Letters of Julian/Letter 79

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

79. To the Same[edit]

When Odysseus was trying to remove his son's illusion about him, it was enough for him to say: "No God am I. Why then do you liken me to the immortals?"[1] But I might say that I do not exist at all among men so long as I am not with Iamblichus. Nay, I admit that I am your lover, even as Odysseus that he was the father of Telemachus. For even though someone should say that I am unworthy, not even so shall he deprive me of my longing. For I have heard that many men have fallen in love with beautiful statues[2] and far from injuring the art of the craftsman they have by their passion for them imparted to the workmanship the added delight in what lives and breathes. But as for the wise men of old among whom you are pleased to reckon me in jest, I should say that I fall as far short of them as I believe that you are to be ranked among them. And indeed you have succeeded in combining with yourself not only Pindar or Democritus or most ancient Orpheus, but also that whole genius of the Hellenes which is on record as having attained to the summit of philosophy, even as in a lyre by the harmonious combination of various notes the perfection of music is achieved. And just as the myths give Argus, Io's guardian, an encircling ring of ever-wakeful eyes as he keeps watch over the darling of Zeus, so too does true report endow you, the trusted guardian of virtue, with the light of the countless eyes of culture. They say that Proteus the Egyptian used to change himself into various shapes[3] as though he feared being taken unawares and showing those who needed his aid that he was wise. But for my part, if Proteus was really wise and the sort of man to know the truth about many things, as Homer says, I applaud him for his talent, but I cannot admire his attitude of mind, since he played the part, not of one who loves mankind, but of an impostor by concealing himself in order to avoid being of service to mankind. But who, my noble friend, would not genuinely admire you, since though you are inferior in no way to wise Proteus if not even more fully initiated than he in consummate virtues, you do not begrudge mankind the blessings that you possess, but, like the bright sun, you cause the rays of your pure wisdom to shine on all men, not only by associating, as is natural, with those near you, but also as far as possible by making the absent proud through your writings. And in this way by your achievements you surpass even charming Orpheus; for he squandered on the ears of wild beasts his own peculiar musical gift, but you, as though you had been born to save the whole human race, emulate everywhere the hand of Asclepius and pervade all things with the saving power of your eloquence. Wherefore I think that Homer, too, if he were to return to life, would with far more justice allude to you in the verse:

"One is still alive and is detained in the wide world."[4]

For, in very truth, for those of us who are of the antique mould, a sacred spark, so to speak, of true and life-giving culture is kindled by your aid alone. And grant, Ο Zeus the saviour, and Hermes, god of eloquence, that this blessing which is the common property of the whole world, even the charming Iamblichus, may be preserved for the longest possible period of time! Indeed, there is no doubt that in the case of Homer and Plato and Socrates[5] and others who were worthy to be of that company, the prayers of the just were successful and did avail men of old, and thus increased and prolonged the natural term of those great men's lives. So there is no reason why in our day, also, a man who in his eloquence and virtuous life is the peer of those famous men, should not by means of similar prayers be conducted to the extreme limit of old age for the happiness of mankind.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Odyssey 16. 187.
  2. For such cases cf. Aelian, Varia Historia 9. 39.
  3. Odyssey 4. 363 foll.; Vergil, Georgics 4. 388 foll.
  4. Odyssey 4. 498. The original verse ends with πόντῳ, "on the sea"; the verse was a rhetorical commonplace and the ending is often altered to suit the context.
  5. There would be more point in the reading "Isocrates" (Cumont) since he lived to be nearly one hundred.