Those marvellous days in Athens came to an abrupt end when an imperial messenger arrived with orders that I attend Constantius at Milan. No reason was given. I assumed that I was to be executed. Just such a message had been delivered to Gallus. I confess now to a moment of weakness. Walking alone in the agora, I considered flight. Should I disappear in the back streets of Athens? Change my name? Shave my head? Or should I take to the road like a New Cynic and walk to Pergamon or Nicomedia and lose myself among students, hide until I was forgotten, assumed dead, no longer dangerous?
Suddenly I opened my arms to Athena. I looked up to her statue on the acropolis, much to the astonishment of the passers-by (this took place in front of the Library of Pantainos).
I prayed that I be allowed to remain in Athena’s city, preferring death on the spot to departure. But the goddess did not answer. Sadly I dropped my arms. Just at that moment, Gregory emerged from the library and approached me with his wolf’s grin.
“You’re leaving us,” he said. There are no secrets in Athens. I told him that I was reluctant to go but the Emperor’s will must be done.
“You’ll be back,” he said, taking my arm familiarly.
“I hope so.”
“And you’ll be the Caesar then, a man of state, with a diadem and guards and courtiers! It will be interesting to see just how our Julian changes when he is set over us like a god.”
“I shall be the same,” I promised, sure of death.
“Remember old friends in your hour of greatness.” A scroll hidden in Gregory’s belt dropped to the pavement. Blushing, he picked it up.
“I have a special permit,” he stammered. “I can withdraw books, certain books, approved books…”
I laughed at his embarrassment. He knew that I knew that the Pantainos Library never allows any book to be taken from the reading room. I said I would tell no one.
The proconsul treated me decently. He was a good man, but frightened. I recognized at once in his face the look of the official who does not know if one is about to be executed or raised to the throne. It must be cruelly perplexing for such men. If they are kind, they are then vulnerable to a later charge of conspiracy; if they are harsh, they may live to find their victim great and vindictive. The proconsul steered a middle course; he was correct; he was conscientious; he arranged for my departure the next morning.
My last evening in Athens is still too painful to describe. I spent it with Macrina. I vowed to return if I could. Next day, at first light, I left the city. I did not trust myself to look back at Athena’s temple floating in air, or at the sun-struck violet line of Hymettos. Eyes to the east and the morning sun, I made the sad journey to Piraeus and the sea.