High life

A nicer side of Nero

19 June 2021

9:00 AM

19 June 2021

9:00 AM

New York

I haven’t felt such shirt-dripping, mind-clogging wet heat since Saigon back in 1971. The Bagel is a steam bath, with lots of very ugly people walking around in stages of undress that would once upon a time have embarrassed that famed stripper Lili St Cyr. How strange that very pretty girls do not shed their clothes as soon as the mercury hits triple figures, but less fortunate ones do even if the number is a cool 80.

June is my London party month, or used to be before the city was transformed into a prison camp. And what about The Spectator party? I haven’t heard a woid, as they say over here, so I’m sending a little boid over to find out. I have ordered a brand new white suit for the occasion — if it takes place, that is. If it doesn’t, I’ll mothball it and wear it just before the man who is always dressed in white comes to visit.

It all seems so long ago, the Turf Club ball, the Hanbury and Goldsmith cricket matches, the 4 a.m. race around Berkeley Square, the all-nighters after Ascot, the country balls. But such are the joys of getting old: more memories than action, and there are always the regrets. Never mind, I miss London and my English friends — the dinners at Bellamy’s followed by drinks at 5 Hertford Street. When I’m next allowed to visit London without having to quarantine — I have a beautiful house waiting for me to give a party — I will head for the British Museum in order to see for myself Nero: The Man Behind the Myth, the sprawling new show about the Roman emperor, #MeToo’s second most hated man after Harvey you-know-who.


In this new climate of toxic wokeness, there are people who are seen as being far worse than Nero, and their acts far more reprehensible than his (such as eating apple pie; apple pie has been cancelled by some woke moron, or so I’m told). Nero is known for fiddling while the city burned, but that sounds like a myth to me, more Hollywood than truth. Peter Ustinov played Nero in the 1951 film Quo Vadis, and had him strumming the lyre. The movie did not show him having sex with his mother — those were the days when Hollywood played nice — nor did it show him killing his mama and his first wife. Or if it did it happened off screen, as they used to say. I was down from school for Christmas and saw it but what I remember is the Christian message and Nero playing the lyre while Rome burned.

But let’s forget Hollywood and attempt to get closer to historical facts. I don’t know if Nero was a prototypical tyrant; emperors were hardly constrained by Christian ethics in those days. The negative spin on Nero began while the poor guy was still alive and top banana. Tacitus and Rome’s High life correspondent Suetonius did most of the damage. He got the blame for an accidental fire when he wasn’t even around. After the blaze, Nero actually sheltered the homeless — which is far more than the current Noo Yawk mayor is doing — and rebuilt the city.

The mauvaises langues had it in for Nero from the start. They claimed that he burned the place down so he could build a palace for himself, but that’s all bull. The Roman elite were furious at Nero’s social reforms, a bit like the Washington regulars hating Trump for upsetting the applecart. Nero also promoted the lower classes, a real no-no back then. It shows that nothing has really changed in a couple of thousand years. We’re having a meritocracy debate, although Boris has not been accused of starting any fires — not yet anyway.

Nero had to find a scapegoat for the fire so he went after the Christians. So what else is new? Hollywood has loyally followed his example since its conception. That was probably his greatest sin, at least according to the ancient Greek historian Taki. Nero developed chariot races, gladiator fights (which, unlike in the movies, were not to the death every time) and stage performances. I take the story of him winning a gold medal in the Olympic chariot race by being the sole competitor with lotsa retsina wine.

And speaking of Greek wine, the National Trust might be interested in this: woke Greek students have been missing a trick until now when it comes to the Parthenon scandal. What they need is an attention-seeker like Katzman, the one who got rid of the Queen’s portrait in Oxford, to set the record straight. Until now Greeks have taken it for granted that the Parthenon was designed by Phidias and built by free Greek citizens under the auspices of aristocrats such as Pericles and Alcibiades. However, woke detectives have discovered that foreign slaves mined and dragged all that marble from Mount Penteli to the Acropolis. Shock horror and all that, but the Parthenon must come down as slavery was involved. People such as Katzman are bound to find out, and demand that the Parthenon is next.

But I have a better idea. I suggest the British Museum take the Parthenon, as it already has most of the good stuff from it. What shocks is the fact we Greeks have been asleep for so long as far as woke is concerned. Thank god for Katzman and his ilk; we have a lot to learn from types such as him.

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