Letters of Julian/Letter 78

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

78. To the Same.[edit]

I am sensible of the sweet-tempered manner in which you reproach me, and that you achieve two things with equal success, for you do me honour by what you write and instruct me by your criticisms. And for my part, if I were conscious of even the least failure in the attention due to you, I should certainly try by making reasonable excuses to parry your criticism, or if I were in fault I should not hesitate to ask your forgiveness, especially as I know that you are not implacable towards your friends when they have involuntarily failed in some friendly office to you. But as it is — since it was not right either for you to be neglected or for me to be careless if we were to attain that which we ever seek after and desire — come, I will plead my case before you as though by the rules of a lawsuit, and I will prove that far from having neglected any of my duties towards you I have never even ventured to postpone them.

It is now three years since I arrived from Pannonia,[1] with difficulty escaping safely from the dangers and troubles that you know of. When I had crossed the Chalcedonian strait and approached the city of Nicomedia, to you first as though to the god of my fathers I paid vows as the first thank-offering for my deliverance, by sending you as a token of my arrival my salutation in place of a sacred offering. The man who took charge of my letter was one of the imperial guard named Julian, the son of Bacchylus, a native of Apamea, and to him I all the more readily entrusted the letter because he asserted that he was going in your direction and that he knew you very well. Afterwards, as though from Apollo, a sacred letter came to me from you, in which you declared that you had been pleased to hear of my arrival. This was to my mind an auspicious omen and a fount of fairest hopes, — Iamblichus the wise and the letter of Iamblichus to me. Need I say how I rejoiced or assure you how deeply I was moved by your letter? For if you had received what I wrote to you with no other purpose — and it was sent to you by one of the couriers who came from where you are, — you would certainly know from what I then said how great was the pleasure that I felt on receiving it. Again, when the custodian of my children[2] was returning home, I began another letter to you in which I at the same time spoke to you of my gratitude for your previous favours and begged for a like return from you for the immediate future. After this the excellent Sopater[3] came on an embassy to our city. When I recognised him I at once started up and flew to him and when I had embraced him I wept for joy, dreaming of nothing else but you and a letter from you to me. And when I received it I kissed it and held it to my eyes and kept tight hold of it as though I were afraid that while I was in the act of reading your letter the phantom of your image might elude me and fly away. And, moreover, I at once wrote an answer, not to you only but also to the revered Sopater, that great man's son, telling him, as though giving myself airs, that I accepted our mutual friend from Apamea as a sort of hostage for your absence. This is the third letter that I have written to you since that time, but I have myself received no other letter from you save that in which you seem to reproach me.

Now if you are accusing me merely for the purpose of providing me with further motives for writing to you, and only pretend to reproach me, then I am very glad to receive your criticism, and in this very letter that has now come I take to myself the whole of the kindness implied. But if you really accuse me of being in any way remiss in my duty to you, "who could be more wretched than I"[4] through the wrongdoing or negligence of letter-carriers, when I, least of all men, deserve the reproach? And yet even if I do not write oftener I may well claim indulgence from you — I do not mean because of the many affairs which I have on my hands — for may I never sink so low as not to count you more important than any business whatever, as Pindar[5] says! — but because there is more wisdom in hesitating to write more than is fitting to so great a man as yourself, whom one cannot so much as think of without awe, than in being too presumptuous. For even as those who venture to gaze steadily at the bright beams of Helios, unless indeed they be in some sort divine and like the genuine offspring of eagles[6] can brave his rays, are unable to behold what is not lawful for their eyes to see, and the more they strive for this the more do they show that they have not the power to attain it, even so, I say, he who ventures to write to you shows clearly that the more he allows himself to presume the more he ought to be afraid. For you, however, my noble friend, who have been appointed as the saviour, so to speak, of the whole Hellenic world, it would have been becoming not only to write to me without stint, but also to allay as far as you could the scruples felt by me. For as Helios — if my argument may again employ in reference to you a simile from the god, — even as Helios, I say, when he shines in full splendour with his brilliant rays rejects naught of what encounters his beams, but ever performs his function, so ought you also not to shrink from bountifully pouring forth the flood of your blessings like light over the Hellenic world even when, whether from modesty, or fear of you, one is too bashful to make any return. Asclepius, again, does not heal mankind in the hope of repayment, but everywhere fulfils his own function of beneficence to mankind. This, then, you ought to do also, as though you were the physician of souls endowed with eloquence, and you ought to keep up on all occasions the preaching of virtue, like a skilled archer who, even though he have no opponent, keeps training his hand by every means in view of future need. For in truth we two have not the same ambition, since mine is to secure the wise teachings that flow from you and yours is to read letters sent by me. But as for me, though I should write ten thousand times, mine is still mere child's play, and I am like the boys in Homer who on the sea-shores model something in wet sand and then abandon it all for the sea to wash away; whereas even a short letter from you is more potent than any fertilising flood, and for my part I would rather receive one letter from Iamblichus than possess all the gold of Lydia. If, then, you care at all for your fond admirers — and you do care if I am not mistaken — do not neglect me who am like a fledgling constantly in need of sustenance from you, but write regularly, and moreover do not be reluctant to feast me on the good things that come from you. And if I prove to be remiss, do you take on yourself to provide both things, not only what you yourself give but equally what you furnish in my place. For it befits you as a pupil of Hermes, the god of eloquence, or, if you prefer, his nursling, to desire to imitate his use of the wand, not by putting men to sleep, but by rousing and awakening them.


  1. Constantine marched from Pannonia to Nicomedia in 323, so perhaps this letter can be dated 326. In Julian's authentic writings we always find Paeonia for Pannonia; see Letter 76, for a reference to this journey.
  2. This phrase is perhaps metaphorical; see Letter 61 note.
  3. This may be the Sopater whom Julian mentions in Letter 58 To Libanius. But he is more probably the elder Sopater who was executed by Constantine.
  4. An iambic trimeter whose source is not known; but cf. Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus 815 τίς τοῦδε νῦν ἔστ᾽ ἀνδρὸς ἀθλιώτερος;.
  5. Isthmian Odes 1. 1 τὸ τεόν . . . πρᾶγμα καὶ ἀσχολίας ὑπέρτερον θήσομαι.
  6. For this allusion to the eagle's test of its offspring see Letter 59, To Maximus; Themistius 240c; Lucian, Icaromenippus 14; Claudian, On the Third Consulship of Honorius, Preface 1-14.