Letters of Julian/Letter 18

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From The Works of the Emperor Julian, volume III (1913) Loeb Classical Library.

18. To an Official[1][edit]

[362, before May 12, Const]

. . .[2] is it not right to pay to human beings 362 this respect that we feel for things made of wood?[3] For let us suppose that a man who has obtained the office of priest is perhaps unworthy of it. Ought we not to show forbearance until we have actually decided that he is wicked, and only then by excluding him from his official functions show that it was the overhasty bestowal of the title of "priest" that was subject to punishment by obloquy and chastisement and a fine? If you do not know this you are not likely to have any proper sense at all of what is fitting. What experience can you have of the rights of men in general if you do not know the difference between a priest and a layman? And what sort of self-control can you have when you maltreated one at whose approach you ought to have risen from your seat? For this is the most disgraceful thing of all, and for it in the eyes of gods and men alike you are peculiarly to blame. Perhaps the bishops and elders of the Galilaeans sit with you, though not in public because of me, yet secretly and in the house; and the priest has actually been beaten by your order, for otherwise your high-priest would not, by Zeus, have come to make this appeal. But since what happened in Homer[4] seems to you merely mythical, listen to the oracular words of the Lord of Didymus,[5] that you may see clearly that, even as in bygone days he nobly exhorted the Hellenes in very deed, so too in later times he admonished the intemperate in these words: "Whosoever with reckless mind works wickedness against the priests of the deathless gods and plots against their honours with plans that fear not the gods, never shall he travel life's path to the end, seeing that he has sinned against the blessed gods whose honour and holy service those priests have in charge." Thus, then, the god declares that those who even deprive priests of their honours are detested by the gods, not to mention those who beat and insult them! But a man who strikes a priest has committed sacrilege. Wherefore, since by the laws of our fathers I am supreme pontiff, and moreover have but now received the function of prophecy from the god of Didymus,[6] I forbid you for three revolutions of the moon to meddle in anything that concerns a priest. But if during this period you appear to be worthy, and the high-priest of the city[7] so writes to me, I will thereupon take counsel with the gods whether you may be received by us once more. This is the penalty that I award for your rash conduct. As for curses from the gods, men of old in days of old used to utter them and write them, but I do not think that this was well done; for there is no evidence at all that the gods themselves devised those curses. And besides, we ought to be the ministers of prayers, not curses. Therefore I believe and join my prayers to yours that after earnest supplication to the gods you may obtain pardon for your errors.


  1. Julian writes as supreme pontiff, to whom a high-priest, perhaps Theodorus, had appealed for protection for a priest who had been assaulted. There is no evidence that this priest was the Pegasius of Letter 19, as Asmus thinks.
  2. The first part of the letter with the title is lost.
  3. i.e. images of the gods. In Vol. 2, Fragment of a Letter 297a, Julian says that we must respect priests no less than the stones of which altars are made. There are several close resemblances between these two pastoral letters. Reiske translated ξύλοις "trees," i.e. we allow them time to recover before cutting them down.
  4. Probably Julian refers to the wrong done to the priest Chryses which was avenged by Apollo in Iliad 1.
  5. Apollo. For this oracle cf. Vol. 2, Fragment of a Letter 297cd, where it is also quoted.
  6. The oracle of the Didymaean Apollo was at Didyma, Miletus, where an inscription on a column in honour of Julian has been discovered; cf. Bulletin de correspondance hellenique , 1877.
  7. We do not know the name of this city and cannot identify the official who is in disgrace.