George Stimpson

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pig Nero fiddle while Rome burned?

Since the violin and other musical instruments played with a bow not invented until the Middle Ages, the instrument on which hero played while Rome burned, if he played on that occasion, must have been another kind. Nero prided himself on his musical genius and played and sang at public concerts in many parts of the empire. hen horsemen approached to take him to execution he is reputed to have commanded an attendant to stab him to death and to have exclaimed: "What an artist dies in me!" His favorite instrument is variously described as a harp, lute and lyre. The Romans called a small lute or lyre fidicula (hence the later confusion with English "fiddle"), and fidicinal is still used as an adjective meaning "of or pertaining to stringed instruments." In Shakespeare's I Henry VI Talbot, after Salisbury is mortally wounded by a shot from the walls of Orleans, says:

Plantagenet, I will; and like thee, Nero,
Play on the lute, beholding the town burn.
In July, 64 A.D., two-thirds of Rome was destroyed by a fire that burned nine days. When the fire started Nero was at Antium, thirty-five miles away, but he returned to Rome and personally directed operations to.extinguish it and to relieve the homeless. He established his headquarters in the trans-Tiber section, which was untouched by the. fire. It seems that one night, while sitting on the roof of his pavilion watching the flames devour Rome, he took up his fidicula and sang a dirge or lament. Some authorities say he sang an aria from his own opera on the burning of Troy. The people were in a state of terror and in a mood to believe any sort of rumor. It was whispered the the emperor himself had fired the city to see how Troy looked in flames. The story was readily believed by many because Nero had proposed a gigantic project of rebuilding and improving the city and had met with bitter opposition from property owners. The fact that he took a personal interest in designing the [page 68] new Rome according to his own notions of safety, comfort and sanita­tion lent color to this notion. In the eyes of the excited populace the fact that Nero ordered undamaged buildings destroyed to stop the progress of the fire was further proof that he wanted the city burned. It was easy to believe anything said about a man of such depraved sensuality. Suetonius, Dion Cassius and most of the historians after Tacitus held Nero responsible for the fire; but Tacitus, although he mentions the rumors, says Nero's guilt is not certain and the origin of the fire is unknown. The emperor, perhaps to divert suspicion from himself, charged the new sect of Christians with starting the fire and began to persecute them mercilessly. His charge was readily accepted because the Christians had refused to help put out the fire on the ground that it was one of the inevitable signs of woe preceding the second coming of Christ.