Emperor Nero conceives and gives birth to a frog

Pocket Bard’s notes: This is probably my favorite story in the entire Golden Legend. It’s not about a saint (obviously), but is part of the story of St. Peter, explaining one of the many things Emperor Nero did that made him so horrible. I think the idea of the emperor “giving birth” to a frog is probably the funniest thing I’ve read in medieval literature in years.


Emperor Nero conceives and gives birth to a frog
The Golden Legend, Volume I, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.347

The same apocryphal history tells us that Nero, obsessed by an evil madness, ordered his mother killed and cut open so that he could see how it had been for him in her womb. The physicians, calling him to task over his mother’s death, said: “Our laws prohibit it, and divine law forbids a son to kill his mother, who gave birth to him with such pain and nurtured him with so much toil and trouble.” Nero said to them: “Make me pregnant with a child and then make me give birth, so that I may know how much pain it cost my mother!” He had conceived the notion of bearing a child because on his way through the city he had heard the cries of a woman in labor. They said to him: “That is not possible because it is contrary to nature, nor is it thinkable because it is contrary to reason.” At this Nero said to them: “Make me pregnant and make me give birth, or I will have every one of you die a cruel death!”

So the doctors made up a potion in which they put a frog and gave it to the emperor to drink. Then they used their skills to make the frog grow in his belly, and his belly, rebelling against this unnatural invasion, swelled up so that Nero thought he was carrying a child. They also put him on a diet of foods they knew would be suitable for the frog, and told him that, having conceived, he had to follow the diet. At length, unable to stand the pain, he told the doctors: “Hasten the delivery, because I am so exhausted with this childbearing that I can hardly get my breath!” So they gave him a drink that made him vomit, and out came the frog horrible to see, full of vile humors and covered with blood. Nero, looking at what he had brought forth, shrank from it and wondered why it was such a monster, but the physicians told him that he had produced a deformed fetus because he had not been willing to wait the full term. He said: “Is this what I looked like when I came out from my mother’s womb?” “Yes!” they answered. So he commanded that the fetus be fed and kept in a domed chamber with stones in it. All this, however, is not considered in the chronicles and is apocryphal.

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