Vol: 114 Issue: 17 Thursday, March 17, 2011
In AD 64 the Great Fire of Rome decimated ten of the city’s fourteen districts. The fire spread quickly and it burned for five and a half days, according to contemporary historian Tacitus in his ”Annals of Rome.”
The works of Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, span the period of time from the death of Augustus Caesar sometime around the year 14 AD to the death of Emperor Domitian in 96 AD.
Thus Tacitus provides a secular eyewitness account of events from the perspective of Rome from the period of the Resurrection to the time of the Lord’s appearance to John on the Isle of Patmos.
There are other surviving histories from the period; those of Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Cassius Dio and Suetonius. Like any true eyewitness accounts, they disagree according to perspective.
At the time of the Great Fire, the sitting emperor was Nero, adopted son of Emperor Claudius. Cassius Dio blamed Nero for the fire, writing that Nero had agents fire the city to make way for a new building project.
As the city burned Suetonius says, Nero sat on Palantine Hill, playing his lyre and singing, “The Sack of Illium.” It is from Suetonius’ account that the popular legend that “Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned” is based.
Tacitus noted that the rumor had begun to take hold among the population and so Nero blamed the Christians to deflect blame away from himself. Brace yourself: it makes for some pretty horrific reading:
“As a consequence, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
Suetonius writes in his work, “The Life of Claudius” that “Jews instigated by “Chrestus” were expelled from the city.” The Book of Acts records this event as well.
“After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.” (Acts 18:1-2)
(Pliny the Younger also makes reference to “Chrestians” as does Flavius Josephus who mentions both Christians and Jesus.)
Let’s pause here and make a few summary observations. The first and most important is that the real, historical emperor Nero could not have blamed the Great Fire of Rome on Christians had there not been a real, historical Christ.
Secondarily, note that Nero was also a real historical figure. When Rome burned, enough of his own population blamed Nero that Nero found it necessary to seek out a scapegoat to deflect the blame elsewhere.
Nero blamed the Christians. Then he blamed the Jews. He blamed everybody but Nero. As Nero’s end approached, he reportedly cried over and over, “What an artist dies in me!”
But it was the popular perception that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” that history remembers.
Because it was so bizarre.
And speaking of bizarre, the Middle East is ablaze with rebellion. For the first time in decades, the United States has a chance to rid itself of a mortal enemy in Libya and has a golden opportunity to help shape its successor government.
Muamar Ghadaffi (or whatever) is the guy that personally ordered the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members and the eleven innocents on the ground below killed by the falling debris.
The Libyan rebels are begging the United States to help them in their struggle. The Arab League is asking Washington for help in imposing a no fly zone! The Arab League!!!
The Great Quake of Japan registered a 9.0 on the Richter scale. It was the fourth most powerful in history. The subsequent tsunami swept away untold thousands and erased the Japanese coastline.
One of Japan’s main nuclear reactor sites is undergoing meltdown. Saudi Arabia has invaded Bahrain in an effort to keep the unrest from spreading into their country.
The United States is so far in debt that it cannot meet its domestic obligations. The states are finding it impossible to meet their own state obligations.
People are taking to the streets . . . in Wisconsin!
On Thursday, Obama hosted a White House Conference on Bullying. On Friday, instead of making a decision on Libya, he took time out to honor the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup.
As Japan’s nuclear meltdown unfolded over the weekend, President Obama phoned in his weekly radio address Saturday, focusing on “Women’s History Month” while he took off to go play the sixty-first round of golf of his administration.
After playing a few holes, he headed back to the White House in time to shower and get ready to party with the Washington elite at the annual Gridiron Dinner.
As Obama was being introduced at the dinner, the chords of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” blared in the background.
“Some things just bear repeating,” he said. (Just not proving.)
With the US economy on the brink of meltdown, lawmakers have begun wondering aloud why he has not taken part in the deficit reduction debate. But he wasn’t too busy to party with lawmakers at a Chicago Bulls basketball game.
On Thursday, the President will be tied up with an important conference with the Taoiseach of Ireland, who will be in town to help the president celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
Then on Friday, it’s off to Brazil to kick of a three-nation ‘tour’ of Latin America. If anyone dares to criticize him, it is because they are either racist or because they are “Bible-toting xenophobes with antipathy towards those that aren’t like them.”
Who knew it was that easy to shut the critics up? What an artist! Who knew that being President was the easiest job in the world? Free travel, lots of perks and evidently, no responsibilities.
And its waaay more fun than playing a fiddle! No wonder he wants to run again in 2012. Who wouldn’t?
Assuming the fires are out.