Ask Mr. Donn
Roman Empire Question:
Did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned?
Nero was emperor when a large fire destroyed parts of Rome, but since there were no violins or fiddles at that time, the answer is no. There was a rumor that he played his lyre and sang, but that was probably not true. Once the fire was out, Nero started a public relief and reconstruction program. Part of this was paid for by his own funds. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the phrase "fiddle while Rome burns" means to be concerned with relatively trivial matters while ignoring the serious or disastrous events going on around one. That is a good description of Nero. Nero was at the start a very good emperor. But he went insane. Emperor Nero, Oxford Dictionaries