"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, April 1, 2019

How Apostate Was Julian?

In the 21 Feb. 2019 issue of the London Review of Books, there is a long and fascinating review of H. C. Teitler's recent book, The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2017), 312pp.

What I find fascinating is how--according, that is, to the reviewer, Christopher Kelly, master of Corpus Christi College at Cambridge--Teitler's book demonstrates the extent to which the things said of Julian were largely invented after his brief twenty months on the imperial throne by a re-ascendant Christianity, whose propensity for triumphalist and tendentious constructions of history has in some ways remained undimmed from then until now. The uses and abuses of historical memory, about which I have written so often, are not inventions of the twentieth century, but seem to be built into the human condition. We all want to find patterns in the past, and if they need to be finessed a bit to become patterns in which our enemies turn out to be justly slayed losers, and our tribe glorious victors and moral heroes, then fiat iustitia. 

Julian was not held in great favor even by non-Christians, many of whom regarded him as something of a crank and loser. He seems to have had the common fetish among those of his class for esoterical and ascetical labors proving superior discipline of character over the obese peasants. So when it came time to traduce his reputation it was not a hard sell. As Kelly ends his review, "for a Christianity triumphant, the invention of 'Julian the Apostate' was a godsend."

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