|Fig.1: The Pretty Darn Great Fire of Rome.
The main source for the fire is from a Roman senator named Tacitus, who wrote in the early second century. Tacitus was definitely the John Steinbeck of his day, who just gushed about the pain and suffering inflicted upon man by the forces of nature, and was also every 10th grade Roman schoolboy’s nightmare. Particularly uplifting is this passage from his Annals: "Some who had lost everything, even their food for the day, could have escaped, but preferred to die. So did others, who had failed to rescue their loved ones. Nobody dared fight the flames." I would feel the same if my chicken burrito from Chipotle was destroyed, which is a food and a loved one all rolled up in one delicious soft flour tortilla.
|Fig.2: The dumbest cow ever to
graze the Earth.
The prevailing story goes that when the fire raged out of control, Nero sat on a rooftop in stage costume and sang The Sack of Ilium about the Trojan War while playing his lyre. Tacitus claims this was just a vicious rumor, but even if it isn't, wouldn't be possible that Nero was just trying to cheer people up during this calamitous time by performing a few showtunes? I know Joseph and his Magic Technicolor Dreamcoat lifted my spirits after my hamster's funeral. Anyway, Tacitus says that Nero was visiting a town thirty miles south of Rome, and when he heard word of the fire he rushed back to provide a relief effort for the city. He opened his private gardens to the homeless, built temporary shelters, and lowered the price of grain to the public. He even broke in to burning homes and saved beloved pets like a regular Anderson Cooper!
|Fig.3: It's okay, Christians. You'll do some persecuting
of your own someday!
|Fig.4: I still can't believe he
had the nerve to wear a beard!
Thus ended the reign of Nero, the last of the original Julio-Claudian Emperors. His death initiated a period of chaos known as the Civil War of 69, which is memorialized in a song by Bryan Adams. While Nero is remembered for a lot of craziness, it is the Great Fire of Rome that causes his name to go down in infamy, and gave him his nickname as "the Emperor who fiddled while Rome burned." Whether or not he actually did will probably never be determined, but sometimes history creates a better-sounding story than what actually happened. And that's why the pyramids were built by aliens.