JVLIAN excerpts – XIV

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

“Then the temple of Eleusis will be destroyed—all the temples in all of Greece will be destroyed. The barbarians will come. The Christians will prevail. Darkness will fall.”

____________________

This quote from page 146 of Vidal’s novel is rather epigrammatic because with all probability this will be my last quote of Julian unless and until I find myself safe in another country—and even rich enough to bring my whole library, that presently is with me in Mexico City, to my new home overseas…

Published in: on July 28, 2013 at 10:41 am  Comments (2)  

JVLIAN excerpts – XIII

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The malice of a true Christian attempting to destroy an opponent is something unique in the world. No other religion even considered it necessary to destroy others because they did not share the same beliefs. At worst, another man’s belief might inspire amusement or contempt—the Egyptians and their animal gods, for instance. Yet those who worshiped the Bull did not try to murder those who worshiped the Snake, or to convert them by force from Snake to Bull. No evil entered the world quite so vividly or on such a vast scale as Christianity did.


The memoir of Julian Augustus

“Fire? The sun’s? The earth’s?”

Prohaeresius smiled. “Neither. Nor hell’s fire, as the Christians say.”

“As you believe?” I was not certain to what extent he was a Galilean; even now, I don’t know. He has always been evasive. I cannot believe such a fine teacher and Hellenist could be one of them, but anything is possible, as the gods daily demonstrate.

“We are not ready for that dialogue just yet,” he said. He gestured toward the swift shrunken river at our feet. “There, by the way, is where Plato’s Phaidros is set. They had good talk that day, and on this same bank. Why do you call them Galileans?” he asked.

“Because Galilee was where he came from!”

Prohaeresius saw through me. “You fear the word Christian,” he said, “for it suggest that those who call themselves that are indeed followers of a king, a great lord.”

“A mere name cannot affect what they are,” I evaded him. But he was right. The name is a danger to us.

I resumed my argument: most of the civilized world is neither Hellenist nor Galilean, but suspended in between. With good reason, a majority of the people hate the Galileans. Too many innocents have been slaughtered in their mindless doctrinal quarrels. I need only to mention the murder of Bishop George at Alexandria to recall vividly to those who read this the savagery of that religion not only toward its enemies (whom they term “impious”) but also toward its own fallen followers.

Prohaeresius tried to argue with me, but though he is the world’s most eloquent man, I would not listen to him. Also, he was uncharacteristically artless in defense of the Galileans, which made me suspect he was not one of them. Like so many, he is in a limbo between Hellenism and the new death cult. Nor do I think he is merely playing it safe. He is truly puzzled. The old gods do seem to have failed us, and I have always accepted the possibility that they have withdrawn from human affairs, terrible as that is to contemplate. But mind has not failed us. Philosophy has not failed us.

I realized that I was making a speech to a master of eloquence, but I could not stop myself. Dozing students sat up and looked at me curiously, convinced I was mad, for I was waving my arms on great arcs as I am prone to do when passionate. Prohaeresius took it all in good heart.

“Believe what you must,” he said at last.

“But you believe, too! You believe in what I believe. You must or you could not teach as you do.”

“I see it differently. That is all. But try to be practical. The thing has taken hold. The Christians govern the world through Constantius. They have had almost thirty years of wealth and power. They will not surrender easily. You come too late, Julian. Of course if you were Constantine and this were forty years ago and we were pondering these same problems, then I might say to you: ‘Strike! Outlaw them! Rebuild the temples!’ But now is not then. You are not Constantine. They have the world. The best one can hope to do is civilize them. That is why I teach. That is why I can never help you.”

Published in: on July 15, 2013 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Jvlian excerpts – XII

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The memoir of Julian Augustus

“Poverty, plain poverty.” Gregory indicated the torn and dirty cloak, the unkempt beard. “And protection.” He lowered his voice, indicating the students at the other table. “Christians are outnumbered in Athens. It’s a detestable city. There is no faith, only argument and atheism.”

“Then why are you here?”

He sighed. “The best teachers are here, the best instructors in rhetoric. Also, it is good to know the enemy, to be able to fight him with his own weapons.”

I nodded and pretended agreement. I was not very brave in those days. But even though I could never be candid with Gregory, he was an amusing companion. He was as devoted to the Galilean nonsense as I was to the truth. I attributed this to his unfortunate childhood. His family are Cappadocian. They live in a small town some fifty miles southwest Caesarea, the provincial capital. His mother was a most strong-willed woman named… I cannot recall her name, but I did meet her once a few years ago, and a most formidable creature she was. Passionate and proud and perfectly intolerant of everything not Galilean. Gregory’s father was part Jew and part Greek. As a result of his wife’s relentless admonitions, he succumbed finally to the Galilean religion.

Basil and I greeted one another warmly. He had changed considerably since we were adolescents. He was now a fine-looking man, tall and somewhat thin; unlike Gregory, he wore his hair close-cropped. I teased him about this. “Short hair means a bishop.”

Basil smiled his amiable smile and said in soft voice, “May that cup pass from me,” a quotation from the Nazarene.


Priscus: You will be aware of a number of ironies in what you have just read. The unspeakable Gregory is due to preside over the new Ecumenical Council. They say he will be the next bishop of Constantinople. How satisfying to glimpse this noble bishop in his ragged youth! Basil, who wanted only the contemplative life, now governs the church in Asia as bishop of Caesarea. I liked Basil during the brief period I knew him in Athens. He had a certain fire, and a good mind. He might have been a first-rate historian had he not decided to be a power in the church. But how can these young men resist the chance to rise? Philosophy offers them nothing; the church everything.

Published in: on July 7, 2013 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

JVLIAN excerpts – XI

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The Memoir of Julian Augustus

I arrived at Piraeus, the port of Athens, shortly after sunrise 5 August 355. I remember every one of the forty-seven days I spent in Athens. They were the happiest days of my life, so far.

I engaged a cart and driver after considerable haggling (I was able to bring the driver’s cost down to half what he asked: good but not marvelous). Then I climbed into the little cart. Half standing, half sitting on the cart rail, I was borne over the rutted road to Athens.

The sun rose in a cloudless sky. Attic clarity is not just a metaphor; it is a fact. The sky’s blue was painful.

My first reaction was delight at anonymity. No one stared at me. No one knew who I was. I looked a typical student with my beard and plain cloak. There were dozens like me. Some were in carts, most were on foot; all of them moving toward the same goal: Athens and the knowledge of the true.

On every side of me carts rattled and creaked, their drivers cursing and their contents, human or animal, complaining. The Athenian Greek is a lively fellow, though one looks in vain from face to face for a glimpse of Pericles or Alcibiades. As a race, they are much changed. They are no longer noble. They have been too often enslaved, and their blood mixed with that of barbarians.

[Chechar’s note: See Pierce’s take on this subject]

The Dipylon Gate was as busy in the early morning as any other great city’s gate might have been at noon. It is a double gate, as its name indicates, with two tall towers on the outside. Guards lolled in front, paying no attention to the carts and pedestrians who came and went. As we passed through the outer gate, our cart was suddenly surrounded by whores. Twenty or thirty women and girls of all ages rushed out of the shadows of the wall. They fought with one another to get close to the cart. They tugged at my cloak. They called me “Billy Goat,” “Pan,” “Satyr,” and other less endearing terms.

With the skill of an acrobat one pretty child of fourteen vaulted the railing of my cart and firmly grasped my beard in her fist. The soldiers laughed at my discomfort. With some effort I pried my beard from her fingers, but not before her other hand had reached between my legs, to the delight of those watching. But the driver was expert at handling these girls. With a delicate flick of his whip, he snapped at the hand. It was withdrawn with a cry. She leapt to the ground. The other women jeered us. Their curses were splendid, Homeric!

I arranged my tunic. The sharp tug of the girl’s hand had had its effect upon me, and against my will I thought of lovemaking and wondered where the best girls in Athens might be found. I was not then, as I am now, celibate. Yet even in those days I believed that it was virtuous to mortify the flesh, for it is a fact that conscience increases intellectual clarity. But I was also twenty-three years old and the flesh made demands on me in a way that the mind could not control.

Youth is the body’s time. Not a day passed in those days that I did not experience lust. Not a week passed that I did not assuage that lust. But I do not agree with those Dionysians who maintain that the sexual act draws men closer to the One God. If anything, it takes a man away from God, for in the act he is blind and thoughtless, no more than an animal engaged in the ceremony of creation. Yet to each stage of one’s life certain things are suitable and for a few weeks, eight years ago, I was young, and knew many girls. Even now in this hot Asiatic night, I recall with unease that brilliant time, and think of lovemaking. I notice that my secretary is blushing. Yet he is Greek!

The driver indicated a large ruin to the right. “Hadrian,” he said. “Hadrian Augustus.” Like all travelers, I am used to hearing guides refer to my famous predecessor. Even after two centuries he is the only emperor every man has heard of—because of his constant traveling, his continuous building and, sad to say, his ridiculous passion for the boy Antinoüs. I suppose that it is natural enough to like boys but it is not natural or seemly to love anyone with the excessive and undignified passion that Hadrian showed for Antinoüs. Fortunately, the boy was murdered before Hadrian could make him his heir. But in his grief Hadrian made himself and the Genius of Rome look absurd. He set up thousands of statues and dedicated innumerable temples to the dead boy.

Antinous Mondragone 130 AD

He even declared the pretty catamite a god! It was a shocking display and permanently shadows Hadrian’s fame. For the first time in history, a Roman emperor was mocked and thought ridiculous. Yet except for this one lapse, I find Hadrian a sympathetic figure.

Published in: on July 3, 2013 at 4:42 pm  Comments (1)  

JVLIAN excerpts – X

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

Priscus: I can. And you certainly can! After all, you were living in Antioch while that little beast was Caesar.

Curiously enough, Julian almost never mentioned Gallus to me, or to anyone. I have always had a theory—somewhat borne out by the memoir—that Julian was unnaturally attracted to his brother. He continually refers to his beauty. He also tends to write of him in that hurt tone one uses to describe a lover who has been cold. Julian professes to find mysterious what everyone else found only too obvious: Gallus’ cruelty. Julian was naïve, as I find myself continually observing (if I repeat myself, do forgive me and blame it on our age).

Libanius. Yes, I do know. At the beginning, we all had great hopes for Gallus. I recall vividly Gallus’s first appearance before the senate of Antioch. How hopeful we were! He was indeed as handsome as men say, though that day he was suffering from a heat rash, as fair people sometimes do in our sultry climate. But despite a mottled face, he carried himself well. He looked as one born to rule. He made us a most graceful speech. Afterwards, I was presented to him by my old friend Bishop Meletius.

During the next few years the misdeeds of the couple were beyond anything since Caligula. Gallus sent his own guards into the senate chamber, arrested the leading senators and condemned them to death.


The Memoir of Julian Augustus

In the autumn of 353, Gallus made a state visit to Pergamon. It was the first time we had met since we were boys at Macellum. I stood with the town prefect and the local dignitaries in front of the senate house and watched Gallus receive the homage of the city.

During the five years since we had seen one another, I had become a man with a full beard. But Gallus had remained exactly as he was, the beautiful youth whom all admired. I confess that I had a return of the old emotion when he embraced me formally and I looked once again into those familiar blue eyes. What was the old emotion? A loss of will, I should say. Whatever he wanted me to do I would do. Gallus, by existing, robbed me of strength.

“Constantia wants to know you. She talks of you often. But of course she couldn’t come here. One of us must always be at Antioch. Spies. Traitors. No one is honest. Do you realize that? No one. You can never trust anyone, not even your own flesh and blood.”

I tried to protest loyalty at this point. But Gallus ignored me. “All men are evil. I found that out early. They are born in sin, live in sin, die in sin. Only God can save us. I pray that he will save me.” Gallus made the sign of a cross on his bare chest. “But it is a fine thing in an evil world to be Caesar.”

I must say I was stunned by this particular self-estimate. But my face showed only respectful interest.

“I build churches. I establish religious orders. I stamp out heresy whenever I find it. I am an active agent for good. I must be. It is what I was born for. Do you have girls in you household?”

“One.” My voice broke nervously.

“One!” he shook his head wonderingly. “And your friend? The one you live with?”

“Oribasius.”

“Is he your lover?”

“No!”

“I wondered. It’s perfectly all right. You’re not Hadrian. What you do doesn’t matter. Though if you like boys, I suggest you keep to slaves. It’s politically dangerous to have anything to do with a man of your own class.”

“I am not interested…” I began, but he continued right through me.

“Slaves are always best. Particularly stableboys and grooms.” The blue eyes flashed suddenly.

The rest of the story is well known. Gallus and his “jailers” took the overland route through Illyria. All troops were moved from the garrisons along the route, and Gallus could call on no one to support him. At Hadrianopolis, the Theban legions were indeed waiting, but Gallus was not allowed to see them. He was now a prisoner in all but name. Then in Austria, he was arrested by the infamous Count Barbatio, who had been until recently the commander of his own guard. Gallus was imprisoned at Histria; here his trial was held. The Grand Chamberlain Eusebius presided.

Gallus was indicted for all the crimes which had taken place in Syria during the four years of his reign. Most of the charges against him were absurd and the trial itself was a farce, but Constantius enjoyed the show of legality almost as much as he disliked the idea of justice. Gallus’s only defense was to blame his wife for everything. This was unworthy of him; but then there was nothing that he could say or do which would save him. Also, by accusing Constantius’s sister of a thousand crimes (she was guilty of many more), Gallus was able to strike one last blow at his implacable enemy. Furious at the form the defense took, Constantius ordered Gallus executed.

My brother’s head was cut off early in the evening of 9 December 354. His arms were bound behind him as though he were a common criminal. He made no last statement. Or if he did, it has been suppressed. He was twenty-eight when he died. They say that in the last days he suffered terribly from bad dreams. Of the men of the imperial family, only Constantius and I were left.

On 1 January 355 a warrant was issued for my arrest. But by then I had joined a religious order at Nicomedia. I am sure that at first none of the monks knew who I was, for I had come to them with head shaved and I looked like any other novice. Oribasius also protected me. When the imperial messenger arrived at Pergamon to arrest me, Oribasius said that I had gone to Constantinople.

I was a monk for six weeks. I found the life surprisingly pleasant. I enjoyed the austerity and the mild physical labor. The monks themselves were not very inspiring. I suppose some must have had the religious sense but the majority were simply vagrants who had tired of the road and its discomforts. They treated the monastery as though it were some sort of hotel rather than a place to serve the One God. Yet they were easy to get along with, and had it not been for the Galilean rituals I could have been quite happy.

As we were leaving Nicomedia, I noticed a head on a pike. I hardly glanced at it, since there is almost always the head of some felon or other on display at the main gate of every town.

“I am sorry,” said Victor suddenly. “But we were ordered to use this gate.”

“Sorry for what?”

“To lead you past your brother’s head.”

“Gallus?” I turned clear around in my saddle and looked again at the head. The face had been so mutilated that the features were unrecognizable, but there was no mistaking the blond hair, mattered it was with dirt and blood.

“The Emperor has had it displayed in every city in the East.”

I shut my eyes, on the verge of nausea.

“Your brother had many qualities,” said Victor. “It was a pity.” Ever since, I have respected Victor. In those days when secret agents were everywhere and no man was safe, it took courage to say something good of a man executed for treason.

At Ilios I was taken round by the local bishop. At first my heart sank: a Galilean bishop was the last sort of person who would be interested in showing me the temples of the true gods. But to my surprise, Bishop Pegasius was an ardent Hellenist. In fact, he was the one who was surprised when I asked him if we might visit the temples of Hector and Achilles.

“But of course. Nothing would give me greater pleasure. But I am surprised that you are interested in old monuments.”

“I am a child of Homer.”

“So is every educated man. But we are also Christians. Your piety is well known to us even here.” Then Pelagius proceeded to show me the temples of Athena and Achilles, both in perfect repair. I noted, too, that whenever he passed the image of an old god, he did not hiss and make the sign of the cross the way most Galileans do, fearing contamination.

Two days later, I was visited by the Grand Chamberlain himself. I found it hard to believe that this enchanting creature with his caressing voice and dimpled smile was daily advising the Consistory to execute me. He quite filled the small apartment where I had been confined.

“Oh, you have grown, most noble Julian! In every way!” Delicately Eusebius touched my face. “And your beard is now most philosophic. How Marcus Aurelius would have envied you!” For an instant one fat finger rested, light as a butterfly, on the tip of my beard.

The cutting down of court ceremonies and the removal of the eunuchs was one of the first acts of my reign. It was certainly the most satisfactory.

Published in: on June 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm  Comments (10)  

JVLIAN excerpts – IX

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The Memoir of Julian Augustus

I liked the Armenian eunuch Eutherius as much as I disliked Nicocles. Eutherius taught me court ceremonial three times a week. He was a grave man of natural dignity who did not look or sound like a eunuch. His beard was normal. His voice was low. He had been cut at the age of twenty, so he had known what it was to be a man. He once told me in grisly detail how he had almost died during the operation, “from loss of blood, because the older you are, the more dangerous the operation is. But I have been happy. I have had an interesting life. And there is something to be said for not wasting one’s time in pursuit of sexual pleasure.” But though this was true of Eutherius, it was not true of all eunuchs, especially those at the palace. Despite their incapacity, eunuchs are capable of sexual activity, as I one day witnessed, in a scene I shall describe in its proper place.

Shortly after New Year 349 Eusebius agreed to let me go to Nicomedia on condition that I not attend the lectures of Libanius. As Nicocles put it, “Just as we protect our young from those who suffer from the fever, so we must protect them from dangerous ideas, not to mention poor rhetoric. As stylist, Libanius has a tendency to facetiousness which you would find most boring. As philosopher, he is dangerously committed to the foolish past.” To make sure that I would not cheat, Ecebolius was ordered to accompany me to Nicomedia.

Ecebolius and I arrived at Nicomedia in February 349. In enjoyed myself hugely that winter. I attended lectures. I listened to skilled Sophists debate. I met students of my own age. This was not always an easy matter, for they were terrified of me, while I hardly knew how to behave with them.

Oribasius took delight in showing me his city. He knew my interest in temples (though I was not yet consciously a Hellenist), and we spent several days prowling through the deserted temples on the acropolis and across the Selinos River, which divides the city. Even then, I was stuck by the sadness of once holy buildings now empty save for spiders and scorpions. Only the temple of Asklepion was kept up, and that was because the Asklepion is the center of the intellectual life of the city. It is a large enclave containing theatre, library, gymnasium, porticoes, gardens, and of course the circular temple to the god himself. Most of the buildings date from two centuries ago, when architecture was at its most splendid.

Priscus: From what I gather, Julian in those days was a highly intelligent youth who might have been “captured” for true philosophy. After all, he enjoyed learning. He was good at debate. Properly educated, he might have been another Porphyry or, taking into account his unfortunate birth, another Marcus Aurelius. But Maximus got to him first and exploited his one flaw: the craving for the vague and the incomprehensible which is essentially Asiatic. It is certainly not Greek, even though we Greeks are in a noticeable intellectual decline. Did you know that thanks to the presence of so many foreign students in Athens, our people no longer speak pure Attic but a sort of argot, imprecise and ugly?

Yet despite the barbarism which is slowly extinguishing “the light of the world,” we Athenians still pride ourselves on being able to see things as they are. Show us a stone and we see a stone, not the universe. But like so many others nowadays, poor Julian wanted to believe that man’s life is profoundly more significant than it is. His sickness was the sickness of our age. We want so much not to be extinguished at the end that we will go to any length to make conjurer-tricks for one another simply to obscure the bitter, secret knowledge that it is our fate not to be. If Maximus hadn’t stolen Julian to us, the bishops would have got him. I am sure of that. At heart he was a Christian mystic gone wrong.

Julian Augustus

“With the worship of the dead Jew, the poetry ceased. The Christians wish to replace our beautiful legends with the police record of a reformed Jewish rabbi. Out of this unlikely material they hope to make a final synthesis of all the religions ever known. They now appropriate our feast days. They transform local deities into saints. They borrow from our mystery rites, particularly those of Mithras. The priests of Mithras are called ‘fathers.’ So the Christians call their priests ‘fathers.’ They even imitate the tonsure, hoping to impress new converts with the familiar trappings of an older cult. Now they have started to call the Nazarene ‘savior’ and ‘healer.’ Why? Because one of the most beloved of our gods is Asklepios, whom we call ‘savior’ or ‘healer.’”

“But there is nothing in Mithras to equal the Christian mystery.” I argued for the devil. “What of the Eucharist, the taking of the bread and wine, when Christ said, ‘He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood shall have eternal life.’”

Maximus smiled. “I betray no secret of Mithras when I tell you that we, too, partake of a symbolic meal, recalling the words of the Persian prophet Zarathustra, who said to those who worshiped the One God—and Mithras, ‘He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall know salvation.’ That was spoken six centuries before the birth of the Nazarene.”

I was stunned. “Zarathustra was a man…?”

“A prophet. He was stuck down in a temple by enemies. As he lay dying, he said, ‘May God forgive you even as I do.’ No, there is nothing sacred to us that the Galileans have not stolen. The main task of their innumerable councils is to try to make sense of all their borrowings. I don’t envy them.”

Priscus: Interesting to observe Maximus in action.

There is now no doubt in my mind that at this point in Julian’s life almost any of the mystery cults would have got him free of Christianity. He was eager to make the break. Yet it is hard to say quite why, since his mind tended to magic and superstition in precisely the same way the Christian mindset does. Of course, he claimed that Bishop George’s partisanship disgusted him as a boy, and that Porphyry and Plotinus opened his eyes to the absurdity of the Christian claims.

Well and good. But then why turn to something equally absurd? Granted, no educated man can accept the idea of a Jewish rebel as god. But having rejected that myth, how can one then believe that the Persian hero-god Mithras was born of light striking rock, on December 25th, with shepherds watching his birth? (I am told that the Christians have just added those shepherds to the birth of Jesus.)

Of course I am sympathetic to him. He dealt the Christians some good blows and that delighted me. But I cannot sympathize with his fear of extinction. Why is it so important to continue after death? I am in no hurry to depart. But I look on nothing as just that: no thing. How can one fear no thing?

Libanius: Like Julian, I was admitted to the Mithraic rites during my student days. But I had never been a Christian, so I was not making a dramatic and dangerous break with the world I belonged to. However, for Julian it was a brave thing to do. Had Constantius learned of what he had done, it might have cost him his life. Fortunately, Maximus managed the affair so skillfully that Constantius never knew that at the age of nineteen his cousin ceased to be a Christian, in a cave beneath Mount Pion.

Published in: on June 17, 2013 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

JVLIAN excerpts – VIII

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The Memoir of Julian Augustus

Some arrived on horseback, others in litters. Each was accompanied by a retinue of soldiers, clerks, eunuchs, slaves. All wore some variation of military dress, for ever since Diocletian the court has been military in its appearance, symbolic of Rome’s beleaguered state.

For six years Gallus and I had seen no one except Bishop George and our guards. Now all at once there passed before us the whole power of the state. Our eyes were dazzled by glittering armor and elaborate cloaks, by the din of a thousand clerks and notaries who scurried about the courtyard, demanding their baggage, quarreling with one another, insisting on various prerogatives. The noisy clerks with their inky fingers and proud intelligent faces were the actual government of Rome, and they knew it.

The last official to arrive was the most important of all: the Grand Chamberlain of the Sacred Palace, the eunuch Eusebius. He was so large that it took two slaves to pull him out of his ivory and gold litter. He was tall, stout and very white. Beneath the peacock blue of his silk tunic one could see the rolls of flesh quiver as he moved. Of all the officers of the state, only he wore civilian clothes. In fact, he looked like a winsome lady of fashion with mouth artfully rouged and hair arranged in long oiled ringlets. The gold thread of his cape flashed in the sunlight.

Eusebius smiled a tiny smile, exposing small dark teeth; several babyish dimples appeared in his full cheeks. He inclined his head; the neck fat creased; a long curl strayed across his brow.

Nobilissimi,” he said in a soft voice. This was an excellent omen. The title nobilissimus is used only for members of the imperial family. Bishop George never used this title with us nor did our guards. Now, apparently, our rank had been restored.

After a long scrutiny, Eusebius took each us by hand, I can still recall the soft dampness of his touch. “I have so looked forward seeing you both! And how grown up you are! Especially the noble Gallus.” Delicately he felt Gallus’s chest. This sort of impertinence would ordinarily have sent my brother into rage, but that day he was far too frightened. He also knew instinctively that his only protection was his beauty. Complaisantly he allowed the eunuch to caress him as we entered the villa.

Eusebius had the most beguiling voice and manner of anyone I have even known. I should say something here about the voices of eunuchs. They’re like that of a particularly gentle child, and this appeals to the parent in both men and women. Thus subtly do they disarm us, for we tend to indulge them as we would a child, forgetting that their minds are as mature and twisted as their bodies are lacking. Eusebius spun his web about Gallus. He did not bother with me. I was too young.

Gallus and Eusebius dined alone together that night. The next day Gallus was Eusebius’s devoted admirer. “He’s also a friend,” said Gallus. We were alone together in the baths. “He told me how he’d been getting reports about me for years. He knows everything I’ve ever done. He even knows about her.” Gallus named the Antiochene, and giggled. “Anyway Constantius does just as Eusebius tells him. Everyone says so. Which means if you have Eusebius on your side, that’s half of the battle. And I’ve got him. He’s going to make a monk out of you. Though if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be a eunuch.”

We heard trumpets. Then the cry “Augustus!” which always precedes an emperor began, at first far off and faint; then closer, louder: “Augustus! Augustus!” My legs began to tremble. I was afraid I might be sick. Suddenly with a crash the double doors were flung open and there in the doorway stood Flavius Julius Constantius, Augustus of the East… slowly and with an extraordinary dignity crossed the room to his throne. I was too busy studying the mosaic floor to get even a glimpse of my imperial cousin. Not until the Master of the Offices gave the signal for everyone to rise was I able at last to observe my father’s murderer.

Constantius was a man of overwhelming dignity. That was the most remarkable thing about him; even his most ordinary gestures seemed carefully rehearsed. Like the Emperor Augustus, we wore lifts in his sandals to make himself appear tall. He was clean-shaven, with large melancholy eyes. He had his father Constantine’s large nose and thin, somewhat peevish mouth. The upper part of his body was impressively muscular but his legs were dwarfish. He wore the purple, a heavy robe which hung from shoulder to heel.

Then the moment came. Bishop George led Gallus and me to the Master of Offices, who in turn led us up to dais and presented us formally to the Emperor. I was terrified. Without knowing how I got there, I found myself embracing Constantius’ knees, as court etiquette requires.

For an instant I was so close to Constantius that I could make out every pore in his face, which was sunburned dark as a Persian’s. I noticed the silkiness of his straight brown hair, only just beginning to turn grey. He was thirty-two, but I thought him ancient. I also remember thinking: what must it be like to be Emperor of Rome? to know that one’s face on coins, one’s monuments, painted and sculptured, is known to all the world? And here—so close to me that I could feel the reciprocal warmth of his skin—was the original of that world-famous face, not bronze or marble but soft flesh and bone, like me, like any other man.

Constantius remained at Macellum for a week. He attended to the business of the state. He hunted. Bishop George had a long interview with him on the day he arrived, but then, to the Bishop’s chagrin, Constantius ignored him. Though Gallus and I dinned at the Emperor’s table every evening, he never spoke to us.

Gallus made a good impression on everyone—somewhat to my surprise, for he was always rather sullen with Bishop George and downright cruel to me and his teachers. But set among the great officers of the state, he was a different person. He laughed; he flattered; he charmed. He was a natural courtier, and one by one he enchanted the members of the Sacred Consistory, as the Emperor’s council is known. Only with Constantius did he make no headway. Our cousin was biding his time. I wonder now what Constantius was thinking. I suspect that even then I may have puzzled him. Gallus was easily comprehended. But who was this silent youth who wanted to become a priest?

In a blaze of pageantry, Constantius departed. Gallus, Bishop George and I stood in the courtyard as he rode past. Mounted, he looked splendid and tall in his armor of chased gold. He acknowledged no one as he rode out of Macellum. In his cold way he was most impressive, and I still envy him his majesty. He could stand for hours in public looking neither to the left or the right; motionless as a statue.

“You will be gone soon enough, most noble Gallus.” Bishop George had now taken to using our titles.

Gallus said good-bye to his officer friends at a dinner to which I was, surprisingly, invited. He made a pleasant speech, promising to remember his friends if he was ever to have a military command. Bishop George then presented him with a Galilean testament bound in massive silver. “Study it well, most noble Gallus. Outside the church there can be no salvation.”

The next day when it was time for Gallus to say good-bye to me, he did so simply. “Pray for me brother, as I pray for you.”

“I shall. Good-bye Gallus.” And we parted, exactly like strangers who, having met for an evening on a post-house, take different roads the next day. After Gallus left, I wept, for the last time as a child. Yet I hated him. They say that to know oneself is to know all there is that is human. But of course no one can ever know himself. Nothing human is finally calculable; even to ourselves we are strange.

The Bishop then gave me his blessing and a Galilean testament, bound not in silver but in cheap leather; apparently I was not destined to be a Caesar! Yet I thanked him profusely and said farewell. The driver cracked his whip. The horses broke into a trot. For the first time in six years I was leaving the confines of Macellum. My childhood was over, and I was still alive.

Published in: on June 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

JVLIAN excerpts – VII

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The memoir of Julian Augustus


Homoiousios. What does that mean?”

I knew. I rattled my answer like a crow taught to speak. “It means that Jesus the son is of similar substance to God the father.”

Homoousios. What does that mean?”

“That Jesus the son is of one substance with God the father.”

“The difference?”

“In the first case, Jesus was created by the father before this world began. He is God’s son by grace but not by nature.”

“Why?”

“Because God is one. By definition singular. God cannot be many, as the late Presbyter Arius maintained at the council of Nicaea.”

“Excellent.” I received a series of finger-snappings as applause. “Now in the second case?”

Homoousios is that pernicious doctrine”—I had been well-drilled by Eusebius—“which maintains that the father and the son and the holy spirit are one and the same.”

“Which cannot be!”

“Which cannot be,” I chirruped obediently.

“Despite what happened in Nicaea.”

“Where in the year 325 Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria…”

“A mere deacon at the time…”

“Opposed my cousin Bishop Eusebius as well as Presbyter Arius, and forced the council to accept the Athanasian doctrine that the father, son and holy spirit are one.”

But the battle is far from over. We are gaining ground every year. Our wise Augustus believes as we believe, as the late Presbyter Arius believed. Two years ago at Antioch we Eastern bishops met to support the true doctrine. This year shall meet again at Sardica and, with the Emperor’s aid, the true believers shall once and for all destroy the doctrine of Athanasius. My son, you are to be a priest. I can tell. You have the mark. You will be a great force in the church. Tomorrow I shall send you one of my deacons. He will give you religious instruction, both of you.”

“But I’m to be a soldier,” said Gallus, alarmed.

“A God-fearing soldier has the strength of twenty,” said Bishop George automatically. “Besides, religious training will do you no harm.” And curiously enough, it was Gallus who became the devout Galilean while I, as the world knows, returned to the old ways.

But at that time I was hardly a philosopher. I studied what I was told to study. The deacon who gave me instruction was most complimentary. “You have an extraordinary gift for analysis,” he said one day when I was exploring with him John 14:24, the text on which the Arians base their case against Athanasius. “You will have a distinguished future, I am sure.”

“As a bishop?”

“Of course you will be a bishop since you are imperial. But there is something even more splendid than a bishop.”

“A martyr?”

“Martyr and saint. You have the look of one.”

I must say my boyish vanity was picked. Largely because of this flattery, for several months I was confident that I had been especially chosen to save the world from error. Which, in a way, turned out to be true, to the horror of my early teachers.

Bishop George was an arrogant and difficult man but I got on with him. Largely because he was interested in me. He was a devoted controversialist. Finding me passably intelligent, he saw his opportunity. If I could be turned into a bishop, I would be a powerful ally for the Arians, who were already outnumbered by the Athanasians, despite the considerable help given them by Constantius. Today, of course, the “pernicious” doctrine of the three-in-one God has almost entirely prevailed, due to the efforts of Bishop Athanasius. Constantius alone kept the two parties in any sort of balance. Now that he is dead the victory of Athanasius is only a matter of time. But today none of this matters since the Galileans are now but one of a number of religious sects, and by no means the largest. Their days of domination are over. Not only have I forbidden them to persecute us Hellenists; I have forbidden them to persecute one another. They find me intolerable cruel!

Was I a true Galilean in those years at Macellum? There has been much speculation about this. I often wonder myself. The answer is not clear even to me. For a long time I believed what I was taught. I accepted the Arian thesis that the One God (whose existence we all accept) mysteriously produced a sort of son who was born a Jew, became a teacher, and was finally executed by the state for reasons which were never entirely clear for me, despite the best efforts of Bishop George to instruct me. But while I was studying the life of the Galilean I was also reading Plato, who was far more to my taste. After all, I was something of a literary snob. I had been taught the best Greek by Mardonius. I could not help but compare the barbarous back-country language of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to the clear prose of Plato. Yet I accepted the Galilean legend as truth. After all, it was the religion of my family, and though I did not find it attractive, I was unaware of any alternative until one afternoon when I was fourteen.

I had been sitting for two hours listening to the deacon sing me the songs of Presbyter Arius… yes, that great religious thinker wrote popular songs in order to influence the illiterate. To this day I can recall the words of half a dozen of his inane ballads which “proved” that the son was the son and the father was the father. Finally, the deacon finished; I praised his singing.

“It is the spirit what matters, not the voice,” said the deacon, pleased with my compliment. Then—I don’t know how it happened—Plotinus was mentioned. He was only a name to me. He was anathema to the deacon. “A would-be philosopher of the last century. A follower of Plato, or so he claimed. An enemy of the church, though there are some Christians who are foolish enough to regard him highly. He lived at Rome. He was a favorite of the Emperor Gordian. He wrote six quite unintelligible works which his disciple Porphyry edited.”

“Porphyry?” As though it were yesterday, I can remember hearing that name for the first time, seated opposite the angular deacon on one of the gardens at Macellum, high summer flowering all about us and the day hazy with heat.

“Even worse than Plotinus! Porphyry came from Tyre. He studied at Athens. He called himself a philosopher but of course he was merely an atheist. He attacked the church in fifteen volumes.”

“On what grounds?”

“How should I know? I have never read his books. No Christian ought.” The deacon was firm.

“But surely this Porphyry must have had some cause…”

“The devil entered him. That is cause enough.”

By then I knew that I must read Plotinus and Porphyry. I wrote Bishop George a most politic letter, asking him to lend me the books of these “incorrigible” men. I wished to see, I said, the face of the enemy plain, and naturally I turned to the Bishop for guidance, not only because he was my religious mentor but because he had the best library in Cappadocia. I rather laid it on.

To my astonishment Bishop George immediately sent me the complete works of Plotinus as well as Porphyry’s attack on Christianity. “Young as you are, I am sure you will appreciate the folly of Porphyry. He was an intelligent man misled by a bad character. My predecessor, as bishop of Caesarea, wrote a splendid refutation of Porphyry, answering for all time the so-called ‘inconsistencies’ Porphyry claimed to have detected in scriptures. I am sending you the Bishop’s works too. I cannot tell you how pleased I am at the interest you are showing in sacred matters.” What the good Bishop did not know was that the arguments of Porphyry were to form the basis for my own rejection of the Nazarene.



_______________

My two ¢:

Porphyry was a thinker in real history—outside Vidal’s novel—; in my opinion, a thinker more important than Plato or Aristotle because, hadn’t Julian life been taken so early during his reign, Porphyry’s exegesis of the New Testament would have prevented the dark ages of Europe.

Alas, every singly copy of Porphyry’s book was destroyed by the triumphant Church, with only a few fragments being exegetically unearthed by Joseph Hoffmann as late as… 1994!

I have typed some of these fragments directly from Hoffmann’s book for WDH, here.

JVLIAN excerpts – VI

“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”

—Julian, addressing the Christians

Julian

The Memoir of Julian Augustus

Suddenly the door to the charnel house was flung open and two old men ran out into the street, closely pursued by a dozen monks, armed with sticks. The old men got as far as the arcade where we were standing. Then the monks caught them, threw them to the ground, and beat them, shouting all the while, “Heretic! Heretic!”

I turned with amazement to Mardonius. “Why are they hurting those men?”

Mardonius sighed. “Because they are heretics.”

“Dirty Athanasians?” Gallus, older than I, was already acquainted with most of our new world’s superstitions.

“I am afraid so. We’d better go.”

But I was curious. I wanted to know what an Athanasian was.

“Misguided fools who believe that Jesus and God are exactly the same…”

“When everybody knows they are only similar,” said Gallus.

“Exactly. As Presbyter Arius—who was so much admired by your cousin the divine Emperor—taught us.”

“They poisoned Presbyter Arius,” said Gallus, already fiercely partisan. He picked up a rock. “Murdering heretics!” he yelled and hurled the stone with unfortunate accuracy at one of the old men. The monks paused in their congenial work to praise Gallus’s marksmanship. Mardonius was furious, but only on grounds of rectitude.

“Gallus!” He gave my brother a good shake. “You are a prince, not a street brawler!” Grabbing us each firmly by an arm, Mardonius hurried us away. Needless to say, I was fascinated by all this.

“But surely those old men are harmless.”

“Harmless? They murdered Presbyter Arius.” Gallus’s eyes shone with righteousness.

“Those two? They actually murdered him?”

“No,” said Mardonius. “But they are followers of Bishop Athanasius…”

“The worst heretic that ever lived!” Gallus was always ecstatic when his own need for violence coincided with what others believed to be right action.

“And it is thought that Athanasius ordered Arius poisoned at a church council, some seven years ago. As a result, Athanasius was sent into exile by our divine uncle. And now, Julian, I must remind you for what is the hundredth—or is it the thousandth?—time, not to bite your nails.”

I stopped biting my nails, a habit which I have not entirely broken myself of even today. “But aren’t they all Christians?” I asked. “Don’t they believe in Jesus and the gospels?”

“No!” said Gallus.

“Yes,” said Mardonius. “They are Christians too. But they are in error.”

Even as a child I had a reasonable logical mind. “But if they are Christians, like us, then we must not fight them but turn the other cheek, and certainly nobody must kill anybody, because Jesus tells us that…”

“I’m afraid it is not as simple as all that,” said Mardonius. But of course it was. Even a child could see the division between what the Galileans say they believe and what, in fact, they do believe, as demonstrated by their actions. A religion of brotherhood and mildness which daily murders those who disagree with its doctrines can only be thought as hypocrite, or worse. Now for the purposes of my memoir it would be convenient to say that at this moment I ceased to be a Galilean. But unfortunately that would not be true. Though I was puzzled by what I had seen, I still believed, and my liberation from the Nazarene was a long time coming.

But looking back, I suspect that the first chain was struck from my mind that day on the street when I saw two harmless old men set upon by monks.

Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

JVLIAN excerpts – V

Julian the Apostate was the nephew of the Emperor Constantine the Great. Julian ascended the throne in A.D. 361, at the age of twenty-nine, and was murdered four years later after an unsuccessful attempt to rebuke Christianity and restore the worship to the old gods.

Julian

The Memoir of Julian Augustus

From the example of my uncle the Emperor Constantine, called the Great, who died when I was six years old, I learned that it is dangerous to side with any party of the Galileans, for they mean to overthrow and veil those things that are truly holy. I can hardly remember Constantine, though I was once presented to him at the Sacred Palace. I dimly recall a giant, heavily scented, wearing a stiff jeweled robe. My older brother Gallus always said that I tried to pull his wig off. But Gallus had a cruel humor, and I doubt that this story was true. If I had tugged at the Emperor’s wig, I would surely not have endeared myself to him, for he was as vain as a woman about his appearance; even his Galilean admirers admit to that.

From my mother Basilina I inherited my love of learning. I never knew her. She died shortly after my birth, 7 April 331. She was the daughter of the praetorian prefect Julius Julianus. From portraits I resemble her more than I do my father; I share with her a straight nose and rather full lips, unlike the imperial Flavians, who tend to have thin hooked noses and tight pursed mouths. The Emperor Constantius, my cousin and predecessor, was a typical Flavian, resembling his father Constantine, except that he was much shorter. But I did inherit the Flavian thick chest and neck, legacy of our Illyrian ancestors, who were men of the mountains. My mother, though Galilean, was devoted to literature. She was taught by the eunuch Mardonius, who was also my tutor.

From my cousin and predecessor, the Emperor Constantius, I learned to dissemble and disguise my true thoughts. A dreadful lesson, but had I not learned it I would not have lived past my twentieth year.

In the year 337 Constantius murdered my father. His crime? Consanguinity. I was spared because I was six years old; my half-brother Gallus—who was eleven years old—was spared because he was sickly and not expected to live.

Yes, I was trying to imitate the style of Marcus Aurelius to Himself, and I have failed. Not only because I lack his purity and goodness but because while he was able to write of the good things he learned from a good family and good friends, I must write of those bitter things I learned from a family of murderers in an age diseased by the quarrels and intolerance of a sect whose purpose is to overthrow that civilization whose first note was stuck upon blind Homer’s lyre.

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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