Was Nero the Antichrist who fiddled while Rome burned or an artistic genius pushed into being Caesar? In an age when Rome ruled the world and astrologers ruled Rome, Nero secretary battles the prediction that he will murder the musical messiah he adores.
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It is 48 AD and Epaphroditus, a library slave, is shipped off to Agrippina, the scheming niece of the emperor Claudius. She is convinced that the scribe is destined to help her raise her son, the future emperor Nero, to the throne of the Caesars.
What Agrippina doesn’t tell the young slave is that Nero is foredoomed to murder his mother and that Epaphroditus's secret destiny is to assassinate her son. Agrippina's attempt to use Epaphroditus to kill Nero at what she believes is the fated time backfires – she is the one who dies.
The young Caesar dreams of an age in which music, not military force, is power. But “musical war” is an abomination to the apocalyptic Christians who set Rome on fire soon after “the Antichrist,” performs in public.
Despite the ominous arrival of Halley's comet, Nero insists on embarking upon a concert tour of Greece. Enemies sprout like hydra's heads. Little does Nero realize that his closest supporter, Epaphroditus, is being pressed by irresistible forces to keep his fateful date with destiny.
The orchestra was no longer playing in the grounds of the Golden House when I returned. The gilded gates stood open and unguarded, the majestic colonnades deserted, the eerie silence broken only by the distant bleating of the purple sheep. Spiculus and his German bodyguards were gone.
The world's greatest musician was still asleep, his mighty audience shrunk to “Poppaea” and the man who found him, Phaon. They started like rabbits when I came in the door. I saw why when I caught sight of myself in the full-length dressing mirror. A thin frame draped in black, gaunt-faced and hollow-eyed: the image of death.
But not Nero's. I'd made my arrangements. In two weeks I'd be in Asia. After Asia, Persia, India. A new world, a new life.
"Let him sleep a little longer," I said.
My light traveling bag waited for me in the corridor. I picked it up and rushed into the night. So loud was the fluttering of flight's wings that it wasn't until I was well clear of the Golden House that I first heard the swell of music, faint but ubiquitous, as if every one of the beautiful objects which surrounded me was surrendering its essence to the air.
Wonder slowed me. For a moment I stood still, listening for the direction from which the music was richest. It was the tear-shaped lake. Rising up out of it like the fingers of a hand which stirred dreamily in the river of stars were the gilded pipes of Nero's colossal pipe organ floating on its raft. It was from these pipes that the quickening wind was coaxing a melody which mustn't be Nero's requiem.
I hurried on, the spectral music drowned by my footfalls. The southern wall of the Golden House was less than fifty yards away and easily scaled. Not much further the Ostian Gate and the carriage with swift horses that waited for me there. I could already smell the sea.
We'll have to wait and see, won't we? Wait a little longer, Tigellinus. Wait until the end of time.
I was startled by a shadow stirring in the starlight directly in my path. A booming voice echoed from the past. “Epaphroditus, where are you going?”
Mark the Lion!
I would have fled from the apparition if I could but I was frozen with fear. The apostle had died in the Vatican Circus, I was sure of that. “Mark? Is it you or…?”
The shadow came nearer. I could make out the vast beard now. “The time has come for you to do what you were chosen to do.”
Very Worthwhile Read
I personally am 75% of the way through this novel. It is well worth the read. It was recommended to me by my father, who at age 93 has sight that is failing, and uses a reader.
Dad dictated the following review that he asked that I post on Amazon:
"Humphry Knipe's book is so important that I have been making do with the reading machine's deficiencies, slow work but in this case very rewarding. There has been so little attention paid to Nero that the text is fascinating, and nearly every word of it is news to me. Knipe is to be congradualted on discovering a gold mine of information about Nero and presenting it in a remarkable way.
As I read the book I became more and more fascinated by Nero himself, as well as Knipe's presentation of him. He was evidently much more complicated a person than the one usually described to us. This is a completely new view of Nero, and one that is much more sympathetic.
This is wonderful and fills a gap in the knowledge of Nero."
Not Your Father's Nero
I don't have a lot of time to read books. When I do it is usually nonfiction research related to my work in the entertainment field. It was in this capacity that I picked up "The Nero Prediction." Before immersing myself in its revelations, I held most of the common prejudices against the Emperor Nero gathered from movies and college history classes. Being of an iconoclastic nature, however, I was primed for this revisionist take on the Roman dictator, numerologically known by fundamentalist Christians of his day as 666, a.k.a. the Beast.
From the advance publicity on the this book, it appears that Mr. Knipe set out to deliver a wild-and-wooly entertainment for mass consumption, yet researched enough to pass muster with antiquarians. He has succeeded on both fronts. With due diligence backing up his most daring assertions, he casts Nero as the greatest artist of his time--a master Thespian and musician, perhaps the first international pop star, not to mention the inventor of something very close to modern Opera. Think Elton John crossed with Pavarotti and John Belushi.
Not a white-wash by any means, the author vividly reveals-if not revels in--Nero's debauchery and horrific crimes. However, he implies that the impish tyrant's worst offenses-i.e., ordering Christians to be torn apart by dogs and lit afire as living torches for the delight of the mob-occurred late in his reign, were inspired by the victims' own lust for martyrdom and were remarkable--in comparison to the atrocities of other Roman dictators--not for their cruelty but their theatricality.
In his factual afterword, Mr. Knipe states that Nero's bad rap as a bloodthirsty libertine with no redeemable features, arose only after the historical records sympathetic to him were destroyed--along with his voluminous artistic masterpieces. This high crime against culture was perpetrated by the late monarch's ideological opponents, both Stoic and Christian. Prior to his demise, Nero was greatly loved by the Roman plebes for his free spirit, generosity, unprecedented public recitals, patriotism, anti-war stance and willingness to party hardy with the common man. It was these same characteristics which so infuriated the stingy, warmongering and pious Patricians, who constantly plotted his downfall. As for the fanatical, revolutionary Christ cult, it's likely that they would have hated and provoked whomever was on the throne.
Knipe's book is also a groundbreaking study of the absolutely crucial role that astrology played in the affairs of the Roman aristocracy, who consulted their stars habitually in order to determine the best hour to marry their mother or murder their brother. They kept their birth times secret and their horoscopes locked away, so their enemies could not divine the perfect moment to intercede or retaliate. Astrology was hard science, and the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy was barely known. Their only reservations about following the advice of their personal astrologer was that that he might be a quack or worse: in the pocket of their enemy. To my knowledge there is no precedent in historical fiction for the narrative device of astrological prophecy, which gives "The Nero Prediction" it's air of novelty and intellectual kick. (Having finished the book I feel like I could set out a shingle as an astrologer, where before I had only cursory knowledge of the topic.) In this regard I'm reminded of Peter Suskind's magnificent "Perfume: Story of a Murderer" and its innovative device of telling its story from a nose's point of view. Also, like "Perfume," the book is heavily spiced with casual sex, follows a labrynthian plot iinfused with thrilling suspense and is peopled with colorful characters of moral complexity, human frailty and spiritual retardation.
Lastly and most surprisingly, "The Nero Prediction" is a heartfelt buddy story, albeit a tragic one, narrated by Nero's true-life secretary Epaphroditus, a former slave and boyhood friend. Epaphroditus, who idolizes his master's virtuosic creativity, becomes his closest ally and is accorded power second only to Nero's. However, he is prevented from completely enjoying the spoils of his position, for his horoscope foretells that he will one day assassinate his beloved monarch. Although he goes to great lengths to escape said fate, the stars and planets conspire inexorably against him.
A novel about the religious political intrigue surrounding Nero,
The Nero Prediction is a novel about the religious political intrigue surrounding Nero, in an era when Rome ruled the world and astrology allegedly ruled Rome. Agrippina, the niece of emperor Claudius and mother of the infant Nero, enlists the aid of Epaphroditus, a young slave, in a plot to protect herself from a prophecy that her own son would murder her. Yet when the fated time comes and the slave does not assassinate Nero as expected, Agrippina's own plots prove her destruction. As Nero becomes Caesar, he dreams of a Rome in which music, not military force, is power; yet such beliefs are heresy to apocalyptic Christians soon after "the Antichrist" Nero performs in public. Weaving threads of history into an ominous story of destiny and questioning whether Nero was truly a monster who fiddled while Rome burned or an artistic genius trapped in the role of Caesar, The Nero Prediction is an exciting and compelling read.
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