Julian, 54

The Temple of Demeter by Joseph Gandy (1818). It gives us an idea
of the site at Eleusis that the Christians would destroy after Julian.

 
The Hierophant entered the reading room. He is a short plump man, not in the least impressive to look at. He saluted me gravely. His voice is powerful and he speaks old Greek exactly the way it was spoken two thousand years ago, for in the long descent of his family the same words have been repeated in exactly the same way from generation to generation. It is awesome to think that Homer heard what we still hear.

“I have been busy. I am sorry. But this is the sacred month. The mysteries begin in a week.” So he began, prosaically.

I told him that I wished to be initiated into all the mysteries: the lesser, the greater, and the highest. I realized that this would be difficult to arrange on such short notice, but I had not much time.

“It can be done, of course. But you will need to study hard. Have you a good memory?”

I said that I still retained most of Homer. He reminded me that the mysteries last for nine days and that there are many passwords, hymns and prayers which must be learned before the highest mystery can be revealed. “You must not falter.” The Hierophant was stern. I said that I thought I could learn what I needed to know in a week, for I do indeed have a good memory; at least it is good when properly inspired.

I was candid. I told him that if I lived, it was my hope to support Hellenism in its war with the Galileans.

He was abrupt. “It is too late,” he said, echoing Prohaeresius. “Nothing you can do will change what is about to happen.”

I had not expected such a response. “Do you know the future?”

“I am Hierophant,” he said simply. “The last Hierophant of Greece. I know many things, all tragic.”

I refused to accept this. “But how can you be the last? Why, for centuries…”

“Prince, these things are written at the beginning. No one may tamper with fate. When I die, I shall be succeeded not by a member of our family but by a priest from another sect. He will be in name, but not in fact, the final Hierophant. Then the temple at 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.”

“For ever?”

“Who can say? The goddess has shown me no more than what I have told you. With me, the true line ends. With the next Hierophant, the mysteries themselves will end.”

“I cannot believe it!”

“That alters nothing.”

“But if I were to become Emperor…”

“It would make no difference.”

“Then obviously, I shall not become Emperor.”

I smiled at this subtlety, for we had got around the law forbidding prophecy.

“Whether you are Emperor or not, Eleusis will be in ruins before the century is done.”

I looked at him closely. We were sitting on a long bench beneath a high latticed window. Lozenges of light superimposed their own designs upon the tiled floor at our feet. Despite his terrible conviction, this small fat man with his protuberant eyes and fat hands was perfectly composed. I have never known such self-containment, even in Constantius.

“I refuse to believe,” I said at last, “that there is nothing we can do.”

He shrugged. “We shall go on as long as we can, as we always have.” He looked at me solemnly. “You must remember that because the mysteries come to an end makes them no less true. Those who were initiated will at least be fortunate in the underworld. Of course one pities those who come after us. But what is to be must be.”

He rose with dignity, his small plump body held tightly erect, as though by will he might stiffen the soft flesh. “I shall instruct you myself. We shall need several hours a day. Come to my house tonight.” With a small bow he withdrew.

Published in: on February 10, 2019 at 12:01 am  Comments Off on Julian, 54  
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