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Julian the Philosopher
by Julian X  /  poetry  /  9 Dec 2007

In his times, he was Julian the Philosopher.
We call him a slander, a betrayer of faith, Apostate,
which implicates the true criminal clear enough.

Imagine him as a child, born in 311,
that Galilean creed forced upon him
by zealous Arian relatives:
he took solace in neoplatonism, in Theurgy,
and watched as Constantine the Apostate’s successors
let the temples burn and their priests be killed
in the name of the god of jealous love.

Julian ascended the throne without a fight in 361,
stopped Galilean bishops traveling on the state’s dime,
sought to make the Galilean church return
those monies and lands that it had stolen,
promulgated freedom of religion in early 362
and equality of religions under the law,
wanted a religiously eclectic Rome,
tried to rebuild the Jewish Temple,
wrote hymns and panegyrics,
was initiated into the ancient mysteries at Eleusis
and sought to restore this venerable tradition of two millennia,
envisioned a public welfare system
to reduce the poor’s dependence on biased Galilean charities.

He wrote a humorous comparison of emperors,
The Caesars, that took Constantine to task
both as emperor and as Galilean.

Though hated by them, he strengthened the Galileans,
sought to remove its corruption, its theft,
sought to divorce it from state sponsorship,
was said to have prohibited worship of relics,
called back bishops exiled by church edicts,
wanted Galileans who could function alongside the old gods,
a Galilean creed accepting of diversity of thought within itself,
in toleration with that ancient philosophic, natural polytheism.

He tried to retake lands
from the Sassanid Persians, lands
his Galilean predecessor had let
fall and had not taken back.
A column stands, fifteen meters high,
still commemorating his arrival
in Ankara, now in Turkey, in 362.
When he arrived in Antioch, in preparation for this war,
that great prime function of the state,
the Galileans burned down Apollo’s temple in anger.
Those conformists mocked his beard and scruffy appearance
as unbefitting an emperor, and he humorously
wrote of it in his Misopogon.

He wintered there, and upon
his departure for war in 363,
he released his Against the Galileans,
showing that the Torah shows no sign of the Galilean creed,
focusing on how Galileans defy Old Testament commandments,
demolishing the their claim to be the logical development
of that ancient religion, which Julian respected,
though he still criticized Jewish insularity,
how Moses was for Jews only while the pagan gods
were universal, and he ridicules that Galilean sect’s claims
to universality, which rankled him most.
He seems to want to strengthen Judaism,
to understand the Galileans in their historic place
as this odd little non-Jewish Jewish outgrowth,
all wrapped within the polytheism that embraces all.
He cleverly steals adjectives and descriptions
applied to the Nazarene and applies them
to Dionysus and Heracles, showing a pagan alternative
to such singular savior-worship, even implying,
rhetorically, which came first.

As he continued in his quest
to recapture lands abandoned to Persians,
he reclaimed city after city for Rome, defeating
a superior force at the walls of Ctesiphon,
the Persian capital. The walled city lay before him,
ready for the taking. But where was his general,
Procopius, with his thousands of reinforcements?
Time, abandonned and betrayed, drug on, and, with it,
he had to abandon the capital and retreat.

During this retreat, not wearing armor, the Sassanids struck,
but Julian won, pursuing his retreating attackers with a light force.
A fleeing Persian let loose a spear that sailed though the air
and found its mark in Julian’s side, piercing,
his liver and intestines like some or other martyr.
He suffered. His personal physician, Oribasius,
probably sutured the intestine, but
great Julian the Philosopher died
that year, 363, emperor for but three years.

Rome had no more pagan emperors, no more toleration,
no more acceptance for gods of dance and sex,
gods of poetry without didactic point, gods
of art and science and light and thunder and currents
who would not banish each other for heresy,
no more Rome, eternal city, only kingdoms in air.
His was the last gasp, the last great hope
for Hellenism, for the culture of all those values,
against the dark conservatism
that reigned the next thousand years.

Though not without precedents, Julian’s tract
of real philosophy is today preserved
only through quotations by his later opponents.

There is some blessed shore, not far,
wherein Procopius arrived with reinforcements,
wherein one unfortunate spear did not change
the course of Western history.
There, Julian the Restorer lived,
pushed on the bounds of empire;
there, the Jews had again their Temple
and flourished in their own Pax Romana,
while the Galileans fell back, their privilege
interrupted by Julian’s long, great reign,
into one of many accepted religions,
increasingly seeming odd, a strange cult
that made little sense to later historians
but had once seized the empire and plunged it
into state religion and intolerance.
There, speculative histories are written,
though with smiles, wherein Julian the Great
died in youth, never rose to power,
and this strange religion held tight its grip
on Rome and learning for a thousand years and more.
There, we imagine, Rome still fell,
victim of poor large-scale management,
though perhaps a bit later, a bit less undermined,
and in those dark ages to come, humanity,
genitals and all, was hardly so hated,
nor philosophy reduced to exegesis,
nor classicism burned and fig-leafed,
and so the Renaissance comes the sooner,
and Michaelangelo paints frescoes of Apollo
chasing Daphne and Dionysus gallivanting,
and Dante takes Virgil as friend in hand
through the Hades of Aeneis and the Isle of the Blessed,
while Galileo is not placed under house arrest.
There, trade, not hateful crusades, brings back
Plato and vaulted ceilings, if there they
were ever lost, with new spices and colors,
and trade too inspires colonization and discovery
without the pretense of genocidal missionary zeal
nor need for Puritans’ religious freedom,
something guaranteed since the time of Julian,
Philosopher, Restorer, Redeemer, Savior.

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