Fiddling While the Classics Department Burns

By Constantine Palaiologos

I would say that it is sad to see classics sliding into irrelevance as a field but, having studied it myself in college, I know that the slide is already complete. When I see that Princeton is abolishing requirements for classics students to learn Latin or Greek I can only shrug, and not just because I’m rubbish at languages myself. Classical scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have for years been doing their best to eliminate everything that makes their field unique and separate from their neighboring history departments. I am not here to complain, however, about the drawn out harakiri of classical studies; the field truly does have no business existing on a 21st century campus which aims to dismantle whiteness. For four years I watched my professors struggle to explain why they had their own department; it couldn’t be done. Once the foundation of every decent western education, this field is now reduced to examining old potsherds and halfheartedly trying to teach Latin grammar to hopeless cases like me.

When I saw the latest campaign crop up to rehabilitate Nero through a new exhibit at the British Museum I could hardly be surprised by the ubiquitous “was he really that bad?” headlines. A skeptical professor mentioned the cause of Nero revisionism to me several years ago and I have kept a skeptical eye of my own on it ever since. To me, the Nero reappraisal has always looked like the confused flailing of a field which doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. For the scholars who worked hard to keep this fringe cause alive I still believe this to be the case. Yet why has it now gone mainstream? Why is the British Museum hosting this exhibit and why are the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal praising it?

The answer, I think, has little to do with any genuine passion for redeeming Nero. We live in a period in which every last vestige of the conventional wisdom your grandfather may have learned needs to be given the subversive treatment. You need to be constantly reminded that “the experts” are here to tell you why you’re wrong about pretty much everything. Nero is the quintessential ancient tyrant, the name is synonymous with depravity and criminal governing. Well guess what, the experts are here to tell you that he was actually a pretty swell guy. The starting point for it all is to inform you that, no, he actually did not fiddle while Rome burned. Every successful push to rehabilitate a historical villain seems to start with this sort of line. Did you know that the Vikings didn’t actually wear horns on their helmets? The assumption from here is that the unwashed masses will now be ready to trust the experts to correct the rest of their old misconceptions. Now the Vikings become multicultural humanitarians who, by the way, kept themselves wonderfully clean and washed.

What of Nero himself then? Apparently, debunking a tale which is widely understood to be apocryphal is as concrete as the British Museum is willing to be in their rehabilitation campaign. As for the rest, the story is supposedly just a typical case of rich old white men writing history from a biased perspective. The senatorial class and the Christians who hated Nero wrote the histories and ignored the attitude of the common man, who was really quite fond of the deranged emperor. There is no denial, however, of the evils that made Christians and senators despise Nero; the scapegoating, the forced suicides, the matricide. Even if one ignores the more lurid account of Suetonius and adheres only to the generally sober Tacitus, Nero was bad. We are informed confidently that this was all nothing out of the ordinary for an ancient ruler, but is that true? Men like Augustus and Marcus Aurelius made genuine efforts to be just and merciful to all classes of Romans. Even at the span of nearly two millennia Vespasian and his son Titus appear to have been quite decent both as men and as emperors. No one has ever argued, as the British Museum seems to imply, that Nero never once did anything positive in his reign. It is a rare human indeed who does not possess a single redeeming quality. Nero did offer aid to those left homeless and destitute by the Great Fire. The suggestion that the charitable endeavors of Nero were enough to make him popular with the Roman masses is, however, completely baseless.

The supposed evidence for these assertions reveals far more about academia in 2021 than it does about Rome under the Julio-Claudians. A number of imposters in the years after 69 A.D. did indeed claim to be escaped Nero’s waiting to reclaim the throne. This says practically nothing about the supposed popularity of Nero himself. His death was a rather private one, and as the last of his dynasty it was natural that a certain mystique be attached to the lost emperor in the eyes of discontented provincials. Enemies of Henry VII of England repeatedly attempted to trot out boys who were meant to be the lost sons of Edward IV; this had nothing to do with the personalities of the Princes in the Tower themselves. More bizarrely, the claim is made that Nero must have been beloved by the people for his public singing performances. I can only assume that this idea comes from watching modern American politics, where shameless pandering and folksy acts are presumed to be enough for a Senator or President aiming to acquire the common touch. For a society which is not so devoted to the worship of egalitarianism, however, this behavior might be considered frivolous and demeaning in the eyes of both commoner and aristocrat alike. It is insulting to the common Roman to imagine that they could be won over by such low-brow stuff as Nero had to offer.

I also take issue with the assumption, which I encounter frequently, that the common Roman citizen cared not a whit for what happened in high society. We know that people under the Principate were concerned about what was happening in the imperial palace; when Nero killed his mother and his first wife, the people most certainly knew it and were disgusted by it. Why did the people not overthrow him then? You might ask that about any number of unhinged modern dictators who cling to power for years; in 1969 Macias Nguema rounded up hundreds of opponents on Christmas Eve and had them shot in a football stadium by soldiers dressed as Santa Clause while “Those Were the Days” was blasted over the speakers. We do not assume that the population of Equatorial Guinea was willing to overlook this. “Everyone else was just as bad” is not a valid excuse in such cases; we know that Claudius was not particularly beloved at the end of his reign. Yet in the Walters Museum in Baltimore there is a head of Nero which was likely re-carved after his fall to resemble his predecessor instead. Claudius must have seemed quite tame in comparison then. The people were appalled by the decision of Nero to build his Golden House above the ruins of fire-stricken Rome. Tacitus even suggests that the Romans were not particularly enthusiastic about the use of the generally unpopular Christians as scapegoats by Nero.

The entire thing is simply bad history stuffed with flimsy assumptions and absurd claims. Is it a desperate and intentionally provocative play for relevance by scholars from a fading field of study? Undoubtedly yes, but I believe that there is still something more sinister involved here. I do not think that there is any secret cabal of authors and curators scheming to remake the reputation of a long dead Princeps. I do think that “the experts” as a class take pride in their ability to influence the public perception of things. To change your view of Nero requires no action on your part. This is not “eat the bugs,” this is seeing an authoritative looking statement and storing it somewhere in your mind, to resurface when something next leads your thoughts to Rome (all roads lead there, after all.) “The experts” have flexed their collective muscles again and rewritten another piece of history for thousands of headline readers and article skimmers with a passing interest in the Caesars. Carpe diem experts, reality is what you make it now.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. bluecat57 says:

    Great headline. Too bad most people are too culturally illiterate to get it.

    “Cultural Literacy” was first published in 1987 and appears to have been updated over the intervening decades. I’ll have to see what has changed, but the “classics” are always relevant for what they TEACH.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Zonar says:

    Excellent piece. The “experts” continue to exhume the corpse of Western Civilization so that they may put the body on trial in the court of wokeness. The sentence? Public humiliation.

    Like

  3. GDR says:

    >; in 1969 Macias Nguema rounded up hundreds of opponents on Christmas Eve and had them shot in a football stadium by soldiers dressed as Santa Clause while “Those Were the Days” was blasted over the speakers
    Uhhhh, based?

    Any time the enemy wants you to think X isn’t so bad, it’s because:
    1. Someone or some group who is effectively X is in power,
    2. They intend to do X to you, or
    3. They want to be X while making you into X’s victims.

    Like

  4. stallard0 says:

    The last gasp of relevance *is* subversion. In most every field of academia, the incumbent eksperts realize that they not only cannot contribute to their field, but they cannot even maintain the body of knowledge handed down to them. Petty sniping, shock tactics, and lockstep sh*tlibbery is all that brought this wave of academics (and their students) to power, and it’s all they know how to use, so we get Classics professors insisting that Roman Britain was a series of barracks garrisoned primarily by sub-Saharans and incessantly kvetching about Marcus Aurelius because people are reading him outside of their lecture rooms without their useless commentary. What they do not appreciate is that their standing rests on accumulated social capital that they are wasting extravagantly because they see themselves as totally inviolable, much as journalists. True, their lack of credibility does not imminently threaten the regime, but the fact that everything in the papers is a lie, that the reality reflected by (entertainment) media is a lie, that everything taught in schools is a lie, everything politicians do and say is a lie, and so on, and that the people increasingly recognize this, is a decay that slowly eats away their legitimacy. Unfortunately, I only see our (country’s) enemies dictating what comes after this.

    Like

    1. GDR says:

      >True, their lack of credibility does not imminently threaten the regime…
      That’s called a failure of imagination on our part. If anyone is willing to play the part, they could go into these courses with audio recorders, record everything that’s even remotely based, ensure that the professors in question are libtards, and do your best to get them all canceled.

      The regime isn’t threatened by this because no one has actually put down the theory books and thought about practical application. How can one subvert a subversive? By using their own weapons to destroy the institutions they control.

      Like

      1. stallard0 says:

        You say that as though that isn’t precisely what our enemies do. The only difference is that they get to choose who replaces middle-aged white libtard who made a faux pas and we don’t. I sympathize with the argument that we should pragmatically support the kakistocracy’s rise to power as obviously destabilizing but it’s the opposite of subversive and is totally useless if we don’t work twice as hard to build up institutions to take over.

        Like

  5. NC says:

    Funny how wiki has not changed the great purge entry;
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge

    Like

    1. Cthulhu says:

      I think a better approximation of out current condition is the cultural revolution in China. To make a series of rough analogies, 2001 to 2016 is like the great leap forward where Mao (or the oligarchs in our case) fuck everything up, then Mao loses some power for a while because of how bad the great leap forward was, like the Trump era, and now like when Mao returned we get a bunch of fanatical adherents to establishment doctrine burning down cities and cancelling, or in the Chinese case killing everyone who maybe could be possibly disagreeing.

      The major difference is Mao realized the great leap forward failed because it was rife with bad ideas and he needed to revisit those ideas and change how he lead. The U.S. oligarchs have decided what the Trump era signified was the need to triple down on everything they were doing before, thus guaranteeing failure.

      Like

      1. GDR says:

        Mao only changed his tune because not doing it would result in people being so desperate to survive that they would’ve had no choice but to overthrow him. It’s only his instincts as an guerilla general that saved him there, and even then he found other people to blame for his fuck ups.

        Our elites have a plan, and the plan is to steal everything we own, turn us into serfs, kill all our men in pointless wars or from opiate overdoses, and sit like an effendi and eat while our women suck on their dicks. They don’t want power to lord it over all the other peasants as Mao did, so he personally can fuck other men’s wives and do whatever he wants; they want power so that their group can exterminate all others.

        Their plan is proceeding, not perfectly, but it’s not showing any serious long-term signs of failure to accomplish their goals.

        Like

  6. Magic Dirt says:

    This was a good post. I hear ya and can relate. Everything about our so-called civilization/culture has been deconstructed to the point that practically no one could look back on anything we are historically related to and find it making sense. So far as I have seen, people now mostly perceive the Romans to have been perverts and criminals and cruel. God knows the left wouldn’t want to focus on, say, military engineering instead of whether or not everyone was hanging out at gay orgies all the time. The fact that Romans were just hanging out at gay orgies most of the time is presented as proof that really nobody believed in gender and we should all be gay too. Stuff like that. You don’t need to know latin or greek to make a political point about history that you would make about history anyway given your political biases as a Leftist. There is no such thing as factual history anyway so why bother.

    We have been systemically unmoored from any history worth caring about and shipwrecked on the North American continent to be blended genetically into a rainbow coalition of diversity. Our overlords who are managing this genetic destiny want us to eventually just be a completely different people who has no direct connection to Europe or European history. That this has been done to us should, in my opinion, be considered some kind of crime against humanity. It’s not right to annihilate a civilization and reracialize its people. What has happened to us should not happen to any other people again. It’s like the Global Elite just decided Japan would be a much better place if everyone who lived there was Nigerian. There is something profoundly wrong with doing that. The wound to our culture is fatal. We are just bleeding out at this point.

    Like

  7. Cthulhu says:

    The classics had another period of being cancelled by another rabid cult of semitic origins. They came back. I don’t have any fear that the deeds and thoughts of classical white society will be forgotten, and wokism will be remembered much worse than the classics.

    Like

  8. Woody Jones says:

    Beloved Emperor, we expected you to return, but as warrior-emperor as before, not as a writer of social commentary. Aaargh.

    Like

    1. stallard0 says:

      Constantine or Nero Redivivus? (Is there a significant difference in these folk superstitions beyond the figure in question?)

      Like

    2. Constantine Palaiologos says:

      No impending victory under the Golden Gate but at least there’s WiFi

      Like

  9. Anon says:

    Perhaps he fact that “nero” means “black” has some significance. It may seem ridiculous and lightweight but then, is that not a fair description of our Clown World?

    Like

  10. Franko says:

    You’re wrong. From statue-smashing to family-breaking to literature-destroying to the insane howls of “weez all equal” to fetishizing “the other” to a millennium of pure fucking lunacy, the wackjob Xtians were the same Bolshevik freaks we see today, eternally recurring through our tribe, so called. You were lied to about Nero like the current clowns are lied to about other leaders, and just because those putting on the revisionist gig mostly do suck, they’re right in this case. Nero was not the man normies believe he was.

    Like

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