Ice Cream of the Antichrist

One of the great early ice cream lovers, at least according to legend, was the Roman emperor Nero. He was said to have sent fleet-footed slaves high into the Apennines to fetch quantities of snow, which his cooks would combine with honey and other flavorings for the enjoyment of all his guests. Obviously this wasn’t really ice cream per se, but why ruin a good story?

The whole thing seems to make Nero out to be a big ol’ cuddle bear, though history for the most part contradicts that assessment. It’s been alleged that Nero is one of the first victims of revisionist history, since all we know of his life and times comes by way of his enemies. The undisputed facts of his life, however, are these: that he had his wife, his mother, his aunt, his tutor and most of his friends and relations killed. He sang and played the lyre while an accidental fire burned down most of Rome, then later blamed the whole thing on a weird little sect of religious fanatics called the Christians (whom he had thrown to the lions or set alight as ornamental torches during barbecues).

No great friend of the Jews either, it was he who dispatched Vespasian and his son Titus to quell the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem. There Titus looted and destroyed the Holy Temple, burned the city to the ground, and crucified its inhabitants. Those that escaped were scattered to the four winds, never to return.

Given all that it’s hard to see how Nero was “misunderstood” as some historians suggest. Maybe in his off hours he volunteered at an animal shelter. Who knows? It is true that he was a pretty decent poet and a singer, something that until that time was unheard of for a leader of the Roman state. There are stories of the hours-long elegies he sang in the Roman theater, during which he bolted doors and posted guards so none of his audience could get away. Women were said to have given birth at Nero’s performances, others only got out by feigning death (which is coincidentally how I once managed to escape from a Hootie and the Blowfish show).

Where am I going with all this? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s Friday and I’m in the mood for goofing off.

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