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Nero and his follies. Dr David W.J. Gill. University of Wales Swansea. Introduction. The follies of Nero Music Horse-racing Games. Follies (probra). Suetonius, Nero 20–25. Music. Suet. Ner. 20 to improve his voice

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Nero and his follies


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  1. Nero and his follies Dr David W.J. Gill University of Wales Swansea

  2. Introduction • The follies of Nero • Music • Horse-racing • Games

  3. Follies (probra) • Suetonius, Nero 20–25

  4. Music • Suet. Ner. 20 • to improve his voice • ‘he would lie on his back with a slab of lead on his chest, use enemas and emetics to keep down his weight, and refrain from eating apples and every other food considered deleterious to the vocal chords’ • sang through an earthquake in the theatre at Naples

  5. Praise for Nero • Suet. Ner. 20 • Alexandrian sailors applauded • so he sent for more • equestrians and 5000 youths to applaud at appropriate moments • ‘the equestrians who led them earned four gold pieces a performance’ • also mentioned by Tactius Ann. 14.15.8-9: ‘Augustiani’, ‘maintained a din of applause day and night, showering divine epithets on Nero’s beauty and voice’

  6. Captive audience • Suet. Ner. 23 • nobody allowed to leave theatre during a performance • women giving birth • ‘men being so bored with the music and applause that they furtively dropped down from the wall at the rear, or shammed dead and were carried away for burial’

  7. Captive audience • Tac. Ann. 16.5 • same story • ‘for absence was even more dangerous than attendance, since there were many spies unconcealedly (and more still secretly) noting who was there - and noting whether their expressions were pleased or dissatisfied’

  8. No competition • Suet. Nero 24 • ‘To destroy every trace of previous winners in these contests he ordered all their statues and busts to be taken down, dragged away with hooks, and hurled into public privies’

  9. Introduction of Greek style games • to be held every five years • but the Neronia had to be held more frequently as he couldn’t wait! (Suet. Ner. 21) • he himself sang so there was no time for others! • prize postponed so it gave him more opportunities • 61 gymnasia established

  10. Nero and horse-racing • Suet. Nero 22 • desired to race his own team • trial run in the palace gardens! • Tac. Ann. 14.4 • private race track by the Vatican hill

  11. Appreciation of the Greeks • Suet. Ner. 22 • Nero: ‘The Greeks alone are worthy of my genius; they really listen to music’

  12. The Great Fire of Rome • Tacitus, Annals 15.38–44 [LR ii.138–40]

  13. Fire of Rome • 19 June 64 • totally destroyed 3 of 14 districts • only 4 districts untouched • rumour that ‘at the very time when the city was burning he had mounted his private stage and sung the fall of Troy, making present evils like ancient disasters’ (Tac. Ann. 15.39)

  14. Persecution of the Christians • Suet. Ner. 16 • Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief

  15. The Greek tour • 66 (originally projected for 64): set out 25 September • arrived at Cassiope on Kerkyra • Re-arranged games (Suet. Nero 23) • Olympic: due 69 [65] • Pythian: due 67 [63] • Nemean: due 68 [66] • Isthmian: due 67 [65] • therefore repeated Olympic and Nemean games • introduced musical contest to Olympic games

  16. The chariot race at Olympia • Suet. Nero 24 • ten-horse team • fell from chariot and had to be helped in • ‘though he failed to stay the course and retired before the finish, the judges nevertheless awarded him the prize’

  17. The Greek tour • 28 November 67: speech at Isthmia • Suet. Ner. 19: • While in Greece he tried to have a canal cut through the Isthmus of Corinth, and addressed a gathering of Praetorian Guards, urging them to undertake the task. Nero took a mattock himself and, at a trumpet blast, broke the ground and carried off the first basket of earth on his back

  18. The ‘Liberation of Greece’ • Suet. Nero 24 • ‘On the eve of his departure, he presented the whole province with its freedom and conferred Roman citizenship as well as large cash rewards on the judges. It was during the Isthmian Games at Corinth that he stood in the middle of the stadium and personally announced these benefits’

  19. The ‘Liberation of Greece’ • The speech on an inscription from Acraephiae in Boeotia [LR ii.313–14] • Grant removed by Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. 8)

  20. Nero’s return • Suet. Nero 25 • arrived at Naples • ‘ordered part of the city wall to be razed - which is the Greek custom whenever the victor in any of the Sacred Games comes home. He repeated the same performance at Antium, at Alba Longa, and finally at Rome’ • used Augustus’ chariot • ‘wore a Greek mantle spangled with gold stars over a purple robe’ • set up several statues of himself playing the lyre

  21. Crimes (scelera) • Suetonius, Nero 26–38

  22. Creation of the Golden House • colossal statue of Nero • size: equivalent of Hyde Park in London

  23. Building projects • new style of architecture introduced: Suet. Ner. 16 • considered extending the city wall to Ostia: Suet. Ner. 16 • considered building a canal to Rome: Suet. Ner. 16