Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Nero (SEI): Personality Type Analysis

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, originally Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, usually known simply as Nero, was the 5th Roman Emperor, reigning from 54 to 68. Along with his uncle Caligula (EIE), he is the most (in)famous of all emperors, with the reputation of having insanely set fire to Rome, singing while it was burning, and cruelly executing Christians whom he made scapegoats for it. From a scholarly historical perspective, though, most of the above is dubious. Nobody questions that there was a devastating fire in Rome in 64, and that there were rumours at the time that Nero had started it himself. There is evidence that the small Christian community in Rome was persecuted in the aftermath. For a Socionics analysis of his type, I will focus on what seems historically certain about him and ignore the “mad pyromaniac” version.

Nero’s name at birth was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, his father a member of a family that had been prestigious during the Republic, his mother Julia Agrippina, better known as Agrippina the Younger (SLE). Agrippina was a member of the first ruling dynasty in the Empire. Her life went through ups and downs in the reigns of her great-uncle Tiberius (ILI) and her brother Caligula, until she rose to the top as the new wife of her paternal uncle, the then Emperor Claudius (ILI). He adopted Lucius as his son, changing his name to Nero. Claudius died in 54 – possibly poisoned by Agrippina – and Nero was acclaimed as emperor at the age of 17, the youngest ever at that point.

At first, the actual business of government was guided by Agrippina, as well as Nero’s tutor, the philosopher Seneca, and the Praetorian Prefect, Burrus. This resulted in a period of moderate, rational government with Nero as a figurehead. Early on, Seneca and Burrus managed to push Agrippina aside, with Nero’s agreement, as she was interfering too much in his sexual affairs. A few years later, Nero arranged for his mother to be discreetly assassinated on the coast, as she was allegedly intriguing to return to power, even if that meant deposing her son. As Seneca and Burrus later retired and died, Nero became free from anyone claiming to have any authority over him and could finally be himself, as it were.

That brings us to Nero’s visible priorities in his life choices, which gives us information on his Socionics type. First, he was little concerned with government policies as such. Especially in foreign policy he let the men on the ground carry on with the job – that includes very serious rebellions by provincials in Britain and Judea, and a major war with Parthia (Persia), which were dealt with by Nero’s appointed governors but with little or no input from him. He was the first emperor to not see the need to even pretend to be an active, hands-on commander-in-chief with a personal relationship with the army or to take any interest on military power or to seem a strong leader - that already points to weak or unvalued F.

 On a daily basis he was far more focused on artistic pursuits, especially as a keen composer of poetry and songs, and playing his favourite instrument, the lyre.  He liked to entertain a circle of poets, artists, connoisseurs and hedonists, performing for them in private and exchanging views. That circle included the author of the "Satyricon", Petronius, and the future emperors Otho (IEI) and Nerva (IEI). Nero later moved on to performing in public, at first in Naples, becoming the only emperor ever to play and sing before a large audience. Happy with the result, he took part in the arts festival that he had introduced in Rome, not only singing and playing the lyre but also as an actor in theatrical plays. He always got enthusiastic applause from the general public and that encouraged him to continue. Whether he had genuine talent, or he was applauded only because of his position, is impossible to know.

Besides such artistic pursuits, Nero was also a keen chariot racer, practicing in Caligula's race track (at present-day St Peter's Square). In the later years of his reign, he went for a tour of Greece and participated in the Olympic Games of 67, reportedly always winning, even a race where he fell off the chariot. He was so pleased with his reception in Greece that he abruptly, in a speech in Corinth, actually freed all Greece from paying taxes to the Empire (from an inscription):

"I am showing my gratitude by a gift that was unforeseen by you, men of Greece, though also hardly unexpected in the light of my grandeur, a gift so great that you have not been able to ask for it. All those inhabiting Achae and what was until now the Peloponnese are to receive a freedom from fresh taxes, which you did not all enjoy even in your most prosperous periods (when you were either slaves of outsiders or of one another). I wish that I were offering this gift when Greece was at its peak, so that more could enjoy my generosity. Hence I begrudge the passage of time for having eaten into the greatness of my generosity. Now, however, I am not being generous to you from pity, but from kindness, and I thank your gods whose continual goodwill to me I have experienced by land and sea, that they have allowed me to be so generous to you. For various emperors have likewise given freedom to cities, but I, Nero, am giving it to the entire province."

All the evidence so far points strongly to a man who not only genuinely enjoys artistic pursuits of all kinds but clearly enjoys, craves, perhaps demands even, applause, admiration and obvious flattery from those around him - even, or perhaps especially, from crowds of people he has no acquaintance with individually. That makes essentially certain that Nero had E as an ego function or perhaps a mobilizing function, that is, E1, E2 or E6, putting him squarely in the Alpha or Beta quadras - Alpha more likely with unvalued F.

Something that Nero did not understand, or preferred to ignore, was that the above antics were greatly diminishing his standing, his respect, among the elites of the Senate, and the soldiers. In that society, to perform as a singer or actor was considered vulgar and lower-class. Competing in chariot races was somewhat more acceptable, but Nero's behavior in those areas, in Rome, might be equivalent to Princess Kate performing in strip clubs, in terms of social acceptance. Likewise, his total neglect of building up an image as a military leader, however fake (as in the case of his predecessor, Claudius), suggests that his E was more about receiving positive emotions from his immediate environment, rather than projecting an image or shaping emotions according to his inner visions or longer-term goals. That is, Nero seemed to have E blocked with S rather than with T, that is, again Alpha instead of Beta. Especially as that would eventually lead to his destruction. It could be argued that Nero was behaving like that precisely in order to shock the elites, like a troll, (like his uncle Caligula) but I think the evidence points otherwise.

Nero's regime remained reasonably stable until precisely the great fire of 64. Although he acted quickly to relieve the immediate suffering of the population affected with practical measures of shelter and food, he decided to re-build the affected areas according to his specific designs. Not only the streets and houses had to be rebuilt in ways that would minimise future fires - which nobody objected to - but he also set aside a vast area in the center of the city for his own personal use, an area of the size of Hyde Park, or one third of Central Park, the Domus Aurea, "Golden House", consisting of green parks, an artificial lake, a 98-ft bronze statue of himself, and a large pleasure pavilion. The existing remains are remarkable for their elaborate, even revolutionary techniques in engineering, architecture, and fresco painting - the Renaissance painters Michelangelo (LIE) and Raphael studied the frescoes as soon as they were discovered and imitated their techniques. Recently the remains of a dinner room were discovered, with a sophisticated water-powered mechanism to make it rotate slowly as the guests enjoyed the view of the Forum.

I suggest that that all points to a concern with artistic and sensory pleasure, E+S, with a touch of a fascination for the innovative and creative, I, pointing again to Alpha as Nero's quadra. It has been suggested that he built the Domus Aurea as a statement of his power, like Louis XIV with Versailles. The problem with this theory is that it did not achieve anything of the kind. Nero himself observed that he built it so that he "finally could live like a human being", ie, for his own personal enjoyment.

Nero's spending on the rebuilding of Rome after the fire, and on the construction of the Domus Aurea, strained the state's finances, indeed to near bankrupcy, which was made even worse by gestures like removing the whole of Greece from the tax base in that period, and starting the construction of a canal dug across the isthmus of Corinth. That necessarily meant a steep increase in taxation, something that he seemed to shrug off. The cumulative effect of rapidly increased taxation (except in Greece), the suspicion that he had set fire to Rome in order to build his Domus Aurea, (he did not seem to realize that that would be the impression), and his personal lower popularity for having divorced and banished his first wife, Octavia, Claudius's daughter, besides his lack of respect in the army - all that led first to a failed aristocratic conspiracy, with its members being executed, and then in 68 something "snapped" as there were sudden military revolts by the governors in France, Spain and Portugal, with Nero's political support in Rome melting down overnight, the Senate declaring him an outlaw and the Praetorian Guard essentially telling him that he was on his own. Nero's power disappeared before he had seen anything coming. He was reduced to fleeing the city disguised, dressed in rags, with a small number of loyal slaves and freedmen, going to hide in the country house of one of them, finally committing suicide by plunging a dagger in his neck.

I would say that Nero's attitude to spending recklessly according to his personal pleasure, while making it even worse by reducing the tax base for no good reason except on-the-spot popularity, and his constant lack of interest in the actual running of government, preferring to focus on his artistic pursuits, strongly point to P as a very unvalued and weak function, fitting best P4. His focus on the immediate present moment and surroundings, with what seemed like a complete lack of foresight, confirms very weak and unvalued T, although arguably it looks even weaker than T3.

I argue that the evidence so far already points very strongly to SEI as Nero's likely type. Regarding his relationships with individuals, R: Nero liked to have specific individuals around him, also getting easily infatuated with beautiful women, like his second and third wives, and men whose respect he sought, like Petronius. He was however also quick to banish or execute them if he felt betrayed or judged by them - but, as Tacitus (LSI) observed, Nero did not enjoy at all actually watching anyone suffer. Remarkably, he did not even like watching deadly gladiator fights. Nero's attitude seemed to be, he wanted individuals who were bugging or threatening him to just disappear "somehow", including by death - even as he did not want to watch that actually happening, I daresay because it was too unpleasant. This seems like a man who has some appreciation for R but also dismiss it in favor of his S+E well-being. Interestingly, for a man of his position, he seemed to have little focus on F and the need to cause an F impression on others, which fits F7.

I think that the overall evidence strongly points to SEI as Nero's type. One final point: it is reported that even when he was about to kill himself in wretched conditions, he asked his companions to collect the available bits of marble around, so that his grave, however humble, could at least look a bit pretty. An aesthete to the end.

Sources: the main primary sources for Nero's reign are the histories by Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. The best modern scholarly biography in English is Miriam Griffin's "Nero; the End of a Dynasty"

To learn more about SEI, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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