“Why were you so ungrateful to our gods
as to desert them for the Jews?”
—Julian, addressing the Christians
The Memoir of Julian Augustus
Some arrived on horseback, others in litters. Each was accompanied by a retinue of soldiers, clerks, eunuchs, slaves. All wore some variation of military dress, for ever since Diocletian the court has been military in its appearance, symbolic of Rome’s beleaguered state.
For six years Gallus and I had seen no one except Bishop George and our guards. Now all at once there passed before us the whole power of the state. Our eyes were dazzled by glittering armor and elaborate cloaks, by the din of a thousand clerks and notaries who scurried about the courtyard, demanding their baggage, quarreling with one another, insisting on various prerogatives. The noisy clerks with their inky fingers and proud intelligent faces were the actual government of Rome, and they knew it.
The last official to arrive was the most important of all: the Grand Chamberlain of the Sacred Palace, the eunuch Eusebius. He was so large that it took two slaves to pull him out of his ivory and gold litter. He was tall, stout and very white. Beneath the peacock blue of his silk tunic one could see the rolls of flesh quiver as he moved. Of all the officers of the state, only he wore civilian clothes. In fact, he looked like a winsome lady of fashion with mouth artfully rouged and hair arranged in long oiled ringlets. The gold thread of his cape flashed in the sunlight.
Eusebius smiled a tiny smile, exposing small dark teeth; several babyish dimples appeared in his full cheeks. He inclined his head; the neck fat creased; a long curl strayed across his brow.
“Nobilissimi,” he said in a soft voice. This was an excellent omen. The title nobilissimus is used only for members of the imperial family. Bishop George never used this title with us nor did our guards. Now, apparently, our rank had been restored.
After a long scrutiny, Eusebius took each us by hand, I can still recall the soft dampness of his touch. “I have so looked forward seeing you both! And how grown up you are! Especially the noble Gallus.” Delicately he felt Gallus’s chest. This sort of impertinence would ordinarily have sent my brother into rage, but that day he was far too frightened. He also knew instinctively that his only protection was his beauty. Complaisantly he allowed the eunuch to caress him as we entered the villa.
Eusebius had the most beguiling voice and manner of anyone I have even known. I should say something here about the voices of eunuchs. They’re like that of a particularly gentle child, and this appeals to the parent in both men and women. Thus subtly do they disarm us, for we tend to indulge them as we would a child, forgetting that their minds are as mature and twisted as their bodies are lacking. Eusebius spun his web about Gallus. He did not bother with me. I was too young.
Gallus and Eusebius dined alone together that night. The next day Gallus was Eusebius’s devoted admirer. “He’s also a friend,” said Gallus. We were alone together in the baths. “He told me how he’d been getting reports about me for years. He knows everything I’ve ever done. He even knows about her.” Gallus named the Antiochene, and giggled. “Anyway Constantius does just as Eusebius tells him. Everyone says so. Which means if you have Eusebius on your side, that’s half of the battle. And I’ve got him. He’s going to make a monk out of you. Though if I have anything to say about it, you’ll be a eunuch.”
We heard trumpets. Then the cry “Augustus!” which always precedes an emperor began, at first far off and faint; then closer, louder: “Augustus! Augustus!” My legs began to tremble. I was afraid I might be sick. Suddenly with a crash the double doors were flung open and there in the doorway stood Flavius Julius Constantius, Augustus of the East… slowly and with an extraordinary dignity crossed the room to his throne. I was too busy studying the mosaic floor to get even a glimpse of my imperial cousin. Not until the Master of the Offices gave the signal for everyone to rise was I able at last to observe my father’s murderer.
Constantius was a man of overwhelming dignity. That was the most remarkable thing about him; even his most ordinary gestures seemed carefully rehearsed. Like the Emperor Augustus, we wore lifts in his sandals to make himself appear tall. He was clean-shaven, with large melancholy eyes. He had his father Constantine’s large nose and thin, somewhat peevish mouth. The upper part of his body was impressively muscular but his legs were dwarfish. He wore the purple, a heavy robe which hung from shoulder to heel.
Then the moment came. Bishop George led Gallus and me to the Master of Offices, who in turn led us up to dais and presented us formally to the Emperor. I was terrified. Without knowing how I got there, I found myself embracing Constantius’ knees, as court etiquette requires.
For an instant I was so close to Constantius that I could make out every pore in his face, which was sunburned dark as a Persian’s. I noticed the silkiness of his straight brown hair, only just beginning to turn grey. He was thirty-two, but I thought him ancient. I also remember thinking: what must it be like to be Emperor of Rome? to know that one’s face on coins, one’s monuments, painted and sculptured, is known to all the world? And here—so close to me that I could feel the reciprocal warmth of his skin—was the original of that world-famous face, not bronze or marble but soft flesh and bone, like me, like any other man.
Constantius remained at Macellum for a week. He attended to the business of the state. He hunted. Bishop George had a long interview with him on the day he arrived, but then, to the Bishop’s chagrin, Constantius ignored him. Though Gallus and I dinned at the Emperor’s table every evening, he never spoke to us.
Gallus made a good impression on everyone—somewhat to my surprise, for he was always rather sullen with Bishop George and downright cruel to me and his teachers. But set among the great officers of the state, he was a different person. He laughed; he flattered; he charmed. He was a natural courtier, and one by one he enchanted the members of the Sacred Consistory, as the Emperor’s council is known. Only with Constantius did he make no headway. Our cousin was biding his time. I wonder now what Constantius was thinking. I suspect that even then I may have puzzled him. Gallus was easily comprehended. But who was this silent youth who wanted to become a priest?
In a blaze of pageantry, Constantius departed. Gallus, Bishop George and I stood in the courtyard as he rode past. Mounted, he looked splendid and tall in his armor of chased gold. He acknowledged no one as he rode out of Macellum. In his cold way he was most impressive, and I still envy him his majesty. He could stand for hours in public looking neither to the left or the right; motionless as a statue.
“You will be gone soon enough, most noble Gallus.” Bishop George had now taken to using our titles.
Gallus said good-bye to his officer friends at a dinner to which I was, surprisingly, invited. He made a pleasant speech, promising to remember his friends if he was ever to have a military command. Bishop George then presented him with a Galilean testament bound in massive silver. “Study it well, most noble Gallus. Outside the church there can be no salvation.”
The next day when it was time for Gallus to say good-bye to me, he did so simply. “Pray for me brother, as I pray for you.”
“I shall. Good-bye Gallus.” And we parted, exactly like strangers who, having met for an evening on a post-house, take different roads the next day. After Gallus left, I wept, for the last time as a child. Yet I hated him. They say that to know oneself is to know all there is that is human. But of course no one can ever know himself. Nothing human is finally calculable; even to ourselves we are strange.
The Bishop then gave me his blessing and a Galilean testament, bound not in silver but in cheap leather; apparently I was not destined to be a Caesar! Yet I thanked him profusely and said farewell. The driver cracked his whip. The horses broke into a trot. For the first time in six years I was leaving the confines of Macellum. My childhood was over, and I was still alive.