Julian, 23

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Julian Augustus

As I sat on the bench in the sun, revelling in warmth and anonymity, a dark man approached me. He gave me a close look. Then he said, “Macellum?”

At first I was annoyed at being recognized. But when I realized that this young man was the physician Oribasius, I was glad that he spoke to me. In no time at all we were talking as if we had known each other all our lives. Together we took the baths. In the circular hot room, as we scraped oil from one another, Oribasius told me that he had left the court.

“To practise privately?”

“No. Family affairs. My father died. And now I have to go home to Pergamon to settle the estate.”

“How did you recognize me? It’s been two years.”

“I always remember faces, especially those of princes.”

I motioned for him to lower his voice. Just opposite us two students were trying to overhear our conversation.

“Also,” whispered Oribasius, “that awful beard of yours is a give-away.”

“It’s not very full yet,” I said, tugging at it sadly.

“And everyone in Nicomedia knows that the most noble Julian is trying to grow a philosopher’s beard.”

“Well, at my age there’s always hope.”

After a plunge in the cold pool, we made our way to the hall of the tepidarium, where several hundred students were gathered, talking loudly, singing, occasionally wrestling, to the irritation of the bath attendants, who would then move swiftly among them, cracking heads with metal keys.

Oribasius promptly convinced me that I should come stay with him in Pergamon. “I’ve a big house and there’s no one in it. You can also meet Aedesius…. ”

Like everyone, I admired Aedesius. He was Pergamon’s most famous philosopher, the teacher of Maximus and Priscus, and a friend of the late Iamblichos.

“You’ll like Pergamon. Thousands of Sophists, arguing all day long. We even have a woman Sophist.”

“A woman?”

“Well, perhaps she’s a woman. There is a rumour she may be a goddess. You must ask her, since she started the rumour. Anyway, she gives lectures on philosophy, practises magic, predicts the future. You’ll like her.”

“But you don’t?”

“But you will.”

At that moment we were joined by the two young men from the hot room. One was tall and well built; his manner grave. The other was short and thin with a tight smile and quick black eyes. As they approached, my heart sank. I had been recognized. The short one introduced himself. “Gregory of Nazianzus, most noble Julian. And this is Basil. We are both from Cappadocia. We saw you the day the divine Augustus came to Macellum. We were in the crowd.”

“Are you studying here?”

“No. We’re on our way to Constantinople, to study with Nicocles. But Basil wanted to stop off here to attend the lectures of the impious Libanius.”

Basil remonstrated mildly. “Libanius is not a Christian, but he is the best teacher of rhetoric in Nicomedia.”

“Basil is not like us, most noble Julian,” said Gregory. “He is much too tolerant.”

I found myself liking Basil and disliking Gregory, I suppose because of that presumptuous “us”. Gregory has always had too much of the courtier in him. But I have since come to like him, and today we are all three friends, despite religious differences. They were agreeable companions, and I still recall with pleasure that day we met when I was a student among students with no guardian to inhibit conversation. When it was finally time to leave the baths, I promised Oribasius that somehow or other I would join him in Pergamon.

Meanwhile, Gregory and Basil agreed to dine with me. They were just the sort Ecebolius would approve of: devout Galileans with no interest in politics. But I knew instinctively that Oribasius would alarm Ecebolius. Oribasius had been at court and he moved in high circles. He was also rich and worldly and precisely the sort of friend a sequestered prince should not have.

I decided to keep Oribasius my secret for the time being. This proved to be wise.

Published in: on December 24, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments Off on Julian, 23  
%d bloggers like this: