IULIANUS AUGUSTUS: OPERA

Ed. by Heinz-Gunther Nesselrath

De Gruyter (Bibliotheca Teubneriana, 2015) h/b 276pp £59.99 (ISBN 9783110221220)

Julian ‘the Apostate’ is perhaps most widely, but wrongly, known for Delphi’s final oracle supposedly given to Julian’s quaestor, the physician Oribasius. Julian, apparently, consulted it about how he should approach his task of re-evangelising the Roman world on behalf of the pagan gods, and received the following reply:

Tell the king our sculpted hall is fallen in decay,

Apollo has no shrine left, no prophesying bay,

No talking spring. The stream is dry that had so much to say.

Εἴπατε τῷ βασιλῆι, χαμαὶ πέσε δαίδαλος αὐλά.

οὐκέτι Φοῖβος ἔχει καλύβαν, οὐ μάντιδα δάφναν,

οὐ παγὰν λαλέουσαν. ἀπέσβετο καὶ λάλον ὕδωρ.

The oracle, which was shown to be a forgery by C.M. Bowra in an article in Hermes in 1959, was composed by a Christian author with the motive of making Julian look foolish for ‘trusting in gods who, when he sought their help, had already forsaken him’.

Nothing of that here. The book under notice (whose lengthy Latin Praefatio is recommended for the serious reader) contains those works of Julian which can be ascribed to his years as emperor (AD 361-363). They do not, however, include the fragments of Contra Galilaeos, which had been edited by E. Masaracchia in 1990. What we have are works of philosophy of a neo-Platonist description, including (a) a long paean ‘To the Sun’ (in it Julian declares himself to be a devotee not only of the sun, but also of the neo-Platonist Iamblichus); (b) his ‘Beard-hater’ (Misopôgôn), an attack on the inhabitants of Antioch, who disapproved of Julian’s beard (and dishevelled appearance) when shaving was the fashion. Your reviewer’s hopes that this might be a humorous piece in the manner of Lucian were speedily dashed. In language prolix beyond belief, Julian pretends to attack himself for his slovenly manners, the lice in his uncut hair, and austere mode of life before turning to Antioch’s more relaxed habits; and (c) various other pieces, including one against ‘ignorant cynics’ who had attacked Diogenes, and a paean addressed to the ‘Mother of the Gods’.

Julian’s Greek is not difficult, though N. comments on his prolixity, and occasional obscurity, as well as listing divergences, not to say ‘mistakes’, from ‘Attic’ Greek, none of which holds up the reader. Nor do there appear to be more than a few places where the text is seriously in doubt: N. describes 16 MSS, notably the Vossianus (12/13th century), carefully examined by Cobet in 1859, but now regrettably incomplete from a variety of causes. (Julian had not attracted the attention of any major scholar before Cobet, unless Ezechiel Spanheim [17th century scholar and diplomat] be so designated; some notes by F. Hemsterhuis in 1825 hardly qualify).

Julian, although an apostate from Christianity, did not practise persecution. He favoured ‘paganism’, but seems to have been open-minded in religious matters; he was a competent general and a (perhaps surprisingly) admired philosopher. He did well to write so much while running an empire (he did most of it at night). For the Anglophone reader, there is an ancient Loeb in three volumes (1913-23) by Wilmer C. Wright, and a general study by G.W. Bowersock (p/b 1997, originally h/b 1978). A cheap paperback edition of Contra Galilaeos (‘the most dangerous book ever written’, said Cyril of Alexandria [AD 376-444], author of Contra Julianum, from which we learn the most about Julian’s views) is listed on Amazon, but with no details of any kind.

This Teubner edition (effectively dedicated to Rudolf Kassel) contains all that one would expect from this imprint. It is impeccably produced. Competence in Latin and Greek is, however, a pre-requisite.

Colin Leach

 

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