Letters of Julian/Letter 22

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1408905Letters — 22. To Arsacius, High-priest of GalatiaEmily Wilmer Cave WrightJulian

22. To Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia[edit]

[362, on his way to Antioch in June?]

The Hellenic religion does not yet prosper as I desire, and it is the fault of those who profess it; for the worship of the gods is on a splendid and magnificent scale, surpassing every prayer and every hope. May Adrasteia[1] pardon my words, for indeed no one, a little while ago, would have ventured even to pray for a change of such a sort or so complete within so short a time. Why, then, do we think that this is enough, why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?[2] I believe that we ought really and truly to practise every one of these virtues.[3] And it is not enough for you alone to practise them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception. Either shame or persuade them into righteousness or else remove them from their priestly office, if they do not, together with their wives, children and servants, attend the worship of the gods but allow their servants or sons or wives to show impiety towards the gods and honour atheism more than piety. In the second place, admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or drink in a tavern or control any craft or trade that is base and not respectable. Honour those who obey you, but those who disobey, expel from office. In every city establish frequent hostels in order that strangers may profit by our benevolence; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money. I have but now made a plan by which you may be well provided for this; for I have given directions that 30,000 modii of corn shall be assigned every year for the whole of Galatia, and 60,000 pints[4] of wine. I order that one-fifth of this be used for the poor who serve the priests, and the remainder be distributed by us to strangers and beggars. For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.[5] Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort, and the Hellenic villages to offer their first fruits to the gods; and accustom those who love the Hellenic religion to these good works by teaching them that this was our practice of old. At any rate Homer makes Eumaeus say: "Stranger, it is not lawful for me, not even though a baser man than you should come, to dishonour a stranger. For from Zeus come all strangers and beggars. And a gift, though small, is precious."[6] Then let us not, by allowing others to outdo us in good works, disgrace by such remissness, or rather, utterly abandon, the reverence due to the gods. If I hear that you are carrying out these orders I shall be filled with joy.

As for the government officials, do not interview them often at their homes, but write to them frequently. And when they enter the city no priest must go to meet them, but only meet them within the vestibule when they visit the temples of the gods. Let no soldier march before them into the temple, but any who will may follow them; for the moment that one of them passes over the threshold of the sacred precinct he becomes a private citizen. For you yourself, as you are aware, have authority over what is within, since this is the bidding of the divine ordinance. Those who obey it are in very truth god-fearing, while those who oppose it with arrogance are vainglorious and empty-headed.

I am ready to assist Pessinus[7] if her people succeed in winning the favour of the Mother of the Gods. But, if they neglect her, they are not only not free from blame, but, not to speak harshly, let them beware of reaping my enmity also. "For it is not lawful for me to cherish or to pity men who are the enemies of the immortal gods."[8] Therefore persuade them, if they claim my patronage, that the whole community must become suppliants of the Mother of the Gods.


  1. The goddess "whom none may escape" is a variant of Nemesis, often invoked in a saving clause, cf. To Alypius, Letter 6.
  2. Julian often calls Christianity "atheism."
  3. In the Fragment of a Letter, Vol. 2, Julian admonishes priests to imitate Christian virtues, cf. especially 289-290; it is the favourite theme of his pastoral letters; for a fuller account of his attempt to graft Christian discipline on paganism, see Gregory Nazianzen, Against Julian, Oration 3, and Sozomen 5. 16.
  4. Modius, "peck," and sextarius, "pint," are Latin words; cf. use in the Letters of πριβάτοις, privatis, βρέβια, brevia, σκρινίοις, scriniis.
  5. For a comparison of the charity of the Galilaeans with Pagan illiberality, cf. Vol. 2, Misopogon 363a, b.
  6. Odyssey 14. 56; cf. Fragment of a Letter 291b, where it is quoted in a similar context.
  7. This letter was probably written after Julian's visit to Pessinus on his way to Antioch. The probable date for his arrival at Antioch is the first half of July.
  8. Odyssey 10. 73; Julian alters the original which is said by Aeolus to Odysseus:

    οὐ γάρ μοι θέμις ἐστὶ κομιζέμεν οὐδ᾽ ἀποπέμπειν
    ἄιδρα τὸν ὅς κε θεοῖσιν ἀπέχθηται μακάρεσσιν.