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Humphry Knipe

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Was Nero A Hero?
By Humphry Knipe   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012

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A revisionist view of the emperor Nero that portrays him as a brilliant musician and showman who pioneered the concept of soft power.


Although The Nero Prediction is fiction, I have done my best to make sure that it does not contradict historical fact. The following references and my comments on them will be of interest to readers who would like to know more about the factual basis of the story.

Was Nero a gifted musician or have his famous last words "Dead! And such a great artist!" quite rightly been ridiculed down the ages? Not a note of his music has survived nor have any of the many histories favorable to him so we must read between the lines of his bad press.

His enemies are keen to point out that Nero was a prolific composer because they regard this as proof that he neglected his imperial duties. In addition to hymns and lays, he set a large number of Greek tragedies to music. This is attested, for example, by Philostratus (early third century) who says that during Nero's reign itinerant musicians hired themselves out to sing Nero's compositions. One of these accosted the philosopher Apollonius of Tyana in a Roman inn where, "in a voice far from harsh ...he then struck up a prelude, according to his custom, and after performing a short hymn composed by Nero, he added various lays, some out of the story of Orestes, and some from the Antigone, and others from one or another of the tragedies composed by Nero, and he preceded to drawl out the rondos which Nero was in the habit of murdering by his miserable writhings and modulations." (Life of Apollonius iv.39) The anti-Neronian bias is obvious, equally clear is that Nero may have been composing something close to modern opera.

Further evidence of the popularity of Nero’s music among his contemporaries comes from the historian Suetonius who reports in Vitellius 11 that at a banquet the emperor Vitellius (who was assassinated a year and a half after Nero)  "called for something from 'the Master's Book' as an encore. When the flutist obliged with one of these compositions, Vitellius jumped up delightedly and led the applause."

What about Nero the performer? In his Histories (2.8) Tacitus, who is relentlessly hostile to Nero, reports that one of the many Pseudo-Neros who sprang up after Nero's death was a skillful kithara-player and singer which, "when added to a facial resemblance, made the imposture all the more plausible." However if Nero had not been a skillful performer it would not have been necessary for his impostor to be one also. Tacitus gives Nero another back-handed compliment when he admits that Nero's performances were warmly applauded but blames this on the audience's lack of patriotism (Annals 15).

Whether or not it was because of his music, Nero was a hero to millions of people, particularly those in the cultured Greek-speaking east whose opinion he valued most highly. As with King Arthur, Barbarossa and Frederic II, a popular myth grew up that one day he would return to complete his work. The orator and popular philosopher Dio Chrysostomos writes in about 100 AD, "even now everybody wishes he were still alive. And the great majority do believe that he is..." (Orationes 21.10). The legend of Nero's return was still alive in the fifth century when St. Augustine says: "Some suppose that Nero will rise again as Antichrist. Others think that he is not dead ... and that he still lives on as a legendary figure, of the same age at which he died, and will be restored to his Kingdom." (De Civitate Dei, 20.19)

Although popular music has conquered the world, the Master will not return for his crown. Instead of his very real artistic achievements, he is remembered only because he "fiddled" while Rome burnt.

Wherever he is, I hope he is amused by the irony!

For more on Nero and Neronian astrology visit

I look forward to your comments or questions at






Web Site: The Nero Prediction book

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