Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)
In the autumn of 353, Gallus made a state visit to Pergamon. It was the first time we had met since we were boys at Macellum. I stood with the town prefect and the local dignitaries in front of the senate house and watched Gallus receive the homage of the city.
During the five years since we had seen one another, I had become a man with a full beard. But Gallus had remained exactly as he was, the beautiful youth whom all admired. I confess that I had a return of the old emotion when he embraced me formally and I looked once again into those familiar blue eyes. What was the old emotion? A loss of will, I should say. Whatever he wanted me to do I would do. Gallus, by existing, robbed me of strength.
“We are pleased to see once again our beloved and most noble brother.” Gallus had by now completely assumed the imperial manner. Before I could reply, Gallus had turned to the bishop of Pergamon. “He is, we have heard, a pillar of the true church.”
“Indeed, Caesar, the most noble Julian is a worthy son of holy church.” I was extremely grateful to the bishop. Also, I was rather pleased that my efforts to appear a devout Galilean had been so successful.
Gallus then made a graceful speech to the city fathers, who were so charmed by him that they were obviously puzzled at how this enchanting creature had ever got the reputation of being a cruel and frivolous despot. Gallus could charm anyone, even me.
That night a dinner was given him at the prefect’s palace. He behaved himself quite well, though I noticed that he did not cut his wine with water. As a result, he was drunk by the end of the evening. Yet he maintained his dignity and only a slight slowness of speech betrayed his state. Though I sat beside him during dinner, he did not speak to me once. All his efforts were bent on delighting the city prefect. I was miserable, wondering in what way I had managed to offend him. Oribasius, who sat across the room with the minor functionaries of the court, winked at me encouragingly. But I was not encouraged.
The dinner ended, Gallus suddenly turned to me and said, “You come with me.” And so I followed him as he moved through the bowing courtiers to his bedroom, where two eunuchs were waiting for him.
I had never before seen the etiquette of a Caesar’s bedchamber and I watched, fascinated, as the eunuchs, murmuring ceremonial phrases, undressed Gallus while he lolled in an ivory chair, completely unaware of them. He was without self-consciousness or modesty. When he was completely undressed, he waved them away with the command “Bring us wine!” Then while the wine was served us, he talked to me or rather at me. In the lamplight his face glowed red from drink and the blond hair looked white as it fell across his brow. The body, I noticed, though still beautifully shaped, was beginning to grow thick at the belly.
“Constantia wants to know you. She talks of you often. But of course she couldn’t come here. One of us must always be at Antioch. Spies. Traitors. No one is honest. Do you realize that? No one. You can never trust anyone, not even your own flesh and blood.”
I tried to protest loyalty at this point. But Gallus ignored me. “All men are evil. I found that out early. They are born in sin, live in sin, die in sin. Only God can save us. I pray that he will save me.” Gallus made the sign of a cross on his bare chest.
“But it is a fine thing in an evil world to be Caesar. From here?” he indicated a height, “you can see them all. You can see them at their games. But they can’t see you. Sometimes at night, I walk the streets in disguise. I listen to them. I watch them, knowing I can do anything to them I want and no one can touch me. If I want to rape a woman or kill a man in an alley, I can. Sometimes I do.” He frowned. “But it is evil. I know it. I try not to. Yet I feel that when I do these things there is something higher which acts through me. I am a child of God. Unworthy as I am, he created me and to him I shall return. What I am, he wanted me to be. That is why I am good.”
I must say I was stunned by this particular self-estimate. But my face showed only respectful interest.
“I build churches. I establish religious orders. I stamp out heresy wherever I find it. I am an active agent for the good. I must be. It is what I was born for. I can hardly believe you are my brother.” He shifted his thought without a pause. He looked at me for the first time. The famous blue eyes were bloodshot in the full lamplight.
“Even so. We are the same blood, which is what matters. That is what binds me to Constantius. And you to me. We are the chosen of God to do the work of his church on earth.”
At this point an extraordinarily pretty girl slipped quietly into the room. Gallus did not acknowledge her presence, so neither did I. He continued to talk and drink, while she made love to him in front of me. I suppose it was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I tried not to watch. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at the floor. But my eyes continually strayed back to my brother as he reclined on the couch, hardly moving, as the girl with infinite skill and delicacy served him.
“Constantius will do anything I ask him. That is what blood means. He will also listen to his sister, my wife. She is the most important woman in the world. A perfect wife, a great queen.” He shifted his position on the couch so that his legs were spread apart.
“I hope you marry well. You could, you know. Constantius has another sister, Helena. She’s much older than you, but that makes no difference when it is a matter of blood. Perhaps he will marry you to her. Perhaps he will even make you a Caesar, like me. Would that please you?”
I almost missed the question, my eyes riveted on what the girl was doing. Oribasius says that I am a prude. I suppose he is right. I know that I was sweating with nervous tension as I watched the ravishing of Gallus. “No,” I stammered. “I have no wish to be Caesar. Only a student. I am perfectly happy.”
“Everyone lies,” said Gallus sadly. “Even you. Even flesh and blood. But there’s very little chance of your being raised up. Very little. I have the East, Constantius the West. You are not needed. Do you have girls in your household?”
“One.” My voice broke nervously.
“One!” He shook his head wonderingly. “And your friend? The one you live with?”
“Is he your lover?”
“I wondered. It’s perfectly all right. You’re not Hadrian. What you do doesn’t matter. Though if you like boys, I suggest you keep to slaves. It’s politically dangerous to have anything to do with a man of your own class.”
“I am not interested…” I began, but he continued right through me.
“Slaves are always best. Particularly stableboys and grooms.” The blue eyes flashed suddenly: for an instant his face was transfigured by malice. He wanted me to recall what I had seen that day in the clearing. “But suit yourself. Anyway, my only advice to you, my only warning to you, not only as your brother but as your ruler…” He stopped suddenly and took a deep breath. The girl had finished. She got to her feet and stood in front of him, head bowed. He smiled, charmingly. Then he reached up and with all his strength struck her full in the face. She staggered back, but made no sound. Then at a gesture from him, she withdrew.
Gallus turned to me as though nothing had happened and picked up his sentence where he had left off. “…under no circumstances are you to see this magician Maximus. There are already enough rumours that you may have lost your faith. I know that you haven’t. How could you? We are of the house of Constantine the Great, the equal of the Apostles. We are the chosen of God. But even so…” He yawned. He lay back on the couch. “Even so…” he repeated and shut his eyes. I waited a moment for him to continue. But he was asleep.
The eunuchs reappeared. One placed a silk coverlet over Gallus. The other removed the wine. They acted as though what I had witnessed was a perfectly ordinary evening; perhaps it was. As Gallus began drunkenly to snore, I tiptoed from the room.