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It is a comment made about the emperor Nero during the great fire of Rome. Nero, in his frustration at not being able to have the fire stopped, did trivial and frivolous things while waiting for the gloomy reports. A historian used the term "fiddled while Rome burnt", not in the sense that Nero played the violin (which was unknown at the time), but in the sense that he did meaningless things while waiting--he fiddled around. It is reported that he strummed his lyre and composed a poem about the burning of Troy for want of anything practical to do.

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Q: What does He fiddled while Rome burned mean?
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What does Nero fiddled while Rome burned mean?

Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned. For one, the violin had not been invented in his time. Nero was an artistic person, and it's said that when he found that there was nothing he could do to quench the fire, he was inspired to compose a poem about the burning of Troy. Now, poetry in the ancient world was sung to the accompaniment of a lyre. So that's about all he could do musically.


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