Julian, 49

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

 
Julian Augustus

Even today, Prohaeresius is a man I greatly admire. I say “even today” because he is a Galilean and has opposed my edict forbidding Galileans to teach the classics. Though I went out of my way to exempt him from this ban, he has gone into retirement. When I met him, he had been for forty years the city’s most famous teacher of rhetoric. His house is a large one near the Ilissos River. At all hours it is—or was—crowded with students asking questions, answering questions.

At first I stood at the back of the crowded dim room and watched Prohaeresius as he sat comfortably in a large wooden chair. He was then eighty years of age: tall, vigorous, with a powerful chest, extraordinary black eyes, not unlike those of his niece Macrina. His hair was white and thick and curled richly upon his brow, like seafoam on a beach. He was in every way a handsome man, with a voice to match. In fact, he was such a master of eloquence that when my cousin Constans sent him on a mission to Rome, the Romans not only admitted that he was the most eloquent speaker they had ever heard, they set up a bronze statue to him in the forum with the inscription: “From Rome, the Queen of Cities, to Prohaeresius, the King of Eloquence.” I mention this to emphasize his gifts, for the people of the city of Rome are the most jaded and bored in the world. Or so everyone tells me. I have yet to see my capital city.

Prohaeresius was consoling a student who complained of poverty. “I make no case for poverty. But it is at least bearable in youth. Salt to the day. When I first came from Armenia to Athens, I lived with a friend in an attic, just off the Street of the Slaughter-houses. Between us we had one cloak and one blanket. In winter we broke the day in watches. When he went out, wearing the cloak, I would huddle under the blanket. When he came back, I would take the cloak while he kept warm in bed. You have no idea how good this is for one’s style. I would prepare speeches of such eloquence that I brought tears to my own eyes as I declaimed them into that old blanket, teeth chattering from the cold.” There was an amused murmur. I had the sense that this was a favourite story, often told.

Then Gregory spoke to him in a low voice. Prohaeresius nodded and got to his feet. I was startled to see that he was nearer seven than six feet tall.

“We have a visitor,” he said to the others. All eyes were turned to me and I looked nervously to the floor. “A scholar of some renown.” Despite the irony of this, he said it amiably. “The cousin of a young friend of mine, now dead. Fellow scholars, the most noble Julian, heir to all the material world, as we are heirs to things spiritual, or try to be.”

There was a moment of confusion. The students were uncertain whether to behave towards me as a member of the imperial family or as a student. Many of those who were seated rose; some bowed; others simply stared curiously. Macrina whispered in my ear, “Go on, you dummy! Speak to him!”

I pulled myself together and made a speech, very brief and to the point, or so I thought. Macrina told me later that it was interminable and pretentious. Fortunately, now that I am Emperor all my speeches are considered graceful and to the point. How one’s style improves with greatness!

Prohaeresius then took me round among the students, introducing me to this one and that one. They were shy, even though I had carefully made the point that I intended to come and go at the University like any other student. Prohaeresius continued his discourse a little while longer. Then he dismissed the students and led me into the atrium of his house. The sun slanted now from the west. From upstairs I could hear the laughter and scuffling of the students who boarded there. Occasionally they would come out on the gallery to get a glimpse of me. But when they caught me looking at them, they pretended they had business in someone else’s room.

I would have given a good deal to have lived anonymously in one of those bare rooms.

Published in: on December 2, 2018 at 8:35 am  Comments Off on Julian, 49  
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Darkening Age, 18

Editor’s Note: The recent Occidental Observer article ‘Words Like Violence: The Left’s Total War on Freedom of Speech’ which reproduces a segment of the book of Richard Houck, is good for the normie to wake up to the fact that we are living in the darkest hour of the West. In the comments section of that article, one visitor opined that what Houck wrote is Alt Lite, as the author ‘sounds like he refrains from naming the actual (((enemy)))’.

It is true that without mentioning the subversive Jew the pilgrim from Normieland to National Socialism has not stepped on the stone of Jew-wise white nationalism. But after stepping on white nationalism in his attempts to cross the psychological Rubicon, he still needs to understand why the Jews seized the Western narrative. For this we have to step on the next and last stone before reaching the other side: the Christian question. For example, the above-mentioned text of Houck contains this passage:

It’s incredibly telling that in America, you can freely criticize American foreign policy. Yet if you criticize the foreign policy of Israel, a country on the other side of the planet, groups with hundred-million-dollar budgets immediately lobby Congress to silence you. And our politicians, in an incredible show of cowardice and greed, capitulate. The US State Department even has an entire department called The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Our tax dollars are going to provide programs ensuring that certain foreign peoples are not having their feelings hurt… The absurdity of the situation is incredible. Imagine if there were a massive pro-Russia lobby that made it illegal to disagree with or criticize Russian foreign policy.

So true. But that those who read The Occidental Observer are in the middle of the river is clear. In the Northern American states, the red carpet was rolled out for the Jews in line with the dominant liberal ideology. This was because the type of Christianity that conquered North America has been pathologically philo-Semitic since its beginnings.

But why were the Jews praised by George Washington, who said that the US ‘gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance’? The United States did not originate ethno-suicidal philo-Semitism in the West. Everything began a thousand seven hundred years ago with a history that has been as concealed as the holocaust perpetrated by the Allies during and after the Second World War. I have tried to recreate that time by reproducing passages from the novel by Gore Vidal, Julian, where the correspondence between Priscus and Libanius immerse the reader into the fascinating world of the 4th century of the Common Era.

Libanius, a central character in Vidal’s novel, existed in real life. On chapter 8 of The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, Catherine Nixey wrote:

 

______ 卐 ______

 

At the end of the fourth century, the orator Libanius looked out and described in despair what he observed. He and other worshippers of the old gods saw, he said, their temples ‘in ruins, their ritual banned, their altars overturned, their sacrifices suppressed, their priests sent packing and their property divided up between a crew of rascals’.

They are powerful words; and it is a powerful image. Yet in the Christian histories, men like Libanius barely exist. The voices of the worshippers of the old gods are rarely, if ever, recorded. But they were there. Some voices, such as his, have come down to us…

For a Christian, reasoning was not shrouded in ambiguity: it was explicitly laid out in the Bible. And the Bible, on this point, was clear. As those thundering words of Deuteronomy had it, toleration of other religions and their altars was not what was required. Instead, the faithful were required to raze them to the ground… To a Christian there were not different but equally valid views. There were angels and there were demons. As the academic Ramsay MacMullen has put it, ‘there could be no compromise with the Devil’. And, as Christians made clear in a thousand hectoring sermons and a hundred fierce laws, objects associated with other religions belonged to the Dark Lord.

Then, some twenty years later, in AD 408, came one of the fiercest pronouncements yet. ‘If any images stand even now in the temples and shrines,’ this new law said, ‘they shall be torn from their foundations… The buildings themselves of the temples which are situated in cities or towns or outside the towns shall be vindicated to public use. Altars shall be destroyed in all places.’

Julian, 48

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

 
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.

Julian was more wary of Gregory than I’d thought. But this could be hindsight. When Julian was writing his memoir, he asked me what I thought of Gregory and I assured him that if ever he had an enemy it was that jackal. Julian disagreed. But what I said apparently had some effect. As I have told you before, I want nothing to do with the publication of this memoir. Even so, if it is published, I shall delight in the effect it will have on the new bishop of Constantinople. He will not enjoy public reminder of his pseudo-Cynic youth.

It is also amusing to compare Gregory’s actual behaviour in Athens with his own account of those days which he has given us in the Invective he wrote shortly after Julian died. I have this work in front of me as I write. At almost no point is it honest. For instance, Gregory describes Julian’s appearance in this way: “His neck was unsteady, his shoulders always in motion, shrugging up and down like a pair of scales, his eyes rolling and glancing from side to side with an almost insane expression, his feet unsteady and stumbling, his nostrils breathing insolence and disdain, the expression of his face ridiculous, his bursts of laughter unrestrained and coming in noisy gusts, his nods of assent and dissent quite inappropriate, his speech stopping short and interrupted by his taking a breath, his questions without sense or order, his answers not a whit better than his questions…” This is not even good caricature. Of course Julian did talk too much; he was enormously eager to learn and to teach; he could often be silly. But he was hardly the spastic creature Gregory describes.

The malice of a true Christian attempting to destroy an opponent is something unique in the world. No other religion ever 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 worshipped the Bull did not try to murder those who worshipped the Snake, or to convert them by force from Snake to Bull. No evil ever entered the world quite so vividly or on such a vast scale as Christianity did. I don’t need to tell you that my remarks are for your eyes alone and not for publication. I put them down now in this uncharacteristic way because I find myself more moved than I thought I would be as I recall that season in Athens, not only through the eyes of my own memory but through those of Julian.

Gregory also maintains that he knew even then that Julian was a Hellenist, secretly conspiring against Christianity. This is not true. Gregory might have guessed the first (though I doubt it); he certainly could not have known that Julian was conspiring against the state religion, since at that time Julian was hardly conspiring against anything. He was under constant surveillance. He wanted only to survive. Yet Gregory writes, “I used these very words about him: ‘What an evil the Roman State is nourishing,’ though I prefaced them by a wish that I might wove a false prophet.” If Gregory had said this to anyone, it would have been the talk of Athens. It would also have been treason, since Julian was the heir of Constantius. If Gregory ever made such a prophecy, it must have been whispered in Basil’s ear when they were in bed together.

I find Julian’s reference to Macrina amusing and disingenuous. In the proper place I shall tell you the true story, which you may or may not use, as you see fit. Julian’s version is true only up to a point. I suppose he wanted to protect her reputation, not to mention his own. I see Macrina occasionally. She was always plain. She is now hideous. But so am I. So is all the world, old. But in her day Macrina was the most interesting girl in Athens.

Published in: on November 25, 2018 at 10:56 am  Comments (8)  
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Julian, 47

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

 
“Who is this?” Standing over us was a slender girl, with black intelligent eyes and a mouth that was as quick to sneer as to smile. Gregory introduced us; he said that I was from Cappadocia. She was Macrina, a niece of Prohaeresius.

“I like your beard,” she said, sitting down without invitation. “It comes to a point. Most men’s beards are like Gregory’s, every which way. Yours suggests a plan. Will you study with my uncle?”

I said that I would. I was charmed by her. She wore her own version of a student’s cloak, in faded blue linen. Her bare arms were firm and darkened by the sun; strong fingers tore idly at the scraps of stale bread on the table; on the bench our thighs touched.

“You’ll like my uncle. He’s much the best teacher in this chattering place. But you’ll hate Athens. I do! The splitting of hairs. The talk, talk, talk, and everyone trying to make a point, to pretend that all this talk means something.”

“You are now listening to what is known as ‘Macrina’s Lament’,” said Gregory.

“But it’s true just the same.” She pointed to him like an actress in tragedy. “They are the worst: Gregory and Basil, the Twins of argument…”

Gregory brightened. “You should have heard Basil’s argument yesterday when we were challenged on the virgin birth.” Gregory turned to me. “As I told you, there are many atheists in Athens. And some of them have the devil’s own cleverness. One in particular we despise…”

“One? You despise everybody, Gregory!” Macrina sipped wine from my cup, without invitation. “If ever there were a pair of bishops, it’s these two. You’re not a bishop, are you?” she challenged me agreeably.

I shook my head.

“Not even close,” said Gregory, and I detected something sly in his voice.

“But a Christian?” asked Macrina.

“He must be,” said Gregory smoothly. “He has to be.”

Has to be? Why? It’s not illegal to be a Hellenist, is it? At least not yet.”

I loved her deeply then. We were the same. I looked at her with sudden fondness as the fine if rather grubby fingers lifted and drained my cup.

“I mean he cannot be because…” I frowned at Gregory; he was not to tell her who I was. But he was on a different tack. “… because he is a brilliant student and anyone who truly loves learning loves God, loves Christ, loves the trinity.”

“Well, I don’t.” She set the cup down hard. “I wonder if he does.”

But I evaded. What had been Basil’s defence of the virgin birth?

“He was challenged on the University steps, yesterday, shortly before noon.” Gregory spoke precisely as though he were a historian giving the details of a battle all the world would want to know about. “A Cynic, a true Cynic,” he added for my benefit, “stopped Basil and said, ‘You Christians claim that Christ was born of a virgin.’ Basil said that we do not merely claim it, we proclaim it, for it is true. Our Lord was born without an earthly father. The Cynic then said that this was entirely against nature, that it was not possible for any creature to be born except through the union of male and female. Then Basil said— there was quite a large crowd gathered by now—Basil said, ‘Vultures bring forth without coupling.’ Well, you should have heard the applause and laughter! The Cynic went away and Basil was a hero, even among those students who have no faith.”

“At least they knew Aristotle,” I said mildly. But Macrina was not impressed. “Just because vultures don’t mate…”

“The female vulture is impregnated by the wind.” Gregory is one of those people who must always embellish the other person’s observation. Unfortunately, he is drawn to the obvious. He tells what everyone already knows. But Macrina was relentless.

“Even if vultures don’t mate…”

Even? But they don’t mate. That is a fact.”

“Has anyone ever seen a vulture made fertile by the wind?” Macrina was mischievous.

“I suppose someone must have.” Gregory’s round eyes became even rounder with irritation.

“But how could you tell? The wind is invisible. So how would you know which particular wind—if any—made the bird conceive?”

“She is perverse.” Gregory turned to me, much annoyed. “Besides, if it were not true, Aristotle would not have said it was true and we would not all agree today that it is indeed the truth.”

“I’m not sure of the logic of that,” began Macrina thoughtfully.

“She’ll be condemned for atheism one of these days.” Gregory tried to sound playful; he failed.

Macrina laughed at him, a pleasant, low, unmalicious laugh. “All right. A vulture’s eggs are laid by a virgin bird. Accepted. What has that to do with Christ’s birth? Mary was not a vulture. She was a woman. Women conceive in only one way. I can’t see that Basil’s answer to the Cynic was so crushing. What is true of the vulture is not necessarily true of Mary.”

“Basil’s answer,” said Gregory tightly, “was to the argument used by the Cynic when he said that all things are conceived by male and female. Well, if one thing is not conceived in this fashion—and that was Basil’s argument—then another might not be and…”

“But ‘might not’ is not an argument. I might suddenly grow wings and fly to Rome (I wish I could!) but I can’t, I don’t.”

“There are no cases of human beings having wings, but there is…”

“Icarus and Daedalus,” began the valiant Macrina, but we were saved by Basil’s arrival. Gregory’s face was dark with anger, and the girl was beside herself with amusement.

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 a soft voice,” ‘May that cup pass from me,'” a quotation from the Nazarene. But unlike the carpenter, Basil was sincere. Today he leads precisely the life that I should like for myself: withdrawn, ascetic, given to books and to prayer. He is a true contemplative and I admire him very much, despite his religion.

Macrina, having heard him call me Julian, suddenly said, “Isn’t the Emperor’s cousin, the one called Julian, supposed to come to Athens?”

Basil looked with surprise at Gregory, who motioned for him to be still. “Do you know the prince?” Macrina turned to me.

I nodded. “I know him. But not well.” Solon’s famous truth. Macrina nodded. “But of course you would. You were all at Pergamon together. The Twins often discuss him.”

I was embarrassed but amused. I have never been an eavesdropper, even in childhood. Not from any sense of virtue but because I really do not want to know what people think of me or, to be precise, what they say of me—often a different matter. I can usually imagine the unpleasant judgments, for we are what others need us to be. That is why our reputations change so often and so drastically, reflecting no particular change in us, merely a change in the mood of those who observe us. When things go well, an emperor is loved; badly, hated. I never need to look in a mirror. I see myself all too clearly in the eyes of those about me.

I was embarrassed not so much for what Macrina might say about me but for what she might reveal about Gregory and Basil. I would not have been surprised if they had a low opinion of me. Intelligent youths of low birth tend to resent the intellectual pretensions of princes. In their place, I would.

Gregory looked downright alarmed. Basil’s face was inscrutable. I tried to change the subject. I asked at what time her uncle would be receiving but she ignored the question. “It’s their chief distinction, knowing Julian. They discuss him by the hour. They speculate on his chances of becoming emperor. Gregory thinks he will be emperor. Basil thinks Constantius will kill him.”

Though Basil knew where the conversation was tending, he was fearless. “Macrina, how can you be so certain this is not one of the Emperor’s secret agents?”

“Because you know him.”

“We know criminals, too. Idolaters. Agents of the devil.”

“Whoever saw a secret agent with that sort of beard? Besides, why should I care? I’m not plotting against the Emperor.” She turned to me, black eyes glowing. “If you are a secret agent, you’ll remember that, won’t you? I worship the Emperor. My sun rises and sets in his divinity. Every time I see that beautiful face in marble, I want to weep, to cry out: Perfection, thou art Constantius!”

Gregory positively hissed, not at all sure how I would take this mockery. I was amused but uncomfortable. I confess it occurred to me that perhaps Gregory or Basil or even Macrina might indeed be a member of the secret police. If so, Macrina had already said quite enough to have us all executed. That would be the saddest fate of all: to die as the result of a joke!

“Don’t be an old woman, Gregory!” Macrina turned to me. “These two dislike Julian. I can’t think why. Jealousy, I suppose. Especially Gregory. He’s very petty. Aren’t you?” Gregory was now grey with terror. “They feel Julian is a dilettante and not serious. They say his love of learning is just affectation. Basil feels that his true calling is that of a general—if he lives, of course. But Gregory thinks he’s far too scatterbrained even for that. Yet Gregory longs for Julian to be emperor. He wants to be friend to an emperor. You’re both terribly worldly, deep down, aren’t you?”

Gregory was speechless. Basil was alarmed but he showed courage. “I would deny only the part about ‘worldly’. I want nothing in the world. In fact, next month I enter a monastery at Caesarea where I shall be as far from the world as I can be, this side of death.”

Gregory rallied. “You do have a bitter tongue, Macrina.” He turned to me, attempting lightness. “She invents everything. She loves to mock us. She is a pagan, of course. A true Athenian.” He could hardly contain his loathing of the girl or his fear of me.

Macrina laughed at him. “Anyway, I’m curious to meet the prince.” She turned to me. “Where will you live? With my uncle?”

I said no, that I would stay with friends. She nodded. “My uncle keeps a good house and never cheats. My father takes some of the overflow and though he’s honest he hates all students deeply, hopelessly.”

I laughed. The Twins laughed too, somewhat hollowly. Basil then proposed that we go to the house of Prohaeresius. I settled our account with the owner of the tavern. We went outside. In the hot dust of the street, Macrina whispered in my ear, “I have known all along that you were the prince.”

Published in: on November 18, 2018 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 46

Editor’s note: I am relocating the below post, already published last Sunday, to this Sunday to make a point.

Gregory of Nazianzus was a ‘saint’ that has been mentioned several times in this site, especially in Karlheinz Deschner’s historical series. But scholarly writing lacks the vitality of a literary recreation of an epoch. That is why historical novels are important as a literary genre.

The next step would be to recreate the epoch in movies and TV series (something that we would have today hadn’t the American and the British betrayed their own race in the Second World War). Gregory’s father ‘was part Jew and part Greek’ wrote Vidal, and he added about this Gregory:

He tapped the painting. A flake of paint zigzagged to the ground. “One day the whole thing will disappear and then who will know what Marathon was like, when this picture’s gone?”

Had the Third Reich been allowed to thrive, you can imagine the power that film scenes describing the Semitic takeover of our civilisation in the 4th century would have been causing in a Jew-wise, Aryan audience.

In his novel Julian, Vidal wrote:

 
As I stood there looking up at the tarry shields, a youth approached me. He was bearded; his clothes were dirty; he wore a student’s cloak and he looked a typical New Cynic of the sort I deplore. I have recently written at considerable length about these vagabonds. In the last few years the philosophy of Crates and Zeno has been taken over by idlers who, though they have no interest in philosophy, deliberately imitate the Cynics in such externals as not cutting their hair or beards, carrying sticks and wallets, and begging. But where the original Cynics despised wealth, sought virtue, questioned all things in order to find what was true, these imitators mock all things, including the true, using the mask of philosophy to disguise licence and irresponsibility. Nowadays, any young man who does not choose to study or to work grows a beard, insults the gods, and calls himself Cynic. No wonder philosophy has earned the contempt of so many in this unhappy age.

Without ceremony, the New Cynic pointed at the wall. “That is Aeschylus,” he said. I looked politely at the painting of a bearded soldier, no different from the others except for the famous name written above his head. The playwright is shown engaged in combat with a Persian. But though he is fighting for his life, his sombre face is turned towards us, as though to say: I know that I am immortal!

“The painter was self-conscious,” I said neutrally, fully expecting to be asked for money and ready not to give it.

The Cynic grinned at me. Apparently he chose to regard neutrality as friendship. He tapped the painting. A flake of paint zigzagged to the ground. “One day the whole thing will disappear and then who will know what Marathon was like, when this picture’s gone?” As he spoke, something stirred in my memory. I recognized the voice. Yet the face was completely strange to me. Confident now that we were friends, he turned from the painting to me. Had I just arrived in Athens? Yes. Was I a student? Yes. Was I a Cynic? No. Well, there was no cause to be so emphatic (smiling). He himself dressed as a Cynic only because he was poor. By the time this startling news had been revealed to me, we had climbed the steps to the temple of Hephaestos. Here the view of the agora is wide and elegant. In the clear noon light one could see beyond the city to the dark small windows of those houses which cluster at the foot of Hymettos.

“Beautiful,” said my companion, making even that simple word sound ambiguous. “Though beauty…”

“Is absolute,” I said firmly. Then to forestall Cynic chatter, I turned abruptly into the desolate garden of the temple. The place was overrun with weeds, while the temple itself was shabby and sad. But at least the Galileans have not turned it into a charnel house. Far better that a temple fall in ruins than be so desecrated. Better of course that it be restored.

My companion asked if I was hungry. I said no, which he took as yes (he tended not to listen to answers). He suggested we visit a tavern in the quarter just back of the temple. It was, he assured me, a place much frequented by students of the “better” sort. He was sure that I would enjoy it. Amused by his effrontery (and still intrigued by that voice which haunted me), I accompanied him through the narrow hot streets of the near by quarter of the smiths, whose shops glowed blue as they hammered out metal in a blaring racket: metal struck metal in a swarm of sparks, like comets’ tails.

The tavern was a low building with a sagging roof from which too many tiles had been removed by time and weather. I bent low to enter the main door. I was also forced to stoop inside, for the ceiling was too low for me and the beams were haphazard, even dangerous in the dim light. My companion had no difficulty standing straight. I winced at the heavy odour of rancid oil burning in pots on the stove.

Two trestle tables with benches filled the room. A dozen youths sat together close to the back door, which opened on to a dismal courtyard containing a dead olive tree which looked as though it had been sketched in silver on the whitewashed wall behind it.

My companion knew most of the other students. All were New Cynics, bearded, loud, disdainful, unread. They greeted us with cheerful obscenities. I felt uncomfortable but was determined to go through with my adventure. After all, this was what I had dreamed of. To be just one among many, even among New Cynics. The moment was unique, or so I thought. When asked who I was, they were told “Not a Cynic.” They laughed good-humouredly. But then when they heard I was new to Athens, each made an effort to get me to attend lectures with his teacher. My companion rescued me. “He is already taken. He studies with Prohaeresius.” I was surprised, for I had said nothing to my guide about Prohaeresius, and yet Prohaeresius was indeed the teacher of my choice. How did he know?

“I know all about you,” he said mysteriously. “I read minds, tell fortunes.” He was interrupted by one of the youths, who suggested that I shave my beard since otherwise I might be mistaken for a New Cynic and give them a bad name by my good behaviour. This was considered witty in that room. Others debated whether or not I should be carried off to the baths to be scrubbed, the traditional hazing for new students, and one which I had every intention of avoiding. If necessary, I would invoke lèse majesté!

But my guardian shoved the students away and sat me down at the opposite table close to the courtyard door, for which I was grateful. I am not particularly sensitive to odours, but on a blazing hot day the odour of unwashed students combined with thick smoke from old burning oil was almost too much for me. The tavern-keeper, making sure I had money (apparently my companion was deep in his debt), brought us cheese, bitter olives, old bread, sour wine. To my surprise, I was hungry. I ate quickly, without tasting. Suddenly I paused, aware that I was being stared at. I looked across the table at my companion. Yes?

“You have forgotten me, haven’t you, Julian?”

Then I identified the familiar voice. I recognized Gregory of Nazianzus. We had been together at Pergamon. I burst out laughing and shook his hand. “How did such a dedicated Christian become a New Cynic?”

“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 Galilian 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 south-west of 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. According to Gregory, when his father was splashed with water by the bishop of Nazianzus, a great nimbus shone all round the convert. The bishop was so moved that he declared, “Here is my successor!” A most generous-minded man, that bishop! Most of us prefer not to name our successor. In due course, Gregory’s father became bishop of Nazianzus. So his predecessor had the gift of prophecy, if nothing else.

All in a rush Gregory was telling me of himself. “… a terrible trip, by sea. Just before we got to Aegina, the storm struck us. I was sure the ship would sink. I was terrified. I’d never been (I still am not) baptized. So if I died like that at sea… Well, you must know yourself what I went through.” He looked at me sharply. “Are you baptized?”

I said that I had been baptized as a child. I looked as reverent as possible when I said this.

“I prayed and prayed. Finally I fell asleep, exhausted. We all did. I dreamed that something loathsome, some sort of Fury, had come to take me to hell. Meanwhile, one of the cabin boys, a boy from Nazianzus, was dreaming that he saw—now this is really a miracle—Mother walking upon the water.”

“His mother or your mother or the mother of Jesus?” I am afraid that I asked this out of mischief. I couldn’t help myself.

But Gregory took the question straight. “My mother,” he said. “The boy knew her, and there she was walking across that raging sea. Then she took the ship by its prow and drew it after her to a safe harbour. Which is exactly what happened. That very night the storm stopped. A Phoenician ship found us and towed us into the harbour of Rhodes.” He sat back in triumph. “What do you think of that?”

“Your mother is a remarkable woman,” I said accurately. Gregory agreed and talked at enthusiastic length about that stern virago. Then he told me of his adventures in Athens, of his poverty (this was a hint which I took: I gave him a good deal of money during the course of my stay), of our friend Basil who was also in Athens and was, I suspect, the reason for Gregory’s attendance at the University. Wherever Basil went, Gregory followed. At Athens they were nicknamed “the Twins”.

“I am expecting Basil now. We’re both due at Prohaeresius’s house this afternoon. We’ll take you. You know we live together here. We study together. We argue almost as a team against the local Sophists. And we usually win.”

This was true. Both he and Basil were—are—eloquent. I deplore of course the uses to which their eloquence is put. Today they are most active as Galilean apologists, and I often wonder what they think of their old companion who governs the state. Nothing good, I fear. When I became emperor I asked them both to visit me at Constantinople. Gregory agreed to come, but never did. Basil refused. Of the two, I prefer Basil. He is plain, like me. He is misguided in his beliefs but honest. I suspect Gregory of self-seeking.

Julian, 45

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

 
Just inside the wall of the city, I left my driver. Then like one who has gone to sleep over a book of history, I stepped into the past. I stood now on that ancient highway—known simply as The Road—which leads from gate to agora to acropolis beyond. I was now in history. In the present I was part of the past and, simultaneously, part of what is to come. Time opened his arms to me and in his serene embrace I saw the matter whole: a circle without beginning or end.

To the left of the gate was a fountain in which I washed the dust from my face and beard. Then I proceeded along The Road to the agora. I am told that Rome is infinitely more impressive than Athens. I don’t know. I have never visited Rome. But I do know that Athens looks the way a city ought to look but seldom does. It is even better planned than Pergamon, at least at its centre. Porticoes gleam in the bright sun. The intense blue sky sets off the red tile roofs and makes the faded paint of columns seem to glow.

The Athenian agora is a large rectangular area enclosed by long porticoes of great antiquity. The one on the right is dedicated to Zeus; the one on the left is of more recent date, the gift of a young king of Pergamon who studied here. In the centre of the agora is the tall building of the University, first built by Agrippa in the time of Augustus. The original building—used as a music hall—collapsed mysteriously in the last century. I find the architecture pretentious, even in its present somewhat de-Romanized version. But pretentious or not, this building was my centre in Athens. For here the most distinguished philosophers lecture. Here I listened three times weekly to the great Prohaeresius, of whom more later.

Behind the University are two porticoes parallel to one another, the last being at the foot of the acropolis. To one’s right, on a hill above the agora, is a small temple to Hephaestos surrounded by gardens gone to seed. Below this hill are the administrative buildings of Athens, the Archives, the Round House where the fifty governors of Athens meet—this last is a peculiar-looking structure with a steep roof which the Athenians, who give everything and everyone a nickname, call “the umbrella”. There used to be many silver statues in the Round House but the Goths stole them in the last century.

Few people were abroad as the sun rose to noon. A faint breeze stirred the dust on the old pitted paving. Several important-looking men, togas draped ineptly about plump bodies, hurried towards the Bouletrion. They had the self-absorbed air of politicians everywhere. Yet these men were the political heirs of Pericles and Demosthenes. I tried to remember that as I watched them hurry about their business.

Then I stepped into the cool shade of the Painted Portico. For an instant my eyes were dazzled, the result of sudden dimness. Not for some time was I able to make out the famous painting of the Battle of Marathon which covers the entire long wall of the portico. But as my eyes grew used to the shade, I saw that the painting was indeed the marvel the world says it is. One can follow the battle’s course by walking the length of the portico. Above the painting hang the round shields of the Persians, captured that day. The shields have been covered with pitch to preserve them.

Looking at those relics of a battle fought eight hundred years before, I was much moved. Those young men and their slaves—yes, for the first time in history slaves fought beside their masters—together saved the world. More important, they fought of their own free will, unlike our soldiers, who are either conscripts or mercenaries. Even in times of peril, our people will not fight to protect their country. Money, not honour, is now the source of Roman power. When the money goes, the state will go. That is why Hellenism must be restored, to instil again in man that sense of his own worth which made civilization possible, and won the day at Marathon.

Published in: on October 28, 2018 at 12:01 am  Comments Off on Julian, 45  
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Julian, 44

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

 
The driver indicated a large ruin to the right. “Hadrian,” he said. “Hadrian Augustus.” Like all travellers, 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 travelling, his continuous building and, sad to say, his ridiculous passion for the boy Antinous. 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 Antinous.

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. 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.

From every corner of the earth derisive laughter sounded. Yet except for this one lapse, I find Hadrian a sympathetic figure. He was much gifted, particularly in music. He was an adept at mysteries. He used to spend many hours at night studying the stars, searching for omens and portents, as do I. He also wore a beard. I like him best for that. That sounds petty, doesn’t it? I surprise myself as I say it. But then liking and disliking, approval and disapproval depend on many trivial things.

I dislike Hadrian’s passion for Antinous because I cannot bear for a philosopher-emperor to be mocked by his subjects. But I like his beard. We are all so simple at heart that we become unfathomable to one another.

Published in: on October 21, 2018 at 12:01 am  Comments Off on Julian, 44  
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Julian, 43

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

 
Athens. It has been eight years since I rode up to the city gate in a market cart, an anonymous student who gaped at the sights like any German come to town. My first glimpse of the acropolis was startling and splendid. It hovers over the city as though held in the hand of Zeus, who seems to say: “Look, children, at how your gods live!” Sunlight flashes off the metal shield of the colossal statue of Athena, guarding her city. Off to the left I recognized the steep pyramidal mountain of Lykabettos, a great pyramid of rock hurled to earth by Athena herself; to this day wolves dwell at its foot.

The driver turned abruptly into a new road. I nearly fell out of the cart. “Academy Road,” he announced in the perfunctory loud voice of one used to talking to foreigners. I was impressed. The road from Athens to the Academy’s grove is lined with ancient trees. It begins at the city’s Dipylon Gate—which was straight ahead of us—and crosses through suburbs to the green-leafed academy of Aristotle.

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 free 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 her hand. It was withdrawn with a cry. She leapt to the ground.

The other women jeered us. Their curses were vivid and splendid, Homeric! Then as we passed through the second gate they turned back, for a troop of cavalry had appeared at the outer gate. Like bees swarming in a garden, they surrounded the soldiers.

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 love-making 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 continence 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 years 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 on this hot Asiatic night, I recall with unease that brilliant time, and think of love-making. I notice that my secretary is blushing. Yet he is Greek!

Published in: on October 14, 2018 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on Julian, 43  
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Julian, 42

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

 

VII

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 of my life, so far.

It was a windy dawn. In the east, light tore at the dark. Stars faded. The sea was rough. It was like the morning of the world. The ship creaked and shuddered as it struck against the pilings of the quay. I had half expected to see a detachment of troops waiting on the shore, ready to arrest me on some new charge. But there were no troops in sight, only foreign merchant ships and the usual bustle of a busy port. Slaves unloaded cargoes. Officials of the port moved solemnly from ship to ship. Men with carts and donkeys shouted to those just arrived, promising to get them to Athens faster than that youth who ran from Marathon to the city in four hours (and fell dead, one would like to retort, but irony is lost on drivers, even Greek drivers who know their Homer).

Barefoot students in shabby clothes moved in packs from ship to ship, trying to sign up newcomers for lectures. Each student was a proselytizer for his own teacher. There was a good deal of rancour as each of these youths went about trying to convince would-be students (known as “foxes”) that there was but one teacher in Athens worth listening to: his own. Fights often broke out between the factions. Even as I watched, two students actually manhandled a stranger; each grabbed an arm, and while one insisted that he attend the lectures of a certain Sophist, the other shouted that the Sophist was a fool and that only the wisdom of his teacher, a Cynic, was worth a student’s time. Between them, they nearly tore the poor man in half. Nor would they let him go until he finally made it clear to them in broken Greek that he was an Egyptian cotton dealer and not at all interested in philosophy. Luckily, they did not get as far as my ship; so I was spared their attentions.

Usually when a member of the imperial family travels by sea, the dragon of our house flies at the mast. But since I was technically under “house arrest”, I was in no way identified to the people, which was just as well. I wanted to be free in Athens, to wander unnoticed wherever I chose. But unfortunately a dozen soldiers had been assigned to me as permanent bodyguard (they were, in effect, my jailers) and their commanding officer was responsible for my safety. I felt some obligation to him, though not much.

I made a bold decision. While the servants were busy with the luggage and the men who guarded me were all gathered on the forward deck of the ship in sleepy conference with the officials of the port, I scribbled a note to my head jailer, telling him that I would meet him at the end of the day at the prefect’s house. I left the note on one of our travelling chests. Then, student’s cloak securely wrapped about me, I swung over the side of the ship and dropped unobserved on to the wharf.

It took a moment to become accustomed to the steadiness of earth. I am not a bad sailor but the monotony of a long voyage and the continual slap and fall of a ship at sea tire me. I am of earth, not water; air, not fire. 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 marvellous). 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 metaphor; it is fact. The sky’s blue was painful. One felt one could see straight to the farthest edge of the world if the mountain Hymettus, low and violet in the early light, had not blocked the view. The heat with each instant became more intense, but it was the dry heat of the desert, made pleasant by a soft wind from the sea.

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 towards 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. Yet I do not find them as sly and effeminate as certain Latin writers affect to. I think that the Old Roman tendency to look down on the Greeks is no more than a natural resentment of Greece’s continuing superiority in those things which are important: philosophy and art.

All that is good in Rome today was Greek. I find Cicero disingenuous when on one page he acknowledges his debt to Plato and then on the next speaks with contempt of the Greek character. He seems unaware of his own contradictions… doubtless because they were a commonplace in his society. Of course the Romans pretend they are children of Troy, but that nonsense was never taken too seriously. From time to time I have had a word or two to say about Roman character, not much of it flattering (my little work on the Caesars, though written much too quickly, has some point, I think). But then one must recall that even as I dictate these lines as Roman Emperor, I am really Greek. And I have been to Athens, the eye of Greece.

Published in: on September 30, 2018 at 12:01 am  Comments (4)  
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Julian, 41

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

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. Then we stood face to face, beaming at one another; I with nerves, he with policy.

“I don’t need to tell you how pleased I am to see you at court. We all are. This is where you belong, close to your own kind.” My heart sank: was that to be my fate? a life at court where the eunuchs could keep an eye on me? A swift death was almost preferable. “Now I suggest that when you see the divine Augustus, you will beg him to allow you to stay always at his side. He needs you.”

I seized on the one fact. “The Emperor will see me?”

Eusebius nodded delightedly, as though he had been entirely responsible for my amazing good fortune. “Of course. Didn’t you know? He made the decision at this morning’s Consistory. We were all so pleased. Because we want you here. I have always said that there should be a place for you at the side of the Augustus. A high place.”

“You flatter me,” I murmured.

“I say only the truth. You are, after all, an ornament to the house of Constantine, and what better place has such a pure jewel to shine than in the diadem of the court?”

I swallowed this gravely and replied with equal insincerity, “I shall never forget what you have done for me and for my brother.”

Tears came to Eusebius’s eyes. His voice trembled. “It is my wish to serve you. That is all I ask for.” He leaned forward—with some effort—and kissed my hand. The rhetoric of hate is often most effective when couched in the idiom of love. On a note of mutual admiration, we parted.

I was next instructed by one of the eunuchs in the court’s etiquette, which was nearly as complicated as what one goes through during the Mithraic mysteries. There are a dozen set responses to an emperor’s set questions or commands. There are bows and genuflections; steps to left and steps to right; alternative gestures should I be asked to approach the throne or merely to remain where I was.

The eunuch loved his work. “Our ceremonies are among this world’s marvels! More inspiring, in some ways, than the mass.” I agreed to that. The eunuch spread a diagram for me on a table. “This is the great hall where you will be received.” He pointed. “Here sits the divine Constantius. And here you will enter.” Every move either of us was to make was planned in advance like a dance. When I had finally learned my lesson, the eunuch folded his map with an exalted expression on his face. “We have considerably improved and refined court ceremonial since the divine Diocletian. I am sure that he never dreamed his heirs would be capable of such exquisite style as well as such profound symbolism, for we are now able to beautifully reflect the nature of the universe in a single ceremony lasting scarcely three hours!”

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.

Shortly after sundown, the Master of the Offices and his many ushers escorted me to the throne room. The Master of the Offices gave me last-minute instructions on how to behave in the sacred presence. But I did not listen. I was too busy preparing the speech I intended to make to Constantius. It was a masterpiece of eloquence. After all, I had been preparing it for ten years. Face to face, I intended to make Constantius my friend.

The Master of the Offices ushered me into a huge basilica which was once Diocletian’s throne room. The Corinthian columns which line it are twice the usual height and the floor is of porphyry and green marble. The effect is most splendid, especially by artificial light. In the apse at the far end of the basilica stands the throne of Diocletian, an elaborate chair of ivory decorated with gold plaques. Needless to say, I remember everything about that room in which my fate was decided. Torches flared between the columns while on either side of the throne bronze lamps illuminated its occupant. Not counting my childhood encounter with Constantine, this was the first time I beheld an emperor in full state. I was not prepared for the theatricality of the scene.

Constantius sat very straight and still, his forearms resting on his knees in imitation of the Egyptian kings. He wore a heavy gold diadem set with huge square jewels. On one side of him stood Eusebius, on the other the praetorian prefect, while around the room the officials of the court were ranged.

I was officially presented to the Emperor. I paid him homage. Only once did I falter in the course of the ritual; when I did, the Master of the Offices was quick to whisper the correct formula in my ear.

If Constantius was curious about me, he did not betray it. His bronze face was empty of all expression as he spoke. “We receive our most noble cousin with pleasure.” But there was no pleasure in that high-pitched voice. I felt myself suddenly blushing. “We give him leave to go to Athens to continue his studies.” I glanced at Eusebius. Though his own grim advice had not prevailed, he gave me a small delighted nod as if to say, “We’ve won!”

“Also…” But then Constantius stopped talking. There is no other way to describe what happened. He simply stopped. There were no more words for me. I stared at him, wondering if I had gone mad. Even the Master of the Offices was taken aback. Everyone had expected a full speech from Constantius as well as a response from me. But the audience was over. Constantius put out his hand for me to kiss. I did so. Then with the aid of the Master of the Offices, I walked backward to the entrance, bowing at regular intervals. Just as I was about to leave the presence, two squeaking bats swooped suddenly out of the shadowy ceiling, and darted straight towards Constantius. He did not move, even though one almost touched his face. As always, his self-control was marvellous. I have never known a man quite so deep or so cold.

I returned to my apartment to find a message from the Grand Chamberlain’s office. I was to proceed at once to the port of Aquileia. My belongings had already been packed. My servants were ready. A military escort was standing by.

Within the hour, I was outside the walls of Milan. As I rode through the warm night, I prayed to Helios that I never see court or Emperor again.

Published in: on September 23, 2018 at 12:01 am  Comments (2)  
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