It turns out Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars have finally recorded all of the masses of Josquin des Prez.
But what if Nero wasn’t such a monster? What if he didn’t invent the spectator sport of throwing Christians to the lions in the Colosseum? What if he wasn’t the tyrant who murdered upstanding Roman senators and debauched their wives? Indeed, what if the whole lurid rap sheet has been an elaborate set-up, with Nero as history’s patsy? After all, we have no eyewitness testimony from Nero’s reign. Any contemporaneous writings have been lost. The ancient Roman sources we do have date from considerably after Nero’s suicide in A.D. 68. The case against Nero, then, is largely hearsay, amplified and distorted over two millennia in history’s longest game of telephone. Besides, no one really wants to straighten out the record. Who wants another version of Nero? He’s the perfect evil tyrant just the way he is.
A few lonely voices have come to Nero’s defense. In 1562, the Milanese polymath Girolamo Cardano published a treatise, Neronis Encomium. He argued that Nero had been slandered by his principal accusers. But Cardano was having his own problems with the Inquisition at the time. Sticking up for a guy who, among other things, supposedly martyred the first Christians for fun was not likely to help his own cause. “You put your life at risk if you said something good about Nero,” says Angelo Paratico, a historian, who translated Cardano’s manifesto into English.