Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nero: Artist, Poet and Olympian

The Romans regarded Greek culture as being rather effete and preferred their own more robust version of games and spectacles; copious amounts of blood on the sand ensured the success of any sporting event. Gladiators and half-starved wild animals were much in demand and a popular feature was the public execution of criminals by being chased around the arena and finally eaten by a hungry lion.

The Emperor Nero fancied himself as too cultured and artistic to enjoy such barbaric spectacles. He replaced the blood sports with foot races, singing and poetry contests, winning all the events for which he entered. The lack of gore did not go down well with the paying customers in Rome, so Nero decided to go on a tour of Greece where the finer things were appreciated.

Delaying only long enough to take care of a few loose ends such as murdering his mother, castrating his former favourite slave boy and crucifying a few fans who didn't applaud loudly enough at his last poetry recital, he packed his lyre and all his cosmetics and set out for Greece to attend and compete in the 67 AD Olympic Games. Here he not only won the chariot race despite falling out of his chariot, but he introduced several new events of a musical nature. The judges prudently declared him the winner of them all.

Flushed with success, he made the rounds of the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian and Panathean Games and handsomely won numerous events at every one. During his performances nobody was allowed to leave, although a few people got round that by feigning death and being carried out. These games were not usually all held in the same year, but in 67 AD they made an exception for Nero because his offer was just too good to refuse.
He returned to Rome, a tired but happy Emperor, with 1800 prizes. Normally these would have been wreaths of laurel or bay that an athlete could take home to his wife for the stock pot, but so overwhelmed were his loyal subjects by Nero's talent that they made another exception and presented him with jewels and precious objects. Medals were not introduced till 1904 or Nero would have made Mark Spitz look pretty silly with his meagre seven. Amazingly, the Ancient Games survived the Nero episode and went on for another 326 years before being banned on religious grounds by the Emperor Theodosius in 393 AD.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Fantastic Fudge

500 gr chocolate (just slab chocolate from the supermarket will do: I like a mixture of milk and dark, but please yourself)
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
75 gr butter
1 teaspoon vanilla (or peppermint essence if you feel like a minty fudge)

Melt everything except the vanilla together over a low heat, do not boil. When the mixture is smooth and shiny, stir in the vanilla.
Pour into a dish lined with baking paper. I use a 20 x 25 cms oblong baking tin. See picture.
Cool and put in fridge to set. Cut into squares.
Sit back and wait for compliments.