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The Confessions of Young Nero and The Splendor Before the Dark

I became interested in the Roman emperor Nero in researching my novel The Fire Starters and touring his buried Golden House in Rome. The emperor’s legend today is undergoing another look by several scholars. Most of my generation hold the image portrayed by Peter Ustinov in the movie Quo Vadis as a mad, cruel monster, somewhat older and fatter than the teenager who actually assumed the throne. Author Margaret George reimagines Nero more as a youth, telling his own story in his own words.

In The Confessions of Young Nero, Lucius tells us about his life, starting with uncle Caligula attempting to drown him as an infant through the time Claudius adopts him, changes his name changed to Nero, all under his mother Agrippina’s manipulation to make him ruler. The book stops before the great fire of Rome.

In The Splendor Before the Dark, Nero tells his story beginning with the great fire and follows through to his abandonment by allies and his forced suicide.

Both stories are told in the first person by Nero, with a few others in his life picking up the narrative in a chapter here and there. The self-telling of his story makes Nero a more sympathetic character, one loved by the common citizen for his audacity in chariot racing and disliked by the ruling class for his excesses. The author allows you to take Nero’s side.

However, as a first-person narrative, the story is at times dry. Although enlivened by other characters taking their turn in the story with a few chapters, there cannot be surprises for the reader.

As another approach to the story of Nero, I recommend it.

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Jackson Coppley

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