The Confessions of Young Nero

The Confessions of Young Nero

by Margaret George


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Now in paperback, the newest novel from the New York Times bestselling author, in which she turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar's imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. No one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman, or child.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome, including his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. But as Agrippina's machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero's determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the Emperor he was fated to become.

Filled with impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy's ruthless ascension to the throne and the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451473387
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/07/2017
Pages: 528
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

Margaret George is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels of biographical historical fiction, including The Splendor Before the Dark; The Confessions of Young Nero; Elizabeth I; Helen of Troy; Mary, Called Magdalene; The Memoirs of Cleopatra; Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles; and The Autobiography of Henry VIII. She also has coauthored a children's book, Lucille Lost.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

Augustus, a canny politician and great statesman, was unable to solve the basic dilemma of disguising the empire as a republic. It was part of Roman civic pride that they had banished kings—Julius Caesar was assassinated for behaving like a king—but in truth the Republic was not structured to govern what was now an empire.

So the fiction had to be maintained that the emperor was really just the first citizen. That meant the Romans could not openly have a dynasty and there was no clear line of succession—hence every man for himself in securing the throne. In an atmosphere like that, there were no holds barred in battling for supremacy. So ruthless was this process that by the time of Nero’s death, there were no descendants of Augustus left alive, and the entire dynasty ended.

1. What if Nero had refused to compete for the crown? Could he have had a quiet life and pursued his art in peace? Later in life, he expressed the idea that he could support himself by his art if he were deposed. Was that at all realistic? Or just another of his romantic dreams?

2. Two living emperors (Caligula and Claudius) are in the book, and the earlier ones are a constant psychological presence. What effect does Nero’s awareness of his lineage and of the expectation that he live up to it have on him from an early age?

3. Nero’s descent from Augustus meant that he was always in a spotlight but at the same time obscure, as there were many other descendants of Augustus. In the book he says, “I was, as always, solitary and singled out.” He was both watched and ignored. What did he do in response to this?

4. There were rumors that Nero and his mother had an incestuous relationship, instigated by her as a means of controlling him. Of all the forms of incest, mother-son is the rarest. But it is the easiest to conceal, because mothers normally lavish affection on their children, including physical affection. In what ways do you see Agrippina’s seductive behavior affecting him in the novel?

5. How would you sum up Nero’s feelings toward his mother? Was the matricide at all justified? At what level? Political or psychological?

6. Did Nero really have no choice but to go along with Agrippina’s plans to murder Claudius so he could become emperor? What if he had refused?

7. Murder abounded in Nero’s family, but in the novel he wants to think he is different. At the same time, he fears he isn’t. Is there such a thing as “the blood of murderers” that is inherited?

8. There were four important women in Nero’s life: his mother; his first love, Acte; his first wife, Octavia; and his second wife, Poppaea. With the exception of Octavia, who was his arranged-marriage wife, the others were all older than he was and very strong characters. Acte and Poppaea he was madly in love with. Was he seeking a mother figure/surrogate in the older, beautiful, and strong-willed women he loved?

9. Nero was a romantic about marriage and exotic adventure. In what ways was this his undoing?

10. Nero was only sixteen when he became emperor and held supreme power in many spheres. At an age when people now just become eligible to drive and are too young to serve in the military, he commanded the entire Roman army and empire. Considering this, how well did he perform?

It has been observed that Nero and Oscar Wilde had much in common. Both believed that life should be a work of art and that aesthetics was the most important aspect of living. Both, too, treated life and sexuality as theater. Because of this viewpoint, both came to a bad end, although the things they practiced are tolerated, if not condoned, today. Oscar Wilde’s quip as he passed through customs (“I have nothing to declare but my genius!”) and Nero’s last words (“What an artist dies in me!”) are very similar.

1. From his childhood on, Nero showed an interest in art and music. His earliest tutor, Paris, was an actor, and music was part of his education. How much influence do you think Paris had on him, teaching him at an influential age? Do you think art became a refuge for Nero, his private sanctuary when he needed to escape his role as emperor and his family’s machinations?

2. Two of Nero’s outstanding passions—his love of Greece and his love of athletics—must have come from somewhere, although both are un-Roman. The Romans thought Greece was effete and athletics for its own sake a waste of time. Why do you think Nero was drawn to both? Could it have been because of his early tutors, who were Greek? Was it his way of carving out his own identity?

3. As part of his Greek mania, Nero seemed obsessed by the story of Troy. He composed an epic about it, making Paris the hero. Paris was banished from Troy as a child because of a prophecy; as an adult, he was mocked for fighting with arrows from a distance rather than at close range with a sword like traditional epic heroes. Did Nero identify with Paris because Paris did not follow the pattern of epic heroes and was an outsider?

4. Nero was born right around the same time of year as the Saturnalia. It seemed to be his special holiday, where rules were suspended and people went about in disguise. He showed an early attraction to costumes, change of identity, and pageantry, and to rule breaking. What do you think inspired this behavior?

5. At times, Nero seemed to be several people, and he was aware of this when he said there was the daylight, dutiful Augustan Nero, the artist Nero, and the dark Nero who did dark deeds. He thought of them as separate entities rather than as facets of the same person. Was this his way of avoiding admitting the dark Nero was just as truly himself as the other ones?

6. One historian says the history of Nero’s reign was the attempt to “break boundaries.” In what ways did he do this in his personal and political life?

7. To be an emperor was to have supreme power over many things, but that in itself precluded anyone being truly honest with Nero. It also meant that there could be no true competition because no one could beat the emperor. What did this mean to his deep need to measure himself as an artist and an athlete?

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The Confessions of Young Nero 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous 3 months ago
This book humanizes the myth that f Nero and treats him in a singularly kind way without whitewashing his foibles. I love all of a Margaret George’s books, but this one surprised me and transported me. Great read!
Mirella More than 1 year ago
What was Emperor Nero really like? Was he as ruthless and murderous as history has said he was? Margaret George delves deep into history and breathes life into a man of legend? Margaret George has long been one of my favourite authors. Her books have always entertained me from start to finish and The Confessions of Young Nero is no exception. Although Nero never aspired to be as ruthless as Caligula or his mother Agrippa, he soon finds himself ascending the Roman throne. Alone he must learn whom to trust and whom to consider an enemy. This novel begins when he is a young boy and covers his life until early middle age. History has painted Nero as villainous and treacherous, however Margaret George has also provided a vision of his good qualities too, a difficult balance to strike against Ancient Rome's penchant for lurid sex, violence, brutal executions, and rampant poisonings, among a host of other vile vices. Like all biographical novels, not every chapter can be considered a gripper. Rather, I found the story to be a strong and steady climb to the ending, a reading journey that held my interest and fascinated me with an abundance of historical details. Another winning novel by a very talented author.
Wiliam_Maltese More than 1 year ago
THIS, PART ONE OF TWO: A BIG YAWN! In this book’s “Afterward”, the author purports that she set out to provide a tale of the Roman Emperor Nero that would set right all of the misconceptions and lies preached by several ancient historians — Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, all of whom, according to George, had maligned Nero and “doctored” his evilness for purely political reasons. George’s intentions were to depict Nero, rather, as “a man of considerable talent, a visionary in many ways — in architecture and urban planning, engineering projects, diplomacy, and artistic freedom,” as well as “a man of integrity, ingenuity, and generosity.” Well, George succeeded in what she set out to do, but, in the process, she morphed one of history’s most interesting and fascinating psychopaths, deranged, debauched, incestuous, and tyrannically murderous madmen, who fiddled while Rome burned, into an almost “Ordinary Joe” who, like so many people, wakes up one day and thinks, “Hey, I can write a book!” … who proceeds to do so … and who fails to make it in the least bit interesting. Like so many of ours, Nero’s journal is suddenly chockablock with mundane things like his participation in sports, taking music lessons, sight-seeing Rome, deciding whether to go to this party or that, wondering if he should remodel, take a vacation, loose weight. If there is the occasional injection as to whether or not he should kill his stepbrother, or go to bed with his mother, kill his mother, or frame his first wife into a divorce by setting her up for false accusations of adultery, those all come off a merely incidental and logically rationalized as being the right things to do. This book is apparently the first of two, and it takes its readers up to the burning of Rome in 64AD — which, of course, according to George, Nero didn’t do; nor did he fiddle while the city burned. The second book will apparently take us all of the way to Nero’s death, in 68AD, by his private secretary, Epaphroditos, when Nero couldn’t muster up the gumption to commit suicide. I’ll not, by the way, be reading the follow-up. I foresee I’d find it far more enjoyable to be put quickly to sleep by watching television.
MsDollie More than 1 year ago
The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George is historical fiction at it's' finest. While it is without a doubt a scholarly novel suitable for history buffs ... it is a thoroughly enjoyable read for those like me that want to escape and be entertained by historical fiction. Excellent read!
crystallyn More than 1 year ago
The Confessions of Young Nero is a masterfully wrought story of one of the most notorious emperors in Roman history. George's take is not as sensationalist as some might have preferred, but instead, envisions the life of Nero beginning with his earliest days, long before he had any thought of being the leader of the Roman Empire. The historical details are so tightly woven into the heart of the story that as a reader you are immediately swept into the center of what could feel like a foreign world but instead unfolds in a tableau easily rendered in the mind's eye. It is impossible to truly know what Nero was like based on the few texts of his life and legacy, which are most certainly somewhat distorted by politics and the passing of time. Perhaps he was as horrible as our collective cultural imagination deems him. But what if he wasn't? George walks a fine line between those two possibilities, taking us along for Nero's journey from childhood to adulthood, expertly telling us a fascinating story of an emperor that left an indelible mark on the history of western civilization.
Myndia More than 1 year ago
While I have a strong love of historical fiction, I often lean towards books set in World War II. But when I discovered that Margaret George was releasing a book about Ancient Rome, I was eager to get my hands on it. In middle school, I fell in love with Greek and Roman mythology, which is probably why I was drawn to visit Rome, Florence and Pisa in my traveling youth. Having done so, it was very easy to picture the scenery that Ms. George depicted in this story, particularly the Roman Forum. The ruins are glorious. Imagine what they looked like in Nero’s time! Historical fiction often feels to me like walking a long, meandering path. You enjoy the scenery, get a bit lost in the surroundings, and spend a great deal of time in a state of contemplation. I found this all to be true in this case. The book is a lengthy one – as it should be – and though there is some drama, it is a not a quick, action-packed read. Its purpose, after all, is to familiarize us with the life of Nero, and as the author states in the acknowledgments, to perhaps shine a different light on a ruler who has often been demonized. Truthfully, I couldn’t have told you much about anything on the topic of Nero prior to reading this, and I wasn’t aware history had painted him in such a negative light. However, Ms. George certainly depicted him differently, more as a man who loved art and country, who was born into a life that he did not choose, who accepted the power and responsibility that was thrust upon him, and tried to do his best with it, a man who was only human, wanting companionship, love and understanding, like the rest of us. History can be very complicated and it’s easy to get lost in the details. It can also be rather dry. Ms. George does a brilliant job of making this part of history accessible and interesting. However, I sometimes had a hard time with the way Nero was depicted. It often felt as if he was coming off as weak when I don’t think that was the intent. After I read the acknowledgments, it occurred to me that perhaps in her attempt to remove the stain of previous representations, she over scrubbed a bit. It felt a bit like sitting next to someone who is wearing a lovely perfume, but entirely too much of it. I’m glad to have read it because I feel like I learned a great deal, and chances are, I will pick up the next volume to complete the story. But it isn’t necessarily a book that I’ll be screaming from the rooftops about. Note: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Nero is a well-known, infamous character to most readers the mad ruler of Rome! Margaret George, the renowned historical novelist, has Nero tell the story of his younger years in a way that changes the reader’s perception about how Nero’s personality developed. The picture isn’t pretty but is certainly amazing at how he managed to survive the traumatic events of his youth! Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is a manipulative, intriguing woman who thinks nothing of having her enemies (real or imagined) poisoned or assassinated. As a young boy, Caligula, the earlier emperor, tries to drown Nero by throwing him in a river but he is saved by a Roman soldier. Nero is adopted by Claudius thanks again to the influence of Agrippina but is aware that his life is in a precarious position as Claudius’s natural son could also become the next emperor. Nero has two memorable tutors, one who introduces him to the glorious art and music of Greece and the other, Seneca, who introduces Nero to the philosophers and great moral teachers in Roman history, as well as the great Roman gods, goddesses, and leaders who will hopefully shape Nero into a moral, intelligent and capable leader. Nero actually does become a leader who manifests the best of both teachers although it is his infamy that becomes prominent in the historical records of Roman history. Due to a drug-induced dream (or reality?), Nero dreams of his mother, a haunting scene that leads Nero to forever wonder about his mother’s intentions and whether he possesses her evil nature. At the same time, Nero is married to a woman he ignores and falls in love with a former slave, now a freed woman. After Claudius dies, a stunning event as well, Nero becomes Emperor and becomes an intelligent ruler who makes decisions clearly beneficial for his empire. But Agrippina is now fearful of her son as he trumps her malicious planning, a constant threat which will eventually lead to her own demise. The Confessions of Young Nero is superb historical fiction. There are notes in the afterword of this novel that lead the reader to expect a sequel, one which this reviewer avidly awaits! Read this novel, a wonderful, astute, and fascinating account of an enigmatic, troubled, and haunted ruler shaped by the best and worst Roman influences!
Morgan_S_M More than 1 year ago
I discovered Margaret George’s book Mary, Called Magdalene in high school and continued my love of her books after college with The Memoirs of Cleopatra and Helen of Troy. I loved the way she was able to bring the Ancient World to life while making the characters and their lives feel immediate and knowable. You could recognize common struggles in their extraordinary lives. So I was extremely excited when she announced a new book on the Roman Emperor Nero. While it did not become a new favorite of mine, I enjoyed the panache that George brought to yet another celebrated & controversial historical figure. Even though the attention to detail is immense, Margaret George’s writing style is compulsively readable and keeps you turning the pages. I would get lost in the scenery of the Roman countryside, the smells of the food, the luxury of the palaces. It was all so easy to see in my mind’s eye. I struggled with the narrative style, though, the looking backward aspect. In theory it takes away some of the narrative urgency because you know that this character survives whatever tribulations are mentioned up until the point he/she is telling the story. In this case, that didn’t bother me or alleviate the tension. For me, it was the amount of recall and the mature voice given to a child that was hard to believe. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a 4 year old to remember as much detail as Nero did and it made it difficult to remember how old he was at certain parts of the story, or indeed what year it was. So that distracted me. I also felt some distance from the characters themselves but overall I enjoyed learning about a historical figure I didn’t know much about previously. I also really appreciate the lengths George has gone to carefully reconstruct this newer image of Nero, to look beyond the sensationalized for the human underneath. She gives him motives and fears as well as passions that seem to directly correlate to choices he makes in the future, and it paints a fuller picture of a controversial man. I’ll look forward to the conclusion in part 2! If you enjoy Roman history or even historical fiction in general, this book is worth giving a try. The details overwhelm at times but help paint this amazing image of a long-past world and a very interesting historical figure.
Virginiaw More than 1 year ago
This was a very detailed story about the first years of Emporer Nero. Margaret George gives Nero a personality. You love him or hate him at different times in his life. She tells a tale of him that is different from what we are used to hearing. I really enjoyed this story. I laughed and cried . I received this ebook from Netgalley and Berkeley for a fair and honest opinion that I gave of my own free will.