Letters of Julian/Letter 67

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

67. To George, a Revenue Official[1][edit]

"Thou hast come, Telemachus!"[2] as the verse says, but in your letters I have already seen you and the image of your noble soul, and have received the impression thereof as of an imposing device on a small seal. For it is possible for much to be revealed in little. Nay even Pheidias the wise artist not only became famous for his statue at Olympia or at Athens, but he knew also how to confine a work of great art within the limits of a small piece of sculpture; for instance, they say that his grasshopper and bee, and, if you please, his fly also, were of this sort; for every one of these, though naturally composed of bronze, through his artistic skill became a living thing. In those works, however, the very smallness of the living models perhaps contributed the appearance of reality to his skilful art; and do you, please, look at his Alexander[3] hunting on horseback, for its whole measurement is no larger than a fingernail.[4] Yet the marvellous skill of the workmanship is so lavished on every detail that Alexander at one and the same time strikes his quarry and intimidates the spectator, scaring him by his whole bearing, while the horse, reared on the very tips of his hoofs, is about to take a step and leave the pedestal, and by creating the illusion of vigorous action is endowed with movement by the artist's skill. This is exactly the effect that you have on me, my excellent friend. For after having been crowned often, already, as victor over the whole course, so to speak, in the lists of Hermes, the God of Eloquence, you now display the highest pitch of excellence in a few written words. And in very truth you imitate Homer's Odysseus,[5] who, by merely saying who he was, was able to dazzle the Phaeacians. But if even from me you require some of what you call "friendly smoke,"[6] I shall not begrudge it. Surely the mouse who saved the lion in the fable[7] is proof enough that something useful may come even from one's inferiors.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Geffcken and Cumont reject this letter.
  2. Odyssey 16. 23.
  3. The ascription to Pheidias the sculptor of works in the 'microtechnique' described here, is sometimes due to the confusion, in the Roman period, of the fifth century Pheidias with a gem-cutter of the same name who lived in the third century B.C. In the Jahrbuch d.k.d. Arch. Institute, 1889, p. 210, Furtwangler, who does not quote this letter, reproduces a gem from the British Museum collection signed by this later Pheidias; it is an Alexander on foot. The anachronism here makes the letter suspect.
  4. See Vol. 1, Oration 3, 112a for a reference to this kind of carving.
  5. Odyssey 9. 19.
  6. George had perhaps in his letter referred to the longing of Odysseus to see even the smoke of his native land, and had compared his friend's letters to that smoke.
  7. Babrius, Fable 107; Aesop, Fable 256.