- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Yale Univ Pr; First Edition edition (February 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300032854
- ISBN-13: 978-0300032857
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #997,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Nero: The End of a Dynasty Hardcover – February, 1985
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From Publishers Weekly
A vain, suspicious, vindictive man, the Roman Emperor Nero admitted by the end of his reign that he had failed completely. PW concluded: "Griffin's excellent biographical history is both perceptive and evenhanded."
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
"An important book based upon a complete mastery of the material."." -- Joint Association of Classical Teachers Review
"Likely to find a wide readership, and deservedly so..."." -- Times Literary Supplement --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you love Roman history, this deserves to be in your library.
Thus, this biography is both scholarly and fascinating in a grisly rise and fall of an ancient psychopath sort of way. What follows is just a partial list of Nero's major crimes: matricide, parricide, fratricide, uxoricide, foeticide, homicide, suicide and maybe arson. Ironically, arson for which his name is historically synonymous, is the one felony for which hard evidence is lacking. However, he probably did play the lyre (not the fiddle) while Rome burned to the ground. Nero was absolutely devoted to the arts.
Ms. Griffin, like all good historians, has her own educated slant on Nero, but uses the primary sources--Roman historian Tacitus, Roman biographer Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars) and Greek historian, Cassius Dio--extremely well: she doesn't agree completely with any of them. My own favorite among this group is Suetonious. He's gossipy, entertaining, highly opinated and sometimes accused of not always being totally reliable because he was writing not too long after Nero's death and his sources were, for the most part, then current word of mouth:
"Besides abusing freeborn boys and seducing married women, he debauched the vestal virgin Rubria. The freedwoman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his home attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife."
Abusing boys, seducing women, debauching vestal virgins, bribing public officials, castrating and then marrying a boy. And that's just a small sampling of Nero's criminally insane imperial career. He also enjoyed slipping out of the palace in disguise of an evening and robbing and beating (sometimes to death) ordinary citizens. Sometimes he donned the skins of wild beasts and tortured male and female prisoners who had been tied naked to stakes. He kicked his pregnant second wife, Poppea, to death. For reasons known only to himself, he demanded that his tutor and chief advisor, the distinguished and blameless stoic philospher Seneca, commit suicide. And there were some exceedingly dark suspicions about the true nature of the relationship between him and his mother, the notoriously manipulative Agrippina. Optima Mater (Best of Mothers) was the first Praetorian guard watchword of Nero's reign. Eventually, they had a serious falling out which ended very badly for Agrippina.
Nero's reign lasted from his seventeenth year to his thirty-first. By then he had been pronounced a public enemy by the long-suffering Senate. They planned to punish him in the ancient fashion: the criminal was stripped, fastened by the neck in a fork [two pieces of wood, fastened together in the form of a "V"], and then beaten to death with rods. On hearing that ghastly sentence Nero, who had fled from Rome to hide in a country manor, wept and wailed for a long time about how the world was losing "a great artist." Finally, as the posse charged with bringing him in approached, and with the help of his private secretary, he managed to stab himself in the throat. His bugged-eyed corpse horrified everyone who saw it.
Nero's three immediate successors were Galba, Otho and Vitellius. All had brief, insignificant reigns. And all were brutally slain within months of assuming the imperial throne. Sic transit gloria mundi.
This is an excellent study of Nero and has become the standard study to many. There are excellent appendices on historical sources and Nero's coinage. I agree that the book is a thoroughly researched and well-written but it could use some updating. I found it a little odd that Ms. Griffin brings the story of Nero's life to an end and then has chapters dealing with events in the empire, such as the Jewish revolt and Nero's tour of Greece. I think it would have been better to avoid this division. I was interested in some more detail about the Jewish revolt. Ms. Griffin also contrasts Nero with Caligula and Domitian, I think incorrectly. The issue of Caligula declaring himself a god is raised in contract with Nero (who did not). However, I think it is clear now that Caligula only authorized the worship of his numen. In a similar vein, Ms. Griffin recalls that Juvenal called Domitian a bald headed Nero, and relates how both killed off their relatives. This is a rather superficial comparison. Nero appears to have launched a campaign to eliminate all possible rivals and, while it is true that Domitian had his cousins executed, several years separated these actions and were the result of a conspiracy and treasonable activity.
In short, this is an admirable book that adds to our perspective on Nero and I highly recommend it.