fiddle while Rome burns

Nero in popular culture

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37 – 68), was the fifth and last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (54–68).

References in popular culture

Literature with film/TV adaptations

Other TV and film

Be it ever so crumbly, there's no place like Rome.
Nero, he was the emperor, and the palace was his home.
But he liked to play with matches and for the fire yearned;
So, he burned Rome to ashes and fiddled while it burned.

  • In 1955's Roman Legion-Hare, Yosemite Sam is cast as a centurion ordered by Nero to round up a victim to feed to the lions. He then sets about trying to capture Bugs. This Nero strongly resembles Charles Laughton's portrayal in "The Sign of the Cross."
  • In 1968's See Ya Later Gladiator, Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales accidentally time-traveled to 65 A.D. Rome, and were thrown to the lions in a battle in the Coliseum. Then they accidentally break Nero's violin, which leads into the emperor chasing the two, until they are sent back to the 20th century, and Nero joins Speedy's band on his fiddle.
  • In the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled Once More with Feeling, the musical demon claims: "Something's cooking, I'm at the griddle. I bought Nero his very first fiddle." This line is a reference to Nero's allegedly playing a fiddle while Rome burned (and the demon's ability to cause chaos through music).
  • Nero was featured in an episode of Canadian history/comedy series "History Bites".
  • Nero is the main antagonist in the animated Christian video series, The Storykeepers.
  • In the 1980 movie Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown!, during a scene where the chateau Mal Vosion burns, Woodstock plays a violin as the gang tries to extinguish the fire, a possible reference to the myth of Nero playing his violin as Rome was burning.
  • In the film version of Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series of novels, Nero takes the place of the book's principal villain King John of England. Nero was portrayed by English actor Jonathan Cake.
  • In an MGM cartoon called Art Museum there is a statue of Nero who plays the villan in the cartoon where he tries to set a painting of Rome on fire, but runs out of matches in his arsonistic pursuit. Then he sees a painting full of matches next to the goodie goodie monkeys and fools them into setting the pictures and the city of rome picture.
  • In an episode of Macgyver (Trumbo's World), Macgyver and Trumbo burn a swarm of ants with a flamethrower and Trumbo comments "I feel like Nero, burning Rome."

Other literature

  • Anthony Burgess' book The Kingdom of the Wicked covers a similar period including Nero's reign and his relationship with the early Christians.
  • Nero and his contemporaries appear in the historical novel The Roman by Mika Waltari.
  • In The Austere Academy, the fifth book of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, the evil school vice principal is called Nero. He is a harsh and uncompromising despot who forces his students to listen to his violin concerts, and continues to play as the school burns down, a clear allusion to the apocryphal tale of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned.
  • The fateful role of astrology in Nero's life is the theme of Humphry Knipe's novel The Nero prediction.
  • Nero is a character in the novel The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie.
  • Thomas Holt, "A Song for Nero", 2003, London: A novel claiming that it was not Nero who died in 68CE but his double. Nero teams up with the delinquent brother of the dead double and roams the Roman Empire in pursuit of adventure, love, treasure and a bit of food.
  • Nero's life, times and death are chronicled in Richard Holland's book of the same name Nero The Man Behind The Myth.
  • The Cat who saw God (1932) is a comic novel by Anna Gordon Keown about a cat possessed by Nero.

Other popular culture

In B.C. 33 Ah, me! That's a dash long time ago.
There lived a Roman hero who had shaken hands with Nero.
And the history you shall know.
He was introduced to the king of Gaul, whoever that might be.
And crossing in galley with a Norman wench got pally
They went and founded me.

  • Also, as a convenient rhyme for hero, in a Satchmo song
  • Nero is the name of the main protagonist of the video game Devil May Cry 4 for PS3 and Xbox 360. In it he is a devil hunter (similar to previous series protagonist Dante) belonging to the organization "Order of the Sword".
  • Nero is one of the many allusions in the Bob Dylan song Desolation Row.
  • In Tsukihime, "Nero" is the pronunciation and phonetic spelling of Nrvnqsr, a name given by the Church to a vampire that has the ability to carry 666 familiars in his body.
  • The song "Procession Commence" by New York-based Hardcore punk band This Is Hell has the line "I am a modern day Nero, so hand me a fiddle and bow".
  • A song by Post-Hardcore band Alesana is titled "Nero's Decay", off the CD On Frail Wings of Vanity and Wax.
  • In the video game trilogy Xenosaga, the primary antagonist, Wilhelm, was said to have existed back in the time of the Roman Empire, and was in fact Emperor Nero himself.
  • In Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII Nero is a leader in DeepGround, who killed his mother at his birth by forcing her into the Darkness. He is able to manipulate darkness and encase people with the darkness. He and Vincent Valentine are the only two that can walk freely in and out of his own darkness.
  • In the upcoming eleventh Star Trek film, Eric Bana plays Nero, the film's villain.
  • In the video game "Silent Hill: Origins", in the hotel near the end of the game, there is a room named for Nero that is accessed by stabbing a hole in the door with a daggar. There is also a picture with the message "death by stabbing", both references to Nero's suicide.

References and notes

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