Fiddle while Rome burns

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Fiddle while Rome burns is an idiom that means to do occupy one’s time doing something unimportant while a disastrous situation is happening. The phrase fiddle while Rome burns can be traced to Ancient Rome. The story goes that a fire broke out in Rome under the reign of Nero and instead of taking action to stop the fire, Nero played his lyre and composed a song about the destruction. Some believed that in fact Nero set the fire in order to clear space for a new palace, though Nero blamed the fire on the Christians. The story of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is almost certainly a myth, but the blame is still cast on Nero to this day in the idiom fiddle while Rome burns. Related phrases are fiddles while Rome burns, fiddled while Rome burned, fiddling while Rome burns. Note that Rome is capitalized at it is the proper name of a city.


The committee has no set end date, “but we can’t fiddle while Rome burns here so we have to get going,” McPheron said at a board of trustees meeting Thursday. (Columbus Business First)

Although investors are aware of the many challenges the Big Four – Asda, which is owned by US-listed Walmart, being the fourth – face, they are unlikely to continue to fiddle while Rome burns. (The Telegraph)

Alas, we fiddle while Rome burns, even as Bulletin analysts work on fire prevention. (The Hartford Courant)

The Roman emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned, but in Israel it’s more like fiddling while people are slowly, grindingly, driven into penury. (The Jerusalem Post)

The phrase “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” is a touch overused these days, but it aptly describes Justin Trudeau’s state visit to Washington. (The Toronto Sun)

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