Book/Film Review – QUO VADIS?

This 1951 film was based on the 1896 novel of the same title. The story, set in Rome, covers the events of AD 64-68, notably Rome’s conflict with Christians and Emperor Nero’s corrupt and destructive rule. This followed the peaceful order established by Nero’s illustrious and powerful predecessor, Claudius.

Domine Quo Vadis? is also the title of a AD 1602 painting by the Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carrac, depicting Christ on the way to The Cross. The quote is taken from The Gospel According To St John, chapter 13 verse 36 and is interpreted as “Lord, where goest thou?” It can also be found in the 2nd century apocryphal Acts Of Peter.

A glance at the Tory Party From Ancient Rome

Nero was older than Emperor Claudius’ natural son, Britannicus, giving him a claim to the imperial throne. When Claudius was almost certainly poisoned by his wife Agrippina in AD 54, her young son declared the dish of mushrooms that had done the deed to be “the food of the gods”.

Nero became emperor at 17 years of age. No merit of national or public service: privilege and avarice were sufficient qualification.

Such is the mentality of today’s Tory elite. True statesmen (and women) of the past are mere distant memories. Moral legacies are of no bearing. Personal integrity becomes a disadvantage. Those remaining supporters that do have integrity are never allowed near the top jobs.

Nero murdered his mother

Having poisoned two different husbands to reach her exalted position, Agrippina was unwilling to relinquish the hold that she had over her son Nero, and was even portrayed face-to-face with him in his early coins.

As a result of her opposition to Nero’s affair with Poppaea Sabina, the Emperor eventually decided to murder his mother. Inviting her to Baiae, he had her set forth on the Bay of Naples in a boat designed to sink, but she swam ashore. Eventually she was murdered by an ex-slave in AD 59 on Nero’s orders.

I recall an old saying that a Tory leader would turn against his own mother in pursuit of power. Nero’s marriages to both Claudia Octavia and later Poppaea Sabina both ended in their subsequent murders. Claudia Octavia was perhaps the best suitor for Nero, described as “an aristocratic and virtuous wife” by Tacitus, yet Nero quickly grew bored and began to resent the Empress. After several attempts to strangle her, Nero claimed that Octavia was barren, using this as an excuse to divorce her and marry Poppaea Sabina twelve days later.

Unfortunately, Octavia was not off the hook. Her banishment at the hands of Nero and Poppaea was resented in Rome, infuriating the insane Emperor even more. Hearing the news that a rumour of her reinstatement was met with widespread approval, he effectively signed her death warrant. Octavia’s veins were opened and she suffocated in a hot vapour bath. Her head was then chopped off and sent to Poppaea.

Whilst I cannot recall a Prime Minister doing precisely that, I do remember people who were inconvenient to a government suffering inexplicable deaths, such as government scientist Dr David Kelly, who on 17/7/2003 died from incisions which would have been remarkably difficult to self inflict.

Nero was immensely popular during his early reign

Despite his violent reputation, Nero had a knack for knowing what actions would endear him to the Roman public. After putting on several public musical performances, cutting taxes and bringing foreign rulers to come to Rome and take part in a lavish ceremonies, he became the idol of the masses. 

Here lies the problem. The Nero of the past, present and future, understands human nature. The ordinary man is offered the scraps and leftovers from a great banquet, and shows gratitude to his benefactor, If you like, he doffs his cap to the toff, the landowner, the factory bosses, the MP, the PM, those he has been instructed to look up to. The ordinary man is never shown the great feast that he might have enjoyed a moral and economic entitlement to, and
one might even say a spiritual entitlement to.

And here is the rub! After all his madness, Nero was so popular, that after his death there were three separate attempts by impostors over thirty years to gather support by assuming his appearance! Do we not yet see this today? One state asset, global asset, or interest group asset PM after another, I can only think of two Prime Ministers since 1945 who have not been public disasters of their own making.

Nero and the Great Fire of Rome

In AD 64, the Great Fire of Rome erupted on the night of 18 to 19 July. The fire started on the slope of the Aventine overlooking the Circus Maximus and ravaged the city for over six days. Nero was not present in Rome at the time, and most contemporary writers, including Pliny the Elder, Suetonius and Cassius Dio held Nero responsible for the fire.

The fire might be regarded as “slum clearance” without planning permission. It also made a desirable site available for his own palace development. Over the last 50 years, how many industrial sites, and surrounding terraced houses, have we seen cleared for redevelopment? The new developments are occasionally commercial but rarely industrial, and the new designs for modern living accommodation are Orwellian and stack-a-prole.

Yet there is one difference between Nero’s development and 2022 UK “progress”. The new Neros do not live on the new development, they are in the few remaining desirable locations in the UK, or even in a desirable foreign location. Nero’s absence left a bitter taste in the public’s mouth, so Nero looked to use the Christian faith as a scapegoat.

The Neros of today also seek a scapegoat, and it is easy to find – anyone who organises against the emperor’s system and declares that the emperor’s new clothes are actually no clothes at all!

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