S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.


  • [Lucius Domitius Ænobarbus, called Nero after his mother’s marriage to the Emperor Claudius, by whom he was adopted; born Dec. 15, A.D. 37; proclaimed emperor, 54; his first years of rule were marked by kindness and justice; his last, by a series of atrocities, which led to a conspiracy, on the discovery of which and the defection of the prætorian guards, Nero killed himself, A.D. 68.]
  • I wish I had never learned to read and write! (Quam vellem ne scire litteras!)

  • When called upon, early in his reign, to subscribe the sentence, according to custom, of a criminal condemned to die.—SUETONIUS: Life. Racine, in his “Britannicus,” puts the early clemency of the emperor into the mouth of Burrhus, pleading for the life of Britannicus:—
  • “Votre cœur s’accusait de trop de cruauté,
  • Et plaignant les malheurs attachés à l’empire
  • Je voudrais, disiez-vous, ne savoir pas écrire.”
  • Thus Shakespeare makes Caliban say (“Tempest,” I. 2),—
  • “You taught me language, and my profit on’t
  • Is, I know how to curse; the red plague rid you
  • For learning me your language!”
  • This was during the good years of Nero’s reign, when he replied to the senate’s thanks for his mild government, “It will be time enough to do so when I shall have deserved it.”—Ibid.
  • Upon the dedication of his “Golden House,” which extended from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hills, the porch of which was so high that there stood in it a colossal statue of himself, a hundred and twenty feet in height; and the space included in it was so ample, that it had triple porticos a mile in length, and a lake like a sea; the chief banqueting-room of which was circular, and revolved perpetually day and night, in imitation of the motions of the heavenly bodies,—his only comment was, “Now I am lodged like a man” (quasi homo).
  • Let him kill me, but let him reign!

  • The words of Nero’s mother Agrippina, when warned by soothsayers that her son would become emperor and then kill her. Both events came to pass; for, after depriving her of all honor and power, he was terrified by her menaces and high spirit, and commanded her to be killed, when a scheme to drown her at sea had failed. From that time he destroyed all whom his caprice selected for death; declaring that “no prince before me ever knew the extent of his power.”
  • When making preparations for his own death and for the funeral pile, at the country-house of his freedman Phaon, four miles from Rome, after the conspiracy of Galba and Vindex had compelled him to escape from the capital, he was heard to murmur, weeping all the time, “What an artist is now about to perish!” (Qualis artifex pereo!)
  • Hearing the approach of horses, he drove a dagger into his throat, and said to the centurion, who, bursting in as he was half dead, applied his cloak to the wound, “Is this your fidelity?” (Hæc est fides?)—Ibid.