Julian, 8

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

I have but one clear memory of Bishop Eusebius. It was the afternoon he decided to drill me himself in the life of the Nazarene. For hours we sat in a side chapel of the cathedral at Nicomedia while he questioned me. I was bored. The Bishop had a talent for explaining only those things one already knew, leaving mysterious those things one would like to have known. He was a heavy, pale old man, slow of speech and much too easy to follow. Simply for diversion, I stared at the ceiling, which was vaulted and divided into four sections, each dedicated to one of the seasons. In the most brilliant mosaic, flowers and vines, birds and fishes were all intertwined.

I knew that ceiling by heart for Gallus and I prayed three times a day in this particular chapel, and during those tedious prayers I used to imagine that I had the power to rise straight up in the air and enter that world of peacocks and palm trees and grape arbours, a gleaming world of gold where there was no sound but that of running water and birds singing —certainly no sermons, no prayers! A few years ago when Nicomedia was shattered by earthquake, my first question concerned the cathedral: did it still stand? Yes, I was told, but the roof had fallen in. And so my childhood’s magic retreat is now rubble.

I must have been staring too obviously at the ceiling, for the Bishop suddenly asked me, “What is the most important of our Lord’s teachings?”

Without thinking, I said, “Thou shalt not kill.” I then rapidly quoted every relevant text from the new testament (much of which I knew by heart) and all that I could remember from the old. The Bishop had not expected this response. But he nodded appreciatively. “You have quoted well. But why do you think this commandment the most important?”

“Because had it been obeyed my father would be alive.” I startled myself with the quickness of my own retort.

The Bishop’s pale face was even ashier than usual. “Why do you say this?”

“Because it’s true. The Emperor killed my father. Everybody knows that. And I suppose he shall kill Gallus and me, too, when he gets around to it.” Boldness, once begun, is hard to check.

“The Emperor is a holy man,” said the Bishop severely. “All the world admires his piety, his war against heresy, his support of the true faith.”

This made me even more reckless. “Then if he is such a good Christian how could he kill so many members of his own family? After all, isn’t it written in Matthew and again in Luke that…”

“You little fool!” The Bishop was furious. “Who has been telling you these things? Mardonius?”

I had sense enough to protect my tutor. “No, Bishop. But people talk about everything in front of us. I suppose they think we don’t understand. Anyway it’s all true, isn’t it?”

The Bishop had regained his composure. His answer was slow and grim. “All that you need to know is that your cousin, the Emperor, is a devout and good man, and never forget that you are at his mercy.” The Bishop then made me recite for four hours, as punishment for impudence. But the lesson I learned was not the one intended. All that I understood was that Constantius was a devout Christian.

Yet he had killed his own flesh and blood. Therefore, if he could be both a good Christian and a murderer, then there was something wrong with his religion. Needless to say, I no longer blame Constantius’s faith for his misdeeds, any more than Hellenism should be held responsible for my shortcomings! Yet for a child this sort of harsh contradiction is disturbing, and not easily forgotten.

In the year 340 Eusebius was made bishop of Constantinople. As a result, Gallus and I divided our time between Nicomedia and the capital. Of the two, I preferred Constantinople.

Founded the year before I was born, Constantinople has no past; only a noisy present and a splendid future, if the auguries are to be believed. Constantine deliberately chose ancient Byzantium to be the capital of the Roman Empire, and then he created a new city in place of the old, and named the result—with characteristic modesty—after himself.

Like most children of the city I delight in its vitality and raw newness. The air is always full of dust and the smell of mortar. The streets are loud with hammering. This confusion should be unpleasant, but it is invigorating. From day to day the city changes. Nearly all the familiar sights of my youth have been replaced by new buildings, new streets, new vistas, and I find it a marvellous thing to be—if only in this—at the beginning of something great rather than at the end.

In good weather, Mardonius used to take Gallus and me on walks around the city. “Statue hunts” we called them, because Mardonius was passionately interested in works of art and he would drag us from one end of the city to the other to look for them. I think we must have seen all ten thousand of the bronze and marble statues Constantine had stolen from every part of the world to decorate his city. Though one cannot approve his thefts (particularly those from Hellenic temples), the result has been that in and around the various arcades along Middle Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, there are more important works of art than anywhere on earth, excepting Rome.

One of our expeditions took us to a Galilean charnel house, close by the Hippodrome. While Mardonius fussed with a map of the city, trying to get his bearings, Gallus and I threw bits of marble at a half-finished house across the street. There are always a satisfying number of things for a child to throw in the streets of Constantinople, chips of marble, splinters of wood, broken tile. The builders never clean up.

“Now here,” said Mardonius, peering closely at the map, “should be the famous Nemesis of Pheidias acquired some years ago by the divine Constantine, and thought to be the original, though there are those who maintain it is a copy, but a copy made in the same century, in Parian marble, hence not Roman, hence not corrupt.”

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’m 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 Bishop Arius—who was so much admired by your cousin the divine Emperor—taught us.”

“They poisoned Bishop 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 Bishop 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 your 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 reasonably 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 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 in the street when I saw two harmless old men set upon by monks.

Published in: on July 16, 2017 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 7

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

It is remarkable how many odd details come back to me as I write. For instance, the tribune’s smile, which I had forgotten for twenty years. I find myself suddenly wondering: what ever became of him? Where is he today? Do I know him? Is he one of my generals? Could it have been Victor? Jovian? Each is the right age. No, better to let the past go, to preserve it only here upon the page. Vengeance must end somewhere, and what better place to stop than at the prince?

I soon discovered what my father had meant during that cryptic conversation with the estate manager. We were to be sent to our cousin Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia. He was to be our guardian. The day after the arrest of our father, Mardonius hustled Gallus and me into a wagon with only our personal clothing. Except to change horses, we drove the fifty miles to Nicomedia without rest. Once we were stopped by mounted troops.

With quavering voice, Mardonius told them that we were under the personal protection of the Emperor Constantius. They let us pass. We drove all day and all night. That night! Gallus was suffering from the fever which nearly killed him. In his delirium, tortured by fever demons, he writhed on the pallet set for him on the wagon’s floor. Mardonius put linen soaked in vinegar on his face—acrid odour of vinegar-yes, vinegar still recalls that terrible night to me. At one point I touched his face and found it hot as a damp cloth left in the sun to dry. His golden hair was dark with sweat; his arms railed air; he shouted dream-words and wept.

Wide awake, I sat on the bench beside Mardonius as we jolted over country roads, the warm night as bright as day from a huge yellow moon that shone before us, like a beacon fire set for ships. I spoke not at all that night. And though I was only six years old, I kept saying to myself: you are going to die; and I wondered what it was like to be dead. I think I became a philosopher that night, for in my youth and ignorance I was more curious than frightened. I suspect that I was even a bit thrilled by this desperate journey across unfamiliar country, with a gold moon blazing and Gallus writhing at my feet, begging me to give him a stick to fight the demons with.

* * *

We survived, to our surprise. For five years Gallus and I lived with Bishop Eusebius at Nicomedia and, later, at Constantinople. Eusebius was a grave old man, and though he did not like children he treated us kindly. More to the point, he forbade Constantius to come near us and Constantius obeyed him, for Eusebius was a great power in the Galilean hierarchy. Two years after he became our guardian he was made bishop of Constantinople, where in effect he governed the Eastern church until his death.

Children get used to anything. For a time we missed our father; then we forgot him. Mardonius was always with us, maintaining a link with the old life, and of course my mother’s brother Count Julian often visited us. A charming bureaucrat with a taste for intrigue, he kept us informed of what was happening in the world. It was he who explained to us how Constantius was making himself sole master of the state. In the year 340 Constans and Constantine II disagreed.

They went to war. Constantine II was ambushed at Aquileia and executed. Constans became sole ruler in the West. Then a general named Magnentius declared himself Augustus and drove Constans from Autun to the Pyrenees, where he was murdered in the winter of 350. The West was in chaos. While Magnentius was desperately trying to hold together his stolen empire, a general on the Danube named Vetranio declared himself emperor.

To give Constantius his due, he had a genius for civil war. He knew when to strike and, more important, whom to strike. He always won. I have often thought that had he lived he might have destroyed me in the same way that he had dealt with all the others. Faced with two usurpers, Constantius took the field in 350. Vetranio collapsed immediately and, unique in our history, was spared. Magnentius of course was defeated in the battle of Mursa, 28 September 352. This was one of the crucial moments in our history. To this day our army has not recovered from the loss of fifty-four thousand of our best troops.

Needless to say, I knew none of these emperors and usurpers. In fact, I don’t recall ever meeting my cousins Constans and Constantine II. For that matter, I did not meet Constantius himself until I was sixteen years old; a meeting I shall presently describe in detail.

While princes schemed and fought, I was educated by Mardonius. He was a strict but inspiring teacher. I liked him. Gallus hated him, but then Gallus hated nearly everyone sooner or later. I recall once when I wanted to watch some chariot races, Mardonius said, “If you want games, read Homer. Nothing in life can equal what he wrote of games, or of anything else.” Maddening injunction to a child, but wise. As it turned out, I was a grown man before I attended either the theatre or the arena, and then only because I did not want to give offence to others. Yes, I was something of a prig, and still am!

Published in: on July 9, 2017 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 6



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 jewelled robe. My older brother Gallus always said that I tried to pull his wig off. But Gallus had a cruel humour, 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 Mardonius, I learned to walk modestly with my eyes to the ground, not strutting or measuring the effect I was creating on others. I was also taught self-discipline in all things; he particularly tried to keep me from talking too much. Fortunately, now that I am Emperor everyone delights in my conversation! Mardonius also convinced me that time spent at the games or in the theatre was time wasted. And, finally, it was from Mardonius, a Galilean who loved Hellenism too well, that I learned about Homer and Hesiod, Plato and Theophrastus. He was a good teacher, if severe. 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 it is to overthrow that civilization whose first note was struck upon blind Homer’s lyre. I am not Marcus Aurelius, in excellence or in experience. I must speak now in my own voice.

I never saw my mother. But I do recall my father. Julius Constantius was a tall imposing man. At least he seemed tall to me then. Actually, from his statues, I reckon him to have been somewhat shorter than I am now, and broader. He was most gentle with Gallus and me on those occasions when we saw him, which was not often for he was always travelling, attending to the various small tasks the Emperor set him. I should mention here that at one time my father was thought to have had a better right to the throne than his half-brother Constantine. But it was never his nature to protest. He was gentle; he was weak; he was destroyed.

On 22 May 337, Constantine died at Nicomedia, to his apparent surprise, since he had just taken the water cure at Helenopolis and all the omens suggested a long life. On his deathbed he sent for our cousin, Bishop Eusehius, to baptize him. Just before the Bishop arrived, Constantine is supposed to have said, rather nervously, “Let there be no mistake.” I’m afraid that sounds exactly like him. He was not one to leave, as Aristophanes so wittily puts it, a single stone unturned. Constantine was never a true Galilean; he merely used Christianity to extend his dominion over the world. He was a shrewd professional soldier, badly educated and not in the least interested in philosophy, though some perverse taste in him was hugely satisfied by doctrinal disputes; the mad haggling of bishops fascinated him.

According to Constantine’s will, the empire was to be divided between his three surviving sons, each of whom had already been raised to the rank of Caesar. (Every schoolchild knows this but will they always?) To the twenty-one-year-old Constantine II went the prefecture of Gaul. To Constantius, twenty, the East. To Constans, sixteen, Italy and Illyricum. Each was to assume automatically the title Augustus. Surprisingly enough, this division of the world was carried out peaceably. After the funeral (which I was too young to attend), Constantine II withdrew immediately to his capital at Vienne. Constans set out for Milan. Constantius took over the Sacred Palace at Constantinople.

Then the murders began. Constantius maintained that there was a plot against his life, instigated by the children of Theodora, who had been legitimate wife to his grandfather Constantius Chlorus, whose concubine Helena, Constantine’s mother, had been discarded when his father was raised to the purple. Yes, it all sounds a muddle to those who read of such matters, but to us, caught in the web, these relationships are as murderously plain as that of spider to fly.

Some say there was indeed such a plot, but I doubt it. I am certain that my father was in no way disloyal. He had not protested when his half-brother Constantine became emperor. Why should he protest the elevation of his son? In any case, during the course of that terrible summer, a dozen descendants of Theodora were secretly arrested and executed, among them my father.

The day of my father’s arrest Mardonius and I had been out walking in the gardens of the Sacred Palace. I don’t recall where Gallus was; probably sick in bed with fever. For some reason, when Mardonius and I returned to the house, we entered the front door instead of the back, our usual entrance.

It was a pleasant evening and, again contrary to custom, I went to my father where he sat in the atrium with his estate manager. I remember the white and scarlet roses that had been trained to grow in trellises between the columns. And—what else do I remember? The lion-footed chair. A round marble table. The dark-faced Spanish estate manager sitting on a stool to my father’s left, a sheaf of papers in his lap. As I dictate these words, I can suddenly remember everything. Yet until this moment—how strange—I had forgotten the roses and my father’s face, which was—which is—all clear to me again. What a curious thing memory is! He was ruddy-faced, with small grey eyes, and on his left cheek there was a shallow pale scar, like a crescent.

“This,” he said, turning to the manager, “is the best part of my estate. Guard him well.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I am sure that I was embarrassed. It was rare at any time for my father to speak to me. Not for lack of affection but because he was even more shy and diffident than I, and not at all certain how to behave with children.

Birds—yes, I can hear them again—chattered in the branches of the trees. My father continued to speak of me, and I listened to the birds and looked at the fountain, aware that something strange impended. He said that Nicomedia was “safe”, and I wondered what he meant by that. The estate manager agreed. They spoke of our cousin, Bishop Eusebius; he was also “safe”. I stared at the fountain: Greek of the last century, a sea nymph on a dolphin whose mouth poured water into a basin. Remembering this, I realize now why I had a similar fountain installed in my garden when I was at Paris. Can one remember everything if one tries this hard? (Note: Have copy of fountain made for Constantinople if original can’t be found.)

Then my father dismissed me with an awkward pat; no last word, no mark of undue affection; such is shyness. While I was having supper, the soldiers came. Mardonius was terrified. I was so astonished by his fright that at first I could hardly understand what was happening. When I heard the soldiers in the atrium, I jumped to my feet. “What’s that? Who’s that!” I asked.

“Sit down,” said Mardonius. “Don’t move. Don’t make a sound.” His smooth beardless eunuch face with its thousand lines like a piece of crumpled silk had gone the colour of a corpse. I broke away from him, in wonder at his fear. Clumsily, he tried to bar me from leaving the room, but now, more alarmed by his fear than by the noise of strange men in the house, I bolted past him to the empty atrium. In the vestibule beyond, a woman slave stood weeping. The front door was open.

The porter clung to the frame as if he had been nailed to it. Through the woman’s soft weeping, I heard the sound armed men make in a street: creaking leather, dull clank of metal upon metal, and the hollow thud of thick-soled boots on stone. The porter tried to stop me but I dodged past him into the street. Half a block away, I saw my father walking at the centre of a formation of soldiers, led by a young tribune. Shouting, I ran after him. The soldiers did not halt but my father half-turned as he walked. His face was paler than the ashes of a wood fire. In a terrible voice, stern as Zeus, a voice I had never heard him use before, he said, “Go back! Now!

I stopped dead in the centre of the street, several yards from him. The tribune stopped, too, and looked at me curiously. Then my father turned on him and said peremptorily, “Go on. This is no sight for a child.”

The tribune grinned. “We’ll be back for him soon enough.” Then the porter from our house seized me, and though I cried and fought, he carried me back into the house.

Several days later in one of the wine cellars of the Sacred Palace, my father was beheaded. No charges were made. There was no trial. I do not know where he was buried or if he was buried.

Published in: on July 2, 2017 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 5

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

Priscus to Libanius

Athens, June 380

I send you by my pupil Glaucon something less than half of the Emperor Julian’s memoir. It cost me exactly thirty solidi to have this much copied. On receipt of the remaining fifty solidi I shall send you the rest of the book. I can only assume that the copying you had done in Athens last summer was the work of an admirer who gave you a cut price as a sign of his esteem for your high contributions to philosophy and rhetoric.

I do not share your pessimism about the new Emperor. He is hardly what we would have picked had the choice been ours, but then the choice never has been ours. Julian’s accession was the work of Fortune, a deity notable for her absence in human affairs. We can hardly hope to have another Julian in our lifetime. And that is that.

I have studied the edict since I wrote you last, and though it is somewhat sterner in tone than Constantine’s, I suspect the only immediate victims will be those Christians who follow Arius. But I may be mistaken. I almost always am in political matters, a weakness no doubt of the philosophic temperament.

However, what does give me hope was last year’s appointment of the “poet” Ausonius as consul. Do you know him? I am sure you’ve read him. If not, you have a treat in store. I have lately become rather an expert on his career. He started life as the son of a well-to-do doctor in Bordeaux. His phenomenal luck began when the Emperor Valentinian made him tutor to his son Gratian. As Ausonius himself puts it, he “moulded the tiny mind of the infant prince”.

When the prince became emperor, he rewarded his old tutor by making him praetorian prefect of Gaul as well as consul for last year. I mention all this because Ausonius is inclined favourably to us, and he exerts a considerable influence not only on Gratian (who is far too busy hunting wild boar in Gaul to distress us unduly) but on Theodosius as well. He is obviously the man for you to cultivate.

Not long ago I sent round to the library to see what they had by Ausonius. The slave returned with a wheelbarrow full of books. Ausonius must be read to be believed! As poet, no subject is too trivial for him; as courtier, no flattery too excessive. He did write one passable nature poem on the Moselle, but I’m not keen on rivers. The rest of his work is quite marvellous in its tedium. Particularly those verses he wrote at Valentinian’s request. Among the subjects chosen by the Emperor were the source of the Danube (Ausonius did not locate it but he made a good try), Easter, and (best of all) four odes to the Emperor’s four favourite horses.

I had one of these equine odes copied out and Hippia reads it to me whenever I am depressed. It begins “Oh raven steed, whose fortune it is to spread the golden thighs and Mars-like firm convexities of divine Augustus…” I don’t know when I have enjoyed a poem so much.

I’ll enclose a copy. Anyway, I suggest you see Ausonius as soon as possible. And of course you will remember to express admiration for his work! In a good cause hypocrisy becomes virtue.

I never go to evening parties. The quarter I referred to in my letter was not the elegant street of Sardes but the quarter of the prostitutes near the agora. I don’t go to parties because I detest talking-women, especially our Athenian ladies who see themselves as heiresses to the age of Pericles. Their conversation is hopelessly pretentious and artificial. Their dinners are inedible, and for some reason they all tend to be rather squat with dark vestigial moustaches; no doubt Aphrodite’s revenge on the talking-woman.

I live very quietly at home with an occasional visit to the quarter. Hippia and I get along rather better than we used to. Much of her charm for me has been her lifelong dislike of literature. She talks about servants and food and relatives, and I find her restful. Also, I have in the house a Gothic girl, bought when she was eleven. She is now a beautiful woman, tall and well made, with eyes grey as Athena’s.

She never talks. Eventually I shall buy her a husband and free them both as a reward for her serene acceptance of my attentions, which delight her far less than they do me. But that is often the case with the feminine half of Plato’s ugliest beast. But then Plato disliked sexual intercourse between men and women. We tend of course to think of Plato as divine, but I am afraid he was rather like our old friend Iphicles, whose passion for youths has become so outrageous that he now lives day and night in the baths, where the boys call him the queen of philosophy.

I am sorry to hear that your health grows worse but that is to be expected at our age. The rash you refer to does sound like bad fish. I suggest a diet of bread and water, and not much of either. On receipt of the money, I will send you the balance of the memoir. It will disturb and sadden you. I shall be curious to see how you use this material. Hippia joins me in wishing for your good—or should I say better?—health.

You will note in the memoir that Julian invariably refers to the Christians as “Galileans” and to their churches as “charnel houses”, this last a dig at their somewhat necrophile passion for the relics of dead men. I think it might be a good idea to alter the text, and reconvert those charnel houses into churches and those Galileans into Christians. Never offend an enemy in a small way.

Here and there in the text, I have made marginal notes. I hope you won’t find them too irrelevant.

Published in: on June 25, 2017 at 12:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Julian, 4

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


Libanius to Priscus

Antioch, April 380

You cannot imagine the pleasure I experienced when your letter was brought to me this evening. So eager was I to hear your voice again, as it were, that I fear I ripped the fastenings and tore the long-awaited page itself. But rest assured, your precious letter will be mended with glue and cherished, since any utterance of your genius is an essential reflection of the Hellenic spirit to be passed on to those who come after.

Let me say right off how pleased I am to learn of your unflagging sexual vigour. It is always inspiring to the rest of us to learn that in certain rare human beings the usual cycle of sad decline does not obtain. You have been indeed favoured by the gods and in your obvious enjoyment of that favour will never sigh at eighty, as did Sophocles, “At last I am free of a cruel and insane master!”

Your master is obviously a good companion, made even more enjoyable by Hippia’s acquiescence. Not many wives of philosophers would allow their husbands freedom to consort with those deliciously civilised ladies of Athens whose evening parties used to delight me in my student days. Now of course my life is devoted to philosophy and affairs of state. I leave to younger men the charms of Aphrodite… to younger men and now, Priscus, to you, who have held at arm’s length the villain time! Fortunate man! Fortunate girls to be so loved!

Since I wrote you last, I have not been idle. Through the office of the praetorian prefect at Constantinople, I have proposed myself for an audience with the Emperor. Theodosius has met very few people of our set, coming as he does from Spain, a country not noted for culture. He also belongs to a military family and there is no evidence that he has ever studied philosophy.

Outside of politics, his principal interest is breeding sheep. But he is only thirty-three and his character, according to the best information available, is mild. Though we should not count on this. How often in the past have we been horrified by princes reputed to be good who, when raised to the throne of the world, have turned monstrous before our eyes! The late Valens for example, or Julian’s own brother, the Caesar Gallus, a charming youth who brought terror to the East. We must be on our guard, as always.

The question that now faces us is: how seriously will Theodosius enforce the edict? It is customary for emperors who listen to bishops to hurl insults at the very civilisation that created them. They are inconsistent, but then logic has never been a strong point of the Christian faith. The extraordinary paradox is the collusion of our princes with the bishops.

The emperors pride themselves on being first magistrates of the Roman imperium, through whose senate they exercise their power; and though in reality we have not been Roman for a century, nevertheless, the form persists, making it impossible, one would think, for any prince who calls himself Augustus to be Christian, certainly not as long as the Altar of Victory remains in the senate house at Rome.

But confusions of this sort are as inconsequential to the Christian mind as clouds to a day in summer, and as a teacher I no longer try to refute them; since most of my students are Christian, I suppose I ought to be grateful that they have chosen to come to me to be taught that very philosophy their faith subverts. It is comedy, Priscus! It is tragedy!

Meanwhile, we can only wait to see what happens. The Emperor grows stronger in health every day, and it is thought that later this spring he may take the field against the Goths, who as usual are threatening the marches of Macedonia. If he decides to go north, that means he will not return to Constantinople till late summer or autumn, in which case I will have to attend him at Thessalonica or, worse, in the field. If so, I am confident the journey will be my last. For my health, unlike yours, continues to deteriorate.

I have coughing fits which leave me weak and longing for the grave. I have also developed a curious rash on the backs of my hands and forearms which may be the result of eating a bad flounder last week (shades of Diogenes and the fatal raw octopus!), or it may be the outward sign of a corruption in the blood. How I wish Oribasius were in Antioch! He is the only physician I ever trusted, in which I follow Julian, who used to say, “The god Asklepios gave Oribasius secrets known only to heaven.”

Over the years I have made a number of notes for a biography of Julian. I have them before me now. All that remains is the final organisation of the material—and of course the memoir. Please send it to me as soon as the copy is ready. I shall work on it this summer, as I am no longer lecturing. I thought it wise to go into seclusion until we know which way the wind blows.

I don’t need to tell you that Antioch has ignored the edict. Never in my memory has Antioch obeyed the imperial authority except at sword’s point. I have often warned the local senate that emperors do not like disobedience, but our people feel that they are beyond law and reprisal. The folly of the clever is always greater than that of the dull. I tremble for Antioch, even though I am currently a beneficiary of its absence of reverence for the decrees of Caesar.

There have been no incidents so far. My Christian friends come to see me as usual (rather a large number of my old students are now bishops, a peculiar irony). Colleagues who are still lecturing tell me that their classes are much as usual. The next move is up to Theodosius, or, to be exact, up to the bishops. Luckily for us, they have been so busy for so long persecuting one another that we have been able to survive. But reading between the lines of the edict, I suspect a bloodbath.

Theodosius has outlawed with particular venom the party of the late Bishop Arius on the grounds that Galileans must now have a church with a single doctrine to be called universal… a catholic church, no less! To balance this, we must compose a true life of Julian. So let us together fashion one last wreath of Apollonian laurel to place upon the brow of philosophy, as a brave sign against the winter that threatens this stormy late season of the world. I want those who come after us to realize what hopes we had for life, and I want them to see how close our Julian came to arresting the disease of Galilee.

Such a work, properly done, would be like a seed planted in the autumn to await the sun’s awakening, and a new flowering.

Apparently, the cost of copying at Athens has gone up incredibly since I had some work done there last year. I find eighty gold solidi exorbitant for what you say is a fragment, or a book of moderate length. Only last summer I paid thirty solidi for a Plotinus which, in length, must be treble that of Julian’s memoir. I send now by a friend who embarks tomorrow for Athens thirty gold solidi and this letter. Again my best wishes to the admirable Hippia, and to you, my old friend and fellow soldier in the wars of philosophy.

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 3

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

Priscus to Libanius

Athens, March 380

Yes, the edict is well known here, but the general feeling at the University is that despite its severe tone we are not apt to be persecuted. The schools are flourishing. The little Christians flock to us to be civilized, and I find them much like their Hellenist brothers. But then all young people seem to me more and more alike. They ask the same questions and they give you the same answers to the questions they ask you. I despair of teaching anyone anything, least of all myself. I have not had a new idea since I was twenty-seven.

That is why I don’t publish my lectures. Also, too many of us publish out of vanity or to attract students. At seventy-five (I am nine, not a dozen, years older than you) I am an empty flagon. Tap me and you will hear an awful hollow sound. My head is a tomb quite as empty as the one Jesus is supposed to have walked away from. I incline now to Crates and the early Cynics, less to Plato and the rest.

I am not in the least convinced that there is a Divine Oneness at the centre of the universe, nor am I susceptible to magic, unlike Julian, who was hopelessly gullible. I often thought Maximus exploited his good-heartedness. But then I never could endure Maximus. How he used to waste Julian’s time with his séances and arcane gibberish! I teased the Emperor about him once, but Julian only laughed and said, “Who knows through what door wisdom will walk?”

As to your publishing project, I am not at all certain that a sympathetic biography of Julian would have the slightest effect at this time. Theodosius is a military politician, impressed by bishops. He might of course sanction a biography of his predecessor simply because Julian is much admired to this day, though not for his philosophy. Julian is admired because he was young and handsome and the most successful general of our century. The people have a touching admiration for generals who win battles, which is why there are no heroes today.

But if Theodosius did permit a biography, it would have to avoid the religious issue. The bishops would see to that. And for ferocity there is nothing on earth to equal a Christian bishop hunting “heresy”, as they call any opinion contrary to their own. Especially confident are they on that subject where they are as ignorant as the rest of mankind.

Anyway, I don’t want to fight them, because I am one and they are many. And though I am, as you so comfortingly suggest, old and near the end of my life, I enjoy amazingly good health. I am told that I look no different than I did at forty, and I am still capable of the sexual act at almost any time. This vitality repels Hippia, who has aged noticeably in the last few years, but it seems to please various young women in a certain quarter of Athens which you doubtless have heard of—in novels of the Milesian school!

Do I make myself clear? I have no wish to be burned alive or stoned or tacked up to the door of a Christian church, or “charnel house” as Julian used to call them. You may be as brave as you like and I will applaud you in my heart. But I have no intention of writing a single sentence about Julian, fond as I was of him and alarmed as I am at the strange course our world has taken since the adventurer Constantine sold us to the bishops.

Julian’s memoir was written during the last four months of his life. It was begun in March 363, at Hierapolis. Nearly every night during our invasion of Persia he would dictate recollections of his early life. The result is a bit helter-skelter, for both as a writer and as a man he was swift and impulsive. He once told me that he would like to compose an autobiography of the order of Marcus Aurelius to Himself, but he lacked that writer’s discipline.

Julian was also influenced by Xenophon’s The March Upcountry, since Xenophon took much the same route we did seven centuries later. Julian’s interest in history was always lively, and he was a great sightseer. The resulting memoir is something of a hybrid; even so, Julian was often an engaging writer, and if he was not better it is because it is hard to be emperor, philosopher and general all at once. He was also indiscreet about everyone.

I hope you forgive him. I have done so. He suspected that he had very little time and he wanted to get everything said. As for his mysterious death, I have a theory as to what happened, which I will explain to you in due course.

I have never quite known what to do with this work. When Julian died, I took all his personal papers, suspecting that his Christian successors would destroy them. I had no right to these papers, of course, but I don’t regret my theft. I told no one about the memoir until I was back safe in Antioch, where I must have mentioned it to you the day you read us your famous eulogy. I was so moved by your eloquence that I betrayed my own confidence.

I am now having a fair copy made of the manuscript. You are misinformed if you think copying is cheaper here than at Antioch. Quite the contrary. The estimated cost will run to eighty gold solidi, which I suggest you send by return post. On receipt of the full amount, I will send you the book to use as you see fit. Only do not mention to anyone that I had any connection with the matter. I have not the slightest desire to endure martyrdom at this time, or ever.

I thought I had written you about your collection of letters. I did get the book and it was very thoughtful of you to send it to me. We are all in your debt for those letters, especially yours to Julian. They are wise. I know of no other philosopher so sensible of posterity as to keep copies of every letter he writes, realizing that even his most trivial effusion has, in the context of the large body of his work, an eternal value.

Hippia joins me in wishing you good health.

Published in: on June 11, 2017 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 2

As to yesterday’s London terrorist attack I agree with Hunter Wallace that “There is nothing new to add here” (at any event, remember that only the news that I consider important will be mentioned at the Addenda). More important is to hammer on our view that the religion of our parents means white genocide. In the first pages of Julian we see a dramatisation of how ancient intellectuals dealt with a hostile takeover of their Hellenic culture by a cult of Levantine extraction:




Libanius to Priscus

Antioch, March [A.D.] 380

Yesterday morning as I was about to enter the lecture hall, I was stopped by a Christian student who asked me in a voice eager with malice, “Have you heard about the Emperor Theodosius?”

I cleared my throat ready to investigate the nature of this question, but he was too quick for me. “He has been baptized a Christian.”

I was non-committal. Nowadays, one never knows who is a secret agent. Also, I was not particularly surprised at the news. When Theodosius fell ill last winter and the bishops arrived like vultures to pray over him, I knew that should he recover they would take full credit for having saved him. He survived. Now we have a Christian emperor in the East, to match Gratian, our Christian emperor in the West. It was inevitable.

I turned to go inside but the young man was hardly finished with his pleasant task. “Theodosius has also issued an edict. It was just read in front of the senate house. I heard it. Did you?”

“No. But I always enjoy imperial prose,” I said politely.

“You may not enjoy this. The Emperor has declared heretic all those who do not follow the Nicene Creed.”

“I’m afraid Christian theology is not really my subject. The edict hardly applies to those of us who are still faithful to philosophy.”

“It applies to everyone in the East.” He said this slowly, watching me all the while. “The Emperor has even appointed an Inquisitor to determine one’s faith. The days of toleration are over.”

I was speechless; the sun flared in my eyes; all things grew confused and I wondered if I was about to faint, or even die. But the voices of two colleagues recalled me. I could tell by the way they greeted me that they, too, had heard about the edict and were curious to know my reaction. I gave them no pleasure.

“Of course I expected it,” I said. “The Empress Postuma wrote me only this week to say that…” I invented freely. I have not of course heard from the Empress in some months, but I thought that the enemy should be reminded to what extent I enjoy the favour of Gratian and Postuma. It is humiliating to be forced to protect oneself in this way, but these are dangerous times.

I did not lecture yesterday. I went straight home. I am now living in Daphne, by the way, a charming suburb which I prefer to Antioch proper because of the quiet. As I get older, I find that the slightest sound in the night disturbs me and, once awake, I have difficulty falling asleep again. You can imagine how intolerable my old house in the city became. You remember the house; it was there that I gave the reception for the Emperor Julian when he…

But I forget. You were not there, and you were much missed! My memory plays me odd tricks these days. Even worse, I tend to mislay the notes I jot down as reminders, or (terrible confession!) when I do find them, I am often unable to decipher my own handwriting. Age spares us nothing, old friend. Like ancient trees, we die from the top.

Except for occasional lectures, I seldom go into town, for the people, though my own, distress me with their loud voices and continual quarrelling, their gambling and sensuality. They are hopelessly frivolous. Nights are made day with artificial light, while nearly all the men now use depilatories, which makes it difficult to tell them from women… to think how I once eulogized this city! But I suppose one must be tolerant, recalling that the Antiochenes are the victims of a demoralizingly sultry climate, the proximity of Asia and of course that pernicious Christian doctrine which asserts that a sprinkling of water (and a small donation) will wash away sin, again and again and again.

Now, my old friend, as I sit here in my study surrounded by our proscribed friends (I mean those books of Greece which made the mind of man), let me tell you what thoughts I had last night—a sleepless night not only because of the edict but because two cats saw fit to enliven my despair with the noise of lust (only an Egyptian would worship a cat). I am weary today but determined.

We must fight back. What happens to us personally is not important, but what happens to civilization is a matter of desperate concern. During my sleepless night, I thought of various appeals that might be made to our new Emperor. I have a copy of the edict before me as I write. It is composed in bad bureaucratic Greek, the official style of the bishops, whose crudity of language is equalled only by the confusion of their thought. Not unlike those celebrated minutes of the council at—where was it? Chalcedon?—which we used to read aloud to one another with such delight! Carefree days, never to come again. Unless we act now.

Priscus, I am sixty-six years old and you are, as I recall, a dozen years older than I. We have reached an age when death is a commonplace not to be feared, especially by us, for is not all philosophy but preparation for a serene dying? And are we not true philosophers who have nothing to lose but that which in the natural course we shall surrender in any case, more soon than late?

I have already had several seizures in recent years which left me unconscious and weakened, and of course my chronic cough, aggravated by an unseasonable wet winter, threatens to choke me to death at any time. I am also losing my sight; and I suffer from a most painful form of gout. Therefore let us, fearing nothing, join forces and strike back at the Christians before they entirely destroy the world we love.

My plan is this. Seventeen years ago when you returned from Persia, you told me that our beloved friend and pupil, the Emperor Julian, had written a fragment of memoir which you had got hold of at the time of his death. I have often thought to write you for a copy, simply for my own edification. I realized then, as did you, that publication was out of the question, popular though Julian was and still is, even though his work to restore the true gods has been undone.

Under the Emperors Valentinian and Valens we had to be politic and cautious if we were to be allowed to go on teaching. But now in the light of this new edict, I say: an end to caution! We have nothing but two old bodies to lose, while there is eternal glory to be gained by publishing Julian’s memoir, with an appropriate biography to be written by either or both of us. I knew his quality best, of course, but you were with him in Persia and saw him die.

So between the two of us, I his teacher and you his philosopher-companion, we can rehabilitate his memory and with close reasoning show the justice of his contest with the Christians. I have written about him in the past, and boldly. I refer particularly to the eulogy I composed just after his death when, if I may say so, I was able to bring tears even to hard Christian eyes.

Shortly afterwards, I published my correspondence with Julian. Incidentally, I sent you a copy and though you never acknowledged this gift, I do hope you found it interesting. If by any chance you did not receive it, I shall be happy to send you another one. I kept all of Julian’s letters to me over the years, as well as copies of my own letters to him.

One can never rely on the great keeping one’s letters; and should those letters vanish, one is apt to be remembered only as the mysterious half of a dialogue to be reconstructed in the vaguest way from the surviving (and sometimes lesser!) half of the exchange. Finally, I am at work on an oration to be called “On Avenging the Emperor Julian”. I mean to dedicate this work to Theodosius.

Let me know as soon as possible if you concur in my plan. I repeat: we have nothing to lose. And the world has much to gain. By the way, as a sign of the times, there is now a Latin Academy at Antioch, with a heavy enrolment. It is enough to chill the blood. The young men are deserting Hellenic studies for Roman law in the hopes of government preferment. My own classes are still large but many of my colleagues are literally starving to death. Recently, a student (Christian, of course) most tactfully suggested that I, Libanius, learn Latin! At my age and after a life-time devoted to Greek!

I told him that as I was not a lawyer there was nothing I needed to read in that ugly language, which has produced only one poem and that a depressing paraphrase of our great Homer. I hope after so many years of silence between us that this letter finds you and your admirable wife, Hippin, in good health. I envy you your life at Athens, the natural centre of our universe. Do I need to add that I will of course defray any expenses you might incur in having Julian’s memoir copied? The price of copying, luckily, is less at Athens than here at Antioch. Books always cost more in those cities where they are least read!

Added: An old rumour has just been confirmed. The Great King of Persia, Sapor, is dead at last. He was over eighty and reigned most of his life. A strange coincidence that the king who struck down our beloved Julian should die just as we are about to restore his memory. I was once told that Sapor had read my Life of Demosthenes and admired it. How marvellous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself. Let us make Julian live again, and for all time!

Published in: on June 4, 2017 at 10:18 am  Comments (1)  

Julian, 1

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


Emperor Julian (Latin: Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, 331/332 – 26 June 363) has been considered a hero of the resistance to Christianity. When in 2012 and 2013 I started to reproduce excerpts of Gore Vidal’s novel Julian I was typing directly from my book copy. Now that I have obtained the PDF I’ll be adding the complete text on Sundays. The following is a note that the author himself wrote for the first page of his novel in the early 1960s.


Robert Graves, when he came to publish his sequel to I, Claudius, remarked in a somewhat irritable preface that a good many reviewers seemed to think he had simply spun himself a novel from Suetonius’s gossip, which looked to them like a very easy thing to do. In Claudius the God, Graves struck back with a long bibliography, listing nearly every relevant text which has survived from the ancient world. Unfortunately, I have not read as much as all that. But to anticipate those who might think that one’s only source was the history of Ammianus Marcellinus (or even of Edward Gibbon), I have included at the end of the book a partial bibliography.

The Emperor Julian’s life is remarkably well documented. Three volumes of his letters and essays survive, while such acquaintances as Libanius and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus wrote vivid accounts of him. Though I have written a novel, not a history, I have tried to stay with the facts, only occasionally shifting things around. For instance, it is unlikely that Priscus joined Julian in Gaul, but it is useful to the narrative to have him there.

Julian has always been something of an underground hero in Europe. His attempt to stop Christianity and revive Hellenism exerts still a romantic appeal, and he crops up in odd places, particularly during the Renaissance and again in the nineteenth century. Two such unlikely authors as Lorenzo de’ Medici and Henilk Ibsen wrote plays about him. But aside from the unique adventure of Julian’s life, what continues to fascinate is the fourth century itself. During the fifty years between the accession of Julian’s uncle Constantine the Great and Julian’s death at thirty-two, Christianity was established. For better or worse, we are today very much the result of what they were then.

In naming cities, I give the modern rather than the ancient name (Milan, not Mediolanum), except when the original name is more familiar to us (Ephesus, not Selquk). Dates I put in our fashion, A.D. and B.C. Since Julian’s court was a military one, I have used our own army’s way of dating, i.e., 3 October 363. Currency is a tricky matter. No one is quite certain what the exact purchasing power of money was in the fourth century, but a gold solidus was probably worth about five dollars. Julian, Priscus and Libanius, the three narrators of this story, all wrote Greek. Their Latin was rather shaky, as they are quick to remind us, but they occasionally use Latin terms, much the way we do. For those readers who will search in vain for Julian’s famous last words, “Thou hast conquered, Galilean!”, he never said them. Theodoret must take credit for this fine rhetoric, composed a century after Julian’s death.

I should like to thank the American Academy at Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for letting me use their libraries.


Published in: on May 28, 2017 at 10:42 pm  Comments (7)  

JVLIAN excerpts – XIV

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

—Julian, addressing the Christians


“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 I find myself safe in another country and can afford 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


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