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Monday, March 11, 2024

Something About Nero's Theater

Golden boy strikes again.

The Roman emperor Nero is of particular interest here at Bellairsia. Bellairs's aborted doctoral thesis was about the anonymous play, The Tragedy of Nero (1624) and, as the site noted, even though Bellairs did not complete it, researching a lot of Nero seemingly made for interesting references later on. Saint Figeta and Other Parodies (1966) and The Face in the Frost (1969) either mention Nero by name or reference people or places associated with the emperor.

That's why an article a few months ago at the History Blog caught my eye, announcing Nero's theater in Vatican City has been uncovered:
Thus far, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of the left side of the semicircular cavea (the seating section) and of the scaenae frons, the architectural background of the Roman stage. In this area archaeologists have also unearthed finely-worked Ionic columns made of precious white and colored marbles and elegant stucco adorned with gold leaf — a type of decoration also found in Nero's Domus Aurea. A second structure perpendicular to the stage area had service rooms, perhaps used to store scenery and costumes.

Nero added a theater next to the circus so he could have a dedicated space to perform his dubious poetry and songs before his adoring public. Or not so adoring, if Suetonius is anything to go by:
While [Nero] was singing no one was allowed to leave the theatre even for the most urgent reasons. And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall, since the gates at the entrance were closed, or feigned death and were carried out as if for burial.
Only this reference and a couple of others by Pliny the Elder and Tacitus mention Nero's theater, and they are vague as to location. Over the centuries the theater had taken on a semi-legendary quality, especially since the ancient sources focus heavily on Nero's excesses, even to the point of exaggeration.
Reminds me of Vogon poetry. Fiddle with that one, friends.

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