This is the transcript of a candid interview with an overly earnest Nero in the year 66AD. Everything he said was spoken from a place of truth and love and without any guile. His devotion to the people of Rome was truly awe-inspiring. No one has cared more about Romans than Nero. If there is any fault in this interview it is on the part of the interviewer who at moments showed disrespect and brought up allegations that were obviously trumped up by people who want to see our emperor fail. Nero took it in stride, as was his way in all things. (the cover image is of my dog, Brutus. Roman enough)
Vulpes: Salve, dominus.
Nero: No need to be so formal. Emperor Nero is fine.
V: Of course, Emperor Nero, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to meet with me.
Nero: Of course. Many people like to interview me and I might be the most interviewed and written about emperor. History, I’m certain, will remember me kindly.
V: No doubt. Now there’s been some controversy recently.
N: There is no controversy. Everything is going great. Everything is the greatest that it’s even been because I am the best emperor ever. Everyone is saying so.
V: Well, I certainly think that you’re the best emperor. I’ve always defended you to my friends.
N: Huh? What? Defended about what?
V: Just some friends said that maybe you were responsible for the recent fire. And just had a few other complaints about how you’ve treated certain contingents of the population.
N: Do you have a list of friends’ names?
V: Not on me. Why would you need a list?
N: I just wanted to go to them personally and thank them for feeling comfortable enough under my loving guidance to dissent. It’s a real beautiful thing, these ignorant people who are utterly wrong in their opinion but libertas is my motto. Gotta respect freedom of speech even if it’s all lies and hurts my feelings and undermines what Rome stands for. So yeah, how about you get me that list when you can.
V: Of course. I’ll get you their names as quickly as possible.
N: Also I might be needing a few more senators to fill in some gaps, if you’re interested. I’ve a string of suicides recently. Bad luck that the Senate was plagued by such spineless monsters to our beloved city. I’d like to replace them with more upstanding kind of fellows. Men I can trust.
V: Seriously? Me? I’m woefully underqualified!
N: Are you doubting my judgment?
V: No. Of course not.
N: That’s the number one qualification: undying loyalty to my every whim.
V: That’s easy enough. Yeah, I’d love to be senator. Now I have a few questions for you. First I’d like to address what must be a malicious misrepresentation of events: that you kicked your pregnant wife to death.
N: Yes, well, let me contextualize: on that particular day she looked rather charming and she had been reading some Ovid to me and I found myself so madly in love with her that I couldn’t help but kick her like a bitch dog on the side of a street. I just looked at Poppea and just needed to express my love. My heart was burning. As many people know, I am extraordinarily passionate in my expressions of love. It’s just too bad that her weak constitution resulted in her death. Her passing really upset me. If I’m at fault for anything, it’s loving her too much and not realizing how weak she was. I do sometimes think maybe instead of kicking her in the stomach, I should have just slapped her around a bit. But man, between the Ovid and the way her boobs looked in her dress, couldn’t help myself.
V: And what about insinuations that you violated the Vestal Virgins?
N: Seriously? Have you seen them? Disgusting. But yeah, bunch of lying harpies. Like I even need to rape women or boys. Look at me! I’m an emperor and a god and an amazing actor and devastatingly handsome and I’ve won like every poetry contest I’ve ever written, plus I’m rich, I like own all of Rome. I’m a top-notch guy. Top-notch guys don’t have to rape women; we just have sex with them because we can.
V: So you didn’t have sex with any of the Vestal Virgins?
N: Eh, maybe. Doesn’t matter. You think I’m the first guy to have sex with a virgin? Huh? There are plenty of people who have sex with virgins. So let’s not point fingers or hurl accusations. No one is innocent. You know who’s awful, the Christians. They’re cannibals and they murder babies. #Facts.
V: Yes, I’ve heard that you’ve campaigned against the Christians. What’s your reasoning behind this?
N: Terrorists. And they have a stupid god. Some young upstart named Jesus starts calling himself son of a god and then they all start worshiping him. Dumb. Augustus is a god, not that heretic. These are some real bad dudes. They set Rome on fire.
V: Yes, I’ve heard that you’ve claimed that the Christians caused the –
N: Not a claim. I have proof.
V: What proof?
N: People have said that I’m right.
V: But any substantiated proof that –
N: Yeah, yeah, they did it so that’s the proof and people said they agreed with my opinion. If I was wrong would people just let me torture Christians? People would stop me from lighting them up like tiki torches; or they’d stop me from dressing them in animal skins and watching animals tear that apart. But people see that they’re very bad and so they let me torture them. I have an investigation right now but until that starts, let’s just all agree with the real truth that the Christians burnt down Rome.
V: Are you sure you aren’t scapegoating? Christians are an easy target since most Romans don’t really understand their religious practices.
N: You know, I heard that you have Christian ties.
V: Oh, I believe you. I’m just clarifying. What can you say about the allegations that you played the lyre as Rome burned?
N: Did it.
V: Some people think that shows a callousness to those suffering in the flames.
N: No, it was a good song. I’m an excellent entertainer. I sing the best and I make the best poetry. If I wasn’t the emperor, I’d be an actor or a poet. Virgil sucks compared to my poetry. Everyone agrees and he’s very good, actually. It wasn’t even that big of a fire.
V: Only 4 of the city’s districts escaped damage. 3 are completely annihilated.
N: I feel like that’s an exaggeration on your part. I was watching the fire from the Esquiline Hill and I gotta tell, when I saw the fire and all those people, I thought to myself, ‘that’s a pretty small fire. Smallest fire in the history of fires. Period.’ And anyways, it just proved what I always said, this city was a powder keg ready to explode. The city was made of wood! Of course fires start. And in the rebuilding of the city, I’ve made sure to fireproof it better and make nicer streets. I took a lemon and made lemonade. If you’re going to blame anyone, blame the senators who let Rome be built with trees and they didn’t even sing a song while it happened. That song made people happy. It inspired people. I inspired people. The Senate was happy that the people died. They have their reasons and you understand that. You’re going to fix that for me.
V: Oh yes, of course and that is all rather generous of you. Some critics have questioned your decision to build your domus aurea on some of the devastated districts. Real estate is already a premium and there’s a housing crunch. Do you think that it’s fair that you profited by the destruction of the city? Some people say you fanned those flames for your benefit?
N: Critics? Are these your same critical friends? Do you have a list of these people who say that I somehow benefitted from the chaos of the city? Do you even hear how ridiculous that sounds? That I’d fan flames for my own gain? Preposterous! Who are these critics?
V: More hypothetical than real.
N: Hm, yes, well, I think it helps the city’s morale to see me doing so well. My domus aurea shows that I’m a winner so the city is a winner. That’s why I built that Colossus, so people could drink in my majesty.
V: Lovely statue. Just the perfect size.
N: You don’t think it’s too small?
V: Perhaps a little small.
V: No? Um, I think that whatever you chose to do that it was the right thing to choose but then if you thought about changing your choice this later thought would be equally right.
N: Yes, that sounds right. That’s the kind of thinking I need working for me!
V: Last question. Where do you see yourself in the next year?
N: I’m currently writing, directing, acting and producing my own musical. I’ve already been assured that I’ve won first prize at several theatrical competitions. I, in fact, made a competition which I didn’t want to enter but the people I insisted and no one even wants to compete against me. Guess they’re scared of my talent.
It’s a very very good musical. It’s really a celebration of my hard-won success. I cover my loving relationship with my adopted father, Claudius, who, so happy to have a son of true merit, made me heir to his throne. I also will have to face my overbearing mother who was quite possibly a witch whom I bravely, yet tragically, had to kill in order to say a box full of Roman orphans. In fact, I believe that she killed my father. Broke my heart. Did you hear the speech I made at his funeral? Best speech. Everyone thought so. Wrote it by myself. No help. Just used my heart because my adopted father and I were very close.
V: He was close with Britannicus as well. Wasn’t he?
N: Hm, not really. He liked me best. Britannicus was kind of a loser. Then he died because he was sick and I had nothing to do with that.
V: Sure, sure.
N: Then the second act will follow my apotheosis when Jupiter and Augustus cede their places to me. It’ll be magical. So yeah, I think that covers everything.
V: It sounds amazing and I cannot wait to see it. But I think that’s all the time we have. Thank you so much for sitting with me, Emperor Nero.
N: No problem. Just don’t forget to give me that list. Got to give your friends a fruit basket.
V: Will do.
N: Great. It’s like I said to Seneca, ‘if you can’t trust your leader to maintain your freedom of speech, who can you trust?’
V: You forced him to commit suicide, right? After the Pisonian conspiracy?
N: Nah, never happened. He was just really sad and wanted to leave me his estate. Great guy, loser, but also a shitty tutor. World’s a better place without that fat head.
V: Pisonian conspiracy never happened?
N: Yeah, senators tried to make themselves look braver than they are. But everyone loves me. Everyone’s happy with my rule. Like Caesar once said, ‘if you get the mob behind you, you can do whatever you want and the everyone else has to bend over and take it.’ Although, let’s be honest, they all like what I’m giving them. It’s good to be emperor.
V: Seems so.
After this interview a friend of Vulpes got wind that he had been offered a place in Nero’s administration. He went to the emperor with undeniable evidence that Vulpes was a traitor. Vulpes was politely asked to kill himself; this friend gained a part of Vulpes estate as a reward.