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Julian’s Sophistic

July 1, 2013 in Ancient History, general history, Roman History

The First Sophistic was in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, including such Sophists as Gorgias, Protagoras, Isocrates and Antiphon.

In the Second Sophistic of the early Roman Empire, the study and practice of classical Greek rhetoric and oratory was encouraged by the Patrician class in all the cities of the imperial provinces. Wealthy Plebeians were also well educated.

The main figures of this second era of Sophists are described in Philostratus’ book, Lives of the Sophists, which was written a hundred years before the birth of Julian in 331.

As a descendant of Constantine the Great, Julian was tutored by the most learned bishops of his time. Eusebius of Nicomedia, a famous Christian writer, was his first teacher. Later he studied under the Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, whose library of classical books was quite extensive.

When Julian studied in Athens, which was still the center of learning, he met Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Aedesius, a Neoplatonist, whose influence was deep.

In 361 Julian assumed the throne of empire in Constantinople. Perhaps his most important edict as emperor was to disallow Christian teachers from using the pagan classics in their schools. As most Greeks and Romans devoutly valued the ancient literature, they would then not send their children to schools without it.

During his retreat from Persia in 363, he was killed by a spear, perhaps from a Persian hand as his troops were always loyal to him.

Had Julian reigned for many years, a Third Sophistic might be named for him.

The Loeb Library has published Julian’s surviving works in three volumes.

Some fifteen years ago in the fifth volume of Cleopatra’s Kingdom of Idolatry, I wrote a long series of sonnets on Julian.
Book Seven No. 10
The Julianic Choir

“As shapeable as sculpture is the soul,”
Said Julian, who exposed ideals, on Rome
Impressing idols, nobleness in whole
Composure bodily conveying home.

As subject as a masterpiece to shape
He thought the soul, who framed her by the best
Distinctions, if at effigies she’d gape.
The fairest mythic forms he proffered, lest

Upon mistaken wrenches she be wrought,
Ignobly rapt, unspritely rendered, roused
By Christian promises, which come to naught.
An unmistaken beauty he espoused,

Poetic comeliness preferring, not
Fanatic odium in its faction hot.”
Book Seven No. 11
The Julianic Choir

“In Julian’s unmistaken kirk see Zeus
The king. This dome, where heaven is redone,
Olympian in design, may prayer induce,
As humble recognitions are begun.

This house, which shapes our hearts, where loveliness
Is most idolatrous and pulchritude
Divinely prayerful, we observers bless,
In upward adoration unsubdued.

Here guiltless effigies of God are meant
In bodily monition to bestead
Mankind. Their moderate physiques prevent
Excess, propitious regimens instead

Presenting. Shapeable they find us, showing
Their tutorage, the best advice bestowing.”
Book Seven No. 12
The Julianic Choir

“Uncouth religion, quelling reason, far
Too ardent for the tolerance of wit,
Mankind’s incognizance exerting, war
Against cognition winning, opposite

To visual truth, adept in threats, bad dreams
Adopting, draws the Roman Empire from
Her rational pursuits. Unfit extremes
This faith pursues, in fixity become

Vexatious. Its ungodly certitude
Can brook no Gods of poetry. They are chilled,
Parnassos is congealed, as priests detrude
The fluency of thought, so lightly stilled.

A creed, too priestly for the craft of verse,
Pretends to sanctity, a sacred curse.”
Book Seven No. 15
The Julianic Choir

“Romans, lest icon-crackers, masterpiece-
Beheaders, marble-bursters in their kirks
Return, to Julian cry, beseeching, ‘Cease
These shivers of perfection, graven works

Protect!’ Thereat this perspicacious guard
Of pagan wellness pacifies the sect
Of threats. His peaceful stature can retard
The waste, which monkish routs in disrespect

For Zeus amass. A tranquil rescue from
Their rage he shall provide, of bright avail
Averse to darkness. Dim with odium,
As hatred stultifies their heads, these pale,

Monastic militants dissolve like clouds,
When as a facial Helios Julian faces crowds.”

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