Updated: Dec 31, 2022
I recently read The Confessions of a Young Nero after finding it on this site I use called The Library for the Blind (which by the way I recommend to use for anyone visually impaired and it's free!). This book was a novelized biography where we get a deep dive into the first part of his life. I found it to be really interesting, I think this book humanized a very misunderstood individual from history and did a really fantastic job at it. I think this book did a wonderful job of illustrating that Nero honestly never wanted to be Emperor in the first place, which we see through his complex family dynamic.
We find out that he honestly had very little choice in what he was able to do with his life as he was the son of a very powerful Roman general and then step-son to the emperor later on. I think if he had his choice, he would've been a chariot racer or an actor or artist, but obviously due to his family, he would have to become the next emperor. The book also explores the very complex relationship that Nero shared with his mother.
I feel like Nero's mother wished to be the power behind his throne and use Nero as a puppet-Emperor. Though, it seemed she forgot the thing most power-hungry people forget, which is that people do not like to be used as puppets...and that eventually her schemes would come back to haunt her.
While the mother didn't have the best intent in her actions, I do kind of feel a little bad for her because as a woman in Rome, one of the only roots to true power was through marriage. At least in the case of Nero's mother, she had many options of prominent families to marry into, and of course she chose to marry into the emperors family to put her son in a good position to become the next Emperor.
The book also indicates that Nero's mother evidently drugged him at some point and possibly had inappropriate relations with him, which caused him to believe that he needed to kill her to be able to rule without interference from her. And the way he attempted the murder actually kind of backfired. He tried to have her killed by his old tutor and a few members of the praetorian guard, but she actually kills herself in the moment. I think it would've been easier to poison her then having her executed.
The book illustrates that, though he committed widespread murder, he only did it when he thought it was necessary and he didn't start to kill excessively until later in his reign when he was clearly insane. He was just a ruler who was slightly ahead of his time, and it is important to remember that he was made as Emperor at age 16, which was pretty young and outlandish for that time period. He also seemed quite normal for a Roman citizen, even though his detractors might think of him as slightly excessive.
I do not excuse him for the murders that he committed, which were targeted towards Christians, but I also see why that would cause unrest in society and sense of paranoia. Pretty much everybody was against him and many members of his family got assinated, so it made sense he thought he would too. I think that if I was put in the same circumstances he was put in, I would most likely be just as paranoid as he was. And if I was in control of the situation, I would've simply banned Christianity from being practiced in Rome from the complications it gave him.
I think the story of Nero reflects that absolute power will always lead to corruption, and in turn, he made many questionable decisions. However, like I said in the beginning, I think the book does a good job of humanizing him and exploring the whys behind these actions. Have any of you read this book? What did you take away from it?