Too Wicked and Cruel to Mention by Name?
By Leigh Marshall
Although this might scandalize the well-meaning (but hopelessly dorky) Scribonius, Emperor Nero is no longer the You-Know-Who he used to be. During his reign, nicknames abounded. Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (father of the more famous Pliny the Younger) called the young emperor “destroyer of the world” and “poison of the human race,” while among the Christians he persecuted, he was popularly known as “the Antichrist.”
These days, if you search “Nero” on Google, the top result is an advertisement for a multimedia suite that boasts, “All New Nero Is Here.” The website explains that Nero is a brand of software that specializes in “burning, ripping, and copying” — not unlike its namesake. One has to wonder if the Great Fire of Rome in 64 C.E., when Nero purportedly set fire to the city and fiddled while Rome burned, inspired the founders of Nero to name their company after him.
Odds are that Emperor Nero’s exceptionally bad behavior way back when had little to no influence on any modern-day decisions to use his name. “Nero” references the all-powerful Roman Empire without any inelegant “-us” or “-an” suffixes. Imagine going to a concert for a band called Elagabalus (who reigned from 218 to 222 C.E., in case you were wondering). Not very likely. But Nero is the chart-topping electronica group that draws huge crowds with their “bassquake” sound. Nero is a graffiti artist gaining visibility nationwide. Though the emperor may have been the Roman Empire’s potassium cyanide, it can’t be denied that his name has a certain marketable elegance.
Now that the name is fresh in your consciousness, you’ll see the once-unmentionable Nero all around. Here’s a list of a few notable appropriations.
Nero – A multimedia software suite used for editing videos, creating slideshows, burning DVDs, and more.
Nero – A big name in the drum & bass and dubstep genres of electronic music, Nero is a group signed to major label UKF and whose videos average at least 2 million hits on YouTube.
Caffè Nero – A popular coffee bar chain in the U.K., you’ll see a Caffè Nero on every other block in London.
Nero Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) – Ever wished you could live out a role-playing game? Set in a fantastical medieval world (in 50 locations in the U.S. and Canada), you get an opportunity to portray Nero and his people and virtually experience their world.
Neuro-Evolving Robotic Operatives (NERO) – A project run through Univ. of Texas at Austin, NERO is “an academic research project in artificial intelligence” that allows users to play a computer game using “adapting intelligent agents” instead of your dumb run-of-the-mill characters.
Nero Magazine – A quarterly publication out of Italy, Nero chronicles contemporary culture with an emphasis on the visual arts, specifically curating, art direction, and production of contemporary art events/exhibitions.
Leigh Marshall is an actor, playwright, and the first university intern from Stanford Univ. at Arena Stage. Her acting credits for the 2010/11 season include The Countess in New York’s Public Theater of production of All's Well that Ends Well and Rummy Mitchens in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, co-directed by resident playwright Amy Freed. Her most recent play, Laterality, was heard for the first time in May at a reading produced by the National New Play Network, Playwrights’ Foundation of San Francisco, and Stanford Institute for Creativity in the Arts. She is majoring in comparative literature.
Extras & Insights is funded, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.