Julian, 16

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Constantius had arrived at noon and gone straight to his apartments. That was all anyone knew. He might be with us in a few minutes, a few hours, or not at all. Meanwhile, we waited nervously in the great hall of the villa. The rafters were hung with boughs of evergreen, and the ordinarily musty interior smelled of pine and eucalyptus. At one end of the hall, on a dais, a gold throne had been set. To the right of the throne, but at floor level, was the ivory chair of the praetorian prefect of the East (he had arrived with the Emperor). According to rank, the officers of the state were arranged to the left and right of the throne. Just at the foot of the dais stood Bishop George in all his glory with Gallus on his right and me on his left.
Looking more than ever like a huge peacock, Eusebius stood at the door, surrounded by his staff of ushers. No one spoke or moved. We were like statues. Though the room was not hot, I was sweating nervously. I glanced at Gallus out of the comer of my eye; his mouth was twitching from the strain.
After what seemed days, 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. With a gentle moan, Eusebius embraced Constantius’ knees, melodiously murmuring soft words of ceremony not audible to the rest of us who were now prostrate, as the Lord of the World slowly and with 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, he 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; on his head was a fillet of silver set with pearls.
Constantius sat very still on his throne as the Master of the Offices brought him Bishop George, who welcomed him to Macellum. Not once did the Emperor look at Gallus or me. The occasional ritual responses he made were said in such a low voice that none of us could make out the words.
Then the moment came. Bishop George led Gallus and me to the Master of the Offices, who in turn led us up to the 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.
From far off I heard the Emperor’s voice, measured but rather higher-pitched than I had expected, “We are pleased to receive our most noble cousin Julian.” A large callused hand reached down, gripped me firmly by the left elbow and helped me to rise.
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, on 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. And I wondered: what is it like to be the centre of the world?
For the first time I experienced ambition. It came as a revelation. Only in communion with the One God have I known anything to equal it. How candid I am! I have never admitted to anyone that in my first encounter with Constantius, all that I could think was how much I should like the dominion of this earth! But my moment of madness was brief. I stammered a speech of loyalty, and took my place beside Gallus on the dais. I can remember nothing else that happened that day.
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 dined at the Emperor’s table every evening, he never spoke to us.
I was beginning to fear the worst. But Gallus, who saw Eusebius every day, said that the eunuch was optimistic. “He’s positive we’ll be allowed to come to court this year. At least I will. He also said there was talk in the Sacred Consistory that I be made Caesar for the East.” Gallus glowed with excitement. “Then I could live at Antioch. I’d have my own court. After all, it’s what one was born for!”

1 Reply on “Julian, 16

  1. spellbinding description of worship. inspired by the crazy christian worship of their one true god? get the hell away from such insanity.