Julian, 14

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

 

IV

Five years passed. Little news of the outside world came to us. Sapor, the Great King of Persia, threatened our Eastern border, while the Germans infiltrated Gaul. That was all we knew. Politics was a forbidden subject. I studied Homer and Hesiod; read Plotinus and Porphyry; made love to the Antiochene; fought with Gallus, until one day I out-wrestled him and he never challenged me again. He was a coward except when he was in a rage; then he would do anything.

As long as I could read, I was never entirely wretched. But I did long to see more of the world than Macellum. It is most unnatural for a youth to be brought up entirely by soldiers and slaves, none of whom dares to be fond of him. Gallus and I had each other for company but we were not true brothers in any but the family sense—and only half-brothers at that, for we had different mothers. We were like two potentially hostile animals in the same cage.

Yet I was ravished by his beauty, and impressed by his energy. Gallus was always doing something which I wanted to imitate. Sometimes he let me, but more often not, for he enjoyed tormenting me. It gave him particular pleasure to quarrel with me just before we were to go hunting. Then he could exclaim, “All right! You stay home. This is a day for men.” And the soldiers would laugh at me and I would flee while the exuberant Gallus would ride forth to hunt, as dogs barked and horns sounded through the dark green woods. But when I was allowed to go with him, I was close to ecstasy.

One September afternoon Bishop George arrived unexpectedly at Macellum. We had not seen him for some months, because, according to the deacon, “It looks as though—now don’t repeat a word of this!” (as if we two prisoners had anyone to confide in)— “Bishop George will be raised to the see of Alexandria. Bishop Athanasius holds Alexandria only because the Emperor Constans of the West insisted upon it. But now the Emperor Constantius is arranging for Athanasius to be exiled again and if he is, we go to Alexandria!” The deacon was exalted at the thought.

But Bishop George said nothing to us about church politics when we joined him in the main hall of the hunting lodge. He had other, greater news. His sallow face was dark with excitement while his fingers snapped a sharp continuous accompaniment to his words. “The divine Augustus will visit you in ten days’ time. He is on his way home from Antioch. He is making this side trip for the express purpose of seeing the two of you.” I was too frightened to speak. It was Gallus who asked, “What does he want?”

The Bishop was impatient. “He is your cousin. Your guardian. Your emperor. He wants to see you. What else? To see what sort of men you’ve grown into. To see the result of our education. Now he will be particularly interested in your religious training. Therefore, I shall stay here until he arrives. We will review everything I have tried to teach you. This will mean, Gallus, a great deal of work for you. I suggest you put your mind to it, since your entire future may depend on the impression you make.” And so does yours, Bishop, I remember thinking to myself, eager to include anyone I could in what I was certain would prove to be a harsh fate.

We studied hard. For hours on end the Bishop drilled us mercilessly. Fortunately I have an excellent memory and can learn though not always understand!—a page at a glance. Between lessons, we tried to find out all that we could about Constantius’ mood. Was he favourably disposed towards us? Were we to remain at Macellum? But the Bishop gave us no comfort. “The divine Augustus will do what is best, as he always does. You have nothing to fear, if you are loyal and obedient.” But of course we had everything to fear. I did not sleep one night through during that time of waiting.

The day before Constantius was due to arrive, the imperial court came to Macellum. Some of the court had been with Constantius at Antioch; but most came directly from the Sacred Palace at Constantinople. All the chief officers of the state were to be lodged in the villa, while in the surrounding fields a hundred tents were pitched to accommodate the thousand clerks and notaries who conduct the business of the government.

At dawn the pageant began. Gallus and I stationed ourselves in the courtyard of the palace and gaped like two bumpkins. Neither of us had ever seen an imperial progress before, and in the general excitement and dazzle of that frosty autumn day we momentarily forgot our terror.

Bishop George stood in the doorway of the villa. He wore a jewelled chasuble, and held a silver crosier in one hand. To his left and right the military garrison of Macellum stood at attention to honour the great magnates of the Roman Empire. Some arrived on horseback, others in litters. Each was accompanied by a retinue of soldiers, clerks, eunuchs, slaves. All wore some variation of military dress, for ever since Diocletian the court has been military in its appearance, symbolic of Rome’s beleaguered state.

The courtyard was soon crowded with clerks and slaves, horses and mules; only the area just in front of the door was kept clear. After each official dismounted, he would cross to the doorway, where Bishop George would then greet him with all his titles.

The Bishop was a master of protocol. He knew exactly who everyone was and how he should be addressed, an enviable gift, since nowadays there are hundreds of subtle titles and distinctions. Highest in rank are the clarissimi. They include the two consuls for the year, all former consuls, the praetorian prefects, much of the senate. Next are the officials who are called spectabiles. Then the heads of government departments who are called illustres. But it is not easy to keep straight who is what, since an important minister of state like the quaestor (the emperor’s legal adviser) is only an illustris, while the governor of an insignificant province may be a clarissimus.

Also, the matter of the counts is confusing. In the old days, “count” was simply a courtesy title for any official or high-ranking officer who travelled in the emperor’s entourage. But Constantine, with his Persian sense of hierarchy, made the title “count” a reward for important service. So some counts are clarissimi while others are merely spectabiles. It is amazing how obsessed otherwise sensible people are by these foolish titles. I have sat for hours in the company of grown men who could discuss nothing but who held what title and why he was unworthy of it. Yet a wise emperor can exert considerable pressure on ambitious men by the giving or withholding of these empty titles.

Constantius was a master at this sort of thing. Unfortunately, since I find it hard to remember who is what, I call nearly everyone “my dear fellow”, in imitation of Plato. This scandalises the dignified.

First to arrive was the Count of the Sacred Largesse. It is his task to see that each province pays its taxes promptly on the first of every March. He also administers the government’s salt monopoly and the provincial banks, as well as all state-owned factories, mines, and of course the mint. He is never a popular official, but he dies rich. He was followed by the Count of the Privy Purse, who administers the personal property of the imperial family. This official was accompanied by twenty slaves carrying chests of dark wood studded with metal; they contained the large sums of gold and silver the emperor must always travel with. Since Privy Purse is responsible for every coin, he tends to be a nervous, distracted figure, for ever counting boxes.

Next, the Count of the East, who governs Syria and Mesopotamia. Then the Master of the Offices, a very great man indeed. He administers the state transportation system and post; he is the head of the bureau of secret agents; he commands the palace guard; he arranges for audiences with the Emperor. Bishop George bowed particularly low to him.

For six years Gallus and I had seen no one except Bishop George and our guards. Now all at once there passed before us the whole power of the state. Our eyes were dazzled by glittering armour and elaborate cloaks, by the din of a thousand clerks and notaries who scurried about the courtyard, demanding their baggage, quarrelling with one another, insisting on various prerogatives. These noisy clerks with their inky fingers and proud intelligent faces were the actual government of Rome, and they knew it.

Published in: on October 15, 2017 at 10:18 am  Comments (2)  
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Julian, 13


 
That same summer, Bishop George suggested that Gallus and I build a chapel at Macellum to be dedicated to Saint Mammas, a local shepherd whose remains were considered particularly potent: skin diseases were promptly cured by applying the saint’s shinbone to the afflicted area. Bishop George thought it would be an inspiring gesture if Gallus and I were to build a charnel house for these scraps of dead shepherd.

So all one summer Gallus and I worked on this project. I enjoyed laying brick. But Gallus hated prolonged effort of any kind, and I’m afraid he spent a good deal of time cursing Saint Mammas as we sweated in the sun. Shortly after we completed the chapel, the roof fell in. I am told that the Galileans now say that only my section of the building collapsed, because I was apostate. This is not true. The whole thing collapsed—because of faulty design.

At that time I neither believed nor disbelieved. Yet Porphyry’s eloquent case against the Nazarene was now lodged in my head. When I tried to argue doctrinal points with Bishop George, I was swiftly discouraged with this sort of thing: “The very idea of the trinity is a mystery. Only through faith can it be understood, and then never entirely.”

I much preferred Plotinus, who four times in five years achieved that total consciousness of the One which is the ultimate goal of all religious practice. Despite Porphyry’s wisdom, he experienced this heightened consciousness only once, at the age of sixty-eight. So far I have experienced it twice. I pray each day for yet another revelation.

* * *

Gallus and I had neither friends nor allies. Except for his dogged attempts to make me a priest, Bishop George showed no personal interest in either of us. Everyone else at Macellum treated us with nervous respect. We alarmed people; we reminded them of murder; we were such obvious victims.

I kept to my reading. I took little exercise, though I was naturally strong, particularly in the arms. Gallus continued to surpass me at all games and physical feats. He was taller than I, beautifully made, with the face of a god. The soldiers assigned to guard us were infatuated with him, and he flirted shamelessly with them. They took him hunting whenever he chose and I suppose that he had affairs with some of them, though we were both involved much of the time with the same girl—or rather woman.

She was the twenty-five-year-old wife of a civil servant who acted as comptroller to our household. She seduced me first, then Gallus. She was insatiable. Her husband was amenable; not that he had any choice. He used to giggle uncontrollably whenever he saw either of us. He was fat and small, and I remember asking her how she could bear to be touched by him.

“He has gifts,” she said slyly. I can still recall how her black hair glistened as it fell over bare brown shoulders. Never before or since have I felt such smooth skin. I suppose she oiled herself but if she did she was an artist at it, for one’s fingers never came away thick with perfumed grease as happens so often with women of her sort. She was Antiochene.

What else? Love-making is the only art the people of Antioch have ever taken seriously. She affected to find me attractive, but it was the golden Gallus who really enchanted her. He used to tell me with pride how “she does everything and I don’t move”. His passivity was baffling. But then I never understood Gallus. Later when he turned monster, I was not surprised. He could have been anything at all because at heart he was nothing.

Yet when he was in a room, all eyes watched him, for he was physically fascinating; men and women were equally attracted to him and since he felt nothing for anyone, every woman saw him as a challenge who must be made to love. So Gallus was able to take his pleasure as he chose… while hardly moving!

The Syrian woman was mistress to us both for three years. Though I am now celibate, I often think of her, especially at night. Where is she now? I don’t dare inquire. She is probably fat and old, living in some provincial town and paying youths to sleep with her. But for a thousand days she was Aphrodite to my Adonis.

Published in: on October 8, 2017 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 12

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

 

But at that time I was hardly a philosopher. I studied what I was told to study. The deacon who gave me instruction was most complimentary. “You have an extraordinary gift for analysis,” he said one day when I was exploring with him John 14:25, the text on which the Arians base their case against the Athanasians. “You will have a distinguished future, I am sure.”

“As a bishop?”

“Of course you will be a bishop since you are imperial. But there is something even more splendid than a bishop.”

“A martyr?”

“Martyr and saint. You have the look of one.”

I must say my boyish vanity was piqued. Largely because of this flattery, for several months I was confident that I had been especially chosen to save the world from error. Which, in a way, turned out to be true, to the horror of my early teachers.

Bishop George was an arrogant and difficult man but I got on with him, largely because he was interested in me. He was a devoted controversialist. Finding me passably intelligent, he saw his opportunity. If I could be turned into a bishop, I would be a powerful ally for the Arians, who were already outnumbered by the Athanasians, despite the considerable help given them by Constantius.

Today, of course, the “pernicious” doctrine of the three-in-one God has almost entirely prevailed, due to the efforts of Bishop Athanasius. Constantius alone kept the two parties in any sort of balance. Now that he is dead the victory of the Athanasians is only a matter of time. But today none of this matters since the Galileans are now but one of a number of religious sects, and by no means the largest. Their days of domination are over. Not only have I forbidden them to persecute us Hellenists; I have forbidden them to persecute one another. They find me intolerably cruel!

Was I a true Galilean in those years at Macellum? There has been much speculation about this. I often wonder myself. The answer is not clear even to me. For a long time I believed what I was taught. I accepted the Arian thesis that the One God (whose existence we all accept) mysteriously produced a sort of son who was born a Jew, became a teacher, and was finally executed by the state for reasons which were never entirely clear to me, despite the best efforts of Bishop George to instruct me.

But while I was studying the life of the Galilean I was also reading Plato, who was far more to my taste. After all, I was something of a literary snob. I had been taught the best Greek by Mardonius. I could not help but compare the barbarous backcountry language of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to the clear prose of Plato. Yet I accepted the Galilean legend as truth. After all, it was the religion of my family, and though I did not find it attractive I was unaware of any alternative until one afternoon when I was about fourteen.

I had been sitting for two hours listening to the deacon sing me the songs of Bishop Arius… yes, that great religious thinker wrote popular songs in order to influence the illiterate. To this day I can recall the words of half a dozen of his inane ballads which “proved” that the son was the son and the father was the father. Finally, the deacon finished; I praised his singing.

“It is the spirit which matters, not the voice,” said the deacon, pleased with my compliment. Then—I don’t know how it happened—Plotinus was mentioned. He was only a name to me. He was anathema to the deacon. “A would-be philosopher of the last century. A follower of Plato, or so he claimed. An enemy of the church, though there are some Christians who are foolish enough to regard him highly. He lived at Rome. He was a favourite of the Emperor Gordian. He wrote six quite unintelligible books which his disciple Porphyry edited.”

“Porphyry?”

As though it were yesterday, I can remember hearing that name for the first time, seated opposite the angular deacon in one of the gardens at Macellum, high summer flowering all about us and the day hazy with heat.

“Even worse than Plotinus! Porphyry came from Tyre. He studied at Athens. He called himself a philosopher but of course he was merely an atheist. He attacked the church in fifteen volumes.”

“On what grounds?”

“How should I know? I have never read his books. No Christian ought.” The deacon was firm.

“But surely this Porphyry must have had some cause…”

“The devil entered him. That is cause enough.”

By then I knew that I must read Plotinus and Porphyry. I wrote Bishop George a most politic letter, asking him to lend me the books of these “incorrigible” men. I wished to see, I said, the face of the enemy plain, and naturally I turned to the Bishop for guidance, not only because he was my religious mentor but because he had the best library in Cappadocia. I rather laid it on.

To my astonishment Bishop George immediately sent me the complete works of Plotinus as well as Porphyry’s attack on Christianity. “Young as you are, I am sure that you will appreciate the folly of Porphyry. He was an intelligent man misled by a bad character. My predecessor, as bishop of Caesarea, wrote a splendid refutation of Porphyry, answering for all time the so-called ‘inconsistencies’ Porphyry claimed to have detected in scriptures. I am sending you the Bishop’s works, too. I cannot tell you how pleased I am at the interest you are showing in sacred matters.”

What the good Bishop did not know was that the arguments of Porphyry were to form the basis for my own rejection of the Nazarene.

Published in: on October 1, 2017 at 3:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 11

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

 
We were nominally in the charge of Bishop George of Cappadocia who lived at Caesarea. He visited us at least once a month, and it was he who insisted that our education be essentially Galilean. “Because there is no reason why you should not be a priest.” He pointed a long finger at me. He was a small thin man whose lean face always looked in need of shaving.

While I was respectfully trying to think of a number of reasons why I should not become a priest, Gallus with an engaging smile said, “Julian dreams of the priesthood, Bishop. It’s his whole life. He does nothing but read.”

“I was that way myself at your age.” Bishop George looked pleased at finding this likeness.

“But I read philosophy…” I began.

“So do we all, of course. But then we come to the story of Jesus which is the beginning and the end of knowledge. But I am sure you have had a good training already from your late cousin, my old friend, the Bishop Eusebius. Those of us who are true Christians miss him greatly.” Bishop George began to pace up and down the room, snapping his fingers, a characteristic habit. Gallus grinned at me, very pleased with what he had done.

Bishop George suddenly spun round; the long finger was again pointed at me.

Homoiousios. What does that mean?”

I knew. I rattled my answer like a crow taught to speak. “It means that Jesus the son is of similar substance to God the father.”

Homoousios. What does that mean?”

“That Jesus the son is of one substance with God the father.”

“The difference?”

“In the first case, Jesus was created by the father before this world began. He is God’s son by grace but not by nature.”

“Why?”

“Because God is one. By definition singular. God cannot be many, as the late Bishop Arius maintained at the council of Nicaea.”

“Excellent.” I received a series of finger-snappings as applause. “Now in the second case?”

Homoousios in that pernicious doctrine”—I had been well drilled by old Eusebius—“which maintains that the father and the son and the holy spirit are one and the same.”

“Which cannot be!”

“Which cannot be,” I chirruped obediently.

“Despite what happened at Nicaea.”

“Where in the year 325 Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria…”

“A mere deacon at the time…”

“Opposed my cousin Bishop Eusebius as well as Bishop Axius, and forced the council to accept the Athanasian doctrine that the father, son and holy spirit are one.”

But the battle is far from over. We are gaining ground every year. Our wise Augustus believes as we believe, as the late Bishop Arius believed. Two years ago at Antioch we Eastern bishops met to support the true doctrine. This year we shall meet again at Sardica and, with the Emperor’s aid, the true believers shall once and for all destroy the doctrine of Athanasius. My son, you are to be a priest. I can tell. You have the mark. You will be a great force in the church. Tomorrow I shall send you one of my deacons. He will give you religious instruction, both of you.”

“But I’m to be a soldier,” said Gallus, alarmed.

“A God-fearing soldier has the strength of twenty,” said Bishop George automatically. “Besides, religious training will do you no harm.” And curiously enough, it was Gallus who became the devout Galilean while I, as the world knows, returned to the old ways.

Published in: on September 17, 2017 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 10

 

III

When I was eleven years old, my life again changed abruptly. One morning in May I was doing lessons with Mardonius. I was reciting Hesiod and making a good many mistakes, when Gallus came into the room.

“He’s dead. The Bishop’s dead. In the church. He died. Just like that!”

Mardonius drew a cross on his chest; so did I. A moment later we were joined by clergy, officials, servants. Everyone was stunned, and alarmed, for it is a great event when the bishop of Constantinople dies, and who succeeds him is a matter of national importance. The emperor—if he is Galilean—always has a hand in the choosing of a successor. But Constantius was a thousand miles away, on the borders of Persia. So for several weeks no bishop was appointed, and no one knew what to do with Gallus and me. Luckily, my uncle Count Julian was in the city, and the day after the funeral he came to see us.

“He’s going to kill us, isn’t he?” Under stress, Gallus could be reckless.

Count Julian’s smile was not very convincing. “Certainly not. After all, you are the heirs of Constantine the Great.”

“So was our father,” said Gallus grimly. “And all the others.”

“But the divine Augustus is your friend.”

“Then why are we under arrest?” Gallus indicated the secret police who had arrived only that day; when Gallus and I had tried to go out, we were told politely to stay where we were “until further orders”.

“They are for your protection.”

“The only protection we need is from Constantius,” said Gallus; but he lowered his voice. Though hot-tempered, he was not suicidal. Count Julian looked very nervous.

“That is not true, Gallus. Now listen to me carefully. Someone close to the Emperor, very close, has told me that Constantius believes that the reason he cannot have children is because he—because so many members of his own family were—because they, ah, died!”

“Yes, but since he’s already committed enough murders to get him into hell, why stop at us? He has nothing to lose.”

“Nothing to gain, either. After all, you are only children.”

Gallus snorted. At sixteen he was physically a man, though in character he was still a child, a fierce destructive child.

“Believe me, you are safe.” Count Julian was soothing. He was in an excellent mood, for he had just been appointed governor of Egypt, and I am afraid that was more on his mind than the fate of his nephews. But he did his best to comfort us, for which I at least was grateful. He left us with the hollow words, “You have nothing to fear.”

When he was gone, Gallus deliberately smashed the cup he had used. Breaking things always gave Gallus physical relief; shattering this particular cup took on ritual significance. “He’s like all the rest!” Gallus’s voice cracked with anger as he stood there in the bright sun of a green May day, his long pale hair tangled across his brow, his startling blue eyes magnified with sudden tears. “There’s no way out of this!”

I tried to say something hopeful but he rounded on me. “You’re no loss, you little ape! But why do I have to die?”

Why indeed? Everyone asks himself that question sooner or later. No one can ever love us quite so much as we love ourselves. Gallus saw no justice in a world where a beauty and vitality such as his could be pinched out as casually as a lamp wick. Of course fate is cruel. But children cannot accept this, nor men like Gallus who see all things as incidental to themselves. I loved Gallus. I hated him. During the first years of my life I was so entirely absorbed by him that I was hardly aware of myself at all except as I was reflected in those vivid blue eyes, which saw nothing of me nor much of anything else.

But Count Julian was right. Constantius did suffer remorse for his crimes. We were safe, for the time being. In due course a message arrived from the Chamberlain Eusebius. Gallus and I were to be sent to Macellum in Cappadocia “to continue your education”.

“Education for what?” asked Gallus when this message had been read us. But Mardonius silenced him. “The Augustus is merciful. Never forget that he is now your father as well as your lord.”

We departed for Macellum that same day. I was most upset, for Mardonius was not to accompany us. I don’t know the motive behind this act of petty cruelty except that as the Chamberlain Eusebius was also a eunuch he might have thought that a fellow eunuch would prove to be too subtle an ally for us. Sniffling wretchedly, I was bundled into a wagon with Gallus.

Mardonius was also grief-stricken but he controlled himself. “We shall meet again,” he said. “And when we do, I shall expect Gallus to know as much Hesiod as Julian.” Mardonius stood stiffly in front of the bishop’s palace as we drove off, escorted by a cohort of cavalry, just as if we were important princes, which we were, or important prisoners, which we also were. I sobbed. Gallus swore fierce oaths under his breath. In the street a crowd of people were gathered, eager for a glimpse of us. To get a close view one bold burgher thrust his head over the side of the wagon. Gallus promptly spat in the man’s astonished face. Then Gallus covered his head with his cloak and would not take it off until we were outside the city gate. No one expected to see us alive again.

All travellers agree that Macellum is one of the beautiful places of the world. I hate it to this day. Macellum is not a town but an imperial residence originally used by the ancient Cappadocian kings as a hunting lodge. Constantine enlarged it so that it is now a complex of many buildings set in lonely woods at the foot of Mount Argaeus, some four hundred miles south-east of Constantinople. When Constantius inherited the principate, he acquired the lodge, along with a number of other properties in the neighbourhood; in fact, our family’s private income derives almost entirely from the Cappadocian crown lands.

Tonight when I was telling Priscus about my childhood, he said that it sounded enviable. “After all, you lived in a palace, with gardens, baths, fountains, a private chapel,” he enjoys teasing me, “in the very best hunting country with nothing to do but read. You had the perfect life.” Well, it was not perfect. Gallus and I might just as well have been hostages in a Persian prison. We had no one to talk to, except for a series of schoolmasters from nearby Caesarea.

None stayed with us very long because of Gallus. He could not resist tormenting them. He got on better with our jailers, particularly the young officers. Gallus could be very winning when he wanted to be, and he soon had them training him in the use of sword and spear, shield and axe. Gallus was a natural athlete, with a gift for weaponry. I would have liked to practise with him but he preferred to keep his military companions to himself. “You read your books,” he said sharply. “I’m the one who’s to be a soldier.” So I read my books.

Published in: on September 10, 2017 at 1:28 pm  Comments (23)  
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Julian, 9

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

 

In the summer I used to go to my maternal grandmother’s estate in Bithynia. It was a small farm two miles from the sea. Just back of the house was a low hill from whose top there was a fine view of the sea of Marmora, while on the horizon’s farthest curve to the north rose the towers of Constantinople. Here I spent many hours, reading and dreaming.

One afternoon, lulled by the murmuring of bees, the scent of thyme, the warm salt-laden air, I fell asleep and dreamed that I was having some sort of quarrel with Gallus. I wanted to escape him. So I began to run. As I ran, I took longer and longer steps until I began to bound like a deer. With each leap, I remained higher in the air until at last I was gliding over the countryside while the people below stared with wonder as I sailed over their heads, completely free. There is no dream quite so satisfying as the one of flying.

Suddenly in my pleasant voyage, I was aware that someone was calling my name. I looked about me but there was no one in sight, only pale clouds, blue sky, dark sea. I was gliding over the Marmora, towards Constantinople, when the voice sounded again.

“Who wants me?” I asked.

Then—I don’t know how—but I realized that it was the sun who had spoken. Huge and gold above the city, the sun reached out fiery arms to me. And with an astonishingly poignant sense of coming home, I plunged straight into the blazing light. And awakened to find that the setting sun was indeed shining in my face. Dazzled, I got to my feet. I had been overwhelmed by light. I was also bewildered. Something important had happened. But what?

I told no one about this vision. However, some months later when Mardonius and I were alone together in the palace gardens overlooking the Bosphorus, I questioned him about the old religion. I began slyly: was everything Homer wrote true?

“Of course! Every word!”

“Then Zeus and Apollo and all the other gods must exist, because he says they do. And if they are real, then what became of them? Did Jesus destroy them?”

Poor Mardonius! He was a devoted classicist. He was also a Galilean. Like so many in those days, he was hopelessly divided. But he had his answer ready. “You must remember that Christ was not born when Homer lived. Wise as Homer was, there was no way for him to know the ultimate truth that we know. So he was forced to deal with the gods the people had always believed in…”

“False gods, according to Jesus, so if they’re false then what Homer writes about them can’t be true.”

“Yet like all things, those gods are manifestations of the true.” Mardonius shifted his ground. “Homer believed much as we believe. He worshipped the One God, the single principle of the universe. And I suspect he was aware that the One God can take many forms, and that the gods of Olympus are among them. After all, to this day God has many names because we have many languages and traditions, yet he is always the same.”

“What are some of the old names?”

“Zeus, Helios the sun, Serapis…”

“The sun.” My deity. “Apollo…” I began.

“Apollo also had many names, Helios, Companion of Mithras…”

“Apollo, Helios, Mithras,” I repeated softly. From where we sat in the shady grove on the slope beneath the Daphne Palace, I could just catch a glimpse of my deity, impaled on the dark green bough of a cypress.

“Mithraism was most devilish of all the cults. In fact, there are still some active Mithraists, soldiers mostly, ignorant folk, though a few philosophers (or would-be philosophers) are drawn to Mithras, like Iamblichos… I met him once, a remarkably ugly man, a Syrian, from Chalcis, I think, he died a few years ago, much admired by a small circle, but I’ve always thought his prose unreasonably obscure. He pretended to be a disciple of Plato. And of course he maintained that Jesus was a false prophet and our trinity absurd. Then—utter madness—he invented a trinity of his own, based on Plato.”

Carried away by his passion to explain, Mardonius was now hardly conscious of his rapt listener who understood perhaps every other word he spoke. Yet the general sense of what was being said was perfectly clear: Helios was an aspect of the One God, and there were those, like this mysterious Iamblichos, who still worshipped him.

“According to Iamblichos, there are three worlds, three realms of being, each presided over by the One God whose visible aspect is the sun. Now the first of these worlds is the intelligible world, which can be comprehended only by reason. You’ll find all this in Plato, when we get to him, if you get to him at your present rate. The second world is an intermediary one (this is Iamblichos’s invention); a world endowed with intelligence and governed by Helios-Mithras, with a number of assistants who turn out to be the old gods in various disguises, particularly Serapis to whom our souls return after death, Dionysus the fair, Hermes the intelligence of the universe, and Asklepios who actually lived, we think, and was a famous physician, worshipped by our ancestors as a saviour and healer.”

“Like Jesus?” “Somewhat similar, yes. Finally, the third world is our world, the world of sense and perception. Between the three worlds, the sun mediates. Light is good; darkness evil; and Mithras is the bridge, the link, between man and deity, light and dark. As you can see or as you will see—only part of this comes from Plato. Most of it is Persian in origin, based on a Persian hero named Mithras who lived, if he lived, a thousand years ago. Fortunately, with the birth of Jesus and the mystery of the trinity all this nonsense ended.”

“But the sun still exists.”

“To be absolutely precise, at this moment the sun does not exist.” Mardonius rose. “It’s set and we’re late for supper.”

That is how I became aware of the One God. In a dream Helios-Mithras had called out to me and I had beheld, literally, the light. From that day on, I was no longer alone. The sun was my protector.

I must say that during those years I needed all the solace I could get for I was continually haunted by my predicament. Would I be put to death like my father? One of my recurrent daydreams was that Constantius and I would meet, quite by chance, on my grandmother’s hill. In the dream the Emperor was always alone. He was stern but kind. We spoke of literature. He was delighted at my vast knowledge (I liked being praised for my reading). Then we became close friends, and the dream would end with him granting me my freedom to live out the rest of my life on my grandmothers farm, for one look into my eyes had convinced him that I was not worldly, that I wanted neither his throne nor revenge upon him for my father’s death. Time and again in my imagination I would convince him with brilliant argument and he would invariably grant my wish, tears in his eyes at my sincerity and lack of guile.

How curious men are! I was indeed sincere at that time. I was exactly as I have described myself. I did not want power, or so I thought. I truly believed that I wanted to live obscurely. And then? I broke Constantius. I took the throne. Knowing this now, were I Constantius and he that dreamy boy on a Bithynian hill, I would have had that young philosopher’s life on the spot. But then neither of us realized who I was, or what I would become.

Published in: on August 27, 2017 at 10:59 am  Comments (5)  

Historical novel vs. liberal fantasy

Most of the content of this site is non-fictional. Rarely I recommend novels—although not the liberal novels by George R.R. Martin upon which Game of Thrones is based (see “Beware of Game of Thrones).

Last Sundays I added passages from Gore Vidal’s most fascinating novel, a recreation of the life of my favourite Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate. Unlike the utterly fantastic Game of Thrones, Julian is an accurate historical novel. But I doubt that serious fictionalised accounts, even of huge events in western history, are of interest to most visitors. Perhaps I should continue to add passages from Julian but only once in a while…

Julian, 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly the door to the charnel house was flung open and two old men ran out into the street, closely pursued by a dozen monks, armed with sticks. The old men got as far as the arcade where we were standing. Then the monks caught them, threw them to the ground and beat them, shouting all the while, “Heretic! Heretic!”

I turned with amazement to Mardonius. “Why are they hurting those men?”

Mardonius sighed. “Because they are heretics.”

“Dirty Athanasians?” Gallus, older than I, was already acquainted with most of our new world’s superstitions.

“I’m afraid so. We’d better go.”

But I was curious. I wanted to know what an Athanasian was.

“Misguided fools who believe that Jesus and God are exactly the same…

“When everybody knows they are only similar,” said Gallus.

“Exactly. As Bishop Arius—who was so much admired by your cousin the divine Emperor—taught us.”

“They poisoned Bishop Arius,” said Gallus, already fiercely partisan. He picked up a rock. “Murdering heretics!” he yelled and hurled the stone with unfortunate accuracy at one of the old men. The monks paused in their congenial work to praise Gallus’s marksmanship. Mardonius was furious, but only on grounds of rectitude.

“Gallus!” He gave my brother a good shake. “You are a prince, not a street brawler!” Grabbing us each firmly by an arm, Mardonius hurried us away. Needless to say, I was fascinated by all this.

“But surely those old men are harmless.”

“Harmless? They murdered Bishop Arius.” Gallus’s eyes shone with righteousness.

“Those two? They actually murdered him?”

“No,” said Mardonius. “But they are followers of Bishop Athanasius…”

“The worst heretic that ever lived!” Gallus was always ecstatic when his own need for violence coincided with what others believed to be right action.

“And it is thought that Athanasius ordered Arius poisoned at a church council, some seven years ago. As a result, Athanasius was sent into exile by your divine uncle. And now, Julian, I must remind you for what is the hundredth—or is it the thousandth? time, not to bite your nails.”

I stopped biting my nails, a habit which I have not entirely broken myself of even today. “But aren’t they all Christians?” I asked. “Don’t they believe in Jesus and the gospels?”

“No!” said Gallus.

“Yes,” said Mardonius. “They are Christians, too. But they are in error.”

Even as a child I had a reasonably logical mind. “But if they are Christians, like us, then we must not fight them but turn the other cheek, and certainly nobody must kill anybody, because Jesus tells us that…”

“I’m afraid it is not as simple as all that,” said Mardonius. But of course it was. Even a child could see the division between what the Galileans say they believe and what, in fact, they do believe, as demonstrated by their actions. A religion of brotherhood and mildness which daily murders those who disagree with its doctrines can only be thought hypocrite, or worse.

Now for the purposes of my memoir it would be convenient to say that at this moment I ceased to be a Galilean. But unfortunately that would not be true. Though I was puzzled by what I had seen, I still believed, and my liberation from the Nazarene was a long time coming. But looking back, I suspect that the first chain was struck from my mind that day in the street when I saw two harmless old men set upon by monks.

Published in: on July 16, 2017 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 7

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on July 9, 2017 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 6


 

II

The Memoir of Julian Augustus

From the example of my uncle the Emperor Constantine, called the Great, who died when I was six years old, I learned that it is dangerous to side with any party of the Galileans, for they mean to overthrow and veil those things that are truly holy. I can hardly remember Constantine, though I was once presented to him at the Sacred Palace. I dimly recall a giant, heavily scented, wearing a stiff jewelled robe. My older brother Gallus always said that I tried to pull his wig off. But Gallus had a cruel humour, and I doubt that this story was true. If I had tugged at the Emperor’s wig, I would surely not have endeared myself to him, for he was as vain as a woman about his appearance; even his Galilean admirers admit to that.

From my mother Basilina I inherited my love of learning. I never knew her. She died shortly after my birth, 7 April 331. She was the daughter of the praetorian prefect Julius Julianus. From portraits I resemble her more than I do my father; I share with her a straight nose and rather full lips, unlike the imperial Flavians, who tend to have thin hooked noses and tight pursed mouths. The Emperor Constantius, my cousin and predecessor, was a typical Flavian, resembling his father Constantine, except that he was much shorter. But I did inherit the Flavian thick chest and neck, legacy of our Illyrian ancestors, who were men of the mountains. My mother, though Galilean, was devoted to literature. She was taught by the eunuch Mardonius, who was also my tutor.

From Mardonius, I learned to walk modestly with my eyes to the ground, not strutting or measuring the effect I was creating on others. I was also taught self-discipline in all things; he particularly tried to keep me from talking too much. Fortunately, now that I am Emperor everyone delights in my conversation! Mardonius also convinced me that time spent at the games or in the theatre was time wasted. And, finally, it was from Mardonius, a Galilean who loved Hellenism too well, that I learned about Homer and Hesiod, Plato and Theophrastus. He was a good teacher, if severe. From my cousin and predecessor, the Emperor Constantius, I learned to dissemble and disguise my true thoughts. A dreadful lesson, but had I not learned it I would not have lived past my twentieth year. In the year 337 Constantius murdered my father. His crime? Consanguinity. I was spared because I was six years old; my half-brother Gallus—who was eleven years old—was spared because he was sickly and not expected to live.

Yes, I was trying to imitate the style of Marcus Aurelius to Himself, and I have failed. Not only because I lack his purity and goodness, but because while he was able to write of the good things he learned from a good family and good friends, I must write of those bitter things I learned from a family of murderers in an age diseased by the quarrels and intolerance of a sect whose purpose it is to overthrow that civilization whose first note was struck upon blind Homer’s lyre. I am not Marcus Aurelius, in excellence or in experience. I must speak now in my own voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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