Letters of Julian/Letter 58

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

58. To Libanius, Sophist and Quaestor[1][edit]

[363, Mar. 10, from Hierapolis]

I travelled as far as Litarbae, — it is a village of Chalcis, — and came on a road that still had the remains of a winter camp of Antioch. The road, I may say, was partly swamp, partly hill, but the whole of it was rough, and in the swamp lay stones which looked as though they had been thrown there purposely, as they lay together without any art, after the fashion followed also by those who build public highways in cities and instead of cement make a deep layer of soil and then lay the stones close together as though they were making a boundary-wall. When I had passed over this with some difficulty and arrived at my first halting-place it was about the ninth hour, and then I received at my headquarters the greater part of your senate.[2] You have perhaps learned already what we said to one another, and, if it be the will of heaven, you shall know it from my own lips.

From Litarbae I proceeded to Beroea,[3] and there Zeus by showing a manifest sign from heaven declared all things to be auspicious.[4] I stayed there for a day and saw the Acropolis and sacrificed to Zeus in imperial fashion a white bull.[5] Also I conversed briefly with the senate about the worship of the gods. But though they all applauded my arguments very few were converted by them, and these few were men who even before I spoke seemed to me to hold sound views. But they were cautious and would not strip off and lay aside their modest reserve, as though afraid of too frank speech. For it is the prevailing habit of mankind, O ye gods, to blush for their noble qualities, manliness of soul and piety, and to plume themselves, as it were, on what is most depraved, sacrilege and weakness of mind and body.

Next, Batnae[6] entertained me, a place like nothing that I have ever seen in your country, except Daphne;[7] but that is now very like Batnae, though not long ago, while the temple and statue were still unharmed,[8] I should not have hesitated to compare Daphne with Ossa and Pelion or the peaks of Olympus, or Thessalian Tempe, or even to have preferred it to all of them put together. But you have composed an Oration[9] on Daphne such as no other man "of such sort as mortals now are"[10] could achieve, even though he used his utmost energies on the task, yes, and I think not very many of the ancient writers either. Why then should I try to write about it now, when so brilliant a monody has been composed in its honour? Would that none had been needed! However, to return to Batnae. Its name is barbarous but the place is Hellenic;[11] I say so because through all the country round about the fumes of frankincense arose on all sides, and I saw everywhere victims ready for sacrifice. But though this gave me very great pleasure, nevertheless it looked to me like overheated zeal, and alien to proper reverence for the gods. For things that are sacred to the gods and holy ought to be away from the beaten track and performed in peace and quiet, so that men may resort thither to that end alone and not on the way to some other business. But this matter will perhaps before long receive the attention that is appropriate.

Batnae I saw to be a thickly wooded plain containing groves of young cypresses; and among these there was no old or decaying trunk, but all alike were in vigorous leafage. The imperial lodging was by no means sumptuous, for it was made only of clay and logs and had no decOrations; but its garden, though inferior to that of Alcinous,[12] was comparable to the garden of Laertes.[13] In it was a quite small grove full of cypresses and along the wall many trees of this sort have been planted in a row one after the other. Then in the middle were beds, and in these, vegetables and trees bearing fruits of all sorts. What did I do there, you ask? I sacrificed in the evening and again at early dawn, as I am in the habit of doing practically every day. And since the omens were favourable, we kept on to Hierapolis[14] where the inhabitants came to meet us. Here I am being entertained by a friend who, though I have only lately met him for the first time has long been dear to me. I know that you yourself are well aware of the reason, but for all that it gives me pleasure to tell you. For it is like nectar to me to hear and to speak of these things continually. Sopater,[15] the pupil of the god-like Iamblichus, was a relative by marriage of this Sopater.[16] Not to love even as myself all that belonged to those men is in my opinion equivalent to the lowest baseness. But there is another more powerful reason than this. Though he often entertained my cousin and my half-brother[17] and was often urged by them, naturally enough, to abandon his piety towards the gods, and though this is hard to withstand, he was not infected with this disease.[18]

Thus much, then, I was able to write to you from Hierapolis about my own affairs. But as regards the military or political arrangements, you ought, I think, to have been present to observe and pay attention to them yourself. For, as you well know, the matter is too long for a letter, in fact so vast that if one considered it in detail it would not be easy to confine it to a letter even three times as long as this. But I will tell you of these matters also, summarily, and in a very few words. I sent an embassy to the Saracens[19] and suggested that they could come if they wished. That is one affair of the sort I have mentioned. For another, I despatched men as wide-awake as I could obtain that they might guard against anyone's leaving here secretly to go to the enemy and inform them that we are on the move. After that I held a court martial and, I am convinced, showed in my decision the utmost clemency and justice. I have procured excellent horses and mules and have mustered all my forces together. The boats to be used on the river are laden with corn, or rather with baked bread and sour wine. You can understand at what length I should have to write in order to describe how every detail of this business was worked out and what discussions arose over every one of them. As for the number of letters I have signed, and papers, — for these too follow me everywhere like my shadow, — why should I take the trouble to enumerate them now?[20]


  1. Julian's march is described by Ammianus 23. 2, to the end of 24; he was a member of the expedition; cf. Zosimus 3. 12-28; Cumont, Études Syriennes, Paris, 1917.
  2. The Senators of Antioch followed Julian to plead for the city, which had offended him; see Libanius, Oration 16. 1.
  3. Aleppo.
  4. Ammianus 23. 2 records certain fatal accidents at Hierapolis and Batnae which were regarded as of ill omen for the campaign.
  5. The Emperors sacrificed white victims; cf. Ammianus 25. 4. 17.
  6. Julian was at Batnae March 8th; a few days later he halted at another Batnae, in Osroene, beyond the Euphrates.
  7. A suburb of Antioch; cf. Misopogon 361; Ammianus 19. 12. 19. The temple of Apollo was burned October 22nd, 362.
  8. Cf. Misopogon 346b.; Vol. 2, Wright.
  9. We have the monody of Libanius, On the Temple of Apollo at Daphne, Oration 60; cf. his Oration 11. 235.
  10. Iliad 5. 304; Julian, Oration 6. 191a.
  11. i.e. it maintained the pagan cults.
  12. Odyssey 7. 112 foll., a favourite commonplace; cf. Misopogon 352a.
  13. Odyssey 24. 245 foll.
  14. Hierapolis is now Membej; Julian arrived there about March 10th; it was the rendezvous for the Roman troops for this campaign; and was about twenty miles west of the Euphrates. Julian stayed there three days; Ammianus 23. 2. 6.
  15. This elder Sopater was put to death by Constantine.
  16. For the younger Sopater, see Introduction.
  17. Constantius and Gallus; cf. Misopogon 340a.
  18. For Christianity a disease, cf. Oration 7. 229d and Against the Galilaeans 327b.
  19. According to Ammianus 23. 3. 8, the Saracens offered themselves to Julian as allies, but they apparently deserted later to the Persians, cf. Zosimus 3. 27. 3; Ammianus 25. 6. 10.
  20. This is Julian's last extant letter. On leaving Hierapolis he marched to Carrhae, which place he left on March 25th. He crossed the Tigris in May, declined the siege of Ctesiphon, the Persian capital, burnt his fleet on the Tigris early in June, and was killed in a skirmish on June 26th, somewhere between Ctesiphon and Samarra on the Tigris. His body was carried back and buried at Tarsus in Cilicia, where he had told the people of Antioch he should spend the winter; Ammianus 25. 10. 5.