Known in the popular imagination and Hollywood films as ancient
Romes most depraved and decadent emperor, Nero is infamous
for fiddling while the city of Rome burned.
The classic material gets a fresh approach in Emory College this
semester with the freshman seminar Nero: Hero/Anti-Hero?
which examines the life and reign of one of Romes most notorious
Students in the seminar seek to reveal the man behind the outrageous
myths by examining one of the most exciting epochs in Roman history
through surviving masterpieces of art and literature, as well as
Neros portrayal by ancient authors as well as in Hollywood
films such as Quo Vadis and The Sign of the Cross.
I really hope to teach the students to look at art and literature
critically and not just at face value, said Eric Varner, assistant
professor of classics and art history. I want them to discover
something they may not be exposed to during the course of their
liberal arts education.
Varner added that he also wants to give his freshman students a
graduate seminar experience early in their academic career.
Because of the negative connotations attached to Nero himself,
there is an air of debauchery connected to the art of the period
by scholars. But Nero was also a popular ruler, beloved by the common
people, whose era saw great progression in the arts, Varner said.
Neros 14-year reign was one of the most productive artistic
and literary periods in the Roman Empire, witnessing revolutionary
developments in architecture, painting, sculpture and writing.
Nero is an incredibly complex character. He was more than
an emperorhe was a poet, an artist, a chariot racer,
The class grew out of Varners own work on a book about the
art and decadence during the age of Nero and research on Romes
bad emperors. He is now working with his class to discern
the person behind the myth of Nero and sift fact from fiction.
Nero, as far as we can tell, was a pretty charismatic person
and has been described as the first pop star,
Varner said. Nero is fun. Hes sexy. A majority of my
students say the reason they signed up for the course is because
Nero seems so interesting to them.