New York Times bestselling author Margaret George has brought history to vivid life with her critically-acclaimed biographical novels of historical figures including Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots, and Henry VIII. Now, she casts her eye to the last member of Julius Caesar’s dynasty, to remold and humanize the boy of whom history has made a caricature. Emperor Nero, who ascended to Rome’s ultimate seat of power at sixteen, is enshrined in popular memory as a hedonist, a tyrant, and cunning executioner. But the truth behind the caricature reveals a boy, an artist, an athlete, and a ruler who was both a product of his time and his mother Agrippina’s relentless ambition.
THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO (Berkley Paperback Reprint; March 20, 2018; $18) is written, like Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, in the form of an autobiography. It reveals with luminescent detail Nero’s complex talents and successes, his childhood, his rise to power, and his instinct for self-preservation which first took root on the moonlit night his insane uncle, the Emperor Caligula, tried to drown him.
Nero’s life—riddled with murders, rivalries, plots, orgies, and incest—is sensational on its own. But for George, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO is not just an opportunity to tell his story. It is an attempt to rehabilitate his image, and to expose the truth and complexities about both a man—and a time period—that has been much mythologized. George spent five years researching the novel, but her idea of resetting Nero’s villainous reputation has been building for more than thirty.
When he is just a small child, Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is released from exile by her elderly uncle—the newly crowned Emperor Claudius. Agrippina quickly plucks Nero from his modest upbringing, and embarks on a ruthless pruning of the family tree to ensure what she believes is her son’s rightful place in the Palace. Her naked ambition, cunning, and well-placed doses of poison help the obstacles fall one by one, until a teenage boy is given control of an Empire. Both tempted and terrified to assume his reign, Nero’s indoctrination into the incest, violence, luxury, and intrigue that have gripped Rome’s seat of power for generations will shape him into the man he was fated to become.
George covers the unfolding of Nero’s life and legacy, including his forced marriage to his cousin Octavia at fifteen; his passion for a beautiful ex-slave and other love affairs; the influence of the great philosopher Seneca on his reign; and his attentiveness to his political duties, including the improvement of Rome’s courts and public amenities. George uses Nero’s expansion of theatres, athletic games, chariot races, and musical performances as a window into the powerful artistic and athletic impulses that governed him, and which made him a champion of the common man—the men among whom he’d begun his life as “Lucius,” until fate made him forever “Nero.”