Nero by Edward Champlin

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The Roman emperor Nero is remembered by history as the vain and immoral monster who fiddled while Rome burned. Edward Champlin reinterprets Nero's enormities on their own terms, as the self-conscious performances of an imperial actor with a formidable grasp of Roman history and mythology and a canny sense of his audience.

Nero murdered his younger brother and rival to the throne, probably at his mother's prompting. He then murdered his mother, with whom he may have slept. He killed his pregnant wife in a fit of rage, then castrated and married a young freedman because he resembled her. He mounted the public stage to act a hero driven mad or a woman giving birth, and raced a ten-horse chariot in the Olympic games. He probably instigated the burning of Rome, for which he then ordered the spectacular punishment of Christians, many of whom were burned as human torches to light up his gardens at night. Without seeking to rehabilitate the historical monster, Champlin renders Nero more vividly intelligible by illuminating the motives behind his theatrical gestures, and revealing the artist who thought of himself as a heroic figure.

Nero is a brilliant reconception of a historical account that extends back to Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. The effortless style and artful construction of the book will engage any reader drawn to its intrinsically fascinating subject.


About Edward Champlin

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Edward Champlin is Professor of Classics and Cotsen Professor of Humanities, Princeton University.
Published October 21, 2003 by Belknap Press. 360 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Champlin argues that Nero thought of his matricide, the murder of his wife (there is a question still about whether he intended to kill her) and his burning of Rome as elements in what was for him a great drama in which he was the star.

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London Review of Books

The famous slogan, quoted by Bede in the eighth century – ‘So long as the Colisaeus stands, Rome also stands, when the Colisaeus falls, Rome will fall too’ – probably refers to the statue, not, as it is usually taken (partly because it makes a better prediction), to the amphitheatre.

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