From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"In the consulship of Quintus Volusius and Publius Scipio, there was peace abroad, but a disgusting licentiousness at home on the part of Nero, who in a slave's disguise, so as to be unrecognized, would wander through the streets of Rome, to brothels and taverns, with comrades, who seized on goods exposed for sale and inflicted wounds on any whom they encountered, some of these last knowing him so little that he even received blows himself, and showed the marks of them in his face."--Tacitus
Popular legend remembers Nero as a decadent libertine and a tyrant; he is known as the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned", an early persecutor of Christians and builder of the Domus Aurea. These accounts follow the histories of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio along with a number of early Christian writers. However, some ancient sources also indicate that Nero was quite popular with the common people during and after his reign. It may be impossible to completely separate fact from fiction concerning Nero's reign.
Nero in post-ancient culture
Nero in medieval and Renaissance literature
Usually as a stock exemplar of vice or a bad ruler
- In the Golden Legend, and its apocryphal account of his forcing Seneca the Younger's suicide, where they meet face to face on this occasion.
- In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Monk's Prologue and Tale.
- Giovanni Boccaccio's Concerning the Falls of Illustrious Men.
- Matthew Gwinn wrote a play Nero in 1603.
Nero in modern culture
Nero in music
Nero is the main character of some musical works, as the operas:
- Claudio Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642),
- Anton Rubinstein's Nero (1879),
- Arrigo Boito's Nerone (1924),
- Pietro Mascagni's Nerone (1935).
References in popular culture
Literature with film/TV adaptations
- Nero's rule is described in the novel Quo vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. In the 1951 film version, Nero is played by actor Peter Ustinov.
- Nero is a major character in the play and film "The Sign of the Cross", which bears a strong resemblance to Quo Vadis. In Cecil B. DeMille's 1932 film version Nero is played by actor Charles Laughton.
- Nero appears in Robert Graves' books I, Claudius and Claudius the God (and the 1976 BBC television series adaptation I, Claudius played by Christopher Biggins).
- In Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1, Nero is portrayed comically by Dom DeLuise. In a deliberate anachronism, "Caesar's Palace" resembles the Las Vegas casino from the outside.
Other TV and film
- The 1966 film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum takes place sometime during the reign of Nero. A fleeting reference is made to this when the gladiatorial trainer in the Coliseum says to his hulking student to drive his next victim "straight into Nero's box".
- Nero was depicted in one episode of the "Peabody's Improbable History" segments of the Rocky and Bullwinkle animated series.
- In the second-season Doctor Who episode The Romans, aired in 1965, the Doctor (played by William Hartnell) is seen accidentally giving Nero (played by Derek Francis) the idea of intentionally burning Rome in order to provide space for a new palace.
- In the movie Home Alone, the name of the pizza delivery service is named Little Nero's Pizza.
- Hans Matheson portrayed Nero in the second episode (Nerone) of the mini-series Imperium (2004).
- In the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose Emily describes herself as being possessed by 6 demons, one of which supposedly possessed Nero.
- The second episode of the six part documentary Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire was devoted to him.
- In the 1953 Warner Brothers cartoon Upswept Hare, Bugs Bunny sings a ditty, set to the tune of There's No Place Like Home, alluding to Nero's alleged involvement in the Great Fire of Rome:
- Be it ever so crumbly, there's no place like Rome.
- Nero, he was the emperor, and the palace was his home.
- But he liked to play with matches and for the fire yearned;
- So, he burned Rome to ashes and fiddled while it burned.
- In 1955's Roman Legion-Hare, Yosemite Sam is cast as a centurion ordered by Nero to round up a victim to feed to the lions. He then sets about trying to capture Bugs.
- In 1968's See Ya Later Gladiator, Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales accidentally time-traveled to 65 A.D. Rome, and were thrown to the lions in a battle in the Coliseum. Then they accidentally break Nero's violin, which leads into the emperor chasing the two, until they are sent back to the 20th century, and Nero joins Speedy's band on his fiddle.
- In the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled Once More with Feeling, the musical demon claims: "Something's cooking, I'm at the griddle. I bought Nero his very first fiddle." This line is a reference to Nero's playing a fiddle while Rome burned (and the demon's ability to cause chaos through music).
- Nero was featured in an episode of Canadian history/comedy series "History Bites".
- Nero is the main antagonist in the animated Christian video series, The Storykeepers.
- In the 1980 movie Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown!, during a scene where the chateau Mal Vosion burns, Woodstock plays a violin as the gang tries to extinguish the fire, a possible reference to the myth of Nero playing his violin as Rome was burning.
- In the film version of Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series of novels, Nero takes the place of the book's principal villain King John of England. Nero was portrayed by English actor Jonathan Cake.
- In an MGM cartoon called Art Museum there is a statue of nero who plays the villan in the cartoon where he tries to set a painting of rome on fire, but runs out of matches in his arsonistic persuit. Then he sees a painting full of matches next to the goodie goodie monkeys and fools them into setting the pictures and the city of rome picture.
- Anthony Burgess' book The Kingdom of the Wicked covers a similar period including Nero's reign and his relationship with the early Christians.
- Nero and his contemporaries appear in the historical novel The Roman by Mika Waltari.
- In The Austere Academy, the fifth book of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, the evil school vice principal is called Nero. He is a harsh and uncompromising despot who forces his students to listen to his violin concerts, and continues to play as the school burns down, a clear allusion to the apocryphal tale of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned.
- The fateful role of astrology in Nero's life is the theme of Humphry Knipe's novel The Nero prediction.
- Nero is a character in the novel The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie.
- Thomas Holt, "A Song for Nero", 2003, London: A novel claiming that it was not Nero who died in 68CE but his double. Nero teams up with the delinquent brother of the dead double and roams the Roman Empire in pursuit of adventure, love, treasure and a bit of food.
- Nero's life, times and death are chronicled in Richard Holland's book of the same name Nero The Man Behind The Myth.
- The Cat who saw God (1932) is a comic novel by Anna Gordon Keown about a cat possessed by Nero.
Other popular culture
- In The Phantom comic book series, Nero was claimed to have been the original owner of the Phantom's signature "skull ring".
- In the Bad Religion song, Materialist, it says: "Like Rome under Nero/Our future's one big zero/Recycling the past to meet immediate needs".
- In the unreleased U2 song "Mercy", a lyric is "You wanted violins and you got Nero."
- Nero is also the name of a Belgian comic character by Marc Sleen. In his first appearance he was a character who thought he was the Roman Emperor after drinking a certain type of beer. Later, when he became the protagonist of the comic series, other characters started calling him Nero. He also wears laurel leaves behind his ears since his first appearance. (See The Adventures of Nero)
- A 1940s comic book title Leading Comics featured an anthropomorphic fox named "Nero Fox," who was shown playing a saxophone instead of a fiddle (as other fictional parodies of Nero often show). Nero Fox later appeared again in the 1980s comic series Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, when several members of the Zoo Crew superhero team were sent back in time to ancient Rome. Nero also played a prominent role in issue 2 of the DC comics "Armageddon The Alien Agenda" miniseries. (This may also be a reference to the fictional private detective Nero Wolfe).
- Nero Burning ROM is a popular optical disc authoring program; is a pun mixing the legend of Nero playing his lyre as Rome burned and the colloquial term for optical disc authoring ("burning").<ref name="itreviews"> The pun is more obvious in the original German as the German name for Rome is Rom (a literal English translation would be Nero Burning ROMe). The program logo is an image of the Roman Colosseum in flames; this is dramatic but inaccurate, as the Colosseum was not built until after the fire.
- Nero is an avatar of the Eddorian Gharlane in E.E. (Doc) Smith's Lensman novel Triplanetary.
- Nero and the Burning Violins is a garage band from Atlanta.
- He is mentioned, though in the wrong period, in Ivor Novello's song If you wonder what a duke should be, heard in the film Gosford Park:
- In B.C. 33 Ah, me! That's a dash long time ago.
- There lived a Roman hero who had shaken hands with Nero.
- And the history you shall know.
- He was introduced to the king of Gaul, whoever that might be.
- And crossing in galley with a Norman wench got pally
- They went and founded me.
- Also, as a convenient rhyme for hero, in a Satchmo song
- Nero is the name of the main protagonist of the video game Devil May Cry 4 for PS3 and Xbox 360. In it he is a devil hunter (similar to previous series protagonist Dante) belonging to the organization "Order of the Sword".
- Nero is one of the many allusions in the Bob Dylan song Desolation Row.
- In Tsukihime, "Nero" is the pronunciation and phonetic spelling of Nrvnqsr, a name given by the Church to a vampire that has the ability to carry 666 familiars in his body.
- The song "Procession Commence" by New York-based Hardcore punk band This Is Hell has the line "I am a modern day Nero, so hand me a fiddle and bow".
- A song by Post-Hardcore band Alesana is titled "Nero's Decay", off the CD On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax.
- In the video game trilogy Xenosaga, the primary antagonist, Wilhelm, was said to have existed back in the time of the Roman Empire, and was in fact Emperor Nero himself.
- In Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII Nero is a leader in DeepGround, who killed his mother at his birth by forcing her into the Darkness. He is able to manipulate darkness and encase people with the darkness. He and Vincent Valentine are the only two that can walk freely in and out of his own darkness.
- In the upcoming eleventh Star Trek film, Eric Bana plays Nero, the film's villain.