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Chapter XXIII.—Refutation of what Libanius the Sophist said concerning Julian.

When the winter,’ says he, 547 ‘had lengthened the nights, the emperor made an attack on those books which made the man of Palestine both God, and the Son of God: and by a long series of arguments having proved that these writings, which are so much revered by Christians, are ridiculous and unfounded, he has evinced himself wiser and more skillful than the Tyrian 548 old man. But may this Tyrian sage be propitious to me, and mildly bear with what has been affirmed, seeing that he has been excelled by his son!’ Such is the language of Libanius the Sophist. But I confess, indeed, that he was an excellent rhetorician, but am persuaded that had he not coincided with the emperor in religious sentiment, he would not only have given expression to all that has been said against him by Christians, but would have magnified every ground of censure as naturally becomes a rhetorician. For while Constantius was alive he wrote encomiums upon him; but after his death he brought the most insulting and reproachful charges against him. So that if Porphyry had been emperor, Libanius would certainly have preferred his books to Julian’s: and had Julian been a mere sophist, he would have termed him a very indifferent one, as he does Ecebolius in his Epitaph upon Julian. Since then he has spoken in the spirit of a pagan, a sophist, and the friend of him whom he lauded, we shall endeavor to meet what he has advanced, as far as we are able. In the first place he says that the emperor undertook to ‘attack’ these books during the long winter nights. Now to ‘attack’ means to make the writing of a confutation of them a task, as the sophists commonly do in teaching the rudiments of their art; for he had perused these books long before, but attacked them at this time. But throughout the long contest into which he entered, instead of attempting to disprove anything by sound reasoning, as Libanius asserts, in the absence of truth he had recourse to sneers and contemptuous jests, of which he was excessively fond; and thus he sought to hold up to derision what is too firmly established to be overthrown. For every one who enters into controversy with another, sometimes trying to pervert the truth, and at others to conceal it, falsifies by every possible means the position of his antagonist. And an adversary is not satisfied with doing malignant acts against one with whom he is at variance, but will speak against him also, and charge upon the object of his dislike the very faults he is conscious of in himself. That both Julian and Porphyry, whom Libanius calls the ‘Tyrian old man,’ took great delight in scoffing, is evident from their own works. For Porphyry in his History of the Philosophers has treated with ridicule the life of Socrates, the most eminent of p. 92 all the philosophers, making such remarks on him as neither Melitus, nor Anytus, his accusers, would have dared to utter; of Socrates, I say, who was admired by all the Greeks for his modesty, justice, and other virtues; whom Plato, 549 the most admirable among them, Xenophon, and the rest of the philosophic band, not only honor as one beloved of God, but also are accustomed to think of as having been endowed with superhuman intelligence. And Julian, imitating his ‘father,’ displayed a like morbidness of mind in his book, entitled The Cæsars, wherein he traduces all his imperial predecessors, not sparing even Mark the philosopher. 550 Their own writings therefore show that they both took pleasure in taunts and reviling; and I have no need of profuse and clever expressions to do this; but what has been said is enough concerning their mood in this respect. Now I write these things, using the oration of each as witnesses respecting their dispositions, but of Julian in particular, what Gregory of Nazianzus 551 says in his Second Oration against the Pagans is in the following terms:

‘These things were made evident to others by experience, after the possession of imperial authority had left him free to follow the bent of his inclinations: but I had foreseen it all, from the time I became acquainted with him at Athens. Thither he came, by permission of the emperor, soon after the change in his brother’s fortune. His motive for this visit was twofold: one reason was honorable to him, viz. to see Greece, and attend the schools there; the other was a more secret one, which few knew anything about, for his impiety had not yet presumed to openly avow itself, viz. to have opportunity of consulting the sacrificers and other impostors respecting his own destiny. I well remember that even then I was no bad diviner concerning this person, although I by no means pretend to be one of those skilled in the art of divination: but the fickleness of his disposition, and the incredible extravagancy of his mind, rendered me prophetic; if indeed he is the “best prophet who conjectures correctly” 552 events. For it seemed to me that no good was portended by a neck seldom steady, the frequent shrugging of shoulders, an eye scowling and always in motion, together with a frenzied aspect; a gait irregular and tottering, a nose breathing only contempt and insult, with ridiculous contortions of countenance expressive of the same thing; immoderate and very loud laughter, nods as it were of assent, and drawings back of the head as if in denial, without any visible cause; speech with hesitancy and interrupted by his breathing; disorderly and senseless questions, answers no better, all jumbled together without the least consistency or method. Why need I enter into minute particulars? Such I foresaw he would be beforehand as I found him afterwards from experience. And if any of those who were then present and heard me, were now here, they would readily testify that when I observed these prognostics I exclaimed, “Ah! how great a mischief to itself is the Roman empire fostering!” And that when I had uttered these words I prayed God that I might be a false prophet. For it would have been far better [that I should have been convicted of having formed an erroneous judgment], than that the world should be filled with so many calamities, and that such a monster should have appeared as never before had been seen: although many deluges and conflagrations are recorded, many earthquakes and chasms, and descriptions are given of many ferocious and inhuman men, as well as prodigies of the brute creation, compounded of different races, of which nature produced unusual forms. His end has indeed been such as corresponds with the madness of his career.’

This is the sketch which Gregory has given us of Julian. Moreover, that in their various compilations they have endeavored to do violence to the truth, sometimes by the corruption of passages of sacred Scripture, at others by either adding to the express words, and putting such a construction upon them as suited their own purpose, many have demonstrated, by confuting their cavils, and exposing their fallacies. Origen in particular, who lived long before Julian’s time, by himself raising objections to such passages of Holy Scripture 553 as seemed to disturb some readers, and then fully meeting them, has shut out the invidious clamors of the thoughtless. And had Julian and Porphyry given his writings a candid and serious perusal, they would have discoursed on other topics, and not have turned to the framing of blasphemous sophisms. It is also very obvious that the emperor in his discourses was intent on beguiling the ignorant, and did not address himself to those who possess the ‘form’ of the truth as it is presented in the sacred Scriptures. For having grouped together various expressions in which God is spoken of dispensationally, and more according to the manner of men, he thus comments on them. 554 ‘Every one of these expressions is full of blasphemy against p. 93 God, unless the phrase contains some occult and mysterious sense, which indeed I can suppose.’ This is the exact language he uses in his third book against the Christians. But in his treatise On the Cynic Philosophy, where he shows to what extent fables may be invented on religious subjects, he says that in such matters the truth must be veiled: ‘For,’ to quote his very words, 555 ‘Nature loves concealment; and the hidden substance of the gods cannot endure being cast into polluted ears in naked words.’ From which it is manifest that the emperor entertained this notion concerning the divine Scriptures, that they are mystical discourses, containing in them some abstruse meaning. He is also very indignant because all men do not form the same opinion of them; and inveighs against those Christians who understand the sacred oracles in a more literal sense. But it ill became him to rail so vehemently against the simplicity of the vulgar, and on their account to behave so arrogantly towards the sacred Scriptures: nor was he warranted in turning with aversion from those things which others rightly apprehended, because forsooth they understood them otherwise than he desired they should. But now as it seems a similar cause of disgust seems to have operated upon him to that which affected Porphyry, who having been beaten by some Christians at Cæsarea in Palestine and not being able to endure [such treatment], from the working of unrestrained rage renounced the Christian religion: and from hatred of those who had beaten him he took to write blasphemous works against Christians, as Eusebius Pamphilus has proved who at the same time refuted his writings. So the emperor having uttered disdainful expressions against the Christians in the presence of an unthinking multitude, through the same morbid condition of mind fell into Porphyry’s blasphemies. Since therefore they both willfully broke forth into impiety, they are punished by the consciousness of their guilt. But when Libanius the Sophist says 556 in derision, that the Christians make ‘a man of Palestine both God and the Son of God,’ he appears to have forgotten that he himself has deified Julian at the close of his oration. ‘For they almost killed,’ says he, ‘the first messenger of his death, as if he had lied against a god.’ And a little afterwards he adds, ‘O thou cherished one of the gods! thou disciple of the gods! thou associate 557 with the gods!’ Now although Libanius may have meant otherwise, yet inasmuch as he did not avoid the ambiguity of a word which is sometimes taken in a bad sense, he seems to have said the same things as the Christians had done reproachfully. If then it was his intention to praise him, he ought to have avoided equivocal terms; as he did on another occasion, when being criticised he avoided a certain word, cutting it out of his works. Moreover, that man in Christ was united to the Godhead, so that while he was apparently but man, he was the invisible God, and that both these things are most true, the divine books of Christians distinctly teach. But the heathen before they believe, cannot understand: for it is a divine oracle that declares 558 ‘Unless ye believe, assuredly ye shall not understand.’ Wherefore they are not ashamed to place many men among the number of their gods: and would that they had done this, at least to the good, just, and sober, instead of the impure, unjust, and those addicted to drunkenness, like the Hercules, the Bacchus, and the Æsculapius, by whom Libanius does not blush to swear frequently in his orations. And were I to attempt to enumerate the unnatural debaucheries and infamous adulteries of these, the digression would be lengthened beyond measure: but for those who desire to be informed on the subject, Aristotle’s Peplum, Dionysius’ Corona, Rheginus’ Polymnemon, and the whole host of poets will be enough to show that the pagan theology is a tissue of extravagant absurdities. We might indeed show by a variety of instances that the practice of deifying human beings was far from uncommon among the heathen, nay, that they did so without the slightest hesitation: let a few examples suffice. The Rhodians having consulted an oracle on some public calamity, a response was given directing them to pay their adoration to Atys, a pagan priest who instituted frantic rites in Phrygia. The oracle was thus expressed:

‘Atys propitiate, the great god, the chaste Adonis, the blessed fair-haired Dionysius rich in gifts.’

Here Atys, who from an amatory mania had castrated himself, is by the oracle designated as Adonis and Bacchus.

Again, when Alexander, king of the Macedonians, passed over into Asia, the Amphictyons courted his favor, and the Pythoness uttered this oracle:

‘To Zeus supreme among the gods, and Athene Tritogenia pay homage, and to the king divine concealed in mortal form, him Zeus begat in honor to be the protector and dispenser of justice among mortals, Alexander the king.’

These are the words of the demon at Delphi, who when he wished to flatter potentates, did not scruple to assign them a place among the gods. The motive here was perhaps to concilip. 94 ate by adulation: but what could one say of the case of Cleomedes the pugilist, whom they ranked among the gods in this oracle?

‘The last of the heroes is Cleomedes, the Astypalian. Him honor with sacrifices; for he is no longer a mortal.’

Because of this oracle Diogenes the cynic, and Oënomaus the philosopher, strongly condemned Apollo. The inhabitants of Cyzicus declared Hadrian to be the thirteenth god; and Adrian himself deified his own catamite Antinoüs. 559 Libanius does not term these ‘ridiculous and contemptible absurdities,’ although he was familiar with these oracles, as well as with the work of Adrias on the life of Alexander 560 (the pseudo-prophet of Paphlagonia): nor does he himself hesitate to dignify Porphyry in a similar manner, when after having preferred Julian’s books to his, he says, ‘May the Syrian be propitious to me.’ This digression will suffice to repel the scoffs of the sophist, without following him farther in what he has advanced; for to enter into a complete refutation would require an express work. We shall therefore proceed with our history.



Liban. Orat. xviii. (Opera, i. Reiske).


Porphyry. See above, I. 9.


In his Crito, Phædo, Phædrus, and Apology of Socrates. See also Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates and Symposium.


Marcus Aurelius.


Gregor. Nazianz. Orat. V. 23.


Euripid. Fragm.


Probably Socrates means Origen’s lost work, known as Stromata, which Jerome (in his Ep. ad Magnum) says was written to show the harmony of the Christian doctrines and the teachings of the philosophers. The description here given does not tally more precisely with any other work of Origen now extant.


Cyril, Contra Julian. III. (p. 93, ed. Spanheim).


Julian, Orat. VII.


Liban. Orat. XVIII. (Oper. I. 625, Reiske).


παρεδρευτά , term applied to associates on the bench in judicatories.


Isa. vii. 9 (LXX, καὶ ἐ& 129·ν μὴ πιστεύσητε, οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε).


For a full account of Antinoüs and his relations to Hadrian, see Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biogr. and Mythol., article Antinoüs. The story has been put into literary fiction in the historical novels Antinoüs, by George Taylor (A. Hausrath), and The Emperor, by Georg Ebers.


It is uncertain what the true reading should be here. In one of the mss. it is Αδρίας, in another Ανδρίας; according to others Αδριανός, or Αρριανός. Valesius suggests the substitution of Λουκιανός . If this be adopted, then the Alexander suggested is Lucian’s Alexander of Abonoteichus. For a lucid and suggestive reproduction of this story, see Froude, Short Studies on Great Subjects, essay on Lucian.

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