Finding Nero

We're taking a detour through history for the letter 'N...' It's the short history of Rome, and its most notorious emperor...  

...For two thousand years or so, it was fashionable to trash memory of Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, emperor of Rome (54 CE-68 CE). It is now equally fashionable among historical revisionists to praise the name of Nero, or Nerone, as he is [still] known in his home town of Anzio. We're not to laud him for all the murders he allegedly committed, or the Great Fire of Rome he allegedly started (not to mention the lousy fiddle playing) but for all the wonderful things that his enemies wanted to conceal from the eyes of posterity; damnatio memoriae or “cancel from memory” his remarkable contributions to health and fitness as we think of those concepts today.  If Nerone should be accused of anything, it’s for stealing all sorts of big ideas from the Greeks (who else?), like the notion of a public gymnasium. His Gymnasium Neronis was the first space of its kind in Rome.  If the Eternal City was to remain eternal, he thought, it must remain eternally fit. “The gymnasium was part of a big change Nero brought about in Rome,” says Fedora Filippi in a recent National Geographic article, “Rethinking Nero.” Filippi, an archaeologist with the Italian Ministry of Culture, says the infamous emperor “introduced the concept of Greek culture—and with it, this idea of physical and intellectual education of youth, and soon it spread throughout the empire.”

Before Nerone, baths and gyms were luxuries to be enjoyed only by the members of the aristocracy. There were no such divisions after him. He shattered the myth of exclusivity, and democratized these once private spaces for all citizens. All free citizens, that is. In his time, gymnasiums were as elaborate, as ornate as churches and palaces, with expansive interiors appointed with statues, mosaics, and books.  Here, one could “work out” while gazing at some of the most exquisite art of the era as poets recited verse. They were places to strengthen the body, feed the mind, and heal the soul.  I would say he was a man ahead of his time.