Christianity’s Criminal History, 112

Editor’s note: Here we see once again some passages on the historical Libanius: a central character in Gore Vidal’s Julian. What Deschner says here about Libanius is splendidly novelized by Vidal in the very final paragraph of his novel.

To contextualise these translations of Karlheinz Deschner’s encyclopaedic history of the Church in 10-volumes, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums, read the abridged translation of Volume I.
 

The Western world darkens more and more

Culture was highly esteemed in the 4th and 5th centuries. It was one of the legacies of antiquity and enjoyed an ‘almost religious veneration’ (Dannenbauer). Still in the year 360 a law of the emperor Constantius could declare that education was the supreme virtue. And really many noble families of that time, Gallic and Roman, were consecrated to it and particularly in the bosom of the Senatorial proceedings.

But they were already simple custodians of the culture, to which they did not enrich. And everywhere there were circles and social forces of a very different kind, even in the highest positions. The Christian king Theodoric the Great was no longer able to write his own name on the documents: neither could most of the Christian princes. Theodoric wrote the four letters LEGI (‘I read it’) by means of an aureus mold expressly forged for him. The instruction of the Goth children was practically forbidden by him, since, as he seems to have said, he who trembled before the master’s blows would never know how to despise the cuts and rushes of the sword in battle.

In Gaul, apparently, where the school system had flourished from the beginning of the 2nd century until the end of the 4th century, public schools are disappearing over the course of the next century, no matter how much here and there, in Lyon, Vienne, Bordeaux and Clermont there still are schools of grammar and rhetoric in addition to, naturally, the private ones. But all the teachings, at least the literary, served exclusively for the collection of material for sermons and treatises, to deal with the Bible and for the consolidation of the faith. Scientific inquiry was already a thing of the past: it no longer counted or was appreciated. The knowledge of Greek, which for centuries was the requirement of every authentic culture, became a rarity. Even the Roman classics, such as Horace, Ovid and Catullus, were cited less and less.

Libanius, the champion of Hellenistic culture, the most famous professor of rhetoric of the century, complains about the aversion aroused by that profession. ‘They see’, he says, referring to his students, ‘that this cause is despised and thrown on the floor; that does not bring fame, power or wealth but a painful servitude under many lords, parents, mothers, pedagogues and other students, who put things upside down and believe that it is the teacher who needs them. When they see all this they avoid this depreciated profession like a boat the pitfalls’.

In the time of Augustine there are hardly any schools of philosophy in the West. Philosophy is frowned upon, it is a thing of the devil, the original father of all ‘heresy’, and it causes fear to the pious. Even in a centre of culture as important as Bordeaux philosophy is no longer taught. And even in the East, the largest and most important of the universities of the Roman Empire, that of Constantinople, has only one chair of philosophy out of a total of 31.

The knowledge of something that had existed for a long time was lost in almost all areas. The spiritual horizon became increasingly narrower. Ancient culture languished from Gaul to Africa, while in Italy it practically disappeared. The interest in natural science vanished. Also jurisprudence, at least in the West, suffers ‘havoc’, an ‘astonishing demolition’ (Wieacker).

The bishop Paulinus of Nola, who died in 431, never read a historian: a typical attitude of the moment. Whole eras fall in the oblivion, for example, the time of the Roman emperors. The only renowned historian in the late 4th century is Ammianus Marcellinus, a non-Christian. Entire synods forbid the bishops to read ‘pagan’ books. In short: scientific research ceases; experimental testing stops; people think increasingly with less autonomy.

A few decades later no doctor could heal Bishop Gregory de Tours, a man with a mind full of superstitions, but he could miraculously be healed through a drink of water with some dust taken from the tomb of St. Martin.

Only clerics will still read.

Julian, 51

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

 
In the dim atrium, students were again gathered, talking strenuously all at once as students will. When they saw us enter, they fell silent. I daresay the sight of me alarmed them. But Prohaeresius told them I was to be treated as just another student.

“Not that he is, of course, in spite of the beard and the old clothes.” They laughed. “He is different from us.” I was about to say that even members of Constantine’s family have some (if not much) resemblance to the human family, when he said: “He is a true philosopher. He has chosen to be what we must be.” This was accepted with some delight. Not until a day later did the irony of what he said occur to me.

Macrina took me by the arm and said, “You must meet Priscus. He is the most disagreeable man in Athens.”

Priscus sat on a stool, surrounded by students. He is a lean, cold-faced man, nearly as tall as Prohaeresius. He rose when we approached him and murmured, “Welcome.” I was pleased to meet this great teacher whom I had long known by reputation, for he is as famous for his wit as he is for his ambiguities. He is also completely without enthusiasm, which right off made him a good foil for me since I am often excited by the trivial. We were friends from the start. He is with me now in Persia.

“Try to pin him down,” said Macrina, turning to me, her hand on Priscus’s lean arm as though presenting him to me for a bout of wrestling, “on anything. We think of him as the master of evasion. He never argues.”

With a look of distaste which I have come to know so well (and fear when it is turned on me!), Priscus got his arm loose from Macrina’s grasp. “Why should I argue? I know what I know. And others are always quick to tell me what they know, or think they know. There is no need for confrontation.”

“But surely you must find that new thoughts occur in argument?” I was naïve, of course; I pressed him hard. “After all, Socrates led others to wisdom through argument and conversation.”

“The two are not quite the same thing. I teach through conversation, or try to. But argument is a vice in this city. Glib men can almost always score points off wiser but less well-spoken men. Nowadays style in speaking is everything; content nothing. Most of the Sophists are actors—worse, they are lawyers. And the young men pay to hear them perform, like street singers.”

“Priscus attacks me!” Prohaeresius had joined us. He was amused at what was obviously an old discussion.

“You know what I think.” Priscus was severe. “You are the worst of the lot because you are the best performer.” He turned to me. “He is so eloquent that every Sophist in Athens hates him.”

“All but you,” observed Macrina.

Priscus ignored her. “A few years ago his confreres decided that he was too popular. So they bribed the proconsul…”

“Careful,” said Macrina. “We must not speak of bribed officials in front of what may one day be the greatest official of them all.”

“Bribed the proconsul,” said Priscus as though she had not spoken, “to exile our host. This was done. But then the proconsul retired and was succeeded by a younger man who was so indignant at what had happened that he allowed Prohaeresius to return. But the Sophists did not give up easily. They continued to plot against their master. So the proconsul held a meeting at the University…”

“At my uncle’s suggestion.”

Prohaeresius was amused. “Macrina allows us no secrets. Yes, I put him up to it. I wanted to get my enemies all together in one place in order that I might…”

“Dispatch them,” said Macrina.

Win them,” said her uncle.

“Beat them,” said Macrina.

Priscus continued. “It was a formidable display. Everyone was gathered in the main hall of the University. Friends were nervous. Enemies were active. The proconsul arrived. He took charge of the assembly. He announced that a theme should be proposed for Prohaeresius to argue. Any theme. The assembly could choose it. At first no one said a word.”

“Until my uncle saw two of his very worst enemies skulking in the back. He called on them to set a theme. They tried to escape, but the proconsul ordered his guards to bring them back.”

Priscus looked dour indeed. “It was the guards, I suggest, that won the day for virtue.”

“The honeyed tongue of Priscus!” The old man laughed. “You may be right. Though I suspect the bad judgment of the enemy helped most, for they set me a theme of remarkable obscenity and limited scope.”

“Which side of a woman is the most pleasing, front or back.” Macrina grinned.

“But he accepted the challenge,” said Priscus. “He spoke with such effectiveness that the audience maintained a Pythagorean silence.”

“He also insisted that shorthand reporters from the law court take down every word.” In an oblique way, Macrina was proud of her uncle’s prowess. “He also insisted there be no applause.”

“It was a memorable speech,” Priscus continued. “First, he presented the argument in all its particulars. Then he took one side… the front. After an hour, he said, ‘Now observe carefully whether I remember all the arguments that I used earlier.’ He then repeated the speech in all its intricate detail, only this time he took the opposite point of view… the back. In spite of the proconsul’s order, applause filled the hall. It was the greatest triumph of memory and eloquence heard in our time.”

“And…?” Prohaeresius knew that Priscus would not finish without a sudden twist to the knife.

And? Your enemies were completely routed and where before they despised you, now they hate you.” Priscus turned to me. “They nearly had his life the next year. They still plot against him.”

“Which proves?” Prohaeresius was as curious as I to learn what Priscus was up to.

“That victories in argument are useless. They are showy. What is spoken always causes more anger than any silence. Debate of this sort convinces no one. Aside from the jealousies such a victory arouses, there is the problem of the vanquished. I speak now of philosophers. The one who is defeated, even if he realizes at last that he is fighting truth, suffers from having been publicly proved wrong. He then becomes savage and is apt to end by hating philosophy. I would prefer not to lose anyone for civilization.”

“Well said,” Prohaeresius agreed.

“Or, perhaps,” said the devilish Macrina, “you yourself don’t want to lose an argument, knowing that you are apt to turn bitter as a result of public humiliation. Oh, Priscus, you are vain! You won’t compete for fear you might not win. As it is, none of us knows how wise you are. Silence is his legend, Prince. And he is all the greater for that. Each time Prohaeresius speaks he limits himself, for words limit everything, being themselves limited. That’s why Priscus is wisest of all: silence cannot be judged. Silence masks all things or no thing. Only Priscus can tell us what his silence conceals, but since he won’t, we suspect him great.”

Priscus did not answer. Macrina was the only woman I have ever known who could speak with so many odd twistings and turnings. Irony is not usual to woman, but then Macrina was not in any way usual. Before we had an opportunity to see if Priscus could answer her, we were interrupted by the arrival of my bodyguard, as well as an officer of the proconsul’s staff. Word had already spread throughout Athens that I was at the house of Prohaeresius. I was again taken into custody.

Published in: on January 13, 2019 at 12:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 50

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

 
I was placed in the chair of honour beside the fountain, as Prohaeresius presented his wife Amphiclea to me. She is a sad woman who has never got over the deaths of two daughters. She spoke seldom. Obviously philosophy has been no consolation to her. I also met Macrina’s father, Anatolius, a boorish man who looked like an innkeeper, which he was. Macrina was not fond of him.

Basil and Gregory excused themselves. Gregory was most winning. He offered to take me to all the lectures; he would be my guide. Basil was equally pleasant though he said that he might have to excuse himself from most expeditions. “It’s only a few months before I go back. I have a great deal to do, if I’m spared.” And he pressed both hands to his middle, with a look of mock agony. “My liver feels as if Prometheus’s vultures were tearing at it!”

“Stay out of draughts, then,” I found myself saying too quickly, “or you may conceive and lay a vulture’s egg!” Prohaeresius and Macrina both got the allusion and burst out laughing. Basil was not much amused and I regretted the quickness with which I had spoken. I often do this. It is a fault. Gregory shook my hand fondly; then he and Basil left. To this day he is probably afraid that I shall have my revenge on him for what he said about me. But I am not like that, as the world knows.

We drank wine in the garden. Prohaeresius asked me about matters at court. He was most interested in politics; in fact, when my cousin Constans wanted to ennoble him as a sign of admiration, he offered Prohaeresius the honorary title of praetorian prefect. But the old man said that he preferred to be food comptroller for Athens (a significant title Constantius always reserved for himself). Then, exercising the authority that went with his title, he got the corn supply of several islands diverted to Athens. Needless to say, he is a hero to the city.

Prohaeresius was suspicious of me from the beginning. And for all his geniality he seemed by his questions to be trying to get me to confess to some obscure reason for visiting Athens. He spoke of the splendours of Milan and Rome, the vitality of Constantinople, the elegant viciousness of Antioch, the high intellectual tone of Pergamon and Nicomedia; he even praised Caesarea—“the Metropolis of Letters”, as Gregory always refers to it, and not humorously. Any one of these cities, Prohaeresius declared, ought to attract me more than Athens. I told him bluntly that I had come to see him.

“And the beautiful city?” Macrina suddenly interrupted.

“And the beautiful city,” I repeated dutifully.

Prohaeresius rose suddenly. “Let us take a walk by the river,” he said. “Just the two of us.”

At the Ilissos we stopped opposite the Kallirrhoe Fountain, a sort of stone island so hollowed and shaped by nature that it does indeed resemble a fountain; from it is drawn sacred water. We sat on the bank, among long grass brown from August heat. Plane trees sheltered us from the setting sun. The day was golden; the air still. All around us students read or slept. Across the river, above a row of dusty trees, rose Hymettos. I was euphoric.

“My dear boy,” Prohaeresius addressed me now without ceremony as father to son. “You are close to the fire.”

It was a most unexpected beginning. I lay full length on the thick brown turf while he sat cross-legged beside me, very erect, his back to the bole of a plane tree. I looked up at him, noting how rounded and youthful the neck was, how firm the jaw line for one so old.

“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 towards 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.”

“Shall we equal it?”

“Some day, perhaps.” He paused. I waited, as though for an omen. “You will be emperor one day.” The old man said this evenly, as though stating fact.

“I don’t want to be. I doubt if I shall be. Remember that of all our family, only Constantius and I are left. As the others went, so I shall go. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to see Athens first.”

“Perhaps you mean that. But I… well, I confess to a weakness for oracles.” He paused significantly. That was enough. One word more and he would have committed treason. It is forbidden by law to consult an oracle concerning the emperor—an excellent law, by the way, for who would ever obey a ruler the date of whose death was known and whose successor had been identified? I must say that I was shocked at the old man’s candour. But also pleased that he felt he could trust me.

“Is it predicted?” I was as bold as he. I incriminated myself, hoping to prove to him my own good faith.

He nodded. “Not the day, not the year, merely the fact. But it will be tragedy.”

“For me? Or for the state?”

“No one knows. The oracle was not explicit.” He smiled. “They seldom are. I wonder why we put such faith in them.”

“Because the gods do speak to us in dreams and reveries. That is a fact. Both Homer and Plato…”

“Perhaps they do. Anyway, the habit of believing is an old one… I knew all your family.” Idly he plucked at the brown grass with thick-veined old hands. “Constans was weak. But he had good qualities. He was not the equal of Constantius, of course. You are.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I merely observe.” He turned to me suddenly. “Now it is my guess, Julian, that you mean to restore the worship of the old gods.”

My breath stopped. “You presume too much.” My voice shook despite a hardness of tone which would have done justice to Constantius himself. Sooner or later one learns the Caesarian trick: that abrupt shift in tone which is harsh reminder of the rod and axe we wield over all men.

“I hope that I do,” said the old man, serenely.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken like that. You are the master.”

He shook his head. “No, you are the master, or will be soon. I want only to be useful. To warn you that despite what your teacher Maximus may say, the Christians have won.”

“I don’t believe it!” Fiercely and tactlessly I reminded him that only a small part of the Roman population was actually Galilean.

“Why do you call them Galileans?” he asked, interrupting my harangue.

“Because Galilee was where he came from!”

Prohaeresius saw through me. “You fear the word ‘Christian’,” he said, “for it suggests 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 is 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 mention the murder of Bishop George at Alexandria to recall vividly to those who read this the savagery of that religion not only towards its enemies (whom they term “impious”) but also towards its own 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 his defence 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. From Homer to Plato to Iamblichos the true gods continue to be defined in their many aspects and powers: multiplicity contained by the One, all emanating from truth. Or as Plotinus wrote: “Of its nature the soul loves God and longs to be at one with him.” As long as the soul of man exists, there is God. It is all so clear.

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 in great arcs as I am prone to do when passionate. Prohaeresius took it all in good part.

“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.”

I respected him that day. I respect him now. If he is still alive when this campaign is ended, I shall want to talk to him again. How we all long to make conversions!

Like two conspirators, we returned to his house. We now had a bond between us which could not be broken, for each had told the other true and dangerous things. Fear defined our friendship and gave it savour.

Published in: on December 16, 2018 at 12:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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Julian, 49

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

 
Julian Augustus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

______ 卐 ______

 

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

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

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

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

Julian, 48

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

 
Priscus: You will be aware of a number of ironies in what you have just read. The unspeakable Gregory is due to preside over the new Ecumenical Council. They say he will be the next bishop of Constantinople. How satisfying to glimpse this noble bishop in his ragged youth! Basil, who wanted only the contemplative life, now governs the church in Asia as bishop of Caesarea. I liked Basil during the brief period I knew him in Athens. He had a certain fire, and a good mind. He might have been a first-rate historian had he not decided to be a power in the church. But how can these young men resist the chance to rise? Philosophy offers them nothing; the church everything.

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

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

The malice of a true Christian attempting to destroy an opponent is something unique in the world. No other religion ever considered it necessary to destroy others because they did not share the same beliefs. At worst, another man’s belief might inspire amusement or contempt—the Egyptians and their animal gods, for instance. Yet those who worshipped the Bull did not try to murder those who worshipped the Snake, or to convert them by force from Snake to Bull. No evil ever entered the world quite so vividly or on such a vast scale as Christianity did. I don’t need to tell you that my remarks are for your eyes alone and not for publication. I put them down now in this uncharacteristic way because I find myself more moved than I thought I would be as I recall that season in Athens, not only through the eyes of my own memory but through those of Julian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head.

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

“But a Christian?” asked Macrina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Even if vultures don’t mate…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basil and I greeted one another warmly. He had changed considerably since we were adolescents. He was now a fine-looking man, tall and somewhat thin; unlike Gregory, he wore his hair close-cropped. I teased him about this. “Short hair means a bishop.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because you know him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his novel Julian, Vidal wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Poverty, plain poverty.” Gregory indicated the torn and dirty cloak, the unkempt beard. “And protection.” He lowered his voice, indicating the students at the other table. “Christians are outnumbered in Athens. It’s a detestable city. There is no faith, only argument and atheism.”

“Then why are you here?”

He sighed. “The best teachers are here, the best instructors in rhetoric. Also, it is good to know the enemy, to be able to fight him with his own weapons.”

I nodded and pretended agreement. I was not very brave in those days. But even though I could never be candid with Gregory, he was an amusing companion. He was as devoted to the Galilian nonsense as I was to the truth. I attributed this to his unfortunate childhood. His family are Cappadocian. They live in a small town some fifty miles south-west of Caesarea, the provincial capital. His mother was a most strong-willed woman named… I cannot recall her name but I did meet her once a few years ago, and a most formidable creature she was. Passionate and proud and perfectly intolerant of everything not Galilean.

Gregory’s father was part Jew and part Greek. As a result of his wife’s relentless admonitions, he succumbed finally to the Galilean religion. According to Gregory, when his father was splashed with water by the bishop of Nazianzus, a great nimbus shone all round the convert. The bishop was so moved that he declared, “Here is my successor!” A most generous-minded man, that bishop! Most of us prefer not to name our successor. In due course, Gregory’s father became bishop of Nazianzus. So his predecessor had the gift of prophecy, if nothing else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian, 45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
The driver indicated a large ruin to the right. “Hadrian,” he said. “Hadrian Augustus.” Like all travellers, I am used to hearing guides refer to my famous predecessor. Even after two centuries he is the only emperor every man has heard of—because of his constant travelling, his continuous building and, sad to say, his ridiculous passion for the boy Antinous. I suppose that it is natural enough to like boys but it is not natural or seemly to love anyone with the excessive and undignified passion that Hadrian showed for Antinous.

Fortunately, the boy was murdered before Hadrian could make him his heir. But in his grief Hadrian made himself and the Genius of Rome look absurd. He set up thousands of statues and dedicated innumerable temples to the dead boy. He even declared the pretty catamite a god! It was a shocking display and permanently shadows Hadrian’s fame. For the first time in history, a Roman emperor was mocked and thought ridiculous.

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

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

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