Julian, 22

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

Priscus: That sounds just like Ecebolius, doesn’t it? Of course when Julian became emperor, Ecebolius embraced Hellenism. Then when Valentinian and Valens became co-emperors, Ecebolius threw himself down in front of the Church of the Holy Apostles, crying, “Tread on me! I am as salt which has lost its savour!” I always wondered if anybody did tread on him. I should have liked to. He changed his religion five times in thirty years and died at a fine old age, honoured by all. If there is a moral to his career, it eludes me.

I do recall that story about you and the senator’s daughter. Is it true? I always suspected you were rather a lady’s man, in your day of course.

Libanius: No, I shall not give Priscus the pleasure of an answer. I shall also suppress Julian’s references to that old scandal. It serves no purpose to rake over the past in such a pointless way. I have always known that a story more or less along those lines was circulated about me, but this is the first time I have been confronted with it in all its malice. Envious Sophists will go to any lengths to tear down one’s reputation. There was no “senator’s daughter”, at least not as described. The whole thing is absurd. For one thing, if I had been dismissed by the Emperor on such a charge, why was I then asked by the court to return to Constantinople in 353? Which I did, and remained there several years before coming home to Antioch.

I am far more irritated by Ecebolius’ reference to my “facetiousness”. That from him! I have always inclined to a grave—some feel too grave—style, only occasionally lightened by humour. Also, if I am as poor a stylist as he suggests, why am I the most imitated of living writers? Even in those days, a prince paid for my lecture notes! Incidentally, Julian says that he paid me for the lectures. That is not true. Julian paid one of my students who had a complete set of notes. He also engaged a shorthand writer to take down my conversation. I myself never took a penny from him. How tangled truth becomes.

Julian Augustus

Looking back, I seem to have followed a straight line towards my destiny. I moved from person to person as though each had been deliberately chosen for my instruction. But at the time I had only a pleasurable sense of freedom, nothing more. Nevertheless, the design of my life was taking shape and each wise man I met formed yet another link in that chain which leads towards the ultimate revelation which Plotinus has so beautifully described as “the flight of the alone to the Alone”.

At Nicomedia I forged an important new link. Like most university towns, Nicomedia had a particular bath where the students assembled. The students’ bath is usually the cheapest in town, though not always, for students have strange tastes and when they suddenly decide that such-and-such a tavern or bath or arcade is the one place where they most want to gather, they will then think nothing of cost or comfort.

I longed to go alone to the baths and mingle with students my own age, but Ecebolius always accompanied me. “The Chamberlain’s orders,” he would say, whenever we entered the baths, my two guards trailing us as though we were potential thieves in a market-place. Even in the hot room, I would be flanked by sweating guards while Ecebolius hovered near by to see that no one presented himself to me without first speaking to him. As a result, the students I wanted to meet were scared off.

But one morning Ecebolius awakened with the fever. “I must keep to my bed ‘with only cruel pain for handmaid’,” he said, teeth chattering. I told him how sorry I was and then, utterly happy, I left for the baths. My guards promised that once inside they would not stick too closely to me. They realized how much I wanted to be anonymous, and in those days it was possible, for I was not well known in Nicomedia. I never went into the agora, and when I attended lectures I always came in last and sat at the back.

Students go to the baths in the morning, when the admission price is cheapest. Shortly before noon I queued up and followed the mob into the changing room where I undressed at the opposite end from my two guards, who pretended to be soldiers on leave. As far as I know, I was not recognized.

Since the day was warm, I went outside to the Palestra; here the athletically inclined were doing exercises and playing games. Avoiding the inevitable group of old men who linger watchfully in the shade, I crossed to a lively-looking group, seated on a bench in the sun. They ignored me when I sat beside them.

“And you took the money?”

“I did. We all did. About a hundred of us.”

“Then what happened?”

“We never went to his lectures.”

“Was he angry?”

“Of course.” “But not as angry as he was when…”

“… when all of us went back to Libanius!”

They laughed at what was in those days a famous story. Within a year of Libanius’ arrival at Nicomedia, he was easily the most popular teacher in the city. This naturally enraged his rival Sophists, one of whom tried to buy Libanius’ students away from him. The students took the man’s money and continued to attend Libanius’ lectures. It was a fine joke, until the furious Sophists applied to friends at court who had Libanius arrested on some spurious charge. Fortunately, he was soon freed.

Libanius: This was the beginning of my interest in penal reform. Over the years I have written a good deal on the subject, and there is some evidence that I am beginning to arouse the conscience of the East. At least our rulers are now aware of the barbarous conditions in which prisoners are held. I had never realized how truly hopeless our prison system is until I myself was incarcerated. But improvements are hard to make. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I do not think human beings are innately cruel, but they fear change of any kind. And now I am digressing.

Is this age? Just yesterday I had a most curious conversation on that subject with an old friend and colleague. I asked him why it was that nowadays whenever I address the assembly at Antioch, the senators cough and talk among themselves. I realize I am not a master of oratory, but after all what I have to say and the way in which I say it is—and I do not mean this immodestly—of obvious interest to the world. I am the most famous living writer of Greek. As quaestor, I am official spokesman for my city. “So why do people stop listening when I start to speak? And why, when the session is over and I try to talk to various senators and officials in the arcade, do they wander off when I am in midsentence, saying that they have appointments to keep, even though it is quite plain that they do not?”

“Because, my dear old friend, you have become—now you asked me to tell you the truth, remember that—a bore.”

I was stunned. Of course as a professional teacher one tends to lecture rather than converse, but that is a habit most public men fall into. “But even so, I should have thought that what I was saying was of some interest…”

“It is. It always is.”

“… rather than the way I say it, which may perhaps be over-explicit.”

“You are too serious.”

“No one can be too serious about what is important.”

“Apparently the Antiochenes think otherwise.”

We parted. I must say I have been thinking all day about what my colleague said. Have I aged so greatly? Have I lost my power to define and persuade? Am I too serious? I am suddenly tempted to write some sort of apologia for myself, to explain my unbecoming gravity. I must do something…. But scribbling these highly personal remarks on the back of Julian’s memoirs is not the answer!

Published in: on December 17, 2017 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 21

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

I remained the rest of that year at Constantinople. I had a sufficient income, left me by my grandmother who had died that summer. I was allowed to see her just before her death, but she did not recognize me. She spoke disjointedly. She shook with palsy and at times the shaking became so violent that she had to be strapped to her bed. When I left, she kissed me, murmuring, “Sweet, sweet.”

By order of the Grand Chamberlain I was not allowed to associate with boys my own age or, for that matter, with anyone other than my instructors, Ecebolius and Nicocles, and the Armenian eunuch. Ecebolius is a man of much charm. But Nicocles I detested. He was a short, sparse grasshopper of a man. Many regard him as our age’s first grammarian. But I always thought of him as the enemy. He did not like me either. I remember in particular one conversation with him. It is amusing in retrospect. “The most noble Julian is at an impressionable period in his life. He must be careful of those he listens to. The world is now full of false teachers. In religion we have the party of Athanasius, a most divisive group. In philosophy we have all sorts of mountebanks, like Libanius.”

That was the first time I heard the name of the man who was to mean so much to me as thinker and teacher. Not very interested, I asked who Libanius was.

“An Antiochene—and we know what they are like. He studied at Athens. Then he came here to teach. That was about twelve years ago. He was young. He was bad-mannered to his colleagues, to those of us who were, if not wiser, at least more experienced than he.”

Nicocles made a sound like an insect’s wings rustling on a summer day—laughter? “He was also tactless about religion. All the great teachers here are Christian. He was not. Like so many who go to Athens (and I deplore, if I may say so, your desire to study there), Libanius prefers the empty ways of our ancestors. He calls himself a Hellenist, preferring Plato to the gospels, Homer to the old testament. In his four years here he completely disrupted the academic community. He was always making trouble. Such a vain man! Why, he even prepared a paper for the Emperor on the teaching of Greek, suggesting changes in our curriculum! I’m glad to say he left us eight years ago, under a cloud.”

“What sort of cloud?” I was oddly intrigued by this recital. Oddly, because academics everywhere are for ever attacking one another, and I had long since learned that one must never believe what any teacher says of another. “He was involved with a girl, the daughter of a senator. He was to give her private instruction in the classics. Instead, he made her pregnant. Her family complained. So the Emperor, to save the reputation of the girl and her family, a very important family (you would know who they are if I told you, which I must not)… the Augustus exiled Libanius from the capital.”

“Where is Libanius now?”

“At Nicomedia, where as usual he is making himself difficult. He has a passion to be noticed.” The more Nicocles denounced Libanius, the more interested I became in him. I decided I must meet him. But how? Libanius could not come to Constantinople and I could not go to Nicomedia. Fortunately, I had an ally.

I liked the Armenian eunuch Eutherius as much as I disliked Nicocles. Eutherius taught me court ceremonial three times a week. He was a grave man of natural dignity who did not look or sound like a eunuch. His beard was normal. His voice was low. He had been cut at the age of twenty, so he had known what it was to be a man. He once told me in grisly detail how he had almost died during the operation, “from loss of blood, because the older you are, the more dangerous the operation is. But I have been happy. I have had an interesting life. And there is something to be said for not wasting one’s time in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.”

But though this was true of Eutherius, it was not true of all eunuchs, especially those at the palace. Despite their incapacity, eunuchs are capable of sexual activity, as I one day witnessed, in a scene I shall describe in its proper place.

When I told Eutherius that I wanted to go to Nicomedia, he agreed to conduct the intricate negotiations with the Chamberlain’s office. Letters were exchanged daily between my household and the palace. Eutherius was often in the absurd position of writing, first, my letter of request, and then Eusebius’s elaborate letter of rejection. “It is good practice for me,” said Eutherius wearily, as the months dragged on.

Shortly after New Year 349 Eusebius agreed to let me go to Nicomedia on condition that I do not attend the lectures of Libanius. As Nicocles put it, “Just as we protect our young from those who suffer from the fever, so we must protect them from dangerous ideas, not to mention poor rhetoric. As stylist, Libanius has a tendency to facetiousness which you would find most boring. As philosopher, he is dangerously committed to the foolish past.” To make sure that I would not cheat, Ecebolius was ordered to accompany me to Nicomedia.

Ecebolius and I arrived at Nicomedia in February 349. I enjoyed myself hugely that winter. I attended lectures. I listened to skilled Sophists debate. I met students of my own age. This was not always an easy matter, for they were terrified of me, while I hardly knew how to behave with them.

Libanius was much spoken of in the city. But I saw him only once. He was surrounded by students in one of the porticoes near the gymnasium of Trajan. He was a dark, rather handsome man. Ecebolius pointed him out, saying grimly, “Who else would imitate Socrates in everything but wisdom?”

“Is he so bad?”

“He is a troublemaker. Worse than that, he is a bad rhetorician. He never learned to speak properly. He simply chatters.”

“But his writings are superb.”

“How do you know?” Ecebolius looked at me sharply.

“I… from the others here. They talk about him.” To this day Ecebolius does not know that I used to pay to have Libanius’ lectures taken down in shorthand. Though Libanius had been warned not to approach me, he secretly sent me copies of his lectures, for which I paid him well.

“He can only corrupt,” said Ecebolius. “Not only is he a poor model for style, he despises our religion. He is impious.”

Published in: on December 10, 2017 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 20

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



“And you like the poetry of Bacchylides, as well? Ah, we have extraordinary taste! No doubt of that.” I was so overcome by Ecebolius’ flattery that had he asked me then and there to leap off the top of my uncle Julian’s house as a literary exercise, I would have done so gladly, with an appropriate quotation from Hesiod as I fell. I chattered like a monkey as he examined me closely in Hesiod, Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Theognis.

For seven hours he listened as I recited from memory the many thousands of lines I had memorized at Macellum. He affected to be amazed. “I knew Bishop George was a splendid scholar—that enviable library! But I had no idea he was a teacher of such genius!” I beamed idiotically and kept on talking. I had at last found my tongue, and there are those who think I have not stopped talking since.

As a small child, I had studied at the Patricians’ School with Ecebolius. So we quickly picked up where we had left off, almost as if nothing had changed, except that I was now a gawky adolescent with a beard thick on the chin, spotty on the upper lip, invisible on the cheeks. I looked frightful but I refused to shave. I am to be a philosopher, I said proudly; and that was that.

In Constantinople I was left largely to myself. I had only one audience with the Grand Chamberlain Eusebius. I say “audience”, for not only did Eusebius exercise the actual power of the Emperor, he imitated his state. In fact, there used to be a joke that if one wanted anything done, Constantius was the man to see because he was reputed to have some influence with the Grand Chamberlain.

Eusebius received me in his suite at the Sacred Palace. He stood up to greet me (although he was the second most powerful man in the empire, he was only an illustris and I outranked him). He greeted me in that sweet child’s voice of his and motioned for me to sit beside him. I noticed that his fat fingers shone with diamonds and Indian rubies, and he was drenched in attar of roses. “Is the most noble Julian comfortable in his uncle’s house?”

“Oh, yes, very comfortable.”

“We thought he would prefer that to the… confinement of the Sacred Palace. But of course you are only a few yards away. You can visit us often. We hope you will.” He gave me a dimpled smile.

I asked him when the Emperor would return.

“We have no idea. He is now at Nisibis. There are rumours that he may soon engage Sapor in a final battle. But you know as much as I.” He made a flattering gesture of obeisance to me. “We have had excellent reports on your progress. Ecebolius tells us that you have a gift for rhetoric which is unusual for your age, though not—if I may say so—for one of your family.” Nervous as I was, I smiled at this hyperbole. Neither Constantius nor Gallus could develop an argument or even deliver a proper speech. “Ecebolius proposes that you also take a course in grammar with Nicocles. I agree. These things are necessary to know, especially for one who may be raised very high.”

He let this sink in. As I gabbled my admiration of Nicocles and my passion for grammar, Eusebius studied me as though I were an actor in the theatre giving a recitation. I could see that he was curious about me. Gallus had obviously charmed him, but then Gallus was neither intelligent nor subtle; he posed no threat to the Grand Chamberlain. He could be governed, just as Constantius was governed. But who was this third prince, this half-grown youth with a patchy beard who talked too fast and used ten quotations where one would do? Eusebius had not yet made up his mind about me. So I did my best to convince him that I was harmless.

“My interest is philosophy. My goal the University of Athens, the lighthouse of the world. I should like to devote myself to literature, to philosophy. ‘Men search out God and searching find him,’ as Aeschylus wrote. But of course we know God now in a way our ancestors could not. Jesus came by special grace to save us. He is like his father though not of the same substance. Yet it is good to study the old ways. To speak out on every matter, even error. For as Euripides wrote, ‘A slave is he who cannot speak his thought,’ and who would be a slave, except to reason? Yet too great a love of reason might prove a trap, for as Horace wrote, ‘Even the wise man is a fool if he seeks virtue itself beyond what is enough.'”

With some shame, I record the awful chatter I was capable of in those days. I was so uncertain of myself that I never made a personal observation about anything. Instead I spouted quotations. In this I resembled a great many contemporary Sophists who—having no ideas of their own—string together the unrelated sayings of the distinguished dead and think themselves as wise as those they quote. It is one thing to use text to illustrate a point one is making, but quite another to quote merely to demonstrate the excellence of one’s memory.

At seventeen I was the worst sort of Sophist. This probably saved my life. I bored Eusebius profoundly and we never fear those who bore us. By definition, a bore is predictable. If you think you know in advance what a man is apt to say or do, you are not apt to be disagreeably surprised by him. I am sure that in that one interview I inadvertently saved my life.

“We shall do everything we can to bring to the divine Augustus’s attention your desire—commendable desire—to be enrolled at the University of Athens. At the moment you must continue your studies here. Also, I suggest…” He paused tactfully, his eyes taking in my schoolboy clothes as well as my fingers from which the ink had not been entirely washed. “… that you be instructed in the ways of the court. I shall send you Eutherius. Though an Armenian, he is a master of ceremony. He will acquaint you with the niceties of our arrangements twice… no, perhaps three times a week.”

Eusebius rang a dainty silver bell. Then a familiar figure appeared in the doorway: my old tutor Mardonius. He looked no different than he had that day six years before when he said farewell to us in front of the bishop’s house. We embraced emotionally.

Eusebius purred. “Mardonius is my right arm. He is chief of my secretarial bureau. A distinguished classicist, a loyal subject, a good Christian of impeccable faith.” Eusebius sounded as if he were delivering a funeral oration. “He will show you out. Now if you will forgive me, most noble prince, I have a meeting with the Sacred Consistory.” He rose. We saluted one another; then he withdrew, urging me to call on him at any time.

When Mardonius and I were alone together, I said gaily, “I’m sure you never thought you’d see me alive again!”

This was exactly the wrong thing to say. Poor Mardonius turned corpse-yellow. “Not here,” he whispered. “The palace-secret agents—everywhere. Come.” Talking of neutral matters, he led me through marble corridors to the main door of the palace. As we passed through the outer gate, the Scholarian guards saluted me, and I felt a momentary excitement which was not at all in the character I had just revealed to Eusebius.

My attendants were waiting for me under the arcade across the square. I motioned to them to remain where they were. Mardonius was brief. “I won’t be able to see you again. I asked the Grand Chamberlain if I might instruct you in court ceremonial, but he said no. He made it very clear I am not to see you.”

“What about this fellow he told me about, the Armenian?”

“Eutherius is a good man. You will like him. I don’t think he has been sent to incriminate you, though of course he will make out regular reports. You must be careful what you say at all times. Never criticize the Emperor…”

“I know that much, Mardonius.” I could not help but smile. He was sounding exactly the way he used to. “I’ve managed to live this long.”

“But this is Constantinople, not Macellum. This is the Sacred Palace which is a… a… nothing can describe it.”

“Not even Homer?” I teased him. He smiled wanly. “Homer had no experience of this sort of viciousness and corruption.”

“What do they mean to do with me?”

“The Emperor has not decided.”

“Will Eusebius decide for him?”

“Perhaps. Keep on his good side. Appear to be harmless.”

“Not difficult.”

“And wait.” Mardonius suddenly became his old self. “Incidentally, I read one of your themes. ‘Alexander the Great in Egypt.’ Too periphrastic. Also, a misquotation. From the Odyssey 16. 187: ‘No God am I. Why then do you liken me to the immortals?’ You used the verb meaning ‘to place among’ rather than ‘to liken’. I was humiliated when Eusebius showed me the mistake.”

I apologized humbly. I was also amazed to realize that every schoolboy exercise of mine was on file in the Grand Chamberlain’s office.

“That is how they will build their case for—or against—you.” Mardonius frowned and the thousand wrinkles of his face suddenly looked like the shadow of a spider’s web in the bright sun. “Be careful. Trust no one.” He hurried back into the palace.

Published in: on December 3, 2017 at 11:37 am  Comments (1)  

Julian, 19

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

One curious thing happened at this time. At the villa there were a number of Cappadocian youths, free-born country boys who worked in the stables as grooms and trainers. They were a cheerful lot and when I first came to Macellum I was allowed to play games with them.

They were the only companions I ever had of my own age. I liked one in particular, Hilarius, a good-looking youth, two years older than I. He had a quick mind, and I remember trying to teach him to read when I was ten and already a pedagogue! But as we grew older, each became aware of his place, and intimacy ceased. Even so, I continued to interest myself in his welfare, and when he told me that he wanted to marry a girl in Caesarea whose father disapproved of the match, I was able to bring the father round. I also made Hilarius my personal groom.

One April morning when I sent for my horse, a strange groom brought it. Where was Hilarius? Out riding with the most noble Gallus. I was surprised. Gallus had his own groom, and we never used one another’s servants. But then I thought no more about it. Quite happy to be alone, I rode towards the foothills of Mount Argaeus, enjoying the cool spring day. New leaves shone yellow-green against black branches, and the earth steamed with a white mist as I rode towards a favourite spot where juniper and cedar grew around a natural spring.

At the approach to the clearing, I heard a sharp cry, like an animal in pain. Then I saw two horses tethered to a bent cedar tree at whose bole were strewn a man’s clothes. Close by, hands and feet bound, the naked Hilarius lay on his belly while Gallus beat him with a riding crop. Every time the whip struck, Hilarius would cry out. Most extraordinary of all was the expression on Gallus’s face. He was grinning with absolute pleasure, his face transfigured by the other’s pain.

“Stop it!” I rode straight up to him. Startled, Gallus turned towards me. The boy called out to me to save him.

“Keep out of this.” Gallus’s voice was curiously hoarse.

“He’s my groom,” I said, rather irrelevantly, for if the boy had been disobedient then Gallus had quite as much fight as I to punish him. “I said keep out of this! Go back!” Gallus aimed the whip at me but struck the flank of my horse instead. The horse reared. Gallus, alarmed, dropped the whip. In a fury myself, I rode straight at my brother, the way cavalrymen are taught to ride down foot-soldiers. He bolted. I reined in my horse just as he mounted his own. We faced one another for an instant, breathing hard. Gallus was still grinning, his teeth bared like a dog ready to snap.

I tried to be calm. With great effort I asked, “What did he do?”

To which Gallus answered, “Nothing!” Then with a laugh, he spurred his horse and was gone. To this day I can remember the way he said, “Nothing.” Just as the Pythoness is filled with the spirit of Apollo, so my brother Gallus was possessed by evil. It was horrible.

I dismounted. I untied the boy, who was now sobbing and babbling how he had done nothing— again nothing!—when without a word of anger or reproach Gallus had ordered him to dismount and strip. Gallus had meant to beat him to death. I am sure of that.

I rode back to Macellum, ready to do murder myself. But when Gallus and I met that night at dinner, my anger had worn off and in its place I experienced something like fear. I could cope with almost any man. Young as I was, I had that much confidence in myself. But a demon was another matter; especially a demon that I did not understand.

All through dinner I stared at Gallus, who chose to be delightful, playful and charming, and nowhere in his smiling face could I find any hint of that sharp-toothed—I nearly wrote “fanged” grin I had seen a few hours earlier. I almost began to wonder if perhaps I had dreamed the whole business. But when I visited Hilarius the next day and saw the scars on his back I knew that I had dreamt nothing. Nothing. The word haunts me to this day.

For the remainder of our time at Macellum, Gallus and I contrived never to be alone together. When we did speak to one another, it was always politely. We never mentioned what had happened in the clearing.

A month later a letter arrived from the Grand Chamberlain: the most noble Gallus was to proceed to his late mother’s estate at Ephesus; here he was to remain at the Emperor’s pleasure. Gallus was both elated and crestfallen. He was free of Macellum but he was still a prisoner, and there was no mention of his being made Caesar.

Gallus said good-bye to his officer friends at a dinner to which I was, surprisingly, invited. He made a pleasant speech, promising to remember his friends if he was ever to have a military command. Bishop George then presented him with a Galilean testament bound in massive silver. “Study it well, most noble Gallus. Outside the church there can be no salvation.” How often have I heard that presumptuous line!

The next day when it was time for Gallus to say good-bye to me, he did so simply. “Pray for me, brother, as I pray for you.” “I shall. Good-bye, Gallus.” And we parted, exactly like strangers who, having met for an evening in a post-house, take different roads the next day. After Gallus left, I wept, for the last time as a child. Yet I hated him. They say that to know oneself is to know all there is that is human. But of course no one can ever know himself. Nothing human is finally calculable; even to ourselves we are strange.

On 1 June 348, almost as an afterthought, orders concerning me were sent to Bishop George. I was to proceed to Constantinople. Though my uncle Julian was in Egypt, his household was at my disposal. I was to study philosophy under Ecebolius, a favourite of Constantius. There was no suggestion of the priesthood, which delighted me if not Bishop George. “I can’t think why Augustus has changed his mind. He was quite positive when he was here.”

“Perhaps he may have some other use for me,” I said tentatively.

“What better use is there than the service of God?” Bishop George was in a bad temper. Athanasius was still at Alexandria, and it now looked as if George was doomed to spend the rest of his life in Cappadocia. With bad grace, he organized my departure.

It was a warm, misty day when I got into the carriage which was to take me to Constantinople. Just as I was about to depart, Bishop George asked me if I was certain that I had returned all the volumes of Plotinus to his library. His secretary had reported there was one missing. I swore that it had been returned only that morning (which was true: I had been hurriedly copying passages from it in a notebook).

The Bishop then gave me his blessing and a Galilean testament, bound not in silver but in cheap leather; apparently I was not destined to be a Caesar! Yet I thanked him profusely and said farewell. The driver cracked his whip. The horses broke into a trot. For the first time in six years I was leaving the confines of Macellum.

My childhood was over, and I was still alive.

Published in: on November 26, 2017 at 12:42 pm  Comments (1)  

The three Asses

Decades ago a friend from the park where I played chess, a great lover of literature, paraphrased something he had read from Schopenhauer: That doctors teach us how weak man is; the lawyers, what the fuck he is, and the theologians how assholes men are.

Most white nationalists are ignorant of the grotesquery inherent in the ‘Byzantine discussions’ of the founders of their religion. In the next thirty entries translating Karlheinz Deschner’s first volume, we will present the thought of the political theologians who defined the Christian dogma as it has reached our days: Athanasius, Ambrose and Augustine, ‘the three Asses’ as I call them.

Taking into account that to date I have received almost no feedback about Deschner’s book, visitors will wonder why I’m now wasting my time to enter into the details of the foundational theology of the 4th and 5th centuries.

The answer is simple: if the Christian problem encompasses the Jewish problem, we must approach more systematically the subject than the essayistic way les philosophes of the Enlightenment tried to defenestrate Christianity.

The serious student of the aetiology of Aryan decline would do well to become familiar with these Deschner texts. If to the casual visitor the forthcoming incursion into the world of theology seems a little boring, at least he should address it through the very entertaining novels by Gore Vidal, Julian, and Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose: although the latter describes the mature theology of the 14th century.

Kriminalgeschichte, 40

Below, abridged translation from the first
volume of Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte
des Christentums
(Criminal History of Christianity)

Christian tall stories

Christians, preachers of love of the enemy and of the doctrine that all authority emanates from God, celebrated the death of the emperor with great public banquets, with festivals in churches and chapels and dances in the theatres of Antioch: the city that, as Ernest Renan says, ‘was full of puppeteers, charlatans, actors, magicians, thaumaturges, witches and religious swindlers’.

The diatribe in three volumes that Julian had written shortly before his death, Against the Galileans, was promptly destroyed, but fifty years later, Cyril, the doctor of the Church still bothered to argue against it: Pro sanela Christianorum religione adversas libros athei Julian in thirty volumes, of which ten have reached us in their Greek text and ten others in Greek and Syriac fragments. Naturally, a bishop like Cyril, an avowed enemy of philosophy who even tried to prohibit its teaching in Alexandria, did not intend to grasp the thought of Julian, but only ‘crush it with maximum energy’ (Jouassard).

The Christians also destroyed all the portraits of Julian and the epigraphs that commemorated his victories, without sparing means to erase from the memory of men the remembrances of him.

During Julian’s life, the most famous doctors of the Church had kept a prudent silence, but shortly after his death, and for a long time more, they dedicated themselves to attacking him.

Ephrem, another saint whose odious songs were repeated by the parishioners of Edessa, dedicated a whole treatise to ‘Julian the Apostate’, the ‘pagan emperor’ and, according to him, ‘frantic’, ‘tyrant’, ‘trickster’, ‘damned’ ‘and’ idolatrous priest’. ‘His ambition caught the deadly release’ that ‘tore his body pregnant with oracles from his magicians’ to send him definitively ‘to hell’. The clerical historians of the 5th century, who sometimes were also jurists, such as Rufinus, Socrates, Philostorgius, Sozomen and Theodoret, speak of Julian in a still worse tone.

While the Christian world defamed the ‘apostate’, as he usually does with its enemies, the Enlightenment corrected that image in the diametrically opposite sense.

In 1699, the Protestant theologian Gottfried Arnold, in his Impartial History of the Church and of Heresy, rehabilitated the figure of Julian.

A few decades later, Montesquieu praised him as a statesman and legislator. Voltaire wrote: ‘Thus, that man who has been described to us horribly was perhaps the most noble of all, or at least the second’. Montaigne and Chateaubriand count him among the greatest historical figures.

Goethe praised himself for understanding and sharing Julian’s animosity against Christianity. Schiller wanted to make him protagonist of one of his dramas.

Shaftesbury and Fielding praised him, and Gibbon believes that he deserved to have owned the world. Ibsen wrote Caesar and Galilee and Nikos Kazantzakis his tragedy Julian the Apostate, premiered in Paris in 1948.

More recently, between 1962 and 1964, the North American Gore Vidal dedicated a novel to him. On the other hand, the Benedictine Baur (representative, in this, of many current Catholics) continues to defame Julian in the 20th century.

After the death of Julian, and having renounced the designated successor, Salutius, a moderate pagan philosopher and prefect of the praetorians of the East who had been a personal friend of Julian, the Illyrian Jovian acceded to the throne.

Julian, 18

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


My interview with Constantius occurred on the last day of his visit. Bishop George spent the morning coaching us in what to say. He was as nervous as we were; his career was at stake, too.

Gallus was admitted first to the sacred presence. During the halfhour he was with the Emperor, I recall praying to every deity I could think of; even then I was eclectic!

At last the Master of the Offices, gorgeous in court robes, came to fetch me. He looked like an executioner. Bishop George rattled out a blessing. The Master gave me instructions in how I was to salute the Emperor and which formula of greeting I was to use. I muttered them over and over to myself as I swam—that was my exact sensation—into the presence of the Augustus.

Constantius was seated on an ordinary chair in the apse of the hall. Eusebius stood beside him, holding a sheaf of documents. On a stool at Constantius’s feet sat Gallus, looking well-pleased with himself.

I went through the formula of homage, the words falling without thought from my lips. Constantius gave me a long, shrewd, curious look. Then he did not look at me again during the course of the interview. He was one of those men who could never look another in the eye. Nor should this characteristic be taken, necessarily, as a sign of weakness or bad conscience. I am rather like Constantius in this. I have always had difficulty looking into men’s eyes. All rulers must. Why? Because of what we see: self-interest, greed, fear. It is not a pleasant sensation to know that merely by existing one inspires animal terror in others. Constantius was often evil in his actions but he took no pleasure in the pain of others. He was not a Caligula, nor a Gallus.

Constantius spoke to me rapidly and impersonally. “We have received heartening reports concerning the education of our most noble cousin Julian. Bishop George tells us that it is your wish to prepare for the priesthood.” He paused, not so much to hear what I might say as to give proper weight to what he intended to say next. As it was, I was speechless.

Constantius continued, “You must know that your desire to serve God is pleasing to us. It is not usual for princes to remove themselves from the world, but then it is not usual for any man to be called by heaven.” I suddenly saw with perfect clarity the prison I was to occupy. Deftly, Constantius spun his web. No priest could threaten him. I would be a priest.

“Bishop George tells me that you have pondered deeply the disputes which—sadly—divide holy church. And he assures me that in your study of sacred matters you have seen the truth and believe, as all Christians ought, that the son is of like substance to the father, though not of the same substance. Naturally, as one of our family, you may not live as an ordinary holy man; responsibilities will be thrust upon you. For this reason your education must be continued at Constantinople. You are already a reader in the church. In Constantinople you can hope to become ordained, which will give us pleasure, as well as making you most pleasing to God who has summoned you to serve him. And so we salute our cousin and find him a worthy descendant of Claudius Gothicus, the founder of our house.”

That was all. Constantius gave me his hand to kiss. I never said a word beyond those required by court ceremonial. As I backed out of the room, I saw Gallus smile at Eusebius.

I wonder now what Constantius was thinking. I suspect that even then I may have puzzled him. Gallus was easily comprehended. But who was this silent youth who wanted to become a priest? I had planned to say all sorts of things to Constantius, but he had given me no opportunity. Surprisingly enough, he was nervous with everyone. He could hardly speak, except when he was able to speak, as it were, from the throne. Excepting his wife, Eusebia, and the Grand Chamberlain, he had no confidants. He was a curious man.

Now that I am in his place I have more sympathy for him than I did, though no liking. His suspicious nature was obviously made worse by the fact that he was somewhat less intelligent than those he had to deal with. This added to his unease and made him humanly inaccessible. As a student he had failed rhetoric simply through slowness of mind. Later he took to writing poetry, which embarrassed everyone. His only “intellectual” exercise was Galilean disputes. I am told that he was quite good at this sort of thing, but any village quibbler can make a name for himself at a Galilean synod. Look at Athanasius!

I was relieved by this interview. Of course I did not want to become a priest, though if that were the price I had to pay for my life I was perfectly willing to pay it.

In a blaze of pageantry, Constantius departed. Gallus, Bishop George and I stood in the courtyard as he rode past. Mounted, he looked splendid and tall in his armour of chased gold. He acknowledged no one as he rode out of Macellum. In his cold way he was most impressive, and I still envy him his majesty. He could stand for hours in public looking neither to left nor right, motionless as a statue, which is what our ceremonial requires.

It was the Emperor Diocletian who decided that we should become, in effect, if not in title, Asiatic kings, to be displayed on rare occasions like the gilded effigies of gods. Diocletian’s motive was understandable, perhaps inevitable, for in the last century emperors were made and unmade frivolously, at the whim of the army. Diocletian felt that if we were to be set apart, made sacred in the eyes of the people and hedged round by awe-inspiring ritual, the army would have less occasion to treat us with easy contempt.

To a certain extent, this policy has worked. Yet today whenever I ride forth in state and observe the awe in the faces of the people, an awe inspired not by me but by the theatricality of the occasion, I feel a perfect impostor and want to throw off my weight of gold and shout, “Do you want a statue or a man?” I don’t, of course, because they would promptly reply, “A statue!”

As we watched the long procession make its way from the villa to the main highway, Gallus suddenly exclaimed, “What I’d give to go with them!”

“You will be gone soon enough, most noble Gallus.” Bishop George had now taken to using our titles.

“When?” I asked.

Gallus answered. “In a few days. The Emperor promised, ‘When all is ready, you will join us.’ That’s what he said. I shall be given a military command, and then…!” But Gallus was sufficiently wise not to mention his hopes for the future. Instead he gave me a dazzling smile. “And then,” he repeated, with his usual malice, “you’ll become a deacon.”

“The beginning of a most holy career,” said Bishop George, removing his silver headdress and handing it to an attendant. There was a red line around his brow where the crown had rested. “I wish I could continue with your education myself, but, alas, the divine Augustus has other plans for me.” For an instant a look of pure delight illuminated that lean, sombre face.

“Alexandria?” I asked. He put his finger to his lips, and we went inside, each pleased with his fate: Gallus as Caesar in the East, George as bishop of Alexandria, and I… well, at least I would be able to continue my studies; better a live priest than a dead prince.

For the next few weeks we lived in hourly expectation of the imperial summons. But as the weeks became months, hope slowly died in each of us. We had been forgotten.

Bishop George promptly lost all interest in our education. We seldom saw him, and when we did his attitude was obscurely resentful, as if we were in some way responsible for his bad luck. Gallus was grim and prone to sudden outbursts of violence. If a brooch did not fasten properly, he would throw it on the floor and grind it under his heel. On the days when he spoke at all, he roared at everyone. But most of the time he was silent and glowering, his only interest the angry seduction of slave girls.

I was not, I confess, in the best of spirits either, but at least I had Plotinus and Plato. I was able to study, and to wait.

Published in: on November 19, 2017 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 17

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

Gallus made a good impression on everyone—somewhat to my surprise, for he was always rather sullen with Bishop George and downright cruel to me and his teachers. But set among the great officers of the state, he was a different person. He laughed; he flattered; he charmed. He was a natural courtier, and one by one he enchanted the members of the Sacred Consistory, as the Emperor’s council is known. Only with Constantius did he make no headway. Our cousin was biding his time.

During the time the court was at Macellum, the junior officers and lesser officials dined in the main hall of the palace, while the Emperor and the magnates dined in the banqueting hall, which was somewhat smaller. In the hour before dinner everyone used to gather in the main hall to gossip. It was our first experience of a court. I found it bewildering, but Gallus took to it like a swan to water.

One evening Gallus allowed me to tag after him as he moved through that splendid company. Gallus was an excellent politician. He made friends not just with the magnates but also with the clerks and notaries who do the actual work of governing. He was shrewd. I of course was perfectly tongue-tied.

In the large hall, Gallus quickly gravitated to the group of officers with whom he had only that day gone hunting. I remember looking at these young men with wonder, for they had actually killed other men in battle in such far-away places as Germany and Mesopotamia. They were unusually self-contained and rather quiet, unlike the clerks and notaries, who were exceedingly talkative, eager to impress one with their knowledge of secret matters.

Gallus seemed particularly to like one tribune, an officer in his thirties named Victor (who is now one of my generals). Victor was—is—an impressive-looking man who speaks good Greek, though he comes from the Black Sea; he is bandy-legged and pale-eyed like so many Russians. “Is this the most noble Julian?” he asked, turning to me.

Gallus introduced me in an offhand way to the company. I blushed and said nothing.

“Will you be serving with us in the household troops?” Victor asked.

Gallus answered for me. “No. He’s going to be a priest.”

Before I could deny this, Victor said quite seriously, “I can think of no life worthier than one in the service of God.” I was struck by the simplicity with which he said this. No irony was intended.

Gallus was somewhat taken aback. “Not for me,” he said finally.

“Nor for me, unfortunately.” Victor gave me a sympathetic smile. “You must pray for us,” he said.

Gallus changed the subject. While he talked hunting with Victor, I stood by silently, beginning to feel already like one of those Galilean monks or “solitaries” as they are called, which is rather a misnomer since no monk is ever solitary. They are the most gregarious set of men in the world, for ever eating, guzzling and gossiping with one another. Most of them retire from the world in order to have a continuous party.

“Are you really going to become a priest?” The voice was low. I turned and saw a young man standing behind me. He had obviously been there for some time. I shook my head. “No,” I said.

“Good.” He smiled. He had sharp grey eyes beneath brows which met, giving him the look of one continually concentrating on some distant object. He wore civilian clothes, which was odd since at his age anyone of good family wears uniform at court.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Oribasius of Pergamon, physician to the divine Augustus, who doesn’t need me. Your cousin is the healthiest man I’ve ever met.”

“I am happy to hear that!” I blazed sincerity. One’s neck depended on this sort of response.

“It’s a matter of diet,” said Oribasius matter-of-factly. “He’s a perfect example of the moderate life. He drinks almost no wine. He never overeats. He’ll live forever.”

“I pray that he does,” I said, my heart sinking. What would my life be like, lived in the shadow of a never-dying, always suspicious Constantius?

“But why does your brother say you’re going to be a priest?”

“Because I read books. He finds that strange.”

“And he associates strangeness with the priesthood?”

I tried not to smile. “Something like that. But I should like to be a philosopher or a rhetorician. Apparently I have no gift for soldiering. At least Gallus says I haven’t. But then, everything depends on the will of the divine Augustus.”

“Yes,” said Oribasius. He looked at me curiously. I recognized the look. I had seen it all my life. It meant: Are they going to kill this boy? And if they do, how interesting it all is! From birth I had been treated like a character in a tragic play.

“Do you like Macellum?”

“Would you, if you were me?” I had not meant to say this. But his look had irritated me and I suddenly rebelled at being treated like a mere thing, a victim, the dumb sacrifice in a bloody legend.

“No,” said Oribasius evenly. “I would not.”

“Well, then, you know how it is.” But frightened now that I had said too much, I began to babble about the goodness of my cousin, the kindness of Bishop George, the beauty of Cappadocia. For all I knew, Oribasius was a secret agent. Luckily, one of the chamberlains came to announce the approach of the Emperor, and I hurriedly left the main hall and took my place at table.

I have recorded this meeting with Oribasius, since he was to become my closest friend. But I did not see him again at Macellum or, if I did, I don’t remember him. He has told me since, “I’ve never seen anyone look so frightened as you.”

When I told him that my memory of myself in those days was one of serene self-control, Oribasius laughed. “I was positive you were on the verge of madness. I even diagnosed you—incorrectly—as an epileptic.”

“And what did you think of Gallus?”

“He was the one who appeared serene. I was quite impressed.”

“And of course Gallus went mad.”

“I don’t claim to be infallible.”

People never make the impression they think they make. But Oribasius was quite right in one thing: I was terrified.

Published in: on November 12, 2017 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Julian, 16

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

Constantius had arrived at noon and gone straight to his apartments. That was all anyone knew. He might be with us in a few minutes, a few hours, or not at all. Meanwhile, we waited nervously in the great hall of the villa. The rafters were hung with boughs of evergreen, and the ordinarily musty interior smelled of pine and eucalyptus. At one end of the hall, on a dais, a gold throne had been set. To the right of the throne, but at floor level, was the ivory chair of the praetorian prefect of the East (he had arrived with the Emperor). According to rank, the officers of the state were arranged to the left and right of the throne. Just at the foot of the dais stood Bishop George in all his glory with Gallus on his right and me on his left.

Looking more than ever like a huge peacock, Eusebius stood at the door, surrounded by his staff of ushers. No one spoke or moved. We were like statues. Though the room was not hot, I was sweating nervously. I glanced at Gallus out of the comer of my eye; his mouth was twitching from the strain.

After what seemed days, we heard trumpets. Then the cry “Augustus!” which always precedes an emperor began, at first far off and faint; then closer, louder: “Augustus! Augustus!”

My legs began to tremble. I was afraid I might be sick. Suddenly with a crash the double doors were flung open and there in the doorway stood Flavius Julius Constantius, Augustus of the East. With a gentle moan, Eusebius embraced Constantius’ knees, melodiously murmuring soft words of ceremony not audible to the rest of us who were now prostrate, as the Lord of the World slowly and with extraordinary dignity crossed the room to his throne. I was too busy studying the mosaic floor to get even a glimpse of my imperial cousin. Not until the Master of the Offices gave the signal for everyone to rise was I able at last to observe my father’s murderer.

Constantius was a man of overwhelming dignity. That was the most remarkable thing about him; even his most ordinary gestures seemed carefully rehearsed. Like the Emperor Augustus, he wore lifts in his sandals to make himself appear tall. He was clean-shaven, with large melancholy eyes. He had his father Constantine’s large nose and thin, somewhat peevish mouth. The upper part of his body was impressively muscular but his legs were dwarfish. He wore the purple, a heavy robe which hung from shoulder to heel; on his head was a fillet of silver set with pearls.

Constantius sat very still on his throne as the Master of the Offices brought him Bishop George, who welcomed him to Macellum. Not once did the Emperor look at Gallus or me. The occasional ritual responses he made were said in such a low voice that none of us could make out the words.

Then the moment came. Bishop George led Gallus and me to the Master of the Offices, who in turn led us up to the dais and presented us formally to the Emperor. I was terrified. Without knowing how I got there, I found myself embracing Constantius’ knees, as court etiquette requires.

From far off I heard the Emperor’s voice, measured but rather higher-pitched than I had expected, “We are pleased to receive our most noble cousin Julian.” A large callused hand reached down, gripped me firmly by the left elbow and helped me to rise.

For an instant I was so close to Constantius that I could make out every pore in his face, which was sunburned dark as a Persian’s. I noticed the silkiness of his straight brown hair, only just beginning to turn grey. He was thirty-two, but I thought him ancient. I also remember thinking: what must it be like to be Emperor of Rome? to know that one’s face on coins, on monuments, painted and sculptured, is known to all the world? And here—so close to me that I could feel the reciprocal warmth of his skin—was the original of that world-famous face, not bronze or marble but soft flesh and bone, like me, like any other man. And I wondered: what is it like to be the centre of the world?

For the first time I experienced ambition. It came as a revelation. Only in communion with the One God have I known anything to equal it. How candid I am! I have never admitted to anyone that in my first encounter with Constantius, all that I could think was how much I should like the dominion of this earth! But my moment of madness was brief. I stammered a speech of loyalty, and took my place beside Gallus on the dais. I can remember nothing else that happened that day.

Constantius remained at Macellum for a week. He attended to the business of the state. He hunted. Bishop George had a long interview with him on the day he arrived, but then, to the Bishop’s chagrin, Constantius ignored him. Though Gallus and I dined at the Emperor’s table every evening, he never spoke to us.

I was beginning to fear the worst. But Gallus, who saw Eusebius every day, said that the eunuch was optimistic. “He’s positive we’ll be allowed to come to court this year. At least I will. He also said there was talk in the Sacred Consistory that I be made Caesar for the East.” Gallus glowed with excitement. “Then I could live at Antioch. I’d have my own court. After all, it’s what one was born for!”

Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 11:38 am  Comments (1)  

Julian, 15

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

The last official to arrive was the most important of all: the Grand Chamberlain of the Sacred Palace, the eunuch Eusebius. He was so large that it took two slaves to pull him out of his ivory and gold litter.

He was tall, stout and very white. Beneath the peacock blue of his silk tunic one could see the rolls of flesh quiver as he moved. Of all the officers of state, only he wore civilian clothes. In fact, he looked like a winsome lady of fashion with mouth artfully rouged and hair arranged in long oiled ringlets. The gold thread of his cape flashed in the sunlight.

Eusebius looked about him with sharp eyes, and I knew suddenly that he was looking for us. Half hidden by a mound of saddlebags, Gallus and I tried to become invisible, but though the Chamberlain had never seen either of us before, he knew immediately who we were. Gracefully, he motioned for us to join him.

Like slaves anticipating a beating, we shuffled forward. Since we were not certain as to how to greet him, I attempted a military salute, which Gallus imitated. Eusebius smiled a tiny smile, exposing small dark teeth; several babyish dimples appeared in his full cheeks. He inclined his head; the neck fat creased; a long curl strayed across his brow.

“Nobilissimi,” he said in a soft voice. This was an excellent omen. The title nobilissimus is used only for members of the imperial family. Bishop George never used this title with us nor did our guards. Now, apparently, our rank had been restored.

After a long scrutiny, Eusebius took each of us by a hand. I can still recall the soft dampness of his touch. “I have so looked forward to seeing you both! And how grown up you are! Especially the noble Gallus.” Delicately he felt Gallus’s chest. This sort of impertinence would ordinarily have sent my brother into a rage, but that day he was far too frightened. He also knew instinctively that his only protection was his beauty. Complaisantly he allowed the eunuch to caress him as we entered the villa.

Eusebius had the most beguiling voice and manner of anyone I have ever known. I should say something here about the voices of eunuchs. Actors and other people who try to mimic them invariably tend to pitch their voices high, and screech. Eunuchs seldom sound like that. If they did, who would ever find their company tolerable?

And at a court one must be particularly pleasing in one’s manners. In actual fact, the voice of a eunuch is like that of a particularly gentle child, and this appeals to the parent in both men and women. Thus subtly do they disarm us, for we tend to indulge them as we would a child, forgetting that their minds are as mature and twisted as their bodies are lacking. Eusebius spun his web about Gallus. He did not bother with me. I was too young.

Gallus and Eusebius dined alone together that night. The next day Gallus was Eusebius’s devoted admirer. “He’s also a friend” said Gallus. We were alone together in the baths. “He told me how he’s been getting reports about me for years. He knows everything I’ve ever done. He even knows about her.”

Gallus named the Antiochene, and giggled. “Eusebius says I’ll be a great success at court. Not only am I good-looking but I have a well-developed intelligence, those are his exact words. He’s positive he can talk the Emperor into letting me go free. He says it may take a little time but that he has some small influence with His Eternity, that’s exactly how he put it. He’s very interesting, though it’s hard sometimes to figure out what he’s talking about. He expects you to know all sorts of things you wouldn’t have any way of knowing, buffed in this damned place. Anyway Constantius does just as Eusebius tells him. Everyone says so. Which means if you have Eusebius on your side, that’s half the battle. And I’ve got him.”

“What did he say about me?” I asked. Gallus seldom strayed very far from his essential interest: himself.

“You? Why should he say anything about you?” Gallus ducked me in the cold pool. I pulled him in after me. He was slippery as a fish, but I managed to hold his head under water for a satisfactory length of time. At sixteen I was as strong as he was at twenty-one. He emerged spluttering and blue in the face. “He’s going to make a monk out of you, that’s what. Though if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be a eunuch.” He tried to kick me between the legs but slipped on the marble and fell.

He cursed loudly, and I laughed. Then we were joined by slaves who helped us dress. Since Gallus was a man, the Master of the Offices had ruled that although he was not technically an officer, he could on this occasion wear the uniform of the household troops. Unfortunately, the nobilissimus Julian was merely a student and must dress accordingly. As a result, I looked quite insignificant beside my glittering half-brother. But I was perfectly happy to go unnoticed. Let Gallus shine. I preferred obscurity, and survival.

Published in: on October 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment