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The Confessions of Young Nero Part I Book Review

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

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 exciting; I think this book humanized a very misunderstood individual from history and did a fantastic job at it. I think this book did an excellent 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 had a tiny choice in what he could do with his life as he was the son of a mighty 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, 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.

Nero's mother wished to be the power behind his throne and use Nero as a puppet Emperor. However, it seemed she forgot the thing most power-hungry people overlook, 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 feel a little bad for her because, as a woman in Rome, one of the only roots of true power was through marriage. At least in the case of Nero's mother, she had many options for prominent families to marry into. Of course, she chose to marry into the emperor's family to put her son in an excellent 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 backfired. He tries to have her killed by his old tutor and a few members of the praetorian guard, but she kills herself in the moment. I think it would've been easier to poison her than to have 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 insane. He was just a ruler who was slightly ahead of his time, and it is essential to remember that he was made an Emperor at age 16, which was pretty young and outlandish for that period. He also seemed quite normal for a Roman citizen, even though his detractors might consider him slightly excessive.

I do not excuse him for the murders that he committed, which were targeted toward Christians, but I also see why that would cause unrest in society and a sense of paranoia. Pretty much everybody was against him, and many members of his family got assigned, so it made sense he thought he would, too. I believe that if I were put in the same circumstances he was put in, I would most likely be just as paranoid as he was. If I were in control of the situation, I would've banned Christianity from being practiced in Rome because of 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 an excellent 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?

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