The Confessions of Young Nero

Written by Margaret George
Review by Michael I. Shoop

The awesome power, political maneuverings, decadence, and general nastiness of ancient Rome are brought vividly to life in this hefty, lavishly written novel about Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, better known as Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian Roman emperors. Written in the form of an autobiography, George’s enthralling narrative immediately pulls the reader into the life and times of this notorious and perhaps maligned Roman.

His father dead and his mother exiled, Nero, after nearly being drowned by the mad Emperor Caligula, is raised by his aunt Lepida in relatively safe obscurity outside Rome. However, when he comes to the notice of Messalina, his cousin and the Emperor Claudius’ wife, she perceives him as a threat and attempts to eliminate him. Reunited with his murderously ambitious mother, Agrippina, his path to the throne becomes assured through her efforts, and at 16, the handsome, blond, blue-eyed, athletic Nero becomes Rome’s youngest emperor up to that time.

Peopled with such fascinating personalities as the philosopher/counselor Seneca; the tragic Octavia; the gentle ex-slave mistress, Acte; the poet Lucan; and the poisoner Locusta, among others, this saga goes against the general attitude that Nero was a deranged tyrant infamous for his excesses and ruthlessness. Instead, the focus is on his sensitive, artistic, somewhat moody nature, with all its inner conflicts and turmoil, thus providing a more thoughtful, balanced portrait, while not totally absolving him of certain unsavory activities.

George does an admirable job of keeping the reader on track in a dramatic, intense, carefully researched chronicle containing an enormous cast of characters and important events. Readers may or may not agree with her interpretation as depicted here, but George’s storytelling doesn’t fail to captivate and entertain. Can’t wait for the second volume!