Letters of Julian/Letter 47

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

47. To the Alexandrians[edit]

[362, Nov. or Dec. from Antioch]

If your founder had been one of the Galilaeans, men who have transgressed their own law[1] and have paid the penalties they deserved, since they elected to live in defiance of the law and have introduced a new doctrine and newfangled teaching, even then it would have been unreasonable for you to demand back Athanasius.[2] But as it is, though Alexander founded your city and the lord Serapis is the city's patron god, together with his consort the Maiden, the Queen of all Egypt, Isis . . .[3] not emulating the healthy part of the city; but the part that is diseased has the audacity to arrogate to itself the name of the whole.

I am overwhelmed with shame, I affirm it by the gods, O men of Alexandria, to think that even a single Alexandrian can admit that he is a Galilaean. The forefathers of the genuine Hebrews were the slaves of the Egyptians long ago, but in these days, men of Alexandria, you who conquered the Egyptians — for your founder was the conqueror of Egypt — submit yourselves, despite your sacred traditions, in willing slavery to men who have set at naught the teachings of their ancestors. You have then no recollection of those happy days of old when all Egypt held communion with the gods and we enjoyed many benefits therefrom. But those who have but yesterday introduced among you this new doctrine, tell me of what benefit have they been to the city? Your founder was a god-fearing man, Alexander of Macedon, in no way, by Zeus, like any of these persons, nor again did he resemble any Hebrews, though the latter have shown themselves far superior to the Galilaeans. Nay, Ptolemy[4] son of Lagus proved stronger than the Jews, while Alexander, if he had had to match himself with the Romans, would have made even them fight hard for supremacy. And what about the Ptolemies who succeeded your founder and nurtured your city from her earliest years as though she were their own daughter? It was certainly not by the preachings of Jesus that they increased her renown, nor by the teaching of the Galilaeans, detested of the gods, did they perfect this administration which she enjoys and to which she owes her present good fortune. Thirdly, when we Romans became her masters and took her out of the hands of the Ptolemies who misgoverned her, Augustus visited your city and made the following speech to your citizens: "Men of Alexandria, I absolve the city of all blame, because of my reverence for the mighty god Serapis, and further for the sake of the people themselves and the great renown of the city. But there is a third reason for my goodwill towards you, and that is my comrade Areius."[5] Now this Areius was a fellow-citizen of yours and a familiar friend of Caesar Augustus, by profession a philosopher.

These, then, to sum them up briefly, are the blessings bestowed by the Olympian gods on your city in peculiar, though I pass over very many because they would take too long to describe. But the blessings that are vouchsafed by the visible gods to all in common, every day, not merely to a few persons or a single race, or to one city, but to the whole world at the same time, how can you fail to know what they are? Are you alone insensible to the beams that descend from Helios? Are you alone ignorant that summer and winter are from him? Or that all kinds of animal and plant life proceed from him? And do you not perceive what great blessings the city derives from her who is generated from and by him, even Selene who is the creator of the whole universe?[6] Yet you have the audacity not to adore any one of these gods; and you think that one whom neither you nor your fathers have ever seen, even Jesus, ought to rank as God the Word. But the god whom from time immemorial the whole race of mankind has beheld and looked up to and worshipped, and from that worship prospered, I mean mighty Helios, his intelligible father's living image,[7] endowed with soul and intelligence, cause of all good . . .[8] if you heed my admonition, do ye lead yourselves even a little towards the truth. For you will not stray from the right road[9] if you heed one who till his twentieth year walked in that road of yours, but for twelve years now has walked in this road I speak of, by the grace of the gods.[10]

Therefore, if it please you to obey me, you will rejoice me the more. But if you choose to persevere in the superstition and instruction of wicked men, at least agree among yourselves and do not crave for Athanasius. In any case there are many of his pupils who can comfort well enough those itching ears of yours that yearn to hear impious words. I only wish that, along with Athanasius, the wickedness of his impious school had been suppressed. But as it is you have a fine crowd of them and need have no trouble. For any man whom you elect from the crowd will be in no way inferior to him for whom you crave, at any rate for the teaching of the scriptures. But if you have made these requests because you are so fond of the general subtlety of Athanasius — for I am informed that the man is a clever rascal — then you must know that for this very reason he has been banished from the city. For a meddlesome man is unfit by nature to be leader of the people. But if this leader is not even a man but only a contemptible puppet, like this great personage who thinks he is risking his head, this surely gives the signal for disorder. Wherefore, that nothing of the sort may occur in your case, as I long ago gave orders[11] that he depart from the city, I now say, let him depart from the whole of Egypt.

Let this be publicly proclaimed to my citizens of Alexandria.


  1. i.e. the Hebraic law; cf. Against the Galilaeans, 238b, foll., 305e, foll.
  2. Athanasius had left Alexandria on October 24th, 362, and, not long after, the Alexandrians petitioned Julian for his return. This is his answer to them. After this edict Athanasius remained in hiding in Egypt and the Sudan till Julian's death in 363, when he recovered his see.
  3. After "Isis" some words are missing.
  4. Ptolemy the First took Jerusalem and led many Jews captive into Egypt, Josephus 1. 12. 1.
  5. For the Alexandrine Stoic, Areius, cf. Julian, Caesars, Vol. 2, 326b; Letter to Themistius, Vol.2, 265c, where Areius is said to have refused the prefecture of Egypt; and Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, Introduction, p. xxiii (Loeb Library Edition). See Seneca, Dialogues 6. 4, where Areius consoles and exhorts the Empress Livia.
  6. For Selene as the artificer of the visible world cf. Vol. 1, Oration 4, 150a.
  7. Cf. Fragment of a Letter to a Priest, Vol. 2, 295a, where the stars are called "living images." Julian here refers not to the visible sun, but to the "intellectual" (νοερὸς) Helios who is in the likeness of his "intelligible" (νοητὸς) father, the transcendental Helios, for whom cf. Oration 4, Vol. 1, 133c, note.
  8. Here some words are lost, probably omitted by Christian copyists as blasphemous.
  9. For Julian's reproach against the Christians that they had taken "their own road" and abandoned the teaching of Moses, cf. Against the Galilaeans 43a.
  10. Cf. Vol. 1, Oration 4, 131a where he also refers to the time when he was a Christian and desires that it may be forgotten.
  11. See above, To the Alexandrians, Letter 24.