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Julian (novel) Literature

Julian, 27

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

Julian Augustus
Ecebolius was eager to go to Ephesus, rather to my surprise; I had thought he would have wanted to keep me from Maximus. But he was compliant. “After all, I am your teacher, approved by the Emperor. You cannot officially study with Maximus, or anyone else. Not that I would object. Far from it. I am told Maximus is most inspiring, though hopelessly reactionary. But we hardly need worry about your being influenced at this late date. After all, you were taught Christian theology by two great bishops, Eusebius and George. What firmer foundation can any man have? By all means let us visit Ephesus. You will enjoy the intellectual life. And so shall I.”
What Ecebolius had come to enjoy was playing Aristotle to my green Alexander. Everywhere we went, academics were curious to know me. That meant they got to know Ecebolius. In no time at all, he was proposing delicately that he “exchange” students with them. “Exchange” meant that they would send him students at Constantinople for which they would receive nothing except the possible favour of the prince. During our travels, Ecebolius made his fortune.
In a snowstorm we were met at the gates of Ephesus by the city prefect and the town council. They were all very nervous.
“It is a great honour for Ephesus to receive the most noble Julian,” said the prefect. “We are here to serve him, as we have served the most noble Gallus, who has also honoured us by his presence here.” At the mention of Gallus, as though rehearsed, the councillors began to mutter, “Kind, good, wise, noble.”
“Where is my brother?”
There was a tense pause. The prefect looked anxiously at the councillors. They looked at one another. There was a good deal of energetic brushing of snow from cloaks.
“Your brother,” said the prefect, finally, “is at court. At Milan. He was summoned by the Emperor last month. There has been no word about him. None at all. Naturally, we hope for the best.”
“And what is the best?”
“Why, that he be made Caesar.” It was not necessary to inquire about the worst.
After due ceremony, we were led to the prefect’s house, where I was to stay. Ecebolius was thrilled at the thought that I might soon be half-brother to a Caesar. But I was alarmed. My alarm became panic when later that night Oribasius told me that Gallus had been taken from Ephesus under arrest.
“Was he charged with anything?”
“The Emperor’s pleasure. There was no charge. Most people expect him to be executed.”
“Has he given any cause?”
Oribasius shrugged. “If he is executed, people will give a hundred reasons why the Emperor did the right thing. If he is made Caesar, they will say they knew all along such wisdom and loyalty would be rewarded.”
“If Gallus dies…” I shuddered.
“But you’re not political.”
“I was born ‘political’ and there is nothing I can do about it. First Gallus, then me.”
“I should think you were safest of all, the scholar-prince.”
“No one is safe.” I felt the cold that night as I have never felt the cold before or since. I don’t know what I should have done without Oribasius. He was the first friend I ever had. He is still the best friend I have, and I miss him here in Persia. Oribasius has always been particularly useful in finding out things I would have no way of knowing. People never speak candidly to princes, but Oribasius could get anyone to tell him anything, a trick learned practising medicine. He inspires confidences.
Within a day of our arrival at Ephesus, Oribasius had obtained a full report on Gallus’s life in the city. “He is feared. But he is admired.”
“For his beauty?” I could not resist that. After all, I had spent my childhood hopelessly beguiled by that golden creature.
“He shares his beauty rather liberally with the wives of the local magnates.”
“He is thought to be intelligent.”
“He is shrewd.”
“Politically knowledgeable, very ambitious…”
“Yet unpopular and feared. Why?”
“A bad temper, occasionally violent.”
“Yes.” I thought of the cedar grove at Macellum.
“People fear him. They don’t know why.”
“Poor Gallus.” I almost meant it, too. “What do they say about me?”
“They wish you would shave your beard.”
“I thought it was looking rather decent lately. A bit like Hadrian’s.” I rubbed the now full growth affectionately. Only the colour displeased me: it was even lighter than the hair on my head, which is light brown. To make the beard seem darker and glossier, I occasionally rubbed oil in it. Nowadays, as I go grey, the beard has mysteriously darkened. I am perfectly satisfied with the way it looks. No one else is. ”
They also wonder what you are up to.”
“Up to? I should have thought it perfectly plain. I am a student.”
“We are Greeks in these parts.” Oribasius grinned, looking very Greek. “We never think anything is what it seems to be.”
“Well, I am not about to subvert the state,” I said gloomily. “My only plot is how to survive.”
In spite of himself, Ecebolius liked Oribasius. “Because we are really disobeying the Chamberlain, you know. He fixed your household at a certain size and made no allowance for a physician.”
“But Oribasius is a very special physician.”
“Granted, he helped my fever and banished ‘pain’s cruel handmaid’…”
“He also has the advantage of being richer than I. He helps us pay the bills.”
“True. Sad truth.” Ecebolius has a healthy respect for money, and because of that I was able to keep Oribasius near me.