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  • (written as Nero)
    (37 - 68 AD) Roman emperor (54 - 68 AD),whose downfall was hastened by his love of the theater. Although dramaand entertainers had a low status during his reign, Nero was fascinatedwith both. Proud of his own abilities as a performer, he often becameinvolved in productions, playing the lyre, singing, acting as a pantomimus,and appearing in dramatic roles such as Oedipus, Hercules, and Orestes.Like other actors of the time, Nero wore a mask; in his case, however,this was generally modelled either upon his own features or thoseof a current mistress.

    In 66 AD Nero undertook a tour of Greece, duringwhich he gave increased rein to his artistic pretensions. The tour,and especially his portrayal of low characters and morally ambiguousGreek heroes, cost Nero a great deal of credibility at home, promptingone of his legates to complain that he had witnessed Nero "onstage playing pregnant women and slaves about to be executed."These factors combined with growing political unrest and revolts throughoutthe empire to precipitate Nero's downfall and his eventual suicide.