Julian, 19

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

 
One curious thing happened at this time. At the villa there were a number of Cappadocian youths, free-born country boys who worked in the stables as grooms and trainers. They were a cheerful lot and when I first came to Macellum I was allowed to play games with them.
They were the only companions I ever had of my own age. I liked one in particular, Hilarius, a good-looking youth, two years older than I. He had a quick mind, and I remember trying to teach him to read when I was ten and already a pedagogue! But as we grew older, each became aware of his place, and intimacy ceased. Even so, I continued to interest myself in his welfare, and when he told me that he wanted to marry a girl in Caesarea whose father disapproved of the match, I was able to bring the father round. I also made Hilarius my personal groom.
One April morning when I sent for my horse, a strange groom brought it. Where was Hilarius? Out riding with the most noble Gallus. I was surprised. Gallus had his own groom, and we never used one another’s servants. But then I thought no more about it. Quite happy to be alone, I rode towards the foothills of Mount Argaeus, enjoying the cool spring day. New leaves shone yellow-green against black branches, and the earth steamed with a white mist as I rode towards a favourite spot where juniper and cedar grew around a natural spring.
At the approach to the clearing, I heard a sharp cry, like an animal in pain. Then I saw two horses tethered to a bent cedar tree at whose bole were strewn a man’s clothes. Close by, hands and feet bound, the naked Hilarius lay on his belly while Gallus beat him with a riding crop. Every time the whip struck, Hilarius would cry out. Most extraordinary of all was the expression on Gallus’s face. He was grinning with absolute pleasure, his face transfigured by the other’s pain.
“Stop it!” I rode straight up to him. Startled, Gallus turned towards me. The boy called out to me to save him.
“Keep out of this.” Gallus’s voice was curiously hoarse.
“He’s my groom,” I said, rather irrelevantly, for if the boy had been disobedient then Gallus had quite as much fight as I to punish him. “I said keep out of this! Go back!” Gallus aimed the whip at me but struck the flank of my horse instead. The horse reared. Gallus, alarmed, dropped the whip. In a fury myself, I rode straight at my brother, the way cavalrymen are taught to ride down foot-soldiers. He bolted. I reined in my horse just as he mounted his own. We faced one another for an instant, breathing hard. Gallus was still grinning, his teeth bared like a dog ready to snap.
I tried to be calm. With great effort I asked, “What did he do?”
To which Gallus answered, “Nothing!” Then with a laugh, he spurred his horse and was gone. To this day I can remember the way he said, “Nothing.” Just as the Pythoness is filled with the spirit of Apollo, so my brother Gallus was possessed by evil. It was horrible.
I dismounted. I untied the boy, who was now sobbing and babbling how he had done nothing— again nothing!—when without a word of anger or reproach Gallus had ordered him to dismount and strip. Gallus had meant to beat him to death. I am sure of that.
I rode back to Macellum, ready to do murder myself. But when Gallus and I met that night at dinner, my anger had worn off and in its place I experienced something like fear. I could cope with almost any man. Young as I was, I had that much confidence in myself. But a demon was another matter; especially a demon that I did not understand.
All through dinner I stared at Gallus, who chose to be delightful, playful and charming, and nowhere in his smiling face could I find any hint of that sharp-toothed—I nearly wrote “fanged” grin I had seen a few hours earlier. I almost began to wonder if perhaps I had dreamed the whole business. But when I visited Hilarius the next day and saw the scars on his back I knew that I had dreamt nothing. Nothing. The word haunts me to this day.
For the remainder of our time at Macellum, Gallus and I contrived never to be alone together. When we did speak to one another, it was always politely. We never mentioned what had happened in the clearing.
A month later a letter arrived from the Grand Chamberlain: the most noble Gallus was to proceed to his late mother’s estate at Ephesus; here he was to remain at the Emperor’s pleasure. Gallus was both elated and crestfallen. He was free of Macellum but he was still a prisoner, and there was no mention of his being made Caesar.
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.” How often have I heard that presumptuous line!
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 in 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.
On 1 June 348, almost as an afterthought, orders concerning me were sent to Bishop George. I was to proceed to Constantinople. Though my uncle Julian was in Egypt, his household was at my disposal. I was to study philosophy under Ecebolius, a favourite of Constantius. There was no suggestion of the priesthood, which delighted me if not Bishop George. “I can’t think why Augustus has changed his mind. He was quite positive when he was here.”
“Perhaps he may have some other use for me,” I said tentatively.
“What better use is there than the service of God?” Bishop George was in a bad temper. Athanasius was still at Alexandria, and it now looked as if George was doomed to spend the rest of his life in Cappadocia. With bad grace, he organized my departure.
It was a warm, misty day when I got into the carriage which was to take me to Constantinople. Just as I was about to depart, Bishop George asked me if I was certain that I had returned all the volumes of Plotinus to his library. His secretary had reported there was one missing. I swore that it had been returned only that morning (which was true: I had been hurriedly copying passages from it in a notebook).
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.

1 Reply on “Julian, 19

  1. the art of vidal. the scene of toe-to-toe confrontation between brothers. and later, julian’s reflection, …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. maybe i’ll forgive vidal his indulgent choice of a home in the hollywood hills.