Julian, 36

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

Julian Augustus

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

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

“We are pleased to see once again our beloved and most noble brother.” Gallus had by now completely assumed the imperial manner. Before I could reply, Gallus had turned to the bishop of Pergamon. “He is, we have heard, a pillar of the true church.”

“Indeed, Caesar, the most noble Julian is a worthy son of holy church.” I was extremely grateful to the bishop. Also, I was rather pleased that my efforts to appear a devout Galilean had been so successful.

Gallus then made a graceful speech to the city fathers, who were so charmed by him that they were obviously puzzled at how this enchanting creature had ever got the reputation of being a cruel and frivolous despot. Gallus could charm anyone, even me.

That night a dinner was given him at the prefect’s palace. He behaved himself quite well, though I noticed that he did not cut his wine with water. As a result, he was drunk by the end of the evening. Yet he maintained his dignity and only a slight slowness of speech betrayed his state. Though I sat beside him during dinner, he did not speak to me once. All his efforts were bent on delighting the city prefect. I was miserable, wondering in what way I had managed to offend him. Oribasius, who sat across the room with the minor functionaries of the court, winked at me encouragingly. But I was not encouraged.

The dinner ended, Gallus suddenly turned to me and said, “You come with me.” And so I followed him as he moved through the bowing courtiers to his bedroom, where two eunuchs were waiting for him.

I had never before seen the etiquette of a Caesar’s bedchamber and I watched, fascinated, as the eunuchs, murmuring ceremonial phrases, undressed Gallus while he lolled in an ivory chair, completely unaware of them. He was without self-consciousness or modesty. When he was completely undressed, he waved them away with the command “Bring us wine!” Then while the wine was served us, he talked to me or rather at me. In the lamplight his face glowed red from drink and the blond hair looked white as it fell across his brow. The body, I noticed, though still beautifully shaped, was beginning to grow thick at the belly.

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

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

“But it is a fine thing in an evil world to be Caesar. From here?” he indicated a height, “you can see them all. You can see them at their games. But they can’t see you. Sometimes at night, I walk the streets in disguise. I listen to them. I watch them, knowing I can do anything to them I want and no one can touch me. If I want to rape a woman or kill a man in an alley, I can. Sometimes I do.” He frowned. “But it is evil. I know it. I try not to. Yet I feel that when I do these things there is something higher which acts through me. I am a child of God. Unworthy as I am, he created me and to him I shall return. What I am, he wanted me to be. That is why I am good.”

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

“I build churches. I establish religious orders. I stamp out heresy wherever I find it. I am an active agent for the good. I must be. It is what I was born for. I can hardly believe you are my brother.” He shifted his thought without a pause. He looked at me for the first time. The famous blue eyes were bloodshot in the full lamplight.

Half-brother, Gallus.”

“Even so. We are the same blood, which is what matters. That is what binds me to Constantius. And you to me. We are the chosen of God to do the work of his church on earth.”

At this point an extraordinarily pretty girl slipped quietly into the room. Gallus did not acknowledge her presence, so neither did I. He continued to talk and drink, while she made love to him in front of me. I suppose it was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I tried not to watch. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at the floor. But my eyes continually strayed back to my brother as he reclined on the couch, hardly moving, as the girl with infinite skill and delicacy served him.

“Constantius will do anything I ask him. That is what blood means. He will also listen to his sister, my wife. She is the most important woman in the world. A perfect wife, a great queen.” He shifted his position on the couch so that his legs were spread apart.

“I hope you marry well. You could, you know. Constantius has another sister, Helena. She’s much older than you, but that makes no difference when it is a matter of blood. Perhaps he will marry you to her. Perhaps he will even make you a Caesar, like me. Would that please you?”

I almost missed the question, my eyes riveted on what the girl was doing. Oribasius says that I am a prude. I suppose he is right. I know that I was sweating with nervous tension as I watched the ravishing of Gallus. “No,” I stammered. “I have no wish to be Caesar. Only a student. I am perfectly happy.”

“Everyone lies,” said Gallus sadly. “Even you. Even flesh and blood. But there’s very little chance of your being raised up. Very little. I have the East, Constantius the West. You are not needed. Do you have girls in your household?”

“One.” My voice broke nervously.

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

“Oribasius.”

“Is he your lover?”

“No!”

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

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

“Slaves are always best. Particularly stableboys and grooms.” The blue eyes flashed suddenly: for an instant his face was transfigured by malice. He wanted me to recall what I had seen that day in the clearing. “But suit yourself. Anyway, my only advice to you, my only warning to you, not only as your brother but as your ruler…” He stopped suddenly and took a deep breath. The girl had finished. She got to her feet and stood in front of him, head bowed. He smiled, charmingly. Then he reached up and with all his strength struck her full in the face. She staggered back, but made no sound. Then at a gesture from him, she withdrew.

Gallus turned to me as though nothing had happened and picked up his sentence where he had left off. “…under no circumstances are you to see this magician Maximus. There are already enough rumours that you may have lost your faith. I know that you haven’t. How could you? We are of the house of Constantine the Great, the equal of the Apostles. We are the chosen of God. But even so…” He yawned. He lay back on the couch. “Even so…” he repeated and shut his eyes. I waited a moment for him to continue. But he was asleep.

The eunuchs reappeared. One placed a silk coverlet over Gallus. The other removed the wine. They acted as though what I had witnessed was a perfectly ordinary evening; perhaps it was. As Gallus began drunkenly to snore, I tiptoed from the room.

Published in: on July 15, 2018 at 12:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 35

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

 
Priscus: This is simply not true. From certain things both Julian and Maximus said to me, I know that they were busy plotting to make Julian emperor. Maximus was not about to waste his time on a minor prince, nor was Oribasius—even though his friendship with Julian was genuine, or as genuine as anyone’s relations can ever be with a prince.

I have been told of at least one séance where Maximus was advised by one of his invisible friends that Julian was destined to become emperor. I also know that Sosipatra and a number of other magicians were secret partisans. Of course, after Julian became emperor, every magician in Asia claimed to have had a band in his success. I can’t think why Julian wanted to deny what so many of us know to have been true. Perhaps to discourage others from plotting against him, as he plotted against Constantius.

Libanius: “Plotted” is the wrong word, though of course Julian is disingenuous in his narrative. I agree with Priscus that Maxim and Oribasius were already looking forward to the day when their friend would be, if not Augustus, at least Caesar. I am also perfectly certain that Maximus consulted forbidden oracles, and all the rest. Sosipatra told me as much a few years ago: “The goddess Cybele always favored Julian, and said so. We were all so grateful to her for her aid.”

But I strongly doubt that there was any political plot. How could there be? Julian had very little money. He was guarded by a detachment of household troops whose commander was directly answerable to the Grand Chamberlain. Also, I do not believe that Julian at this point wanted the principate. He was a devoted student. He was terrified of the court. He had never commanded a single soldier in war or peace. How could he then, at the age of twenty, dream of becoming emperor? Or rather he might “dream”—in fact we know that he did—but he could hardly have planned to take the throne.

Published in: on July 8, 2018 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 34

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

 
Julian Augustus

After Aetius’s visit to me, I met Maximus only in secret. I arranged this by seeing to it that the guards who accompanied me were brothers in Mithras. I don’t think I was once betrayed during the three years I lived with Oribasius at Pergamon. I also made a point of becoming a friend of the bishop of the city. With him, I observed every Galilean festival. I hated myself for this deception, but I had no choice.

During these years, I was free to travel wherever I pleased in the East. I could even visit Constantinople, though the Chamberlain’s office suggested tactfully that I not live there since it was, after all, the imperial capital without, at present, an emperor in residence, which meant that any visit I chose to make could be construed as… I understood perfectly and stayed away.

My request for permission to go to Athens was rejected. I don’t know why. Gallus sent me several invitations to come to Antioch, but I was always able to avoid accepting them. I think he was relieved not to have me near him. However, he was most conscientious in his role as older brother and guardian, not to mention ruler. I received weekly bulletins from him asking about my spiritual health. He was eager, he said, for me to be a devout and good man, like himself. I think he was perfectly sincere in his exhortations. His fault was a common one. He simply did not know what he was; he saw no flaw in himself, a not unusual blindness and preferable, on the whole, to being unable to find any virtue in oneself.

My friendship with Oribasius is the only intimate one I have ever had—the result, I suppose, of having never known the ordinary life of a family. Oribasius is both friend and brother, even though we are not much alike in disposition. He is skeptical and experimental, interested only in the material world. I am the opposite. He balances me. Or tries to. And I think at times I give him some inkling of what the metaphysical is like. For nearly four years we lived together, traveled together, studied together. We even shared a mistress for a time, though this caused some disturbance since I found, to my surprise, that I have a jealous nature.

I had never forgiven the Antiochene at Macellum for preferring Gallus to me. Yet I should have. After all, Gallus was older and handsomer than I. Even so, I had been resentful. I did not realize to what extent, until I was again put in exactly the same situation. One afternoon I overheard Oribasius and our mutual mistress—a blue-eyed Gaul—making love. I heard their heavy breathing. I beard the leather thongs of the bed creak. Suddenly I wanted to murder them both. I knew then exactly what it was like to be Gallus, and I almost fainted at the violence of my own response. But the moment quickly passed and I was filled with shame.

During those years, Maximus taught me many things. He showed me mysteries. He made it possible for me to contemplate the One. He was the perfect teacher. Also, contrary to legend, he did not in any way try to excite my ambition. We never spoke of my becoming emperor. It was the one forbidden subject.

Published in: on July 1, 2018 at 8:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 33

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

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

“Oh, yes,” Gallus frowned. “You are that teacher-fellow who denies God.”

“I deny God nothing, Caesar. My heart is open to him at all times.”

“Libanius is really most admirable, Caesar.” Meletius always enjoyed making me suffer.

“I am sure he is.” Then Gallus gave me a smile so dazzling that I was quite overwhelmed. “Come see me,” he said, “and I shall personally convert you.”

A few weeks later, to my surprise, I received an invitation to the palace. When I arrived at the appointed hour, I was shown into a large room where, side by side on a couch, lay Gallus and Constantia.

In the center of the room two nude boxers were pummeling one another to death. When I had recovered from my first shock at this indecent display, I tried to make my presence known. I coughed: I mumbled a greeting. But I was ignored. Gallus and Constantia were completely absorbed by the bloody spectacle. As the world knows, I hate gladiatorial demonstrations because they reduce men to the level of beasts—and I do not mean those unfortunates who are forced to perform. I mean those who watch.

I was particularly shocked by Constantia. It was hard to realize that this bright-eyed unwomanly spectator was the daughter of Constantine the Great, sister of the Augustus, wife of the Caesar. She seemed more like an unusually cruel courtesan. Yet she was distinguished-looking in the Flavian way-big jaw, large nose, gray eyes. As we watched the sweating, bloody men, she would occasionally shout to one or the other, “Kill him!” Whenever a particularly effective blow was dealt, she would gasp in a curiously intimate way, like a woman in the sexual act. Constantia was most
alarming.

We watched those boxers until one man finally killed the other. As the loser fell, Gallus leapt from his couch and threw his arms around the bloody victor, as though he had done him some extraordinary service. Then Gallus began to kick the dead man, laughing and shouting gleefully. He looked perfectly deranged. I have never seen a man’s face quite so revealing of the beast within.

“Stop it, Gallus!” Constantia had noticed me at last. She was on her feet.

“What?” He looked at her blankly. Then be saw me. “Oh, yes,” he said. He straightened his tunic. Slaves came forward and removed the dead boxer. Constantia approached me with a radiant smile. “How happy we are to see the famous Libanius here, in our palace.” I saluted her formally, noticing with some surprise that her normal voice was low and musical, and that her Greek was excellent. In an instant she had transformed herself from Fury to queen.

Gallus came forward and gave me his hand to kiss. I got blood on my lips.

“Good, very good,” he said, eyes unfocused like a man drunk. Then without another word, the Caesar of the East and his queen swept past me and that was the end of the only private audience I was ever to have with either of them. I was most unnerved.

During the next few years the misdeeds of the couple were beyond anything since Caligula. (Editor’s interpolated note: Although Vidal was anti-Christian, he did not know that the Christians falsified the biography of Caligula.) To begin with, they were both eager for money. To further her political objectives Constantia needed all the gold she could amass. She tried everything: blackmail, the sale of public offices, confiscation.

One of her fund-raising attempts involved a family I knew. It was a peculiar situation. When the daughter married an extremely handsome youth from Alexandria, her mother, an ordinarily demure matron—or we all thought—promptly fell in love with him. For a year she tried unsuccessfully to seduce her son-in-law. Finally, he told her that if she did not stop importuning him, he would return to Alexandria. Quite out of her mind with rage, the woman went to Constantia and offered that noble queen a small fortune for the arrest and execution of her son-in-law. Constantia took the money; and the unfortunate youth was executed on a trumped-up charge. Then Constantia, who was not without a certain bitter humor, sent the matron her son-in-law’s genitals with a brief note: “At last!” The woman lost her mind. Antioch was scandalized. And the days of terror began.

At times it seemed almost as if Gallus and Constantia had deliberately studied the lives of previous monsters with an eye to recreating old deeds of horror. Nero used to roam the streets at night with a band of rowdies, pretending he was an ordinary young buck on the town. So did Gallus. Caligula used to ask people what they thought of the emperor and if their answer was unflattering, he would butcher them on the spot. So did Gallus. Or tried to.

Unfortunately for him, Antioch—unlike early imperial Rome—has the most elaborate street lighting in the world. Our night is like the noon in most cities, so Gallus was almost always recognized. As a result, the praetorian prefect of the East, Thalassios, was able to persuade him that not only was it unbecoming for a Caesar to rove the streets at night, it was also dangerous. Gallus abandoned his prowling.

During Gallus’s third year as Caesar, there was a famine in Syria. When the food shortages at Antioch began, Gallus tried to fix prices at a level which would make it possible for everyone to buy grain. Even wise rulers from time to time make this mistake. It never works since the result is usually the precise opposite of the one intended. Grain is either held back from the market or bought up by speculators who resell it at a huge profit, increasing the famine. Men are like this and there is nothing to be done about them.

The senate of Antioch has many faults, but its members are sound businessmen with an understanding of the market which is their life. They warned Gallus of the dangers of his policy. He ordered them to obey him. When they continued to resist him, he sent his own guards into the senate chamber, arrested the leading senators and condemned them to death.

Antioch had reason to be grateful to both Thalassios and Nebridius, the Count of the East. These two brave men told Gallus that if he went through with the executions, they would appeal to Augustus and demand the Caesar’s removal. It was a brave thing to do, and to everyone’s surprise they carried the day. Gallus released the senators, and that was the end of the matter.

For some months Antioch was relieved to know that in Thalassios the city had a defender. But then Thalassios died of fever. Of course it was rumored that he had been poisoned, but I happen to know that it was indeed the fever that he died of, as we shared the doctor. But I do not mean to write the history of Gallus, which is so well known.

Published in: on June 24, 2018 at 11:36 am  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 32

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

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

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

Actually, the member of the family for whom I have the most sympathy is Constantius. He was quite a good ruler, you know. We tend to undervalue him because his intelligence was of the second rank, and his religious mania troubling. But he governed well, considering that he had problems of a sort which might have made any man a monster. He made some of his worst mistakes for the best of reasons, like creating Gallus Caesar.

It is significant that Julian blames Gallus’s wife for the reign of terror in the East. I had always thought that they were equally to blame. But you lived through what must have been a terrible time. You doubtless know who was responsible for what.

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 31

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

 

VI

“Naturally the Caesar is concerned.”

“But without cause.”

“Without cause? You are a pupil of Maximus.”

“I am also a pupil of Ecebolius.”

“But he has not been with you for a year. Your brother feels that you are in need of a spiritual guide, especially now.”

“But Maximus is responsible.”

“Maximus is not a Christian. Are you?” The question came at me like a stone from a sling. I stared a long moment at the blackrobed Deacon Aetius of Antioch. He stared serenely back. I was close to panic. What did they know of me at Gallus’s court?

“How can you doubt that I am a Christian?” I said finally. “I was instructed by two great bishops. I am a church reader. I attend every important church ceremony here at Pergamon.” I looked at him, simulating righteousness doubted. “Where could such a rumour get started? If there is such a rumour.”

“You cannot be seen too often in the company of a man like Maximus without people wondering.”

“What shall I do?”

“Give him up.” The answer was prompt.

“Is that my brother’s order?”

“It is my suggestion. Your brother is concerned. That is all. He sent me here to question you. I have.”

“Are you satisfied?”

Aetius smiled. “Nothing ever satisfies me, most noble Julian. But I shall tell the Caesar that you are a regular communicant of the church. I shall also tell him that you will no longer study with Maximus.”

“If that is the wisest course, then that is the course I shall take.” This ambiguity seemed to satisfy Aetius. My friends often tell me that I might have made a good lawyer. As I escorted Aetius to the street, he looked about him and said, ‘The owner of this house…’

“… is Oribasius.”

“An excellent physician.”

“Is it wise for me to see him?” I could not resist this.

“A highly suitable companion,” said Aetius smoothly. He paused at the door to the street. “Your brother, the Caesar, often wonders why you do not come to visit him at Antioch. He feels that court life might have a… ‘polishing’ effect upon you. The word is his, not mine.”

“I’m afraid I was not made for a court, even one as celebrated as my brother’s. I resist all attempts to polish me, and I detest politicians.”

“A wise aversion.”

“And a true one. I want only to live as I do, as a student.”

“Studying to what end?”

“To know myself. What else?”

“Yes. What else?” Aetius got into his carriage. “Be very careful, most noble Julian. And remember: a prince has no friends. Ever.”

“Thank you, Deacon.”

Aetius departed. I went back into the house. Oribasius was waiting for me.

“You heard every word?” I hardly made a question of it. Oribasius and I have never had any secrets between us. On principle, he eavesdrops.

“We’ve been indiscreet, to say the least.”

I nodded. I was gloomy. “I suppose I shall have to stop seeing Maximus, at least for a while.”

“You might also insist that he not talk to everyone about his famous pupil.”

I sighed. I knew that Maximus tended—tends—to trade on his relationship with me. Princes get very used to that. I don’t resent it. In fact, I am happy if my friends prosper as a result of knowing me. I had learned Oribasius’ lesson, and I do not expect to be loved for myself. After all, I don’t love others for themselves, only for what they can teach me. Since nothing is free, to each his price.

I summoned a secretary and wrote Maximus asking him to remain at Ephesus until further notice. I also wrote a note to the bishop of Pergamon to tell him that I would read the lesson on the following Sunday.

“Hypocrite,” said Oribasius when the secretary had gone.

“A tong-lived hypocrite is preferable to a dead… what?” I often have trouble finishing epigrams. Or rather I start one without having first thought through to the end, a bad habit.

“A dead reader. Aetius has a good deal of influence with Gallus, hasn’t he?”

“So they say. He is his confessor. But who can control my brother?” Without thinking, I had lowered my voice to a whisper. For Gallus had become as suspicious of treason as Constantius. His spies were everywhere.

I blame Gallus’s wife Constantia for the overt change in his character. She was Constantius’ sister and took it for granted that conspiracy is the natural business of the human race. I never met this famous lady but I am told that she was as cruel as Gallus, and far more intelligent. She was also ambitious, which he was not. He was quite content to remain Caesar in the East. But she wanted him to be the Augustus and she plotted the death of her own brother to achieve this end. As for Gallus, even now I cannot bear to write about his reign.

Published in: on April 22, 2018 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 30

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

 
Julian Augustus

In March 351, I was admitted to the mysteries of Mithras. On that day I watched the rising of the sun; and I watched its setting, taking care to be unobserved, for since Constantius had made it illegal to pray to the sun, people had even been arrested for watching a sunset. Spies and informers were everywhere.

I had told Ecebolius that I intended to spend the day hunting on the slopes of Mount Pion. Since he hated hunting, he excused himself as I knew he would. He quoted Homer. I quoted Horace. He quoted Virgil. I quoted Theocritus. Together we used up nearly all of literature’s references to hunting.

The next obstacle was the bodyguard. Twelve soldiers and one officer were assigned to my household. At all times I was attended by at least two men. What to do about them? It was Maximus who decided that since Mithras is the soldier’s religion, at least two of the soldiers should prove sympathetic. Maximus was right. Of the twelve, five were Mithraists. It was then an easy matter to get two of the five assigned to me for the day. As Mithraic brothers, they were under the seal of secrecy.

An hour before dawn, Oribasius, the soldiers and I left the house. At the mountain’s edge we were met by Maximus and nine fathers. In silence we climbed the slope. At a pre-ordained spot, beneath a fig tree, we stopped and waited for the sun to rise.

The sky turned pale. The morning star shone blue. Dark clouds broke. Then just as the sun appeared on the horizon, a single shaft of light struck the rock behind us and I realized that it was not just ordinary rock, but a door into the mountainside. We prayed then to the sun and to his companion Mithras, our saviour.

When the sun was at last above the horizon, Maximus opened the door into the mountain and we entered a small cave with seats carved out of the rock. Here Oribasius and I were told to wait while the fathers of Mithras withdrew into yet another cave, the inner sanctuary. Thus began the most momentous day of my life. The day of the honey and of the bread and the wine; the day of the seven gates and the seven planets; the day of challenges and of passwords; the day of prayer and, at its end (past Raven, Bride, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Courier of the Sun, and Father), the day of Nama Nama Sebesio.

Libanius: Of all the mysteries, excepting those at Eleusis, the Mithraic is the most inspiring, for in the course of it one actually experiences the folly of earthly vanity. At each of the seven stages, the initiate acts out what his soul will one day experience as it rises amongst the seven spheres, losing one by one its human faults. At Ares, the desire for war returns to its source; at Zeus, ambition is lost; at Aphrodite, sex, and so on until the soul is purged. Then… But I can say no more. Nama Nama Sebesio.
 
Julian Augustus

When the day ended, Oribasius and I stumbled from the cave, born again.

It was then that it happened. As I looked at the setting sun, I was possessed by light. What is given to few men was given to me. I saw the One. I was absorbed by Helios and my veins coursed not with blood but light.

I saw it all. I saw the simplicity at the heart of creation. The thing which is impossible to grasp without the help of divinity, for it is beyond language and beyond mind: yet it is so simple that I marvelled at how one could not have known what is always there, a part of us just as we are part of it. What happened inside the cave was a testing and a learning, but what happened to me outside the cave was revelation.

I saw the god himself as I knelt among sage bushes, the red slanting sunlight full in my face. I heard that which cannot be written or told and I saw that which cannot be recorded in words or images. Yet even now, years later, it is as vivid in retrospect as it was at the time. For I was chosen on that steep mountainside to do the great work in which I am now engaged: the restoration of the worship of the One God, in all his beautiful singularity.

I remained kneeling until the sun was gone. Then I knelt in darkness for what I am told was an hour. I knelt until Oribasius became alarmed and awakened me… or put me to sleep, for the “real” world ever since has seemed to me the dream while my vision of Helios is the reality.

“Are you all right?”

I nodded and got to my feet. “I have seen…” But I stopped. I could not say what I had seen. Even now, writing this memoir, I cannot describe what I experienced since there is nothing comparable in ordinary human experience.

But Maximus immediately recognized what had happened to me. “He has been chosen,” he said. “He knows.”

Silently we returned to the city. I did not want to talk to anyone, not even to Maximus, for I was still enfolded by wings of light. Even the back of my hand where I had received the sacred tattoo did not hurt me. But at the city gate my absorption was rudely shattered by a large crowd which surrounded me, shouting, “Great news!”

I was bewildered. All I could think was: has the god remained with me? is what I saw visible to all? I tried to speak to Maximus and Oribasius but we could not make ourselves heard.

At the prefect’s house, I found Ecebolius with the town prefect and what looked to be the whole council. When they saw me, they fell to their knees. For an instant I thought it was indeed the end of the world and that I had been sent as messenger to separate the good from the bad. But Ecebolius quickly dispelled all thought of apocalypse.

“Most noble Julian, your brother…” All about us, men began to repeat Gallus’s names and titles. “… has been raised by the divine Augustus to share with him the purple. Gallus is Caesar in the East. He is also to be married to Constantia, divine sister of the divine Augustus!”

There was loud cheering and eager hands touched my robe, my hands, my arms. Favours were requested, blessings demanded. Finally, I broke through the mob and got inside the house.

“But why are they all behaving like lunatics?” I turned on Ecebolius, as though it were his fault.

“Because you are now the brother of a reigning Caesar.”

“Much good it will do them… or me.” This was unwise, but it relieved me to say it.

“Surely you don’t want them to love you for yourself?” Oribasius teased me. “You quite enjoyed the attention, until you heard the news.”

“Only because I thought it was the sun…” I stopped myself just in time.

“The sun?” Ecebolius looked puzzled.

“Only the son of God should be treated in this fashion,” said Maximus smoothly. “Men should not worship other men, not even princes.”

Ecebolius nodded. “A relic of the bad old days, I’m afraid. The Augustus of Rome is of course ‘divine’ though not truly a god as men used to think. But come in, come in. The baths are ready. And the prefect is giving us a banquet to celebrate the good news.”

So I beheld the One God on the same day that I learned my brother had been made Caesar. The omen was plain enough. Each was now set in his destiny. From that day on I was Hellenist or, as the Galileans like to call me (behind my back, of course!), apostate. And Gallus reigned in the East.

Published in: on April 15, 2018 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 29

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

Priscus:

Interesting to observe Maximus in action. He was clever. I would have guessed that at their first meeting he would have done tricks. Made the statue of Cybele dance. Something like that. But no. He gives a shrewd attack on Christianity. Then he offers Julian Mithras, a religion bound to appeal to our hero. Mithras was always the favourite deity of Roman emperors, and of many soldiers to this day. Also, Maximus knew that he would be sure of a special relationship to Julian if he were the one who sponsored him during the rites.

There is now no doubt in my mind that at this point in Julian’s life almost any of the mystery cults would have got him free of Christianity. He was eager to make the break. Yet it is hard to say quite why, since his mind tended to magic and superstition in precisely the same way the Christian mind does. Admittedly their worship of corpses did not appeal to him, but he was later to find manifestations of “the One” in even order places. Had Julian been what he thought he was—a philosopher in the tradition of Plato—one might have understood his dislike of the Christian nonsense. He would have been like you and me. But Julian was concerned, finally, with the idea of personal immortality, the one obsession Christians share with those who are drawn to the old mystery cults.

Despite everything Julian wrote on the subject, I have never understood precisely why he turned against the religion of his family. After all, Christianity offered him nearly everything he needed. If he wanted to partake symbolically of the body of a god, why not remain with the Christians and eat their bread and drink their wine instead of reverting to the bread and wine of Mithras? It is not as if there was anything lacking in Christianity. The Christians have slyly incorporated most of the popular elements of Mithras and Demeter and Dionysus into their own rites. Modern Christianity is an encyclopaedia of traditional superstition.

I suspect the origin of Julian’s disaffection is in his family. Constantius was a passionate Christian, absorbed by doctrinal disputes. With good reason, Julian hated Constantius. Therefore, he hated Christianity. This puts the matter far too simply, yet I always tend to the obvious view of things since it is usually the correct one, though of course one can never get to the bottom of anything so mysterious as another man’s character, and there is a mystery here.

Julian was Christian in everything except his tolerance of others. He was what the Christians would call a saint. Yet he swung fiercely away from the one religion which suited him perfectly, preferring its eclectic origins, which he then tried to systematize into a new combination quite as ridiculous as the synthesis he had rejected. It is a strange business and there is no satisfactory explanation for Julian’s behaviour. Of course he claimed that Bishop George’s partisanship disgusted him as a boy, and that Porphyry and Plotinus opened his eyes to the absurdity of Christian claims. Well and good. But then why turn to something equally absurd?

Granted, no educated man can accept the idea of a Jewish rebel as god. But having rejected that myth, how can one then believe that the Persian hero-god Mithras was born of light striking rock, on December 25th, with shepherds watching his birth? (I am told that the Christians have just added those shepherds to the birth of Jesus.) Or that Mithras lived in a fig tree which fed and clothed him, that he fought with the sun’s first creation, the bull, that he was dragged by it (thus symbolizing man’s suffering) until the bull escaped; finally, at the command of the sun god, Mithras stabs the bull with a knife and from the beast’s body come flowers, herbs, wheat; from the blood, wine; from the seed, the first man and woman.

Then Mithras is called up to heaven, after celebrating a sacramental last supper. Time’s end will be a day of judgment when all will rise from their graves and evil will be destroyed while the good will live for ever in the light of the sun.

Between the Mithraic story and its Christian sequel I see no essential difference. Admittedly, the Mithraic code of conduct is more admirable than the Christian. Mithraists believe that right action is better than contemplation. They favour old-fashioned virtues like courage and self-restraint. They were the first to teach that strength is gentleness. All of this is rather better than the Christian hysteria which vacillates between murder of heretics on the one hand and a cringing rejection of this world on the other. Nor can a Mithraist be absolved of sin by a sprinkle of water. Ethically, I find Mithras the best of all the mystery cults. But it is absurd to say it is any more “true” than its competitors. When one becomes absolute about myth and magic, the result can only be madness.

Julian speaks continually of his love of Hellenism. He honestly believed he loved Plato and reasonable discourse. Actually, what he craved was what so many desire in this falling time: assurance of personal immortality. He chose to reject the Christian way for reasons which I find obscure, while settling on an equal absurdity.

Of course I am sympathetic to him. He dealt the Christians some good blows and that delighted me. But I cannot sympathize with his fear of extinction. Why is it so important to continue after death? We never question the demonstrable fact that before birth we did not exist, so why should we fear becoming once more what we were to begin with? I am in no hurry to depart. But I look on nothing as just that: no thing. How can one fear no thing?

As for the various ceremonies and trials the Mithraic initiate must undergo, the less said the better. I understand that one of the twelve tortures is the pulling out one by one of the pubic hairs, a most spiritual discipline. I was also told that part of the ceremonies are conducted while everyone is roaring drunk and trying to jump over ditches blindfolded, a symbol no doubt of the bewildering life of the flesh. But men are impressed by secret rites, the more gruesome and repellent the better. How sad we are, how terrified to be men!

Libanius:

It is not often one finds a philosopher so entirely lacking in the religious sense. It is like being born unable to perceive colours which are plain to everyone else. Priscus does have a logical mind and a precise way of stating things, but he is blind to what truly matters. Like Julian, I was admitted to the Mithraic rites during my student days. The impression the mysteries made on me was profound, though I confess that the effect was not as revealing—for me—as it was for Julian. But I had never been a Christian, so I was not making a dramatic and dangerous break with the world I belonged to. However, for Julian it was a brave thing to do. Had Constantius learned of what he had done, it might have cost him his life. Fortunately, Maximus managed the affair so skilfully that Constantius never knew that at the age of nineteen his cousin ceased to be a Christian, in a cave beneath Mount Pion.

Priscus seems to have missed the point of the Mithraic mysteries, which does not surprise me. Priscus applauds our high ethical standards. We are grateful to him. But he finds the rites “repellent”. Of course he knows about them only by hearsay, since no one who has been initiated may recount what happens in the cave. But though the “trials” are often disagreeable, the revelation is worth all the pain that one has borne. I for one cannot imagine a world without Mithras.

Priscus observes with his usual harsh candour that the Christians are gradually absorbing various aspects of the cult. A thought suddenly occurs to me: might not this be the way in which we finally conquer? Is it not possible that the absorber will become so like the absorbed that in time they will be us?

Published in: on April 1, 2018 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 28

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

We were at Ephesus some days before I was able to see Maximus. He was in retreat, communing with the gods. But we received daily bulletins from his wife. Finally, on the eighth day, at about the second hour, a slave arrived to say that Maximus would be honoured to receive me that afternoon. I prevailed on Ecebolius to allow me to make the visit alone. After much argument he gave in, but only on condition that I later write out for him a full account of everything that was said.

Maximus lived in a modest house on the slopes of Mount Pion, not far from the theatre which is carved out of its side. My guards left me at the door. A servant then showed me into an inner room where I was greeted by a thin, nervous woman.

“I am Placidia, wife of Maximus.” She let go my robe whose hem she had kissed. “We are so sorry my husband could not see you earlier, but he has been beneath the earth, with the goddess Cybele.” She motioned to a slave who handed her a lighted torch which she gave me. “My husband is still in darkness. He asks for you to join him there.”

I took the torch and followed Placidia to a room of the house whose fourth wall was covered by a curtain which, when she pulled it back, revealed the mountainside and an opening in the rock. “You must go to him alone, most noble prince.”

I entered the mountain. For what seemed hours (but must have been only minutes), I stumbled towards a far-off gleam of light which marked the end of the passageway. At last I arrived at what looked to be a well-lit chamber cut in the rock, and filled with smoke. Eagerly, I stepped forward and came up hard against a solid wall, stubbing my toes. I thought I had gone mad. In front of me was a room. But I could not enter it. Then I heard the beautiful deep voice of Maximus: “See? The life of this world is all illusion and only the gods are real.”

I turned to my left and saw the chamber I thought I had seen in front of me. The smoke was now gone. The room appeared to be empty. Yet the voice sounded as if the speaker were close beside me. “You tried to step into a mirror. In the same way, the ignorant try to enter the land of the blessed, only to be turned away by their own reflection. Without surrendering yourself, you may not thread the labyrinth at whose end exists the One.”

My right foot hurt. I was cold. I was both impressed and irritated by the situation. “I am Julian,” I said, “of the house of Constantine.”

“I am Maximus, of the house of all the gods.” Then he appeared suddenly at my elbow. He seemed to emerge from the rock. Maximus is tall and well proportioned, with a beard like a grey waterfall and the glowing eyes of a cat. He wore a green robe with curious markings. He took my hand. “Come in,” he said. “There are wonders here.”

The room was actually a natural grotto with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and, at its centre, a natural pool of still dark water. Beside the pool was a bronze statue of Cybele, showing the goddess seated and holding in one hand the holy drum. Two stools were the only furnishings in the cave. He invited me to sit down.

“You will go on many journeys,” said Maximus. My heart sank. He sounded like any soothsayer in the agora. “And I shall accompany you to the end.”

“I could hope for no better teacher,” I said formally, somewhat taken aback. He was presumptuous.

“Do not be alarmed, Julian…” He knew exactly what I was thinking. “I am not forcing myself upon you. Quite the contrary. I am being forced. Just as you are. By something neither of us can control. Nor will it be easy, what we must do together. There is great danger for both of us. Especially for me. I dread being your teacher.”

“But I had hoped…”

“I am your teacher,” he concluded. “What is it that you would most like to know?”

“The truth.”

“The truth of what?”

“Where do we come from and where do we go to, and what is the meaning of the journey?”

“You are Christian.” He said this carefully, making neither a statement nor a question of it. Had there been a witness to this scene, I must have allowed a door in my mind to shut. As it was, I paused. I thought of Bishop George, interminably explaining “similar” as opposed to “same”. I heard the deacon chanting the songs of Arius. I heard myself reading the lesson in the chapel at Macellum. Then suddenly I saw before me the leather-bound testament Bishop George had given me: “Thou shalt not revile the gods.”

“No,” said Maximus gravely. “For that way lies eternal darkness.”

I was startled. “I said nothing.”

“You quoted from the book of the Jews, from Exodus. ‘Thou shalt not revile the gods.'”

“But I said nothing.”

“You thought it.”

“You can see into my thoughts?”

“When the gods give me the power, yes.”

“Then look now, carefully, and tell me: am I Christian?”

“I cannot speak for you, nor tell you what I see.”

“I believe there does exist a first maker, an absolute power…”

“Was it the same god who spoke to Moses ‘mouth to mouth’?”

“So I have been taught.”

“Yet that god was not absolute. He made the earth and heaven, men and beasts. But according to Moses, he did not make darkness or even matter, since the earth was already there before him, invisible and without form. He was merely the shaper of what already existed. Does one not prefer Plato’s god, who caused this universe to come ‘into being as a living creature, possessing soul and intelligence in very truth, both by the providence of god’?”

“From the Timaeus,” I said automatically. “And then there is the confusion between the book of the Jews and the book of the Nazarene. The god of the first is supposed to be the god of the second. Yet in the second he is father of the Nazarene…”

“By grace. They are of similar substance, but not the same.” Maximus laughed. “Well learned, my young Arian.”

“I am Arian because I find it impossible to believe that God was briefly a man executed for treason. Jesus was a prophet—a son of God in some mysterious way—yes, but not the One God.”

“Nor even his deputy, despite the efforts of the extraordinary Paul of Tarsus, who tried to prove that the tribal god of the Jews was the universal One God, even though every word Paul says is contradicted by the Jewish holy book. In letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, Paul declared that the god of Moses is the god not only of Jews but also of Gentiles. Yet the Jewish book denies this in a hundred places. As their god said to Moses: ‘Israel is my son, my first-born.’ Now if this god of the Jews were indeed, as Paul claimed, the One God, why then did he reserve for a single unimportant race the anointing, the prophets and the law? Why did he allow the rest of mankind to exist thousands of years in darkness, worshipping falsely? Of course the Jews admit that he is a ‘jealous god’. But what an extraordinary thing for the absolute to be! Jealous of what? And cruel, too, for he avenged the sins of the fathers on guiltless children. Is not the creator described by Homer and Plato more likely? that there is one being who encompasses all life—is all life—and from this essential source emanate gods, demons, men? Or to quote the famous Orphic oracle which the Galileans are beginning to appropriate for their own use, ‘Zeus, Hades, Helios, three gods in one Godhead’.”

“From the One many…” I began, but with Maximus one never needs to finish sentences. He anticipates the trend of one’s thought.

“How can the many be denied? Are all emotions alike? or does each have characteristics peculiarly its own? And if each race has its own qualities, are not those god-given? And, if not god-given, would not these characteristics then be properly symbolized by a specific national god? In the case of the Jews a jealous bad-tempered patriarch. In the case of the effeminate, clever Syrians, a god like Apollo. Or take the Germans and the Celts—who are warlike and fierce—is it accident that they worship Ares, the war god? Or is it inevitable? The early Romans were absorbed by lawmaking and governing—their god? the king of gods, Zeus. And each god has many aspects and many names, for there is as much variety in heaven as there is among men. Some have asked: did we create these gods or did they create us? That is an old debate. Are we a dream in the mind of deity, or is each of us a separate dreamer, evoking his own reality? Though one may not know for certain, all our senses tell us that a single creation does exist and we are contained by it for ever. Now the Christians would impose one final rigid myth on what we know to be various and strange. No, not even myth, for the Nazarene existed as flesh while the gods we worship were never men; rather they are qualities and powers become poetry for our instruction. With the worship of the dead Jew, the poetry ceased. The Christians wish to replace our beautiful legends with the police record of a reforming Jewish rabbi. Out of this unlikely material they hope to make a final synthesis of all the religions ever known. They now appropriate our feast days. They transform local deities into saints. They borrow from our mystery rites, particularly those of Mithras. The priests of Mithras are called ‘fathers’. So the Christians call their priests ‘fathers’. They even imitate the tonsure, hoping to impress new converts with the familiar trappings of an older cult. Now they have started to call the Nazarene ‘saviour’ and ‘healer’. Why? Because one of the most beloved of our gods is Asklepios, whom we call ‘saviour’ and ‘healer’.”

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

Maximus smiled. “I betray no secret of Mithras when I tell you that we, too, partake of a symbolic meal, recalling the words of the Persian prophet Zarathustra, who said to those who worshipped the One God—and Mithras, ‘He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.’ That was spoken six centuries before the birth of the Nazarene.”

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

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

“I have read Porphyry…” I began.

“Then you are aware of how the Galileans contradict themselves.”

“But what of the contradictions in Hellenism?”

“Old legends are bound to conflict. But then, we never think of them as literally true. They are merely cryptic messages from the gods, who in turn are aspects of the One. We know that we must interpret them. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail. But the Christians hold to the literal truth of the book which was written about the Nazarene long after his death. Yet even that book so embarrasses them that they must continually alter its meaning. For instance, nowhere does it say that Jesus was God…”

“Except in John.” I quoted: “‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.'” I had not been five years a church reader for nothing.

“That is open to interpretation. What precisely was meant by ‘Word’? Is it really, as they now pretend, the holy spirit who is also God who is also Jesus?—which brings us again to that triple impiety they call ‘truth’, which in turn reminds us that the most noble Julian also wishes to know the truth.”

“It is what I wish.” I felt strange. The smoke from the torches was thick in the room. All things now appeared indistinct and unreal. Had the walls opened suddenly and the sun blazed down upon us, I should not have been surprised. But Maximus practised no magic that day. He was matter-of-fact.

“No one can tell another man what is true. Truth is all around us. But each must find it in his own way. Plato is part of the truth. So is Homer. So is the story of the Jewish god if one ignores its arrogant claims. Truth is wherever man has glimpsed divinity. Theurgy can achieve this awakening. Poetry can. Or the gods themselves of their own volition can suddenly open our eyes.”

“My eyes are shut.”

“Yes.”

“But I know what it is I want to find.”

“But there is a wall in front of you, like the mirror you tried to walk into.”

I looked at him very hard. “Maximus, show me a door, and not a mirror.”

He was silent a long time. When he finally spoke, he did not look at me. Instead he studied the face of Cybele. “You are Christian.”

“I am nothing.”

“But you must be Christian, for that is the religion of your family.”

“I must appear to be Christian. Nothing more.”

“You do not fear being a hypocrite?”

“I fear not knowing the truth even more.”

“Are you prepared to be admitted to the secret rites of Mithras?”

“Is that the way?”

“It is a way. If you are willing to make the attempt, I can lead you to the door. But you must cross through alone. I cannot help you past the gate.”

“And after I pass through?”

“You will know what it is to die and to be born again.”

“Then you shall be my teacher, Maximus. And my guide.”

“Of course I shall be.” He smiled. “It is our fate. Remember what I said? We have no choice, either of us. Fate has intervened. Together we shall proceed to the end of the tragedy.”

“Tragedy?”

“Human life is tragic: it ends in pain and death.”

“But after the pain? after the death?”

“When you cross the threshold of Mithras, you will know what it is like to be beyond tragedy, to be beyond what is human, to be one with God.”

Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 12:08 pm  Comments (5)  
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Julian, 27

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

 
Julian Augustus

Ecebolius was eager to go to Ephesus, rather to my surprise; I had thought he would have wanted to keep me from Maximus. But he was compliant. “After all, I am your teacher, approved by the Emperor. You cannot officially study with Maximus, or anyone else. Not that I would object. Far from it. I am told Maximus is most inspiring, though hopelessly reactionary. But we hardly need worry about your being influenced at this late date. After all, you were taught Christian theology by two great bishops, Eusebius and George. What firmer foundation can any man have? By all means let us visit Ephesus. You will enjoy the intellectual life. And so shall I.”

What Ecebolius had come to enjoy was playing Aristotle to my green Alexander. Everywhere we went, academics were curious to know me. That meant they got to know Ecebolius. In no time at all, he was proposing delicately that he “exchange” students with them. “Exchange” meant that they would send him students at Constantinople for which they would receive nothing except the possible favour of the prince. During our travels, Ecebolius made his fortune.

In a snowstorm we were met at the gates of Ephesus by the city prefect and the town council. They were all very nervous.

“It is a great honour for Ephesus to receive the most noble Julian,” said the prefect. “We are here to serve him, as we have served the most noble Gallus, who has also honoured us by his presence here.” At the mention of Gallus, as though rehearsed, the councillors began to mutter, “Kind, good, wise, noble.”

“Where is my brother?”

There was a tense pause. The prefect looked anxiously at the councillors. They looked at one another. There was a good deal of energetic brushing of snow from cloaks.

“Your brother,” said the prefect, finally, “is at court. At Milan. He was summoned by the Emperor last month. There has been no word about him. None at all. Naturally, we hope for the best.”

“And what is the best?”

“Why, that he be made Caesar.” It was not necessary to inquire about the worst.

After due ceremony, we were led to the prefect’s house, where I was to stay. Ecebolius was thrilled at the thought that I might soon be half-brother to a Caesar. But I was alarmed. My alarm became panic when later that night Oribasius told me that Gallus had been taken from Ephesus under arrest.

“Was he charged with anything?”

“The Emperor’s pleasure. There was no charge. Most people expect him to be executed.”

“Has he given any cause?”

Oribasius shrugged. “If he is executed, people will give a hundred reasons why the Emperor did the right thing. If he is made Caesar, they will say they knew all along such wisdom and loyalty would be rewarded.”

“If Gallus dies…” I shuddered.

“But you’re not political.”

“I was born ‘political’ and there is nothing I can do about it. First Gallus, then me.”

“I should think you were safest of all, the scholar-prince.”

“No one is safe.” I felt the cold that night as I have never felt the cold before or since. I don’t know what I should have done without Oribasius. He was the first friend I ever had. He is still the best friend I have, and I miss him here in Persia. Oribasius has always been particularly useful in finding out things I would have no way of knowing. People never speak candidly to princes, but Oribasius could get anyone to tell him anything, a trick learned practising medicine. He inspires confidences.

Within a day of our arrival at Ephesus, Oribasius had obtained a full report on Gallus’s life in the city. “He is feared. But he is admired.”

“For his beauty?” I could not resist that. After all, I had spent my childhood hopelessly beguiled by that golden creature.

“He shares his beauty rather liberally with the wives of the local magnates.”

“Naturally.”

“He is thought to be intelligent.”

“He is shrewd.”

“Politically knowledgeable, very ambitious…”

“Yet unpopular and feared. Why?”

“A bad temper, occasionally violent.”

“Yes.” I thought of the cedar grove at Macellum.

“People fear him. They don’t know why.”

“Poor Gallus.” I almost meant it, too. “What do they say about me?”

“They wish you would shave your beard.”

“I thought it was looking rather decent lately. A bit like Hadrian’s.” I rubbed the now full growth affectionately. Only the colour displeased me: it was even lighter than the hair on my head, which is light brown. To make the beard seem darker and glossier, I occasionally rubbed oil in it. Nowadays, as I go grey, the beard has mysteriously darkened. I am perfectly satisfied with the way it looks. No one else is. ”

They also wonder what you are up to.”

“Up to? I should have thought it perfectly plain. I am a student.”

“We are Greeks in these parts.” Oribasius grinned, looking very Greek. “We never think anything is what it seems to be.”

“Well, I am not about to subvert the state,” I said gloomily. “My only plot is how to survive.”

In spite of himself, Ecebolius liked Oribasius. “Because we are really disobeying the Chamberlain, you know. He fixed your household at a certain size and made no allowance for a physician.”

“But Oribasius is a very special physician.”

“Granted, he helped my fever and banished ‘pain’s cruel handmaid’…”

“He also has the advantage of being richer than I. He helps us pay the bills.”

“True. Sad truth.” Ecebolius has a healthy respect for money, and because of that I was able to keep Oribasius near me.

Published in: on February 4, 2018 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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