Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)
Emperor Julian (Latin: Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, 331/332 – 26 June 363) has been considered a hero of the resistance to Christianity. When in 2012 and 2013 I started to reproduce excerpts of Gore Vidal’s novel Julian I was typing directly from my book copy. Now that I have obtained the PDF I’ll be adding the complete text on Sundays. The following is a note that the author himself wrote for the first page of his novel in the early 1960s.
Robert Graves, when he came to publish his sequel to I, Claudius, remarked in a somewhat irritable preface that a good many reviewers seemed to think he had simply spun himself a novel from Suetonius’s gossip, which looked to them like a very easy thing to do. In Claudius the God, Graves struck back with a long bibliography, listing nearly every relevant text which has survived from the ancient world. Unfortunately, I have not read as much as all that. But to anticipate those who might think that one’s only source was the history of Ammianus Marcellinus (or even of Edward Gibbon), I have included at the end of the book a partial bibliography.
The Emperor Julian’s life is remarkably well documented. Three volumes of his letters and essays survive, while such acquaintances as Libanius and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus wrote vivid accounts of him. Though I have written a novel, not a history, I have tried to stay with the facts, only occasionally shifting things around. For instance, it is unlikely that Priscus joined Julian in Gaul, but it is useful to the narrative to have him there.
Julian has always been something of an underground hero in Europe. His attempt to stop Christianity and revive Hellenism exerts still a romantic appeal, and he crops up in odd places, particularly during the Renaissance and again in the nineteenth century. Two such unlikely authors as Lorenzo de’ Medici and Henilk Ibsen wrote plays about him. But aside from the unique adventure of Julian’s life, what continues to fascinate is the fourth century itself. During the fifty years between the accession of Julian’s uncle Constantine the Great and Julian’s death at thirty-two, Christianity was established. For better or worse, we are today very much the result of what they were then.
In naming cities, I give the modern rather than the ancient name (Milan, not Mediolanum), except when the original name is more familiar to us (Ephesus, not Selquk). Dates I put in our fashion, A.D. and B.C. Since Julian’s court was a military one, I have used our own army’s way of dating, i.e., 3 October 363. Currency is a tricky matter. No one is quite certain what the exact purchasing power of money was in the fourth century, but a gold solidus was probably worth about five dollars. Julian, Priscus and Libanius, the three narrators of this story, all wrote Greek. Their Latin was rather shaky, as they are quick to remind us, but they occasionally use Latin terms, much the way we do. For those readers who will search in vain for Julian’s famous last words, “Thou hast conquered, Galilean!”, he never said them. Theodoret must take credit for this fine rhetoric, composed a century after Julian’s death.
I should like to thank the American Academy at Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for letting me use their libraries.