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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Classical Journal
Vol. 42, No. 4 (Jan. 1947), 211‑217.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

Did Nero really Fiddle?
What Did the Romans "Fiddle" On?
Did Nero Sometimes just "Fiddle Around" Rome?

p211 "Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned"
Mary Francis Gyles0

Curiosity concerning the origin and development of the expression "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" leads to an investigation which has traversed the fields of History, Philology, Literature, and Music. The extent to which this phrase is used by the public in everyday speech and its frequent appearance in popular literature have placed it in the position of an adage. On examination its usage is found to hinge upon the meaning of the word fiddle. This word is defined by the New English Dictionary as "fiddle, substantive, a stringed instrument of music; usually the violin, but also, (with defining word as in bass fiddle) applied to other instruments of the viol kind."1 The verb, as given by the same dictionary, means to play a fiddle. Since musical historians agree that the viol class of instruments did not develop until about the eleventh century, it is conclusive that Nero could not have fiddled in this sense of the word while Rome burned.2

There is another meaning of the word fiddle in use today. It is often employed to indicate the idea of accomplishing nothing, and is so defined by the New English Dictionary. The common remark, "He's just fiddling around," is an excellent illustration of this usage. It suggests a lack of proficiency and an aimless or frivolous attitude.

The phrase "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" is used to express both these meanings of the word fiddle.3 First it presents the picture of an individual playing a musical instrument as he took a sadistic pleasure in the terrible misfortunes of others. Secondly it represents ineffectual effort. That is, Nero, who should have made himself useful, was fiddling. Although this conception is, in point of fact, unjust,4 it does not curtail the frequency with which it has been so used.

The analysis of the first concept of fiddling requires a survey of stringed instruments in the age of Nero. They were essentially those used in the ancient Greek festivals, particularly the festivals dedicated to Apollo and Dionysus.5 The outstanding stringed instruments were the cithara and the lyre.6 The two instruments were similar but not identical, and their invention was variously ascribed to Hermes,7 Orpheus, Amphion, or Linus.8 The cithara was derived from the ancient Assyrian kethara,9 and was called by Homer kytheris.10 It was a heavy, strongly built instrument with a wooden body, soundboard, and arms. It was the instrument of the professional musician. The lyre was often made of tortoise shell, a skin soundboard, and arms of animal horns.11 In early pictorial representations both instruments are shown with a varying number of strings, ranging from four to seven.12 Through the succeeding centuries the number underwent changes according to individual tastes.13

The Romans in adopting these two instruments and their respective names, generally kept a clear cut distinction between them. Cicero,14 Horace,15 and Quintilian,16 distinguish them thus, Ovid being the only discovered writer who uses the terms interchangeably.17

In the late Republic the Latin word fides, meaning string, is used by Cicero to designate some stringed instrument.18 Again, in quoting Zeno, Cicero uses the diminutive form fidicula.19 This form, fidicula, is employed by Pliny to indicate the constellation known as "Lyra."20 It is uncertain whether the term applied to the lyre or cithara type of instrument, or to both,21 though it is certain that it specified a stringed instrument. Since these terms are rarely found in Roman literature, it is probable that their use was largely confined to oral expression.22

The prevalence of such a word as fidicula in Rome throughout the era from Cicero to Pliny, presents the question as to whether Nero might have been credited with playing the fidicula. Of this there is no evidence whatsoever. The emperor Nero was noted for his love of music, and it is recorded that he played and sang.23 In 60 A.D. he instituted, apparently for the first time in Rome, musical competitions after the Hellenic pattern.24 In 65 A.D. he inaugurated a more elaborate festival, the "Neronia," which he planned to hold every five years.25 In both he appeared as chief contestant. To all appearances, Tacitus and other conservative Romans were more shocked by these actions than by his brutal murders.26 Of course, the desire for recognition in the musical world on the part of a Roman emperor was not original with Nero. His predecessor, Caligula, had performed as a dancer and singer, and planned to take part in tragedies.27 Whether he was trying to emulate Caligula or not, Nero's desire for artistic recognition was evidently quite sincere. He is said to have been exceedingly anxious over the outcome of the contests in which he appeared and to have observed strictly the "full rules of the cithara."28

There can be no doubt that the instrument employed by Nero was the cithara. Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Sextus Aurelius Victor, Philostratus, and Juvenal attest the fact.29 Furthermore, most of them manifested the same revulsion as Tacitus at the spectacle of a Roman emperor appearing in public performances. But whatever the feelings of others, Nero enjoyed himself so much that he repeated the "Neronia" after a short interval rather than wait five years for its scheduled return.30 He even made a trip through Greece to gain more appreciative audiences for his musical efforts. Here he ordered the various local and national festivals to be held in the same year so that he could take part in them all.

Nero the Artist

Nero's enthusiasm for music, however, led him into difficulties. In the year 64 A.D., a devastating fire occurred in Rome.31 The Emperor, who was at Antium, on learning of the conflagration, returned to the city and undertook relief measures. He threw open his gardens and public buildings to the dispossessed populace and brought in grain from the neighboring towns. But, according to Tacitus, "his measures, popular as their character might be, failed of their effect; for the report had spread that, at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had mounted his private stage, and, typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung32 the Destruction of Troy."33

Suetonius, writing at almost the same time, tells the story as if it were a fact, changing the details as follows: "Viewing the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas . . . he sang34 the whole of the Sack of Ilion in his regular stage costume."35

Not until a century and a half after the event is there any positive indication of a musical instrument. Dio Cassius, ca. 225, describing the fire writes that "Nero ascended to the roof of the palace from which there was the best general view . . . and assuming the kithara-player's garb, sang the Capture of Troy. . . ."36 Even here the stress lies upon Nero's singing, though the presence p213of a kithara might be assumed along with the garb.37

Among later writers, Nero the musician is eclipsed by Nero the persecutor. Of those who mention his musicianship, Eutropius,38 Sidonius,39 and Orosius, only the latter presents a detailed account. Following Suetonius, apparently, he says, "The emperor himself viewed the conflagration from the lofty tower of Maecenas, . . . it is said that he declaimed the Iliad in a tragedian's costume."40

Since we are striving to discover at just what period a musical instrument is placed in Nero's hands in the literary descriptions of the fire, it is significant to note that no positive statement of the presence of an instrument has been made yet. However, the probability is that he did play the cithara. Nearly all poetry in Hellenic and Roman times was sung or declaimed to the accompaniment of musical instruments.41 The evidence shows that Nero took part in public competition on the cithara. Furthermore, all the writers of the period who refer to Nero's musical activity agree that the cithara was his favorite instrument. Indeed, there is concrete evidence of this fact. Suetonius writes that Nero had statues and coins made of himself in the guise of a cithara player,42 and some of these coins are extant today and may be seen in the British Museum.43

But Not on the Fiddle!

It may be concluded then: first, that Nero was an ardent performer on the cithara; second, that if he sang during the burning of Rome, he probably accompanied himself on the cithara. Certainly, there is no discernible connection between Nero and the fidicula, which, it would seem, was used during his reign, or with the violin which developed over a millennium later.

From the fifth century or so, information concerning most phases of European life comes from Christian writers. When surveying history, their dominant interest was Christianity and its triumph over paganism. Consequently the most engrossing fact about Nero was his wicked role as the instigator of the first imperial persecution44 and his responsibility for the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. They give little attention to other aspects of his career. For several centuries after Eutropius, Sidonius, and Orosius, historians of the Latin West do not mention the musical proclivities of Nero. The church historians such as Gregory of Tours, the Venerable Bede, Liutprand, Ethelward, William of Malmesbury, Odericus Vitalis, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the authors of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle either ignore Nero completely, or consider him simply as the persecutor of the Christians. The only apparent exception is found in King Alfred's translation of Orosius.45

Rebirth of the Tradition

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries mark the rebirth of the Nero tradition in western historiography. On the continent, Otto of Freising, following the accounts of classical authors, writes: ". . . he stood on the loftiest tower of the palace of Maecenas, delighted by the beauty of the conflagration, and clad in tragic costume, declaimed the Iliad."46 Vincent of Beauvais in his Speculum Historiale comments on Nero's enthusiasm for musical competition on the cithara.47 There are also a number of Chronicles,48 composed during these centuries, which mention Nero as a cithara player.

In England, Orosius is the chief source for the chroniclers, many of whom translate or quote him; for example, Matthew of Paris in the thirteenth century.49 These chroniclers who discuss Nero as a musician credit him with performance on a cithara, but not at the fire of Rome. Thus far no other stringed instrument had been connected with him, a fact which provokes questioning. Was the cithara commonly used throughout the Middle Ages, or was the terminology simply taken over from the Latin authorities? Did the term cithara still apply to the instrument? If not, to what instrument did it apply? And, finally, what was the usage of the term fidicula during this period?

In spite of the scarcity of definite evidence, the following conclusions may be drawn. Linguistic evidence seems to indicate that p214fidicula was borrowed independently in English and in Continental Germanic, which would make the date perhaps after the middle of the first millennium A.D. The word, because of the very fact that it was borrowed, may have been a more popular term in the Latin and Old English vernacular than written evidence indicates.50

Certainly by the seventh century, the term was established in western terminology. In England a poet writes concerning a fidicula,51 and on the continent fidula, a derivative of fidicula, was used as the name of one of a number of musical instruments which included the harp, lyre, and rotta.52 An eleventh century poetical listing of instruments contains the cymbal, the cythera, and the vitula,53 which is a pronounced and significant change in the development of the word fidicula, particularly on the continent.

Confusion about Fiddles

There is, however, a noticeable confusion in the nomenclature of stringed instruments during this period. A ninth century gloss identifies fidicula (fidicens) with harp (harperi), an association which is manifestly wrong. Equally confused is an eleventh century gloss which defines harp as cithara.54

Modern musical historians admit this confusion of terms and apply fidicula to any one of several instruments used by the jongleurs, minnesingers, and minstrels.55 They also as not only the ninth and tenth centuries the important change in stringed instruments caused by the introduction of the bow.56 Although for some time, apparently, the same stringed instrument was played by plucking or bowing, more specialized types soon developed.57 Among these was the class of instruments known on the continent as vielle, and in England as fithele.58

More profuse evidence in literature and in pictorial representation59 is available in the thirteenth century. From Layamon's Brut, in 1205, comes the first known example of the term in English literature. "Blisses inowe," the poet writes, "was her fiþeling and songe."60 On the continent, the instrument formerly known as vitula appears as viellâ in a poem of Nicholas of Braia, written in 1223.61

The evolution of fidicula, or as it might now be termed, fiddle, is easy to follow in the late Middle Ages. On the continent viellâ in French became modern viole and violon.62 A parallel descent in German led to Fiedel.63 However interesting these developments, it is impossible to trace them in detail here. Therefore, from the fourteenth century on, the survey will be confined to England where the evolution leads directly to the word fiddle.

Fiddles in Anglo-Saxon

With the increasing importance of Anglo-Saxon as a literary medium, innumerable references to fithele (fiddel) are found.64 Indeed, it is possible to quote examples covering the entire range of several centuries, but the variations are of chief interest. Early in the fourteenth century the word is still spelled with the "thorn" (fiþel).65 Soon after Chaucer writes, "Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye";66 and Piers Plowman says sadly, "Ich can not tabre ne trompe ne telle faire gestes, . . . ne fithelen at festes, ne harpen."67 Among the variations in spelling that appear are fythel, fydill, and fyddel; not until 1589 does the word appear in the modern form fiddle.68

Apparently until about 1530, the term was applied only to musical instruments. Thereafter a distinctly new trend appeared, one associated with the modern expression "to fiddle around." This use seems to have arisen from the disrepute into which the wandering minstrel had fallen.69 In 1607, Dr. Cowel's law dictionary, The Interpreter, defines a minstrel as a "fidler" or "piper."70 These "fidlers," formerly welcome, were considered in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period as roisterers and idlers, and as active in spreading social unrest.71 By the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James I, they were believed dangerous enough for Parliament to promulgate an "Acte for the Punishment of Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars."72 Minstrels were expressly classified as "Sturdy Beggars," and only those belonging to Barons or other honorableº personages" were p215excepted from the act. Hence to fiddle received a new meaning. The term which in the ninth century had been both loosely and strictly applied to musical instruments, by the seventeenth century had acquired the additional non-musical significance of acting idly or frivolously.

With the advent of the seventeenth century, the pages of Shakespeare bring Nero once more into the picture. Nero as a musician seems again to have suffered an eclipse between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. John Trevisa's translation of Higden's Polychronicon seems to be the exception. He says that Nero was so fond of musical instruments: "þat he had ioye and likynge to be openliche i‑cleped prince of harpoures."73 But in describing the burning of Rome, he writes, "he gan to ʒelle74 and songe the gestes of Troy."75

Although Nero was popular with Chaucer and others of the late Middle Ages, it is only with Shakespeare that he appears again as a musician. In Henry VI, Henry proclaims:

"Plataginet, I will; and like thee, Nero,

Play on the lute, beholding the towns burn."76

Elsewhere, Shakespeare reveals that, in everyday parlance, a lutist was a fiddler. In The Taming of the Shrew, Katherine is represented as having taken a music lesson, after which her music teacher comes to her father in sad disarray. Upon being questioned as to what had happened, he said:

"I did but tell her she mistook the frets

And bowed her hand to teach her fingering,

When with a most impatient devilish spirit,

'Frets call you these?' quoth she, 'I'll fume with them.'

And with that she struck me on the head.

And through the instrument my pate made way;

And there I stood amazed for a while,

As on a pillory, looking through the Lute,

While she did call me 'rascal fiddler'

And 'Twanging Jack' with twenty such vile terms,

As had she studied to misuse me so."77

In these two quotations are found two facts of the utmost importance for our purposes. One is that for the first time an instrument is placed in Nero's hands during the burning of Rome. The second is that Shakespeare doubtless considered Nero a "fiddler."

As might be expected, it is now but a step until the actual statement is found. It is in an anonymous play, whose title page runs thus:

"The Tragedy of Nero

imprinted at London by Augustine Matthews and John Norton, for Thomas Jones, and are to be sold at the blacke Raven in the Strand, 1624."

In the play, Seneca, referring to Nero, says:

"Nay, even end here, for I have heard enough;

I have a fiddler heard him, let me not

See him a player. . . ."78

The appellation apparently caught the imagination, for in 1649 George Daniel is found writing, "Let Nero fiddle out Rome's obsequies."79

From the time of Shakespeare and the unknown author of The Tragedy of Nero, the trend is definitely established. Nero has become a fiddler, and in spite of the fact that every careful historian has refuted the statement,80 so he remains today.

The modern interpretation of "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" depends on the two general meanings of the word fiddle which were found fully developed in the seventeenth century. The first of these meanings, to play any stringed instrument, has continued in common use in England to the present day. Evidence of this may be found in Pepys' Diary,81 Samuel Johnson's Dictionary,82 an early music history,83 and an English Dictionary published in 1935.84 However, particularly in the United States, the term has come to be associated generally with the violin. This instrument, only one of the many fiddles in the seventeenth century, superseded the others in popularity and has practically appropriated the name to itself.85 But the word fiddle has never quite recovered from the implication of insult that Shakespeare made apparent, and the accomplished violinist, today, is never thought of as a "fiddler."

The second usage of fiddle persists with even less change. Its meaning is similar to that in Pepys' remark, "Where all the ladies p216walked, talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers."86 To all appearances, its attachment to "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" is comparatively recent. No written evidence has been discovered for this phrase. It seems likely that an impression has developed among the younger, educated group that, since the denial that Nero played a fiddle has been so insistent, the correct interpretation must be that "he fiddled around."87

In summary, Nero in various aspects of his career has fascinated writers and the general public throughout modern times. So far as literature is concerned, practically all of the great English authors since Chaucer mention him. However, they were more impressed with his misdeeds than with his musicianship. Since Shakespeare's time, there is only occasional written reference to Nero's fiddling, though he is represented in novels, plays, and operas as a lyre or harp player.88 There is evidence to the effect that the fiddle translation was perpetuated in common usage,89 and thus it remains today, confined largely to oral expression, newspapers, periodicals, radio, and other popular media.90

Finally, it is impossible to prove that Nero played a musical instrument during the burning of Rome. If he did, which is probable, it was the cithara. In that case, using the word fiddle in its broad application to the playing of any stringed instrument, it might be said that "Nero fiddled while Rome burned." But, in view of Tacitus' uncertainty concerning the story, the entire incident can be rejected as doubtful. Nevertheless, the expression "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" has such tremendous imaginative appeal, and is so deeply entrenched in popular thought, that it is unlikely that any amount of refutation will cause it to be discarded.


0 Mary Francis Gyles was born in Blackville, South Carolina. She received a B.A. degree with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, from the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina in 1939. She soon recognized that she was unhappy in scientific research but worked in the field for five years before she was able to return to school, doing laboratory and X‑ray work in hospitals, and chemical research in nutrition as a research assistant at necessary State College. In 1944 she went to the University of North Carolina for graduate study in Ancient History and Classics, receiving her M.A. degree in 1945. In 1946 she went on fellowship to the University of Chicago, but decided to return to the University of North Carolina to complete a Ph.D. degree. She is at present the holder of a departmental fellowship in the Department of History at that university.

The above article grew out of a chance incident in class, but developed into a full-fledged research project which was completed as a seminar paper under the direction of Professor L. C. MacKinney. It was read before the joint meeting of the Renaissance Societies of the University of North Carolina and Duke University in January, 1945.


The Author's Notes:

1 New English Dictionary, ed. James A. H. Murray (Oxford: 1888‑1933) "Fiddle."

2 Sir George Groves, A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London and New York, 1893) 4.272.

3 See note 87.

4 Tacitus, Ann. 15.39.

5 A. E. Haigh, The Tragic Drama of the Greeks (Oxford: 1925) 6.

6 Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York: 1940) 130 ff.

Thayer's Note: For basic overviews of the lyre and the cithara, see the article Lyra in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities and the article Cithara in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.

7 Horace, Carm. 1.10.

8 Pliny, N. H. 7.204.

9 Curt Sachs, op. cit., pp130 ff.

10 Homer, Il. 15 (0).432.

11 Curt Sachs, loc. cit.

12 Gustave Glotz, The Aegean Civilization (New York: 1925) 299 and 372.

13 Pliny, N. H. 7.204.

14 Cicero, Tusc. 1.2.4.

15 Horace, Carm. 1.24; 1.31; and 2.10.

16 Quintilian, Inst. 5.10.124.

17 Ovid, Fasti, 2.104‑105.

18 Cicero, Fin. 4.75.

19 Cicero. N. D. 2.8.22.

20 Pliny, N. H. 18.69.9.

Thayer's Note: Actually, twelve times in that Book; and, exhaustively, see R. H. Allen's Star Names, Lyra, passim.

21 Groves, op. cit. 272.

22 This belief seems further substantiated by the linguistic evidence presented later in the paper.

23 Tacitus, Ann. 14.20. cf. Suetonius, Nero, 20.

24 Ibid. cf. Suetonius, Nero, 12.

25 Tacitus, Ann. 16.4.

Thayer's Note: A slip by Gyles. Despite appearances, not every five years at all, but every four; see the article Neronia in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, and my note there.

26 Tacitus, Ann. 14.15.

27 Suetonius, Caligula 54.

28 Tacitus, Ann. 16.4. "Ne fessus resideret, ne sudorem nisi ea, quam indutui gerebat, veste detergeret, ut nulla oris aut narium excrementa viserentur." Cf. Suetonius, Nero 24.

29 Dio Cassius, 62.20.2; S. Aurelius Victor, Caes. 10; Philostratus, Apoll. 7.12;º Juvenal, 8.193‑206.º

30 Suetonius, Nero 21‑23.

31 Tacitus, Ann. 15.38‑39.

32 Verb "cano, -ere, cecini, cantum," is defined as "I. clamare, sonare, cantare seu sola voce seu instrumentis adhibitis," by the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (Leipzig: 1900) 3, p263.

33 Tacitus, Ann. 15.39.

34 Verb "decanto."

35 Suetonius, Nero 38.

36 Dio Cassius, 62.18.1.

37 The assumption would seem justifiable.

38 Eutropius, 7.14.

39 Sidonius, Carm. 5.1.322.

40 Orosius, 7.7.6.

41 Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquity (New York: 1896) 332.

42 Suetonius, Nero 25.

43 Harold Mattingly, Roman Coins (London: 1928) plate 40, no. 4. Also, Catalog of Coins in the British Museum (London: 1923) plate 44, nos. 9, 10, 11, and 12.

44 This was, of course, not in any sense a true persecution.

45 The Whole Works of Alfred the Great (London: 1858) 2, 179.

46 Otto of Freising, The Two Cities, trans. by C. C. Mierow (New York: 1928) 240‑244.

47 Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale, ed. 1476, 9.100.4.

48 "Sicardi Episcopi Cremonensis Cronica," MGH SS.31, 103‑106; "Cronica Pontificum et Imperatorum S. Bartholomaei in Insula Romani," MGH SS.31, 193. "Cronica Pontificum et Imperatorum Tiburtina," MGH SS.31, 230.

49 Matthew of Paris, Chronica Majora, RBMS (Rolls Series), no. 57, 1, 109.

50 Professor G. S. Lane, Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of North Carolina, corroborates this opinion. This derivation seems preferable to that of a west Germanic *fiþula (whence OE fiþele and OHG fidula) from late Latin alternate form vitula as is suggested by Kluge-Goetze, Etymologisches Woerterbuch der Deutschen Sprache (Berlin: 1934) 157.

51 Aldhelmus, "De Metris et Enigmatibus ac Pedum Regulis," MGH AA 15, 193.

52 Otfrid, Evangelienbuch, ed. P. Piper (Freiburg: 1882) 668.

53 Du Cange, Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis (Paris: 1937) "vitula."

54 "Leiden Manuscript Glossary," Early English Text Society (London: 1864‑ ) 44, no. 83, 1.147. Thomas Wright, Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies, ed. Wuelcher (London: 1884), 1, 311. The identification of fidicula with harp is impossible according to all music histories and etymological dictionaries. See New English Dictionary, "harp."

55 Encyclopedia Britannica, "fiddle"; cf. Nicholas Bessaroff, Ancient European Musical Instruments (Boston: 1941) 269.

56 Henry George Farmer, Historical Facts for the Arabian Musical Influence (London: 1925) 154. Cf. EB, "Bow."

57 Bessaroff, op. cit., 50; fig. 7 and 268. Cf. EB, "Bow."

58 Gustave Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York: 1940) 408‑409.

59 Bessaroff, op. cit., 269 ff.; cf. Paul Lacroix, The Middle Ages, Manners and Customs (London: 1874) 245; and Francis W. Galpin, A Textbook of Musical Instruments (London: 1937) 144.

60 Layamon's Brut, Br. Mus. Ms. Cott. Otho. C. XIII (London: Society of Antiquaries, 1847) 1.530.

61 Nicolao de Braia, "Gesta Ludovici VIII, Francorum Regis," Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France (Paris: 1869) 17, 313, 1e.

62 Kathleen Schlesinger, Precursorsº of the Violin Family (London: 1910) 232.

63 Ibid.

64 For more complete listing see New English Dictionary, "Fiddle."

65 This spelling persists for approximately a century.

66 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, "Prologue," 1.296.

67 William Langland?, Piers Plowman, EET, 2nd Series, no. 54, Ms. C, 16, I.205‑206.

68 New English Dictionary, "Fiddle."

69 J. J. Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages, 22nd ed. (New York: 1920) 212 ff.

70 Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language, "Fiddle."

71 Jusserand, loc. cit.

72 Statutes of the Realm, Queen Elizabeth and King James I (Printed by command of George III, 1819), 899. "An Acte for the Punishment of Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars, 1587‑98." Act renewed and provision made for building houses of correction, 1609‑10, 1159.

73 Ranulphi Higden, Polychronicon, trans. John Trevisa, RBMS., no. 41, 4, 393.

74 "ʒelle," from verb "ʒellan" or "giellan," meaning "to yell, shout, scream, or sound." F. H. Stratmann, A Middle English Dictionary, rev. ed. (Oxford: 1891), 276.

75 Higden, op. cit., 395.

76 William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Pt. I, Act I, Scene 4.

77 Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Scene 1.

78 Anonymous, The Tragedy of Nero, A Collection of Old English Plays (London: 1882‑85) Act III, Scene 3.

79 George Daniel, "Trinarchodia," The Poems of George Daniel (Printed for private circulation, 1878), 133, l.163.

80 Bernard W. Henderson, The Life and Principate of the Emperor Nero (Philadelphia: 1903) 239. H. Stuart Jones, The Roman Empire (New York: 1908) 78. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Modern Library, 1932), I, 456 and note.

81 Samuel Pepys' Diary and Correspondence, May 14, 1662.

82 Samuel Johnson, loc. cit.

83 Sir John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (London: 1726) 325.

84 W. W. Skeat, An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (Oxford: 1935) "Fiddle."

85 Dictionary of American English (Chicago: 1940) "Fiddle."

86 Pepys, op. cit., July 13, 1663.

87 This is a result of personal observation among college students and lay public.

88 Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis (New York: 1896) 356 f. Fred H. Martens, "Quo Vadis," A Thousand and One Nights of Opera (New York: 1926) 72 f. There are plays, such as Nero by Nathaniel Lee, which represent Nero reciting a soliloquy over burning Rome. There are other operas on the life and times of Nero, such as Handel's in 1705 and Rubinstein's in 1879, but I have not been able to examine these works.

Thayer's Note: The music of Nerone (1705) is lost; maybe the libretto as well: at any rate, it doesn't seem to be online.

89 Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford: 1935) 512. Also consider the folk use of fiddle in the United States today.

90 Lawrence McKinney, People of Note (New York: Literary Classics, 1940) 17; Chase and Sanborn Radio Program with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Dec. 31, 1944.


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