and a good speller.”
Nero got more and more fatal as he grew older, and finally the Romans began to wonder whether he would not wipe out the Empire before he died. His back yard was full all the time of people who had dropped in to be killed, so that they could have it off their minds.
Finally, Nero himself yielded to the great strain that had been placed upon him and, in the midst of an insurrection in Gaul, Spain and Rome itself, he fled and killed himself.
The Romans were very grateful for Nero’s great crowning act in the killing line, but they were dissatisfied because he delayed it so long, and therefore they refused to erect a tall monument over his remains. While they admired the royal suicide and regarded it as a success, they censured Nero’s negligence and poor judgment in suiciding at the wrong end of his reign.
I have often wondered what Nero would have done if he had been Emperor of the United States for a few weeks and felt as sensitive to newspaper criticism as he seems to have been. Wouldn’t it be a picnic to see Nero cross the Jersey ferry to kill off a few journalists who had adversely criticised his course? The great violin virtuoso and light weight Roman tyrant would probably go home by return mail, wrapped in tinfoil, accompanied by a note of regret from each journalist in New York, closing with the remark, that “in the midst of life we are in death, therefore now is the time to subscribe.”
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