a claque of youths


***Nero did not fiddle as Rome burned, the fiddle had not yet been invented. But he did consider himself an accomplished lyre player and singer and when in his twenties, gave a public recital. He worked hard at rehearsals and was prepared to suffer for his art. To reduce his weight and improve the quality of his voice, he underwent enemas and severe diets. Some days he ate only chives preserved in oil, and never consumed apples as he felt they harmed his vocal chords.

The concert took place in Naples in a large amphitheatre. The programme was very lengthy and the performance dragged on and on. No one dared show any sign of boredom or dissatisfaction as his spies were everywhere observing faces for a lack of enthusiasm. Nero had packed the amphitheatre with a claque of 5,000 youths to make sure he had a good reception. He was reportedly so pleased by the rhythmic clapping of the Alexandrian sailors that he sent across to Egypt for reinforcements.


No one was allowed to leave before the end and several babies were born during the performance. People tried desperately to escape. Some climbed the wall at the back and risked the long drop to the ground. Others collapsed in a heap and feigned death, hoping to be carted off for burial.


Nero, thrilled by the tumultuous acclaim, embarked on a series of repeat performances over several days. The concerts were finally brought to a close by a small earthquake that destroyed the theatre.


*** from Classical Music’s Strangest Concerts by Brian Levison & Frances Farrer

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 8:06 am  Comments (50)  
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  1. It originally said that Nero diddled while Rome burned, which might explain the additional order of sailors.

    • I wonder where I could place an order for more sailors….

      • I wouldn’t have taken you for a navel gazer.

        John DeNavi

  2. Claque – new word for me, thankyou.

    • I wonder if there is a collective noun for corsets?

      • I’m making one up now – a Conspiracy of Corsets!

      • Not a titillation of corsets?

  3. So the earthquake was caused by women in a state of undress, which inexorably led to fornication?

    It seems Boob-quakes go back a long way then…

    The King

  4. A captive audience if ever there was one. Enemas to improve the quality of his voice? I bet Nero could fart wth perfect pitch.

    • That would have been Joseph Pujol.

  5. He wasn’t a fiddle player he was a lyre player. Hmm never knew that. So instead he didn’t fiddle, he twiddled? No wonder it got changed over time. wouldn’t want to get the wrong meaning.

  6. Some climbed the wall at the back and risked the long drop to the ground. Others collapsed in a heap and feigned death, hoping to be carted off for burial.

    Yes, I’ve been to those same grammar school vocal recitals.

  7. People tried desperately to escape.”

    i’ve been there. have attempted to sneak into the tech booth from the back row to escape bad local theater…

  8. Bet the bugger that shouted ‘encore’ got lynched later 😉

  9. I’m making one up now – a Conspiracy of Corsets!
    A ‘cloistered, would encompass’.
    I should imagine several babies were conceived also, thank god that Tony Abbott hasn’t such power, by er the er um time er ah he um er lyred, the whole family virtue would have been cob webs, so to type.

  10. Talk about a captive audience! I’m thinking that was no earthquake but the combined strength of a very determined group of citizens…

  11. A fantastic post. I almost always force myself to sit through the most horrible of performances just for the perspective. When you see a good show, you realize how good they are. I’ve only walked out of two plays. One was a Sam Shepard play that starred Vincent D’Onofrio! Awful stuff.

    • really? I usually love Sam Shepherd’s plays

      • Me, too! That’s why it was such a shock to my system! But the whole production was insufferable and we left at the interval.

  12. Haha! This reminds me of the time I played the lion in the Wizard of Oz. By the time I reached the second verse of my solo, even my parents were trying desperately to escape.

  13. I’ve just realized that Tony Blair is the reincarnation of Nero. He apparently looks just like him and he diddled while Iraq burned.

  14. I guess you don’t go to a Nero concert prego eh? Did the screaming of the newborns complement his screeching I wonder. He should have just hired an audience, or filled the arena with slaves.

    Nowadays, he’d just buy play time on all the public media.

  15. This made me roar – fancy being so appalling the Gods have to send an earthquake to relieve the suffering

  16. I’ve never thought of feigning death and hoping to be carted off for burial. That’s a brilliant ploy. NurseMyra and DaisyFae, if you hear I’ve died in the next few weeks, don’t let them bury me, till you get a second opinion.

    • we’ll be sure to work every bit of resuscitation magic we can first…

  17. So, if he was such a dedicated dieter, how come all the Hollywood depictions of Nero are of a fat fiddler?

  18. So it was a case of lyre, lyre, pants on fyre?

  19. Such an act! And now we know that he actually got an enema while Rome burned!

  20. Enemas……hmmmm……perhaps i’ll soon have to resort to that

  21. A constriction of corsets?

    I dread to think what Nero’s riders were like

  22. Sounds uncannily like various reviews of recent Whitney Houston concerts.

  23. I dread to imagine the combination of Nero playing Wagner. it would have been truly endless and turgid.

    • Turgid! I love that word

  24. I’m too busy killing myself laughing to make up any more witty comments. Fabulous post 😉

  25. Hmm… usually if I need to run out of a place I’ll say I have diarrhea. But considering pregnant women couldn’t get out of this performance by giving birth, I doubt a fictional case of the runs would work here.

    • See, it’s the opposite with me: Usually if I have diarrhea, I need to run out of a place.

  26. Wonderful post and very informative. Have you ever read I Claudius by Robert Graves (or better yet seen the BBC mini-series)? Both are wonderful – however I suspect they took more than a few liberties with actual facts.

    • I missed the mini series and have never read the book. I know I know…. I’ll get round to it one day I promise

    • There’s also a sequel to the novel called Claudius the God, which is almost as good.

  27. Nero fiddled lyred, Vogons recited their poetry. There are more similarities if you work at it 🙂

  28. Oops – the strikethrough stuck 😦

  29. Palin is kind of a modern day Nero here in the states. She stacks the audience and controls press access, and if you hear her grating voice, well . . .

  30. I’ve always feared pregnancy…but the fear of giving birth during a performance? Whew–a brand new thing to dread. Nero, you shouldn’t have.

  31. people who choose enemas over apples are a bit strange, don’t you think?
    i wonder if he performe din a nero jacket.

  32. Nero, now that was a leader!

  33. Yes…I’ve been to concerts that I desparately wanted to sneak out of too but couldn’t…

  34. Ha! I guess mother earth grew sick of his playing.

  35. “several babies were born during the performance”

    Just how long WAS this performance? I mean, I can see someone getting up to trouble at the first intermission but…

    • The first one lasted about 12 hours, then there were three more over the ensuing days.

      Those ancient Grecians must have been extremely fertile or else Brian and Frances are prone to exaggeration

  36. Sounds like lots of plays I’ve seen.

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