The Apostate by August Strindberg

At a date rather more than three hundred years after the Birth of Christ, the stage of the world’s history had shifted from the Mediterranean to the East. Greece was sunk in everlasting sleep, Rome lay in ruins and had become a tributary state. Jerusalem was destroyed, Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile in a state of decay. The world’s metropolis lay on the Black Sea, and was a half-oriental colony called Byzantium, or, after Constantine the Great, Constantinople. The heathen world was a waste, and Christianity had become the State religion. But the spirit of Christianity had not penetrated the empire. Doctrine indeed there was–plenty of doctrine–but those at court lived worse lives than the heathen, and the way to the throne in Byzantium was generally through a murder.

But while the centre of gravity in Europe had shifted to the East, new conquests had been made in the West and in the North. The Romans had founded fifty cities on the Rhine, and, since Julius Caesar’s time, all Gaul lay under Roman ploughs and worshipped Roman gods in Roman temples.

But now that Christianity was to be introduced into Gaul, it encountered great difficulties. The original religion of the country, Druidism, had been proscribed by the Emperor Claudius, and the Roman cult of the gods substituted. And now that a second alteration of their religion was proposed, the Gauls strongly resented it. Accordingly Gaul was in a state of disorganisation, which was likely to result in some new growth.

But under the rule of Constantius, new danger from another side threatened the newly-formed provinces of Gaul. The German races, the Franks and the Alemanni, were attracted by the charm of the fertile land, where the mountains seemed to drop with wine, and the plains were covered with yellow corn. In order to protect the best of his provinces, and perhaps for other reasons, the Emperor sent his cousin and brother-in-law, Julian, to subdue the Germans. Although Julian had been educated in a convent and at a university, he seems to have understood the art of war, for he defeated the invaders and then retired to Lutetia Parisiorum.

The legions had marched up the Mons Martis or Martyrorum, as it was called by turns. At their head went the insignificant-looking man with his beard trimmed like a philosopher’s–Julian, surnamed Caesar, but not therefore Emperor. High on the summit of the hill stood a temple of Mars, but it was closed. When the army had encamped, Julian went alone to the edge of the hill, in order to view the town Lutetia, which he had never seen.

On the island between the two arms of the Seine lay the main part of the town with the temple of Jupiter; but the Imperial Palace and the Amphitheatre stood on the slope of Mount Parnassus, on the left bank of the river. For three hundred years from the time of Julius Caesar, the Emperors had stayed here at intervals. The two last occupants had been Constantine the Great and Constantius.

After thoughtfully contemplating for a while the valley with the river flowing through it, Julian exclaimed, “Urbs! Why, it is Rome! A river, a valley, and hills, seven or more, just as at Rome. Don’t you see, we stand on the Capitoline? On the opposite side we have Janiculum represented by Mount Parnassus, and in the north Mons Valerian forms our Vatican. And the city on the island! The island resembles a ship, just like the island in the Tiber, on which they have erected an obelisk as a mast, so striking was the similarity. Caesar indeed was too original to have wished to copy. They call Byzantium New Rome, but Rome is like a worm; when cut in two, a living creature is formed from each piece. What do you say, Maximus?”

“Rome was the city of the seven hills and the seven kings; how many there will be here, none can say.”

“It had never occurred to me,” answered Julian, “that Rome had had just as many kings as hills–a curious coincidence!”

Maximus the Mystic, who, together with the Sophist Priscus, always accompanied the Emperor, in order to give him opportunities for philosophising, immediately objected: “There are no ‘coincidences,’ Caesar, everything is reckoned and numbered; everything is created with a conscious purpose, and in harmonious correspondence–the firmament of heaven and the circle of the earth.”

“You have learnt that in Egypt,” Priscus interrupted, “for the Egyptians see the river Nile in the constellation Eridanus. I should like to know under which constellation this Lutetia lies!”

“It lies under Andromeda, like Rome,” answered Maximus, “but Perseus hangs over the Holy Land, so that Algol stands over Jerusalem.”

“Why do you call that cursed land ‘holy’?” broke in Julian, who could not control his generally quiet temper as soon as any subject was mentioned connected with Christianity, which he hated.

“I call the land ‘holy’ because the Redeemer of the world was born there. And you know that He was born without a father, like Perseus; you know also that Perseus delivered Andromeda, as Jesus Christ will deliver Rome and Lutetia.”

Julian was silent, for, as a Neo-platonist, he liked analogies between the heavenly and the temporal, and a poetic figure was more for him than a rhetorical ornament.

Educated in a convent by Christian priests, he had early gained an insight into the new teaching of Christianity; but he believed that his philosophic culture had shown him that the seed of Christianity had already germinated in Socrates and Plato. After he had made the acquaintance of the Neo-Platonists, he found nothing to object to in the recently-promulgated dogmas of Christianity. But he felt a boundless hate against these Galilaeans who wished to appropriate all the wisdom of the past ages and give it their own name. He regarded them as thieves. The doctrine of Christ’s Divine Sonship seemed to him quite natural, for as a Pantheist he believed that the souls of all men are born of God and have part in Him. He himself acknowledged the dogma recently promulgated at Nicaea, that the Son is of the same essence as the Father, although he interpreted, it in his own way. As to miracles, they happened every day, and could be imitated by magicians. He acknowledged the truth of the Fall of Man, for Plato also had declared that the soul is imprisoned in matter –in sinful matter, with which we must do battle. And this had been confirmed by St. Paul’s saying in the Epistle to the Romans, “The good which I would, that I do not, but the evil, which I would not, that I do,” and again, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, which warreth against the law of my mind…. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” That was the lament of the thinking sensitive man regarding the soul’s imprisonment in matter; the disgust of human nature at itself.

Julian, as a sensitive and struggling spirit, had felt this pressure, and had honestly and successfully combated the lusts of the flesh. Grown up though he was, among murderers and sybarites, in the extravagant luxury of the Byzantine Court, where, for example, he had at first possessed a thousand barbers and a thousand cooks, he had abandoned luxury, lived like a Christian ascetic, acted justly, and was high-minded. He had a perfect comprehension of the soul’s imprisonment in the flesh or of “sin,” but understood nothing of the Redemption through Christ. Three hundred years had passed since the birth of Christ, and the world had become continually more wretched. The Christians he had seen, especially his uncle Constantine the Great, lived worse than the heathen. As a young man he had tested the new teaching in his own internal struggles; he had prayed to Christ as to God, but had not been heard. When he had lamented his plight to the devout Eusebius, the latter had answered, “Be patient in hope! Continue constant in prayer.”

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But the youth answered, “I cannot be patient.”

Then Eusebius said, “The deliverance comes, but not in our time. A thousand years are as a day before the Lord God! Wait five days, then you will see.”

“I will not wait,” exclaimed the youth angrily.

“So say the damned souls also. But look you, impatience is one of the torments of hell, and you make a hell for yourself with your impatience.”

Julian became a hater of Christ, without exactly knowing why. The philosophers did not teach it him, for they adapted Christianity to their philosophy. Celsus’ feeble attack on Christianity had not misled Julian’s ripe and cultured intelligence. Eusebius explained his pupil’s hatred of Christ in the following way: “He has heathen blood in him, for he comes of Illyrian stock; he does not belong to this sheepfold. Or is his pride so boundless, his envy so great, that he cannot tolerate any Autocrat in the realm of the spirit? He lives himself like a Christian, and teaches the same as Christ, but at the same time is a Christ-hater.”

* * * * *

Meanwhile Julian, in order to hide his anger, had approached the little Temple of Mars on the hill. The building was in ruins, the doors had been carried away, and the columns were broken. As he entered it, he saw the statue of Mars, modelled after a good Greek one of Ares, standing in the apse, but the nose was broken off, the fingers were lacking, and the whole statue was streaked with dirt.

“This is the work of the Galilaeans,” said Julian, “but they shall pay for it.”

“They have already paid with their lives,” answered Maximus.

“Dionysius [Footnote: St. Denis] was beheaded on the hill, and his chapel stands there on the slope.”

“Are you also a Galilaean?”

“No; but I love justice.”

“Justice and its guardian-goddess Astrasa left the earth when the Iron Age began; now she is a star in heaven.”

“In the Zodiac,” interrupted Priscus; “I believe also, we all live in Zodiacs, and there justice has no place.”

A sudden murmur of voices was heard from the camp. Julian mounted a heap of stones to see what was the matter. The whole of the north-east side of Mars’ Hill was covered with soldiers, and below in the valley were to be seen tents and camp-fires. These thousands belonged to all the nations of the world. They comprised Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Negroes, Hebrews, Persians, Afghans, Scythians, Germans, Britons, and Gauls. But now they were in movement and swarming, as gnats do when they dance.

“What is the excitement about?” asked Julian.

A little bell from the chapel of St. Denis sounded the Angelus, and the Christians fell on their knees, while the heathen remained standing or continued their occupations. The Christians considered themselves disturbed, and so did the heathen.

“This religion,” said Julian, “which should unite all, only divides them. If the Church Councils, instead of formulating new creeds, had done away with all forms, and proclaimed free worship with praise and adoration of the Highest, all peoples would have bent the knee before the Nameless, but look at the Christians! Since the law is on their side, they have the upper hand, and therefore compel the heathen to adore their Galilaean! But I will not help them. I can hold nations together, but not professors of creeds. Let us go into the town. I will not mix in the matter.”

Some Christian tribunes approached Julian, with the evident purpose of complaining, but he waved them off.

* * * * *

Julian had entered Lutetia on foot, accompanied by his philosophers. He had not allowed himself to be escorted by generals or other officers, because he did not trust them.

He found the new town to be a miniature of the Rome of the Caesars. It is true that huts with straw roofs formed the nucleus of it, but there were also several temples and chapels, a prefecture, a forum, and an amphitheatre. The forum or market-place was surrounded by colonnades, in which tradesmen and money-changers’ had opened their shops. One side–the shortest–of it was occupied by the prefecture, in which the Aedile and Quaestor lived.

Unnoticed and unrecognised by the people, Julian went into the prefecture. In the hall he saw Christian symbols–the cross, the fish, the good shepherd, etc. Christianity was certainly the State religion, but Julian’s hatred against everything Christian was so great that he could not look at these figures. Accordingly he went out again, called the Prefect down, and bade him show the way to the Imperial palace and the left side of the river. There he took up his abode in a simple room resembling a monk’s cell. As he had been obliged to make many detours since he had left Byzantium, and the punitive expedition against the Franks and Alemanni had consumed much time, he found letters waiting his arrival. Among them was one from the Emperor which seriously discomposed Julian.

The attitude of the Emperor towards his cousin had always been somewhat dubious, almost hostile, and now, after the latter’s victories, envy and fear had taken possession of the mind of the Byzantine despot. The letter contained a command for Julian to send back the legions at once, as the war was at an end. Julian saw the danger if he stripped the newly recovered land bare of defence, but his sense of duty and conscientiousness bade him obey, and without hesitation he sent the Emperor’s edict to the camp. This was on the evening of the first day of his arrival.

The next morning Julian had gone out for an excursion with his learned staff. They slowly climbed Mount Parnassus, and wandered through the oak wood on the north side, avoiding the beaten paths. He and his companions philosophised and disputed eagerly, and, forgetting their surroundings, wandered ever deeper into the forest. Finally they reached an open space where grazing deer had taken refuge, and set themselves down to rest on strangely-shaped stones which lay in a circle. In the oaks over their heads were large green clumps of a different colour from the oak-leaves, and these they thought were birds’ nests.

“I have never seen so many crows’ nests together,” said Julian.

“They are not crows’ nests, your Majesty,” answered the scribe Eleazar, who acted as Julian’s secretary. “That is the sacred mistletoe, which grows on the oak, and through the operation of cosmic forces takes this globular form, which is also said to be that of the earth and the other heavenly bodies.”

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“Is that…?”

“Yes, and we seem to have entered a sacred sacrificial grove, in which the primeval deities of the land are still worshipped by the Druids, although their worship is forbidden.”

“Forbidden in spite of the Emperor’s edict regarding religious freedom,” broke in the Sophist Priscus.

Julian did not like to be reminded of this edict, through which Christianity had won freedom to suppress other creeds. He rose with his companions in order to continue their excursion. After a while they reached Suresnes and its vineyards, where figtrees and peach-trees lined the walls. When they had ascended a height, they saw the whole Seine Valley lying before them, with its fields, gardens, and villas.

“Why, that is like the sacred land of Canaan!” exclaimed Julian, enchanted by the lovely landscape.

On the other side of the river rose the Hill of Mars, with its temples and chapels, and where the soil had been laid bare the white chalk gleamed in patches, as though a countless number of tents had been erected on the slopes.

The philosophers stood for a long time there, and contemplated the view, when a sound was heard like that of an approaching tempest. But no cloud was visible, and they remained listening and wondering. The noise increased till cries, shouts, and the clash of arms were heard. Now the Hill of Mars seemed to be in movement; there were swarms of men on its summit, and here and there steel could be seen flashing. Like a river, the mass began to roll down the hill to the town.

Then the spectators understood. “It is a revolt of the legions,” exclaimed Maximus.

“The edict has taken effect.”

“They seek their own Emperor.”

“Then the only thing for us to do is to turn round and go home.” They turned into the path which ran along the river, and followed it up the stream, in order to be able to see what the legions were doing. The dark mass, interspersed with flashes From swords and helmets, poured on in an ever stronger tide.

Quickening their steps, Julian and his companions reached the palace, in which there was great excitement. Julian was naturally a courageous man, but as a philosopher he was retiring, and wished to avoid public scenes. He therefore went through the bath-house and sought his lonely chamber, in order to await what would happen. He paced restlessly up and down the room, feeling that the destiny of his whole future life was just now being decided. So there came what he half expected. Cries were audible from the courtyard of the palace,–“Ave Caesar Julianus Imperator! We choose Julian as Emperor! The crown for Julian! Death to Constantius the murderer and weakling!”

There was no longer any room for doubt. The legions had chosen Julian Emperor because they would not leave this fertile land, which they had conquered at the cost of their blood. Julian, who had not striven for power because he feared responsibility, wished to decline; but messengers from the army warned him, “If you do not accept, you will be slain.” He who does not dare to rule will be enslaved. Thus Julian became Emperor of the great realm which stretched from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

* * * * *

The night which followed this day was spent by the Emperor in reflection; and when in the morning, after a bath, he appeared to his friends, he was hardly recognisable as the same man. He had literally thrown off the mask, and showed a new face, with a new expression, almost new features. In spite of his upright character, Julian, like Constantine, had been compelled to live in a perpetual state of hypocrisy, by being obliged to favour and practise the Christian teaching in which he did not believe. He had even been forced to acknowledge the Trinity and Deity of Christ as promulgated by the Council of Nicaea, to attend services and observe fasts. The first thing he did after obtaining power, was to use his freedom and be what he was. His first act was to separate the sheep from the goats, i.e. to pick out the “Galilaeans,” and form them into legions by themselves, under the pretext that they could thus better carry out their religious practices. But at the same time he surrounded his person exclusively with heathen of the old type,–Hebrews, Syrians, Persians, and Scythians. Simultaneously he assumed the gorgeous purple and glittering diadem of the emperors, trimmed and gilded his beard, and showed himself abroad only on horseback and with a great train. This done, he made preparations for publicly receiving the homage of the people, and determined to use the theatre for that purpose, and to put on the stage Prometheus, the trilogy of Aeschylus, which at that time existed in its entirety. The Emperor had brought actors with him, and the theatre stood ready. The news of this had spread in the town, and was joyfully hailed by the heathen, while the Christians were vexed. The lower classes had, it is true, expected a gladiatorial show and wild beast fights, but a “comedy,” as they called it, was always welcome.

The day arrived, and the town was in gala attire. The play was to last from morning to evening without pauses for meals; and as the spring weather was cold and uncertain, the spectators were advised to bring the garment known as “cucullus,” a short white Roman mantle with a hood, which was all the more necessary as the theatre stood under the open sky.

Julian, now called Augustus, came to the theatre at the appointed time, accompanied by his philosopher friends, who had to take their seats at a little distance, for the Emperor sat in the imperial box, whither he had summoned the Prefect, Aedile and Quaestor to be in attendance on him. He was somewhat astonished not to find these city authorities there, and as the Aedile was president of the theatre, they could not begin before he came.

The people had risen as Julian entered, and many tribunes had shouted “Long live the Emperor!” but thereupon there followed an embarrassing silence, during which the Emperor was regarded with cold curiosity. When at last the latter was weary of waiting, he called his secretary, the Hebrew Eleazar, and commanded him to go to the prefecture in order to find out the reason of the defaulters’ absence, and at the same time he gave the signal for the play to commence.

The actors entered, and at the altar commenced to offer the ancient kind of sacrifice which used to serve as an introduction to tragedies. Since animal sacrifices had ceased in all religions, even in the Jewish after the destruction of the Temple, under Titus in A.D. 70, this unusual proceeding aroused great curiosity. The legionaries were inured to the sight of blood, but the citizens and their wives turned away when the goat was sacrificed to Dionysus. People sought to find the reason for Julian’s wish to reintroduce this custom in his laudable attempt to mingle all religions together, and to discover a deeper meaning in the ceremonies of all. The offering indeed was a gift, a sacrifice, and an expression of gratitude, but Maximus the mystic had also persuaded the Emperor that there were hidden powers in the blood itself, the source of life, which attracted spiritual forces of a lower order. Man shed his mother’s blood at his birth and the sacred institution of circumcision was intended to be a reminder of the bloody and painful operation of birth. Slaves were slaughtered on the graves of chieftains, and in the time of Julius Caesar the Romans had on one extraordinary occasion sacrificed three hundred prisoners. Captivated by this and by similar philosophical arguments, Julian was enticed into a course which was destined to lead to his destruction. After the sacrifice, at which the soldiers had laughed and the women had wept, the drama commenced in the poet’s original language. Greek was indeed spoken by all people of cultivation from Palestine to Gaul, but the uneducated did not know it, and therefore the citizens sat there inattentively.

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As the chorus entered for the second time, Eleazar returned with news. “This is what has happened,” he said. “The Bishop of Sens, the Primate of the Church of Gaul, has entered the town, and is performing mass in the church. The high officials are present there, and they accordingly beg to be excused attending on the Emperor. They thought that he was aware that Christians never go to the theatre, and they rely upon the edict granting religious liberty.”

Julian turned white with rage. “Good! They shall pay for that! Now, my Jewish friend, Eleazar, you shall sit near and talk with me. The actors are wretched, and I cannot endure their pronunciation of Greek.”

Eleazar demurred, but the Emperor overruled his objections. The morning passed, and when the first part of the trilogy was at an end, part of the public seemed to wish to steal away; but the exits were closed, in order to avoid the fiasco of actors playing to an empty house, and the disrespect which would thereby be shown to the Emperor. But the discontent of the audience continually increased, for they were tired and hungry. They were also unpleasantly surprised by the presence of a Jew in the Emperor’s box. It was not, however, because he was a Jew, for hatred of the Jews arose much later, after the Crusades. During the first centuries after Christ, Jews were confused with Christians because people believed that the new religion came from Palestine and was a continuation of Mosaism. The hostile glances which were cast at Eleazar were therefore more on account of his mean appearance and position than of his religion. The favour shown him by the Emperor was especially a challenge to the Christians, in whose eyes he was an alien and a heathen.

When, in the second part of the trilogy, Prometheus was nailed to the rock, the spectators must have thought of the Crucified as the antitype, for the actor playing that part took that posture, extended his arms, and let his head sink on his breast. The common people became more attentive, and as they neither had learnt Greek nor were acquainted with mythology, they thought that the sufferings of Christ were being represented on the stage. Since this had never been done before, they were displeased, and half-audible conversations began. The Emperor was angry, but did not move a muscle. He was generally quiet, but when he was enraged his intelligence forsook him. He sat there in silence, revolving plans against these barbarians, who had forgotten the wisdom of the ancients. It was now past noon, and the impatience of the audience increased. Then the sky began to be covered with clouds and some flakes of snow fell slowly like white feathers. Those who had mantles drew them over their heads. The actors looked towards the Emperor’s box, but he did not move, although it had no roof. He was a soldier, and would not be afraid of anything so trivial as bad weather.

Now Prometheus began to prophesy to Io of the Deliverer who would be born to overthrow Zeus and deliver the fire-bringer. The educated Christians and the heathen looked at each other questioningly, when Io said, “What dost thou say? Shall my son be thy deliverer?” And when Prometheus answered, “He will be the third scion after ten generations,” a murmur broke out in the theatre. “Ten generations,” that was in round numbers 700 years–a period nearly extending to the birth of Christ, since the Christians reckoned dates from 763 A.D., the end of the mythological era, to which the drama belonged.

Julian perceived that he had “carried wood to the fire,” and helped the Christians without intending to do so. Aeschylus had prophesied Christ’s birth almost to the very year, and intimated that he would overthrow Zeus. The orthodox followers of Athanasius wished for no better weapon with which to crush the Arians, who denied the Deity of Christ.

The snow fell ever more thickly, till at last it was a snowstorm. Julian was as white as though he wore a shroud, but he did not move, for he was beside himself with rage against himself, against the demons who had enticed him to choose this play, and against the heavenly powers who mocked him.

The whole audience was covered with snow, and discussed theology; the rabble laughed and quarrelled. The only ones who were protected against the inclemency of the weather were the actors under the canopy. But the damp snow was heavy, and the linen awning presently bent and broke.

Then the whole audience rose and burst into laughter; the actors crept out from under the masses of snow, the doors opened, and all fled except Julian and his philosophers.

* * * * *

As soon as Julian had been elected Emperor, he had sent an ambassador to the Emperor at Byzantium, and now awaited his reply. It was about the time of the winter solstice and the turn of the year. The Christians had, at this period, just begun to celebrate the birth of Christ, and had adopted certain Roman customs from the Saturnalia, the feast in honour of Saturn. Julian, irritated by the challenge of the Nazarenes, began to arm himself for resistance and attack. Now he determined to use his power to give back to heathendom what belonged to it, and to show the Christians whence they had derived their knowledge of the highest things. At the same time he wished to lend heathenism a Christian colouring, so that, at its return, it might be able to conquer everything. The old Temple of Jupiter, on the island in the river, was opened one night, and lights were seen in it. There was also a noise of hammers and saws, mattocks and trowels. This lasted for some time, and people talked about it in the town.

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One night in midwinter, Julian sat with Maximus, Priscus, and Eleazar in the Opisthodomos or priests’ room, behind the altar in the Temple of Jupiter. The whole temple was lit up, and the purpose of the improvements which had taken place could be seen. By the colonnade on the left hand was an ambo or pulpit, and under it a confessional; there were also a seven-branched candlestick, a baptismal font, a table with shewbread, and an incense-altar. These represented Julian’s attempt to attach the new doctrine to the old, and to amalgamate heathenism, Christianity, and Judaism. Heliogabalus had indeed attempted the same in his own rough fashion, by introducing Syrian sun-worship into Rome, but he retained all the heathen gods, even the Egyptian ones. Neither Christians, however, nor Jews would have anything to do with it.

Julian did not love the Jews, but his hatred of Christianity was so great that he preferred to help the stiff-necked race in Palestine, in order to rouse them against Christ. For that purpose he had given orders that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt, and this was the matter which he wished to discuss with his philosophers and Eleazar. “What is your opinion, then?” he asked, after finishing a long speech on the subject. “Let Maximus speak first.”

“Caesar Augustus,” answered Maximus the mystic, “Jerusalem has been destroyed from the face of the earth, as the prophets foretold, and the Temple cannot be rebuilt.”

“Cannot? It shall be.”

“It cannot! Constantine’s mother, indeed, built a church over the grave of Christ, but the Temple cannot be rebuilt. Since Solomon’s time the history of this city has been a history of successive destructions. Sheshach, the Philistines, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, and Chaldaeans, destroyed it in early times. Then came Alexander Ptolemaus, and finally Antiochus Epiphanes, who pulled down the walls and set up an image of Jupiter in the Temple. But now, mark! –sixty-three years before Christ, Jerusalem was conquered by Pompey. What happened in the same year after Christ in the Roman Empire? Pompeii, the town by Naples, named after the conqueror, was destroyed in A.D. 63 by an earthquake. That was the answer, and the Lord of Hosts conquered Jupiter,–Zeus.”

“Listen!” broke in Julian, “I don’t agree with your Pythagorean speculations about numbers. If both events had happened in the year 63 before Christ, then I would be nearly convinced.”

“Wait, then, Caesar, and you will be. After Pompey had conquered Jerusalem, and Cassius had plundered it, Herod rebuilt the city and the Temple. But soon afterwards–i.e. in A.D. 70, Jerusalem was completely destroyed by Titus. Only nine years later Monte Somma began to throw up fire as it had never done before, and by it Pompeii and Herculaneum were both destroyed. Pompeii and Herculaneum were Sodom and Gomorrah, and a temple in Pompeii contained an image of Vespasian, who had laid waste part of Jerusalem before Titus. It disappeared altogether. Do you think perhaps that the Christians set Vesuvius on fire, as Nero believed they had fired Rome in A.D. 64?”

Julian reflected: “There were nine years between,” he said, “but it seems strange.”

“Yes,” answered Maximus, “but precisely in the same year 70, in which Titus destroyed the Temple, the Capitol was burnt.”

“Then it is the gods who are warring, and we are only soldiers,” exclaimed Julian.

Priscus the Sophist, who liked word-encounters, determined to stir up the embers, as they seemed to be expiring: “But Christ has said that one stone shall not remain upon another, and that the Temple shall never be built again.”

“Has Christ said that?” answered Julian. “Very well; then he shall show whether he was a god, for I will build again the Temple of Solomon.”

And turning to Eleazar, he continued, “Do you believe in prodigies?”

“As surely as the Lord lives, as surely as Abraham’s God has brought us out of Egyptian bondage and given us Canaan, so surely will He fulfil the promise, and restore to us land, city, and Temple!”

“May it be with you according to your belief. The Temple shall be built up, even though it be not in three days as the Galilaean thought.”

* * * * *

The winter solstice had come, and the Feast of the Saturnalia commenced in Lutetia. The heathen had always kept the feast in recollection of the legendary Golden Age, which was said to have been under the reign of the good Saturn. Then there was peace upon earth; the lion played with the lamb, the fields brought forth harvests without husbandry, weapons were not forged, for men were good and righteous. This beautiful festival, which had been discontinued by the Romans, had been revived by the Christians, who at Christ’s coming expected a new Golden Age or the Millennium. But now Julian wished to restore to the heathen their privilege, and at the same time to show the Nazarenes whence they had derived their religious usages.

The heathen began to keep the festival in the old way. The shops were closed, and the city decorated, when on the morrow a procession was seen issuing from the Basilica to the market-place. At the head went King Saturn, with his horn of plenty, corn-sheaves, and doves; he was followed by the Virtues, Fortune, Wealth, Peace, Righteousness. Then followed an actor dressed like the Emperor, and by the hand he led a captive, who, in honour of the day, had been freed from his chains. He was followed by citizens who took their slaves by the arm; and these in their turn by women and children, who scattered corn from the sheaves for the sparrows in the street. The procession passed through the streets, and at first pleased the beholders.

Then they entered the temple, where there was a seated image of Jupiter in the apse. It had been cunningly modelled to resemble God the Father, or Moses, as he began to be represented about that time. Near and a little beneath this image stood Orpheus in the character of the Good Shepherd, with a lamb on his shoulders, and carved in relief on the pedestal was to be seen his descent to Hades, from which he returned bringing Dike (Justice),–a play on the name Eurydice. This was a direct hit at the Christians. Before the divine images stood the Jewish shewbread table, with the bread and the wine–a reminder of the source from which the Christians had taken the Eucharist or the Mass. As though by chance, a new-born heathen child was brought and baptized in the font. To the question of one, who had studied his part, whether heathen were baptized, it was answered by one, who also had his role assigned him, that the ancients had always washed their new-born children.

The whole affair was a comedy staged by Julian.

Then Maximus mounted the pulpit, and, in a Neo-platonic discourse, expounded all religious images, symbols, and customs. He also showed that the heathen only worshipped one God, whose many attributes found expression in various personifications. Then he ostensibly defended Christ’s Deity, the Virgin birth, and miracles. “We are,” he said, “all of divine origin, since God has created us, and we are His children. There is nothing remarkable in Christ being born without a father, since the philosopher Plato was also born of a virgin without a father.” In the middle of his discourse he exclaimed: “Miracles! Why should we not believe in miracles, since we believe in Almighty God? His omnipotence signifies that He can suspend the laws of nature which he has established. He who believes not in miracles is therefore an ass.” The discourse was listened to by heathen and Christians. The latter thought that they had never heard anything which so clearly explained mysterious dogmas, and the heathen found that they were one with the Christians. “What, then, stands between us?” exclaimed Maximus, carried away by the sight of the harmony and mutual understanding which prevailed among his audience. “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why, then, strive one against the other? Have we not here to day celebrated the recollection of the better times which have been, and which will surely return, as the light returns with the renewal of the sun–times of reconciliation and peace on earth, when no one will be master and no one slave? Here is neither Jew nor Greek nor Barbarian, but we are all brothers and sisters in one faith. Therefore love one another; reconcile yourselves with God and each other; give each other the kiss of peace; rejoice, perfect yourselves, be of one mind, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”

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The audience was delighted, and with streaming eyes fell in each other’s arms, pressed each other’s hands, and kissed each other’s cheeks.

Then suddenly a row of lights was kindled on the altar; that was part of the ceremonial of the Saturnalia, and signified the return of the sun. This custom was adopted by the Christians in celebrating the Birth of Christ or Christmas.

After this beggars were brought forward, and those of the upper classes washed their feet. Then twelve slaves took their seats at a covered table, while their masters served them. Julian, who, hidden in the Opisthodom, had watched the whole ceremony, secretly rejoiced, because by means of these ancient heathen rites he had entirely defeated the Christians. In them, as he had intended, there was a wordless expression of philanthropy and charity, and both had existed from time immemorial.

Finally, the children were brought forward, and received as presents dolls modelled of wax and clay. The illusion was complete, and the Christians felt as though under an enchanter’s spell. “The heathen are Christians after all!” they exclaimed. “Why, then, strive and quarrel, when we are one?”

There was an overflow of emotion, and the success of the experiment was complete. That was the victory of the first day. When, on the following day, the Christians wished to celebrate their Christmas festival, it necessarily appeared a mere copy of that of the heathen.

* * * * *

The Saturnalia lasted seven days, and Julian, intoxicated with his success, resolved to introduce the whole of the ancient ceremonies in all their terrible splendour. His philosophers warned him, but he did not listen to them any more; he must have his hecatombs; a hundred oxen adorned with garlands were to be slaughtered in the open space before the Temple of Jupiter, as a sacrifice to the ancient gods.

“He is mad!” lamented Eleazar.

“Whom the gods would destroy, they strike with blindness. Now he pulls down, what he had built up.”

It is difficult to explain how the highly cultivated, clever, and aesthetic Julian could conceive the wild idea of reintroducing animal sacrifices. It was really butchery or execution, and neither butchers nor executioners enjoyed much respect in society. It looked as though his hatred of Christ had clouded his understanding, when, arrayed in the garb of a sacrificial priest, he led forth the first ox, with its horns gilded and wearing a white fillet.

After he had kindled incense on the altar, he poured the bowl of wine over the head of the ox, thrust his knife in its throat and turned it round. A shudder ran through the crowd, who remained riveted to their places.

But as the blood spirted around, and the Emperor opened the quivering body of the animal in order to take an augury from its entrails, a cry rose which ended in an uproar, and all fled. The word “Apostate!” for the first time struck his ear. That was the signal of his defeat, and, as the animals were released by those who held them, they fled away through the streets of the town.

The Emperor, in his white robe sprinkled with blood, had to return alone to his palace, while Christians and heathen alike shouted their disapprobation.

“See the butcher!” they cried; “Apostate! Renegade! Madman!”

When Julian came to his palace, he looked as though petrified; but, without changing his clothes, he sat down to the table and wrote an edict against the Christians, in which they were forbidden to study, and to fill offices of State. That was his first step.

In the evening of the same day Julian received a letter: it was from the Emperor Constantius in Byzantium, who did not acknowledge his election to the imperial throne, and threatened to bring an army against him in Gaul. This was quite unexpected, and Julian left Lutetia in order to march against his cousin. As he went towards the East, he felt as though he were going to his death. But the first throw of the dice of destiny was a lucky one for him. Constantius died on the march, and Julian was left sole Emperor. This he took for a sign that the gods were on his side, and he proceeded on his campaign feeling that he was supported by the higher powers. But it was only the last jest of his gods.

It is related that before his last march against the Persians, he wished to ascertain his destiny, and had a woman’s body cut open in order to take an augury from the entrails. But that may be untrue, as is also the case with the conflicting reports of his death, which happened soon after. One thing, however, is certain; the “Galilaean” conquered Zeus, who rose no more.

It is also a fact, confirmed by Christian, Jewish, and heathen writers, that the Temple of Jerusalem was never built again, for as the foundation was about to be laid, fire broke out of the ground accompanied by an earthquake. The same earthquake also destroyed Delphi, “the centre of the earth,” and the focus of the religious and political life of Greece.

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