Gossip Makes Mincemeat of Nero, Nero Makes Mincemeat of Christians

Yesterday in 64 AD is the birthday of one of the biggest urban legends in Western History--one that points to the marginalized role of the arts and homosexuals in all of history and the fickle and devious nature of The Nameless during the same period.

On July 18 just 1943 years ago, Rome burned while Nero is alleged to have been playing his fiddle. Alleged. But ask anybody on the street what Nero was doing while Rome burned and they'll say fiddling. They never say allegedly.

It's so easy to destroy a guy--to stab him in the back--if you put the right rumors in the right mouths.

"The rumors about his playing his fiddle probably came from people in the Roman military who did not approve of Nero's artistic leanings....He was more interested in music and poetry than in battling the barbarians. And he didn't play the fiddle; he did play the lyre. But his real passion was singing. He was also known to be a transvestite, which did not endear him to the soldiers," The Writers Almanac noted yesterday.

The stories are so much more interesting than the truth. Isn't that always the way? Here's the rest of the story from The Writer's Almanac: "One of the rumors being spread at the time was that Nero had himself started the fire because he was disgusted by the architecture in Rome and wanted to rebuild the city. And to bolster his own image against these rumors, Nero decided that the fire needed to be blamed on someone else, and he picked out the Christians....Most Romans at the time despised Christians, but Nero's program of persecution went further than the people wanted. It had the unintended effect of making people sympathize with Christians. And a little more than 200 years later, the emperor of the Roman Empire himself converted to Christianity, and it became the dominant religion of Europe." How fickle is that?

Contemporary research says this cruelty known as gossip is somehow part of group survival. Really. In 2005 The New York Times reported: "'There has been a tendency to denigrate gossip as sloppy and unreliable' and unworthy of serious study, said David Sloan Wilson, a professor of biology and anthropology at the State University of New York at Binghamton and the author of Darwin's Cathedral, a book on evolution and group behavior. 'But gossip appears to be a very sophisticated, multifunctional interaction which is important in policing behaviors in a group and defining group membership.'"

Being cruel to you so I can be kind to me is good, say the experts. "'We all know people who are not calibrated to the social world at all, who if they participated in gossip sessions would learn a whole lot of stuff they need to know and can't learn anywhere else, like how reliable people are, how trustworthy,' said Sarah Wert, a psychologist at Yale.

The article acknowledges that it's hard to determine the effect of gossip on groups broken into factions. Dr. Eric K. Foster, a scholar at the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University in Philadelphia, said: "'In these situations, it is the person who gravitates into an intermediate position, making connections between the factions, who controls the gossip flow and holds a lot of power.'

"Such people can mask devious intentions, spread false rumors and manipulate others for years, as anyone who has worked in an organization for a long time knows. But to the extent that healthy gossip has evolved to protect social groups, it will also ultimately expose many of those who cheat and betray. Any particularly nasty gossip has an author or authors, after all, and any functioning gossip network builds up a memory.'"

Really? Name the guy who made up all that stuff about Nero.


  1. I just saw a doumentary of Nero last week. What a crazy guy ! He even killed his wife the only person he trusted.


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