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VI ll

ALExANDRE

Kotivz

The Emperor Julian and His Art o{ Writing.


. . . For one must not
speak of the ineffable. Julian (2184)

When on the cage of an elephant you see the inscription "bufralo," don't believe your eyes.
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on the other hand, literary camoufage could serve to form an elite; writing was supposed to be able to inform those exceptional men who were capable of grasping the camouflaged doctrine which shocks prejudice, at the same time conffrming average readers in their tradiiional
ignorance, sometimes called learned and always supposed salutary. Thus
* Translated by James H. Nichols, Jr. 95

ends, which could, nouetheless, be combined. On the one hand, thought could be camouflaged to escape persecution resulting from intolerance, which arises necessarily as much from knowledge that is rightly shielded from doubt as from any opinion that is wrongly shieldeJ from doubt.

In fact, the old art of writing rediscovered by Leo Strauss consisted in writing almost the opposite of what one thought, in order to camouflage what one said. This literary camouflage had two clearly distinct

what has tended to be too easily forgotten since the nineteenth centurythat one ought not to take literally everything that the great authors of earlier times wrote, nor to believe that they made explicit in their writings all that they wanted to say in them.

In a book on the art of writing which has been justly noted because it is truly noteworthy, Leo strauss has reminded us of

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The Emperor lulian and His Art of

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which Julian attacks the monks, too, while feigning to criticize only the neoCynics of his time and, further, opposing them to Antisthenes and Diogenes, whom he admires), it is said in passing: 'As for me, with respect to the gods, . . . I wish to say only the pious things" ( 187" ). Several months previously, the Emperor had spoken in great detail about many pagan divinities in his discourse, On the Mother of the Goils (inspired in part by Lucian's Syrian Goddess). Several months later he availed himself of another opportunity in the discourse, On Ki.ng Heli.os, which is an intentional parody of the writings of Iamblichus. It is clear that Julian did not really believe what he had written about the gods in these two discourses and that he kept sileut as to what he truly thought of the gods. Yet nothing, it seems, prevented him from developing therein whatever theological conceptions he had, if any, concerning pagan theology. Moreover, nothing permits us to suppose that his reason for concealing what he thought of the pagan gods was that he had remained a true Christian after his official apostasy. We are thus forced to admit that, in indicating that he kept his true thoughts about any divinities to himself, Julian wished to indicate that in his opinion there were none. This radical, but silent or camoufage, atheism is also suggested by the fact that, in his two ostensibly religious and "mystic" discourses, the Emperor reproduces the themes of the pagan theology of his time (assimilable, in his view, to those of Christian theology) only insofar as those themes have in his opinion a particularly inept and ridiculous character, which he takes pains to emphasize discreetly by accentuating it. After recoguizing that, on becoming Emperor, the philosopher Julian eeases to say all that he thiuks and even to think all that he says, one must ask the reason for this camouflage. Now, in his discourse, fn Response to the Cgnic Heracleios (Heracleios in fact designating not only a neo-Cynic philosopher, but also a Christian bishop or theologian), the Emperor recalls that in every age orators and writers with philoscphic leanings camoufaged their thoughts for fear of reprisal: "[The poet who uses a eertain kind of myth] wishes to exhort and instruct but in a concealed way. He does this in the case rfiere he is afraid to speak clearly because he is anxious about being hated by the audience. This is how Hesiod too evidently wrote" (2A7*b), Perhaps-but of whom and of what could a Roman Emperor be afraid? Ju1ian evidently could not fear persecution by the dying paganism of his time. On the contrary, he could see that it was impossible in that age to dethrone the pagan gods without enthroning in their place the Christian divinity, whose adepts would have persecuted the atheist Emperor more eflectively than pagans could have.2 In the ffnal analysis, then, it was for fear of the hatred of his

In the &scourse, To the Uneducated" Dogs (or Cynics), (in

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and the mockings of the unbelieving or skeptical intellectual that he was. No doubt, if Julian had wanted to be simply Emperor, he should and could have given up completely those mockings and stopped his subtle jesting. Having remained a philosopher, however, he could not abandon philosophic pedagogy; in addressing his writings only to a mature elite,

he took care that the tradition of what was for him the (discursive) truth should not be interrupted. The camouflaged mocking which escapes the vulgar permits the selection of strong minds who understand such ironies without being shocked by them, and who thus reveal that they are not so enslaved by prejudice as to be unapt to receive, perhaps with some benefit, a philosophic instruction which will itself be given them only between the lines for the same double reason of selection and
secrecy.

Now, this is exactly what Julian himself tells us on occasion. Thus, in the discourse, On King Helio's (in which Helios is at the same time the pagan divinity which the author exalts as Emperor, but which he derides as intellectual, and the symbol of the nous to which he appeals as philosopher), Julian speaks explicitly of his pedagogic vocation: "May the greata Helios [reason] grant that I no lesss know about him and that I teach everyone generally (xowff), but those worthy of learning particularly (;8is)" (fS7u;. Here, the appeal to the philosophic elite and the exclusion of the mass of the profane are only indicated. Elsewhere, however, the author expresses himself in a more open fashion, as for example in the discourse, ln Response to the Cgni,c Heracl.eios, where he says: "For not everything ought to be said; and even of those things which it is lawful to say [to an elite], certain things, in my opinion, must be kept quiet before the many" (239-b). However, it must be done with art: the same camouflage which seryes to hide from the vulgar the true meaning of what is said must attract the attention of the chosen few and provoke philosophic refection in them. This is precisely what ]ulian himself tells us in his discourse, Onthe Mother of the Godst
The Ancients always looked for the causes of things; . , . and when they had found them, they protected them with paradoxical myths, so that by means of the paradox and incongruity the counterfeit character [of what is said to us] would be detected and would turn us to the search for the truth lwhich is hidden from us or which is indicated only by hints]. I suppose that for the ordinary men there is sufficient benefft in the irrational story which is transmitted uniquely by [generally strange and contradictory] symbols, whereas for t-hose who are exceptional in intelligence, the huth
about the gods can be beneffcial only on the condition that they search for, ffnd, and grasp it [themselves] under the direction of the gods [that is to say, here, of reason, truly of philosophy], reminded by the enigmatic allu-

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tradition. After the example o{ the great Plato, Julian the philosopher jested a great deal, particularly about things which the common run of readers someUmes take tragically and always endow with a seriousness which they consider profound. But, like Plato himself, Julian made fun of these things at the same time being careful not to shock the profane, and he, like Plato, did it so as to stir his chosen few to the intellectual efiort, which is philosophic precisely insofar as it is deemed able to liberate from the prejudices 'bf the theatey'' and "of the forum" those who are capable of it, thus leading them to (discursive) wisdom-that is, to full satisfaction, perfectly conscious of itself.T

Many examples of the art of writing practiced by Julian could be given. For lack of spaee I shall content myself with a single example, which seems particularly convincing to me. It is concerned with what Julian thinks and says when he speaks, in his philosophic writings, of myths, both generally and particularly. julian speaks of myths in all his pieces of a philosophic character. But his discourse, ln Responss to the Cgni.c Heracleios, is devoted entirely to the problem'of myth in general and of theological myths, pagan as well as Christian, in particular (cf. 205b"). The philosopher-Emperor explicitly formulates his own point of view at the very outset of his analysis, which begins as follows: "To discover the point at which the invention of myths began, as well as the person of him who ffrst tried to relate false stories in a believable form for the profft or the diversion of his audience, is probably quite as impossible as to ffnd the ffrst man who sneezed or spat" (205"). Obviously, in deffning the myth as a false story told in a believable fashion, ]ulian consciously opposes the traditional deffnition, implicitly or explicitly admiued by all the theologians, including the Stoics. For these men, myths (or at least certain myths) are true stories which, however, present themselves in an unbelievable form, in the sense of being unlikely, or at least incomprehensible. The task of the pagan or Christian theologian, on that premise, consists in interpreting a myth so as to restate in likely and comprehensible (not to say reasonable or rational) speech the truth which the myth reveals (discursively). The truth of the myth is defined as a harmonizing of what the myth says with what it speaks about. Thus the truth of the myth is supposed to be the (discursive) revelation of a reality. More exactly, it is not the myth which reveals a reality. It is the reality, generally divine, which reveals itself in and through the myth. Thus, the theological myth is the unbelievable discursive form of a divine revelation, which reveals what is or really exists "outside of its discursive revelation and independently
of the mythical, that is, unbelievable form of the myth. This is the source of the possibility of interpreting the myth by rationalizing its (dis-

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by its meaning that the theological myth contradicts itself. The mythical expression, which is also artistic, can at best camouflage this contradiction (at least in the eyes of the "many"; see 213d), by giving it an "exalted" and "coherent," that is, 'believable" appearance. More exactly, all myths have a contradictory meaning, because they contradict themselves by deffnition: what is not seU-contradictory is not a myth, properly so-called. But one and the same contradictory meaning can have two different verbal expressions: the one makes the contradiction appear explicitly while the other dissembles it without suppressing it, so that it is only implicit. One must therefore distinguish myths which openly present themselves as having a contradictory meaning from those which hide-or pretend to hide-their contradiction by expressing themselves in apparently "exalted" and'toherent" discourse. We shall shortly see that the telling of false stories without camouflaging their contradictory character in order to pass them off as true is what distinguishes poetry. But we have just seen that, according to Julian, if one aims to edify, it is necessary to dissimulate by apparently coherent speech the implied contradiction in the meaning of poetic works which treat divine things. We understand very well why this is so. In effect, the contradictory meaning cannot, by deffnition, correspond to any reality. To show by the very verbal expression that a story is contradictory is hence to present it openly as a ffction. And this is precisely what the poets do in telling their stories. On the other hand, the theologians claim to speak of real divinities. They are therefore obliged to camouflage verbally t}e contradictions inherent in the meaning of the stories they tell. Thus, it is the theologians who produce myths in the proper sense of the word, namely, 'Talse stories [because contradictory] in a believable form [because apparently coherent]" (205"). Now, the art of ffnding an apparently coherent verbal form for a false meaning which is not simple or unique (the contradictory meaning being precisely double) belongs to rhetoric. consequently, theology is a branch of rhetoric, which tries to ffnd (apparently) coherent verbal expressions for the contradictory meanings of poetic works which have divine things for their
subiect.

Whatever the relations between theology, poetry, and rhetoric may be, Julian tells us clearly that according to him all myths are false stories. And we now know that these stories are false because their meaning is contradictory, in whatever verbal form they may happen to be croaked. Now, by the curious comparison of men's invention of myths with sneezing and spitting, Julian gives us to understand that there have always been and that there will always be myths on earth, as long as human beings live on it. Hence it can be asked why men invent false stories everywhere and always, sometimes taking them for true. Julian

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faith in the myths is such that even his burlesque of them will prevent almost no one from taking them seriously and from believing that Julian
himself takes them seriously.

Now, if Julian realized that in &eological matters men ffrmly believe in perfectly "unbelievable" things, he must have asked himself why they did so. At ffrst glance, his rather in&rect respouse is hardly satisfying, although traditional in ancient philosophy. It is that people believe in myths from 'haivet6," that is, from lack of intelligence or, more exactly, because they do not notice the "strange and contradictory" character of what the myths tell.8 But a much more profound response-"Hegelian" before its time-is perhaps found in a curious passage of the Consolntion,
where Julian speaks of Alexander as follows:

It is told that Alexander wished for a Homer, not to profft from his company, but for the propagation of his glory. . . . However, that man lAlexander] never looked to the present: he was never satisffed with what was accorded to him in his time and he was not content with the things which were [actually] given to him. Even if a Homer had befallen him, he would perhaps have longed for the Apollonian lyre, to which Apollo sang the nuptials of Peleus. For Alexander took this story [relative to Apollo] not for a simple product of Homer's understanding, but for a true deed which Homer had woven into the web of his poem (250d-251-).
Stated otherwise, a poet, in order to divert, invents a false story which he himself presents as a ffction; but in the eyes of another man, this same story can seem "believable" to the point of being considered true, in &e sense of conforming to reality, even if it has a "strange and contradictory'' character. Since the man in question is Alexander, there can be no ques-

tion of naivet6 or of lack of intelligence. Thus Julian indicates an entirely different reason, namely, a desire for glory (or tecognition," in the Hegelian sense of the word) which is not satisffed by the fame acquired in one's lifetime. Now, since Julian speaks of Alexander and of Homer, he certainly wishes to tell us that the desire for glory, or for 'iecognition," that Ieads men to transform poetic ffctions into theological myths which people accept as true is such that it cannot be satisffed by any action performed on earth or by any eulogies earned there. Moreover, Julian carefully emphasizes that nothing occurring in the dimension of time could satisfy Alexander. That is to say that men believe in the truth of theological myths because these allow human beings to expect an eternal glory, an afterlife, in and through "recognition" on the part of immortal or divine beings. In short, men believe in the gods because they themselves wish to be immortal. Julian could have stopped there, if myths were told only by poets (who devote themselves to ffctions in play and to divert) or by religious men

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The Emperor lulian and His Art of

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ought to be composed, if, in a general way, philosophy somehow needs the invention of myths too" (205r). To reply to this question, ]ulian begins by asking what branch of philosophy might need myths-'Talse stories with a believable form." He says:

With regard to these difierent branches [of philosophy, namely, according to the Stoic tripartition, logic, physics, and ethicsl, the invention of myths is appropriate neither to logic nor to mathematies, which is a part of physics; but if this invention is appropriate to any of these branches at all, it is with practical philosophy [with ethics] that it is concerned, namely, with that part of it which concerns the individual man [not the state as suchl, as well as the part of theology which deals with initiations and
mysteries (216b).

On the page preceding this passage, Julian had adopted the Stoic division of philosophy into only three parts. Stated otherwise, following the Stoics, he subsumes theology under physics. For him, though (as perhaps for Plato and certainly for Kant, as well as for certain "Democritbans," if not for Democritus himself ), physics can be true only insofar as it is mathematical, The nonmathematical remnant of physics is for him, as for Plato in the Timaeus, only a bevy of "myths," that is to say, false stories presented in a more or less "believabld' form. This is the case especially when the stories claim to describe a 'transcendent" or divine world. It is precisely because nothing true can be said of this world, for the simple reason that it does not exist at all, that one is obliged to have recourse to myths when one intends to speak of it. Now Julian gives us to understand, in the pages which follow the passage quoted, that the use of myths by a philosopher can be justiffed only in ethicsand not ethics as a whole, but only that part which is addressed to individuals. Stated otherwise, when a philosopher speaks as a theorist of the state or of society, that is, of man in gerreral or man as such, he must speak seriously and try to say the truth, avoiding all kinds of myths. A philosopher can himself tell, or have others tell, 'Talse stories in a believable form," intending to make them pass as true, only when he wants to act as a peda-gogue or as a dema-gogue, that is to say, when his goal is to educate individuals so that their life in common can take the form of a viable state truly worthy of the name, such as the Roman state was before its decadence. This understood, the philosopher-Emperor believes it necessary and possible to make his thought even more speciffq and to say directly that in any event myths, even edifying ones, should be told only to those who are not capable of understanding or accepting the truth. "The one who makes stories for the sake of the improvement of morals and introduces myths must not do this for men but for children, whether in age or

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shelter themselves from persecution, but also to gratify their taste for play and jest and in order that phirosophers courir""og.rir" each other

1or, lor that matter, anyone's secret-by writing the prlceding pages. For these pages will say nothing of interest to those whlor. tt e i-pero, wanted to exclude from the small number of comprehending readers of his philosophic writings. They wilr indeed say riothing at"all. In the spirit of their author, these pages contain-nothing othlr, and nothing more, than a modest sahrt addressed to the boi entend.eurs of phil losophy-over the oceans and through the centuries.

unmistakably that he himself did not believe in any of the theological myths which were told with more or less success in his epoch, it is not a-s an atheistic philosoplrer_but as a self-procraimed "devoit pagan,, and ^ "Neo-Platonic mystic" that history has trinsmitted him to ,s. ' Telling of Juliant art of writing, I hope r have not behayed his secret-

In the light of historical experience, the Emperor Julian's art of writing appears most extraordinary. For although he permitted himself to tell us

ll nru"
of the Emperor lulian, trans. W. C. Wright (S vols.; London; - 1, The Works Heinemann, 1g1g), 24gd-249", All references to the writings'of lulian will be to this edition.

2. It is obviously the crosiers of the bishops and not the stafis of ..the philosophers" that Julian really has in view in the followi.rg i.rr";iir" *hi"h he pretends to address to the "Cynic" Heracleios:
Furthermore, -why do. you [the "Cy]ics,'].circrrlate everyr,vhere and ply not only the mules but also, as- r hear tell, thlir drivers, ,"t o ur" *o." frigiiened before you,than before the soldiersi For, as I hear, yoo,rr" yo* rtrfi, even more cruellv than the soldiers do their swords. l[ i, trr"rlrore fftting that you also inspire th"; ;th;;f"* ('izq").

3. As-Emperor, Julian often takes issue with the'pure" intelectuars who isolate themselves from political action, and who nevirtheless p"rrnit th"*_ selves to advise statesmen. He does this notably in his very iroi"ui rnttn, to the Philosopher Themistius, wlrich he paroiies the styie or _in "sophists" and cruelly derides, "orrt"*porrry although again in u cu*orfluged lorm, the advice lavished on the new Emperor by his former tutor in phiro-sophy (whom Eunapius does not mention in his Li,fe of the sophisfs, wheie he civers lrnian with flowers). see more particularly 263b-267b. Letter 16 could also b1 quoted

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The Emperor lulian and His Art of Writing

II Iil

introduce the opinion of Epicurus"). This hypothetical interpretation would become absolutely certain if the author of the small treatise, OI the Cods and of the World, were the same Sallust who was Julian's friend. For the credo of that author (which is openly expressed in chapter XVII, the other chapters being "ironicali') is clearly Democritean and atheistic. But it is possible that the "Sallust" in question is only one of the pseudonyms of Damscius (alias "Marinus" as the supposed author of the so-called biography of Proclus, a pamphlet as ironical as it is ferocious). It seems, moreover, that Damscius, himself a "materialist" and a notorious atheist, knew the writings of Julian very well and imitated him in his own vita lsidori (which is in fact only a persiflage of neoPlatonism), and whose "diadochian Isidorus," moreover, never existed. As to it was publicly Julian s anti-christianity, it is universally known because avowed. But it has perhaps not been sufficiently emphasized that the Emperorphilosopher was "Nietzschean" or "Hegelian" before his time, insofar as he reproached Judeo-christianity above all for being a 'ieligion of slaves" (cf. 195"-196"; Lggdr 207d*208"; 213b; 238"-d). Cf. also fr. 5: "They [the Christian soldiersl Inew only how to pray [but were unfft for combat]" (Works Vol. III, pp. 298 and 299). 7. With regard to the Platonic origin of Julian's "irony," the following ('ironicali') passage from the discourse, In Resporwe to the Cynic Heracleios, is particularly characteristic: He [Plato n the Philebas and the Timaeus] insists that everything the poets say of the gods be implicitlybelieved, and-that no proof for what tiey iay be demanded of them. But I have quoted here this passage fTimaeus, 4$e-", which Julian obviously considers "ironical," although te must have known tlat this same passage was taken literally and seriously by the author of. the Epinornis] solely so that you ["Heracleios," here the syrnbol of the Christian theologianl will not be able to pretend, as many Platonists do, that Socrates' being naturally ironic is a ground for slighting the Platonic doctrine. For these words are not uttered by Socrates, but by Timaeus, who is least of all ironical. [This shows, incidentally, that Julian did not take at all seriously the myths of a pseudo-scientiffc cast that Plato jokingly put in the mouth of Timaeus to make fun of him (aiming perhaps at Eudoxus, or the young Aristotle, who was impressed and influenced !V Eudo-xus to the point of Urbati,rg with the philosophy of t}le Academy).1 For that matter, it is not sound, instead of examining what is said, to ask who says it and to whom the speeches are addressed. [An ironical passage, which shows tlat Julian knew full well that it is, on the contrary, only by posing these last two questions that the dialogues of Plato can be correctly interpreted.l Must I now refer you again to the omniscient Siren, the image of the messenger-god Hermes and the friend of Apollo and the Muses [namely, Aristotle]P He thinks that to those who ask if there are gods or who, in a general manner, undertake a [critical] study of this subject, one must not give an answer as to human beings, but administer a punishment as to beasts (237b-d). Evidently, Julian did not greatly appreciate people who take things too seriously, particularly in matters of religion or science, but also of politics and raisons diEtat. On several occasions he paid tribute to the philosophers of the past who knew how to joke, putting Democritus at their head beside Plato'

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Aru

The Emperor lulian and His Art of

Writing ll

lI3

destiny (;rpopr"ivn); and to permit me tlereafter to rise toward him and to hi*,'if that is fossible, forever lwhich Julian certainly does not remain """r this must be [as Julian himse]f thinks it mustl a [rehowever if believel; ligious] desire which goes beyond my merits in this life, may it at the very le*ast [Lut, of course, per impossibilel be for numerous and lengthy periods of time (15Sr-";. Let us ffnally note that this last passage is found again almost word for word in the last chapter (it is also both ironical and serious, although not at all tragic) of the small work already mentioned which is traditionally attributed to a
certain "Sallust."

10. Cf. The Caesars 318b: "Gods ought to test and investigate the tuuth, and not persuasiveness or seductiveness" (including the 'tweet spices" of
myths of any type whatsoever) ' 11. Cf. TheCaesars 314"-d:

You [the Emperor Probus] were too austere and always harsh, never yielding. You have sufiered unjustly and yet fittingly. O_ne cannot govern irorses,-cattle, mules, and still less men, without conceding something to
what gratiffes them.
[sweeiening bitter medications] to the sick, in order to ffnd them obedient on great occasions. "What, Papa [Silenus]," says Dionysus,'Are you going philosophic on us?" "Why not, my boy! ' . ' Let us then mix some serious words with our laughing onest"

It

is thus that doctors sometimes make small concessions