In July of 64 CE, a fire ravaged Rome for six days turning seventy percent of the city to ash and ruin and leaving close to half of the city homeless. Nero was Caesar at the time.
A legend grew up around the event saying Nero fiddled as the city burned. There are several reasons this is not accurate, unless you want to interpret “fiddle” as inaction. Rome was not fond of this cruel and sadistic leader, but there are several things that discount the modern interpretation.
First, fiddles as a musical instrument did not arrive on the scene until the 11th century. If Nero was musical and inclined to play during the disaster, he would have most likely been using a cithara. (See the lovely illustration).
Then there is the alibi. Nero was at his villa at Antium, thirty-five miles away when the fire started. He did rush to Rome when news arrived and attempted to begin relief measures—but by that time his people no longer trusted him. That was most likely confirmed as a wise attitude when he built his Golden Palace on cleared rubble after the fire.
And, of course, there was his purge of the followers of an obscure religious sect, the annoying Christians. After all, someone had to take the rap.
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was adopted by Claudius Caesar when he was 13 and became the successor to the throne. He was popular with the guard and the commoners. The Senate declared him a public enemy and records of the time indicate he was tyrannical, self-indulgent, and debauched. Not quite a parallel, since the person under investigation managed to drag a good part of Congress along the path to insurrection.
I watched the first public hearing of the January 6 commission the following morning on the PBS YouTube channel. And, although I knew the events and the principals involved (I tend to read things), I was still stunned by a several things. Things that run chills up your spine.
I was stunned by the depth of the absolute conviction exhibited by those who somehow believed that it was appropriate and right to attack the capitol and attempt to prevent the lawful business of the country in an attempt to prevent a peaceful transfer of power. People died. People were beaten. Property was damaged and destroyed. And these people were proud of the attack, absolutely convinced they were doing the bidding of a soon-to-be ex-president.
As the afternoon progressed, Capitol Police begged for backup, multiple times, certain they would not be able to hold the line. Hold the line with bicycle racks. I mean, it is hard to imagine that my country needs to barricade the buildings in which the business of the people is conducted, but if we’re going to barricade—bicycle racks? Even at the urging of staff and family, the WH refused to grant authority for support. At one point, when the crowd was assured that VP Pence was not going to do what had been demanded of him and which he legally could not do, they built gallows and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” And the WH thought they might have something there. It was the embattled Pence that authorized the additional support so badly needed. What would have been the outcome otherwise?
And the City burned.
One hundred and forty-seven Republicans returned to the chamber and voted to overturn the election. This after the Rotunda was gassed and the chamber was evacuated – they still chose to add wood to the fire.
Multiple times from November to January, advisors walked away because they would not be part of the “Big Lie.” There were brief comments during the hearing that the 25th Amendment was discussed. This by loyal supporters who had been there for the full ride.
I can’t say I expected something quite like this, although I was fully prepared for a reach to cling to power. I do believe that the threat has not gone away. It is simmering and growing, ready for the next opportunity. Too many of our elected officials are on board with an agenda that proactively works to silence the voice of millions of Americans who are not interested in the world they wish to build. Yet, they persist.
I don’t know where my country is headed. I don’t know if we can hang on and rebuild the dream that once was. With all its faults, America did at least know how to dream. All I know is that I am repeatedly struck with the iron curtain that has fallen across our country, a curtain that seems to reflect two entirely different visions of what and who we are. Those visions are so immensely different I don’t know where we start to right the ship. And it’s not just a disagreement, a point of argument. No, it’s as though one of us had developed a severe case of schizophrenia, and I know don’t know where the pharmacy is any more. And all the while – the city burned.