Ancient Poem Praises Murderous Roman Emperor Nero
2012 08 28

By Owen Jarus | LiveScience.com

A just-deciphered ancient Greek poem discovered in Egypt, deifies Poppaea Sabina, the wife of the infamous Roman emperor Nero, showing her ascending to the stars.

Based on the lettering styles and other factors, scholars think the poem was written nearly 200 years after Nero died (about 1,800 years ago), leaving them puzzled as to why someone so far away from Rome, would bother composing or copying it at such a late date.


Emperor Nero: History has painted him as a cruel leader, but the poem romanticizes his life
In the poem, Poppaea ascends to heaven and becomes a goddess. The ancient goddess Aphrodite says to Poppaea, "my child, stop crying and hurry up: with all their heart Zeus’ stars welcome you and establish you on the moon..."

Nero was one of the most infamous rulers who ever lived. Ancient writers say that he killed his own mother, Agrippina, and his first wife Octavia. He is also said to have killed Poppaea herself with a kick to her stomach while she was pregnant. If that wasn’t enough, the well-known line — "Nero fiddles while Rome burns" — is an apocryphal phrase related to a great fire that ravaged Rome for six days during his reign.

Poppaea herself is also depicted in a less-than-positive light by ancient writers. When Octavia was killed, Poppaea was said to have been presented with her head. Some sources also speculate that she was the power behind the throne that encouraged Nero to murder his mother.

Headed for the heavens

The newly deciphered poem, however, shows a very different side to this ancient couple. In the poem, Poppaea is depicted being taken away by Aphrodite and told "your children for Nero [both deceased] you will guard them for eternity."

Poppaea does not want this, wishing to stay with Nero. "[S]he was downcast and did not rejoice in the offered (favor). For she was leaving her husband, (a man) equal to the gods, and she moaned loudly from her longing..." part of the poem reads.

"The poet is trying to tell you [that] Poppaea loves her husband and what it implies is this story about the kick in the belly cannot be true," said Paul Schubert, a professor at the University of Geneva and the lead researcher who worked on the text, in an interview with LiveScience. "She wouldn’t love him if she had been killed by a kick in the belly."

The poem records her ascending to heaven, mentioning all the planets known to the ancients including "the Cyllenaean star" (Mercury), "belt of the Aegis-bearer" (Jupiter) and "Rhea’s bedfellow" (Saturn).

Her arrival among the stars is also triumphant, "under a clear (moon), the dance of the blessed (gods) she viewed..." with her then going to the northern pole to watch over Nero "looking around for her husband under the darkness..."

Deciphering the text

The story of the text’s deciphering begins in the late 19th century with excavations at Oxyrhynchus by Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. During the time that the Romans ruled Egypt, Oxyrhynchus was a sizable town of about 10,000 people located in Upper Egypt. Among their discoveries, Grenfell and Hunt found hundreds of thousands of papyri in ancient dumps at the site.

Over the past 100 years, scholars have gradually been analyzing, translating and publishing the papyri. This particular text, along with many of the other papyri, is now at the Sackler Library at Oxford University. Schubert said that before he and his team began work, all they knew about this papyrus was that it was written in Greek and contained a poem; "we had no idea what it was going to be."

Why was it written?

As for why someone in Egypt would write or copy a poem like this so long after Nero’s death, one possibility is that the poem itself was composed after Poppaea’s death, but when Nero was still alive. Then, over a period of 200 years, the text was popular enough that it was retold again and again until someone in Oxyrhynchus wrote it down.

Schubert said that, although none survive, it is possible that deification poems like this were written for members of the Roman imperial family after they died. "There is a possibility that the poem we have here recovered actually belongs to this lost genre, but we can’t be sure," Schubert said. He points out that a writer named Seneca wrote a satire that mocked the deification of a Roman emperor named Claudius.

Another possibility, researchers say, is that a writer in the third century wrote this as a "poem of circumstance" when the wife of an Egyptian official died, using Poppaea and Nero as an example of two lovers separated by death. Yet another possibility is that this was part of a longer astrological poem.


The text and analysis are detailed in the most recent volume of the series The Oxyrhynchus Papyri.



The back of the newly deciphered papyrus. It wasn’t unusual in the ancient world for texts to be written on both sides.




Article from: livescience.com






About the Oxyrhynchus Papyri:

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are a group of manuscripts discovered by archaeologists including Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt at an ancient rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt (28°32′N 30°40′E, modern el-Bahnasa). The manuscripts date from the 1st to the 6th century AD. They include thousands of Greek and Latin documents, letters and literary works. They also include a few vellum manuscripts, and more recent Arabic manuscripts on paper (for example, the medieval P. Oxy. VI 1006).

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are currently housed in many institutions all over the world. A substantial number are housed in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University.

Although the initial hope of finding many of the lost literary works of antiquity at Oxyrhynchus was not realized, many important Greek texts were found at the site. These include poems of Pindar, fragments of Sappho and Alcaeus, along with larger pieces of Alcman, Ibycus, and Corinna.
Source - Wikipedia


Grenfell (left) and Hunt (right) in about 1896










Related Articles
Celtic Muse Kills Poet (Video)
Grass stained: Israel slams Nobel Prize-winner over ’anti-nuke’ poem
Mysterious Coded Text: The Codex Seraphinianus
Rediscovered Ancient Text Tells a Different Three Wise Men Tale
Researcher says she found text on Shroud of Turin


Latest News from our Front Page

Sweden Recognizes Palestinian State; Israel Upset
2014 10 31
Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm. The move by Sweden’s new left-leaning government reflects growing international impatience with Israel’s nearly half-century control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. It also comes during increased ...
Fed-Backed Study: How to Brainwash Public into Fearing “Climate Change” Like Ebola
2014 10 31
$84K study seeks ways to make public fear "climate change and overpopulation" The National Science Foundation is funding a study to determine how to brainwash the public into fearing “climate change and overpopulation” as if they were Ebola. The NSF awarded an $84,000 grant to researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo yesterday to figure out how to make ...
Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice
2014 10 31
As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That’s no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot ...
6 Million Lies
2014 10 30
“If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not alarm anyone morally, you yourself remain morally asleep. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift of the coming hell.” C Wright Mills. I need to share information I have discovered ...
Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself
2014 10 30
In college, it wasn’t rare to hear a verbal battle regarding artificial intelligence erupt between my friends studying neuroscience and my friends studying computer science. One rather outrageous fellow would mention the possibility of a computer takeover, and off they went. The neuroscience-savvy would awe at the potential of such hybrid technology as the CS majors argued we have nothing to ...
More News »