Was the Fiddle Story a Vicious Rumor?

Whenever someone in charge seems to be ignoring a crisis, they often get compared to the Roman emperor Nero, who supposedly played the fiddle during a city-wide fire.

Some ancient chroniclers said that Nero had his men set fire to a section of the city that was standing in the way of his plans to expand his palace, and that he sang softly to himself while the flames rose. But one of the most reliable of these ancient historians, Tacitus, said this was just a vicious rumor. Tacitus records that, not only did he not order the fire, Nero was in Antium when it broke out. Further, he rushed back to Rome and helped fight the fire. He opened up imperial gardens and buildings to shelter the homeless.

Finally, the fiddle wasn’t invented until hundreds of years later. The popular instrument during Nero’s time was the cithara, a type of lyre.

Roman emperors could be heartless, but it appears that Nero’s getting a bum rap here.