History enjoys repeating itself. We may have advanced technologically, but we still mimic the same winning (or losing) attributes of our ancestors. There was gossip, and assassination plots, and Olympic games. Granted, the likes of Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have amplified the directness of things like gossip, delivering them with such speed and efficiency. Think how many plans could have been foiled if history (particularly focusing on the Roman Empire today) had this technology available. For a culture so set in their ways, any new idea seemed like a direct snub to the gods. Would a forward-thinking emperor be the doom of Rome? Or would he pave the road in gold for the future?
Nero is twenty-six years old, and has reigned as emperor of Rome for nine years. While the climb has not been easy, it seems our young emperor is making a name for himself, in positive ways, as well as negative. Nero had openly admitted (as well as performed) his affinity for the arts; poetry, cithara playing, and the controversy causing chariot racing. Nero was in Antium, having recited his narrative of the fall of Troy. A breathless courier interrupts Nero’s reverie with an urgent message: Rome is burning.
Without any hesitation, Nero decides to go home and help extinguish the fire. The blaze is uncontrollable, as if it has a mind of it’s own driven by the wind. It jumps from one house to the next, inconsiderate of the livelihood of business and families it takes. The streets were bombarded with citizens fleeing. In the chaos, Nero witnessed a few people throwing torches into homes. Deliberate arson. The arsonists met their fiery end with unstable buildings collapsing on them, rendering them innocent in the real world, with hopes of justice in the underworld.
Naturally, with any disaster comes rumors. The fire was an accident. The fire was a result of arson. The emperor sat and played his cithara while Rome burned. The emperor set fire to Rome. The gods were punishing them. Of course the farther away one was, the more egregious the rumor. Nero set up several stations for the citizens; first aid, food and water, and most important (and equally devastating) was the missing people/ news board. The emperor himself even posted a list of people he would like found, and was overjoyed when most of the people were located.
When discussing the building of Rome:
“How can we afford it?”
An astute and painful question.
“We will afford it because we have no choice.”
Nero sees the needs of his people, they need (understandably!) a place to live- and they need to start right away. He wants to include and recreate what they had, but also build a bigger and better Rome for the future. Rome will be like a phoenix taking flight from the ashes. While seeing the emperor out and about gave the public much needed encouragement, while having the opposite effect on Nero. He saw nothing but devastation, lost, and years of hard work, which ultimately led to his futuristic architectural designs as well as his own demise.
Will Rome accept the major changes the emperor will lay at their doorstep, and advance to a forward thinking culture? Or will they revert to the old ways, and put faith in a Sibylline prophecy:
“Last of the sons of Aeneas, a mother-slayer, shall govern,
And that after that, Rome by the strife of her people shall perish.”
“The Splendor Before The Dark” is the continuation of “The Confessions of Young Nero” (a book I reviewed last year). This is the final installment in the Nero series- and to be honest, I’m not sure you could glean any more information if you tried.
While I try my best not to spoil a book, sometimes my thoughts get ahead of me. Because this book isn’t out until November of this year, here’s your fair warning.
“The Splendor Before The Dark” is definitely your historical fiction genre. This particular genre is one of those hidden gems that can either be hit or miss- I feel like there is no in between. This book definitely leans more towards the dry side of history, it’s engaging, but you are hit with fact after fact, and it gets a bit monotonous and repetitive. It’s unusual for me to say that too because I’m one of those readers that enjoys being inundated with descriptions. This more or less felt like a reading assignment in history class- I guess I would’ve liked more fiction with my history is what I’m trying to say.
Nero was an emperor ahead of his time, in my opinion. We have an architectural genius, whose designs at times defied what was possible. He was scorned for it, having too exotic of taste. I truly believe Nero would have fared well in today’s society. People would come far and wide to witness the spectacles he created, instead of questioning his motives for building them.
We’ve heard about emperor’s ruling with an iron fist, or being at war their entire reign, but reading this book puts Nero in a spotlight all on his own. Here we have a ruler trying to be three people at once; the ruler, the artist, and the man with dark, carnal desires. It’s unproductive when you are unable to be yourself, but to separate yourself and put on a face for each occasion sounds exhausting. I will give him this, Nero thought about the people. It may not have come across as that, but he was concerned about his citizen’s well-being. On the flip side, he also cared what they thought about him. He wanted to be on stage reciting poetry, and playing music, and racing chariots.
All in all, people are just as mean now as they were back then. At least in ancient times, someone had the audacity to come at you with a knife instead of bullying behind the comforts of a computer. This book gives you a lot of information to take in. And with uncommon names and places, (and with having chemo brain) a lot was lost on me. I did take initiative and watch a few BBC documentaries which were actually extremely helpful.
“The Splendor Before The Dark” by Margaret George is available for pre-order. The scheduled publishing date is currently November 6th, so be sure to look out for it on bookshelves! I was chosen by Netgalley to receive an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. Given that fact, it has not altered my opinion on the book at all.