19. Nero Tried to Sing His Way Out of His Doom
Nero spent extravagantly in pursuit of his hobbies and to satisfy his whims, until the treasury was emptied. In the meantime, he entrusted the government to incompetent and corrupt cronies who wrecked it. By 68 AD, the Roman Empire had had enough, and numerous rebellions broke out. In Rome, the Senate declared Nero a public enemy, and his Praetorian Guard abandoned him. Nero toyed with impractical ideas: among other things, he wanted to throw himself upon the mercy of the public and beg their forgiveness. He reasoned that if he sang for them as he played the lyre, it would “soften their hearts”, and he would be allowed to retire to some distant province as its governor.
He composed a speech and wrote a song, but changed his mind after he was told that he would probably be torn apart by a mob as soon as he was sighted in public, before he got the chance to orate or sing. As he mulled alternatives, news came that he had been declared a public enemy by the Senate, had been sentenced to be publicly beaten to death, and that soldiers were on the way to arrest him. All hope gone, Nero decided to end his life. Unable to do it himself, he had a freedman stab him, and cried out his last words before the fatal blow: “Oh, what an artist dies in me!”