The Roman Emperor Nero: Background information when reading The Golden House

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The Golden House

A Novel

by Salman Rushdie

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie X
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 400 pages

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Matt Grant

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The Roman Emperor Nero

This article relates to The Golden House

Print Review

In The Golden House, readers are introduced to Nero Golden, a larger-than-life figure who claims the name of Rome's most infamous emperor for his own. As it turns out, Nero Golden's tragic life closely mirrors that of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who ruled the Roman Empire for just over a decade, from AD 54-68. Nero became emperor when he was just 17, and quickly dispatched all those who opposed his rise, including his own mother. After beheading his first wife for adultery, he killed his second wife by kicking her in the stomach while she was pregnant in what the Roman historian Tacitus described as a "casual outburst of rage."

A bust of Emperor Nero On June 19, A.D. 64, a fire spread across the city for nine full days. Ten of Rome's 14 districts were either fully or partially damaged in the blaze, and rumors began spreading that the emperor had intentionally started the fire to make room for his 100-acre palace, the "Domus Aurea," or "Golden House." Stories that Nero "fiddled while Rome burned" are likely apocryphal, although it is true he was a keen lover of music (see Beyond the Book for The Confessions of Young Nero) and forced people to attend his concerts. Several classical sources reported Nero was seen on the roof of his palace during the fire, singing. After he built his palace, the crowning achievement was a 100-foot statue of himself.

Continuing his reign of terror, Nero used the fire to aggressively persecute the burgeoning religion of Christianity throughout the empire. When he wasn't ordering the Christians torn apart by dogs, he was burning them alive on pyres to light his garden parties. Eventually, as all things do under such poor leadership, Rome began to fall apart. Civil unrest and threats from neighboring nations threatened Nero's rule. He was able to quell several of them until the Senate declared him an enemy of the Roman people. Sensing his doom, Nero attempted to flee, but eventually took his own life. Singing his own praises to the end, his last words were reportedly, "What an artist dies with me!"

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Golden House. It originally ran in September 2017 and has been updated for the June 2018 paperback edition.

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