The Caesars by Emperor Julian I (the Apostate)
At the festival of the Kronia Romulus gave a banquet, and invited not only all the gods, but the Emperors as well. For the gods couches had been prepared on high, at the very apex, so to speak, of the sky, on “Olympus where they say is the seat of the gods, unshaken forever”. For we are told that after Heracles, Quirinus also ascended thither, since we must give Romulus the name of Quirinus in obedience to the divine will. For the gods then the banquet had been made ready there. But just below the moon in the upper air he had decided to entertain the Emperors. . . .
When the feast had been prepared as I have described, the gods lacked nothing, since all things are theirs. Then Hermes proposed to examine the heroes personally and Zeus was of the same mind. Quirinus thereupon begged that he might summon one of their number to his side. “Quirinus,” said Heracles, “I will not have it. For why did you not invite to the feast my beloved Alexander also? Zeus, if you are minded to introduce into our presence any of these Emperors, send, I beg of you, for Alexander. For if we are to examined into the merits of men generally, who do we not throw open the competition to the better man?” Zeus considered that what the son of Alcmena said was only just. So Alexander joined the company of heroes, but neither Caesar nor anyone else yielded his place to him. However he found and took a vacant seat which the son of Severus had taken for himself – he had been expelled for fratricide. Then Silenus began to rally Quirinus and said, “See now whether all these Romans can match this one Greek.” “By Zeus,” retorted Quirinus, “I consider that many of them are as good as he! It is true that my descendants have admired him so much that they hold that he alone of all foreign generals is worthy to be styled ‘the Great.’ However, that we shall very soon find out by examining these men.” Even as he spoke Quirinus was blushing, and was evidently extremely anxious on behalf of his descendants and feared that they might come off with the second prize.
Then Zeus asked the gods whether it would be better to summon all the Emperors to enter the lists, or whether they should follow the custom of athletic contests, which is that he who defeats the winner of many victories, though he overcome only that one competitor is held thereby to have proved himself superior to all who have been previously defeated, and that too they have not wrestled with the winner, but only shown themselves inferior to an antagonist who has been defeated. All the gods agreed that this was a very suitable sort of test. Hermes then summoned Caesar to appear before them, then Octavian, and thirdly Trajan, as being the greatest warriors. In the silence that followed, Kronos turned to Zeus and said that he was astonished to see that only martial Emperors were summoned to the competition, and not a single philosopher. “For my part, he added, “I like philosophers just as well. So tell Marcus to come in too.” Accordingly Marcus was summoned and came in looking excessively dignified and showing the effect of his studies in the expression of his eyes and his lined brows. His aspect was unutterably beautiful from the very fact that he was careless of his appearance and unadorned by art; for he wore a very long beard, his dress was plain and sober, and from lack of nourishment his body was very shining and transparent, like light most pure and stainless. When he too had entered the sacred enclosure, Dionysus said, “King Kronos and Father Zeus can any incompleteness exist among the gods?” And when they replied that it could not, “Then,” said he, “let us bring in here some votary of pleasure as well.” “Nay,” answered Zeus, “it is not permitted that any man should enter here who does not model himself on us.” “In that case, said Dionysus, “let them be tried at the entrance. Let us summon by your leave a man not unwarlike but a slave to pleasure and enjoyment. Let Constantine come as far as the door.” When this had been agreed upon, opinions were offered as to the manner in which they were to compete. Hermes thought that everyone ought to speak for himself in turn, and then the gods should vote. But Apollo did not approve of this plan, because he said the gods ought to test and examine the truth and not plausible rhetoric and the devices of the orator. Zeus wished to please them both and at the same time to prolong the assembly, so he said, “There is no harm in letting then speak if we measure them a small allowance of water, and then later on we can cross-examine them and test the disposition of each one.” Whereupon Silenus said sardonically, “Take care, or Trajan and Alexander will think it is nectar and drink up all the water and leave none for the others.” “It was not my water,” retorted Poseidon, “but your vines that these two were fond of. So you had better tremble for your vines rather than for my springs.” Silenus was greatly piqued and had no answer ready, but thereafter turned his attention to the disputants.
Then Hermes made this proclamation:
“The trial that begins
Awards to him who wins
The fairest prize to-day.
And lo, the hour is here
And summons you. Appear!
Ye may no more delay.
Come hear the herald’s call
Ye princes one and all.
Many tribes of men
Submissive to you then!
How keen in war your swords!
But now ’tis wisdom’s turn;
Now let your rivals learn
How keen can be your words.
Wisdom, thought some, is bliss
Most sure in life’s short span;
Others did hold no less
That power to ban or bless
Is happiness for man.
But some set Pleasure high,
Idleness, feasting, love,
All that delights the eye;
Their raiment soft and fine,
Their hands with jewels shine,
Such bliss did they approve.
But whose the victory won
Shall Zeus decide alone.”
While Hermes had been making this proclamation the lots were being drawn, and it happened that the first lot favoured Caesar’s passion for being first. This made him triumphant and prouder than before. But the effect on Alexander was that he almost withdrew from the competition, had not mighty Heracles encouraged him and prevented him from leaving. Alexander drew the lot to speak second, but the lots of those who came next coincided with the order in which they had lived. Caesar then began as follows: “It was my fortune, O Zeus and ye other gods, to be born, following a number of great men, in a city so illustrious that she rules more subjects than any other city has ever ruled; and indeed other cities are well pleased to rank as second to her. What other city, I ask, began with three thousand citizens and in less than six centuries carried her victorious arms to the ends of the earth? What other nations ever produced so many brave and warlike men or such lawgivers. What nation ever honoured the gods as they did. Observe then that, though I was born in a city so powerful and so illustrious, my achievements not only surpassed the men of my own day, but all the heroes who ever lived. As for my fellow-citizens I am confident that there is none who will challenge my superiority. But if Alexander here is is presumptuous, which of his deeds does he pretend to compare with mine. His Persian conquests, perhaps, as though he had never seen all those trophies that I gathered when I defeated Pompey! And pray, who was the more skilful general, Darius or Pompey? Which of them led the bravest troops? Pompey had in his army the most martial of the nations formerly subject to Darius, but he reckoned them no better than Carians, for he led also those European forces which had often repulsed all Asia when she invaded Europe, aye and he had the bravest of them all, Italians, Illyrians, and Celts. And since I have mentioned the Celts, shall we compare the exploits of Alexander against the Getae with my conquest of Gaul? He crossed the Danube once, I crossed the Rhine twice. The German conquest again is all my doing. No one opposed Alexander, but I had to contend against Ariovistus. I was the first Roman who ventured to sail the outer sea. Perhaps this achievement was not so wonderful, though it was a daring deed that may well command your admiration; but a more glorious action of mine was when I leapt ashore from my ship before all the others. Of the Helvetians and Iberians I say nothing. And still I have said not a word about my campaigns in Gaul, when I conquered more than three hundred cities and no less than two million men! But great as were these achievements of mine, that which followed was still greater and more daring. For I had to contend against my fellow citizens themselves, and to subdue the invincible, the unconquerable Romans. Again, if we are judged by the number of our battles, I fought three times as many as Alexander, even reckoning by the boasts of those who embellish his exploits. If one counts the cities captured, I reduced the greatest number, not only in Asia but in Europe as well. Alexander only visited Egypt as a sight-seer but I conquered her while I was arranging drinking-parties. Are you pleased to inquire which of us showed more clemency after victory? I forgave even my enemies, and for what I suffered in consequence at their hands Justice has taken vengeance. But Alexander did not even spare his friends, much less his enemies. And are you still capable of disputing the first prize with me? Then since you will not, like the others, yield place to me, you compel me to say that whereas I was humane towards the Helvetians you treated the Thebans cruelly. You burned their cities to the ground, but I restored the cities that had been burned by their own inhabitants. And indeed it was not at all the same thing to subdue then thousand Greeks, and to withstand the onset of a hundred and fifty thousand men. Much more could I add both about myself and Alexander, but I have not had leisure to practise public speaking. Wherefore you ought to pardon me, but from what I have not said, you ought, forming that decision which equity and justice require, to award me the first prize.”
When Caesar had spoken to this effect he still wished to go on talking, but Alexander, who had with difficulty restrained himself hitherto, now lost patience, and with some agitation and combativeness: “But I,” said he, “O Jupiter and ye other gods, how long must I endure in silence the insolence of this man? There is, as you see, no limit to his praise of himself or his abuse of me. It would have better become him perhaps to refrain from both, since both are alike insupportable, but especially from disparaging my conduct, the more since he imitated it. But he has arrived at such a pitch of impudence that he dares to ridicule the model of his own exploits. Nay, Caesar, you ought to have remembered those tears you shed on hearing of the monuments that had been consecrated to my glorious deeds. But since then Pompey has inflated you with pride, Pompey who though he was the idol of his countrymen was in fact wholly insignificant. Take his African triumph: that was no great exploit, but the feebleness of the consuls in office made it seem glorious. Then the famous Servile War was waged not against men but the vilest of slaves, and its succesful issue was due to others, I mean Crassus and Lucius, though Pompey gained the reputation and the credit for it. Again, Armenia and the neighbouring provinces were conquered by Lucullus, yet for these also Pompey triumphed. Then he became the idol of the citizens and they called him ‘the Great.’ Greater, I ask, than whom of his predecessors? What achievement of his can be compared with those of Marius or of the two Scipios or of Furius, who sits over there by Quirinus because he rebuilt his city when it was almost in ruins? Those men did not make their reputation at the expense of others, as happens with public buildings built at the public expense; I mean that one man lays the foundation, another finishes the work, while the last man who is in office though he has only whitewashed the walls has his name inscribed on the building. Not thus, I repeat, did those men gain credit for the deeds of others. They were themselves the creators and artificers of their schemes and deserved their illustrious titles. Well then, it is no wonder that you vanquished Pompey, who used to scratch his head with finger-tip and in all respects was more of a fox than a lion. When he was deserted by Fortune who had so long favoured him, you easily overcame him, thus unaided. And it is evident that it was not to any superior ability of yours that you owed your victory, since after running short of provisions no small blunder for a general to make, as I need not tell you – fought a battle and were beaten. And if from imprudence or lack of judgement or inability to control his countrymen Pompey neither postponed a battle when it was his interest to protract the war, nor followed up a victory when he had won, it was due to his own errors that he failed, and not your strategy.
The Persians, on the contrary, though on all occasions they were well and wisely equipped, had to submit to my valour. And since it becomes a virtuous man and a king to pride himself not merely on his exploits but also on the justice of those exploits, it was on behalf of the Greeks that I took vengeance on the Persians, and when I made war on the Greeks it was not because I wished to injure Greece, but only to chastise those who tried to prevent me from marching through and from calling the Persians to account. You, however, while you subdued the Germans and Gauls were preparing to fight against your fatherland. What could be worse or more infamous. And since you have alluded as though insultingly to ‘ten thousand Greeks,’ I am aware that you Romans are yourselves descended from the Greeks, and that the greater part of Italy was colonised by Greeks; however on that fact I do not insist. But at any rate did not you Romans think it very important to have as friends and allies one insignificant tribe of those very Greeks, I mean the Aetolians, my neighbours? And later, when you had gone to war with them for whatever reason, did you not have great trouble in making them obey you? Well then, if in the old age, as one may say, of Greece, you were barely able to reduce not the whole nation but an insignificant state which was hardly heard of when Greece was in her prime, what would have happened to you if you had had to contend against the Greeks when they were in full vigour and united? You know how cowed you were when Pyrrhus crossed to invade you. And if you think the conquest of Persia such a trifle and disparage an achievement so glorious, tell me why, after a war of more than three hundred years, you Romans have never conquered a small province beyond the Tigris which is still governed by the Parthians? Shall I tell you why? It was the arrows of the Persians that checked you. Ask Antony to give you an account of them, since he was trained for war by you. I, on the other hand, in less than ten years conquered not only Persia but India too. After that do you dare to dispute the prize with me, who from childhood have commanded armies, whose exploits have been so glorious that the memory of them – though they have not been worthily recounted by historians – will nevertheless live for ever, like those of the Invincible Hero, my king, whose follower I was, on whom I modelled myself? Achilles my ancestor I strove to rival, but Heracles I ever admired and followed, so far as a mere man may follow in the footsteps of a god.
“Thus much, ye gods, I was bound to say in my own defence against this man; though indeed it would have been better to ignore him. And if some things I did seemed cruel, I never was so the innocent, but only to those who had often and in many ways thwarted me and had made no proper or fitting use of their opportunities. And even my offences against these, which were due to the emergency of the time, were followed by Remorse, that very wise and divine preserver of men who have erred. As for those whose ambition it was to show their enmity continually and to thwart me, I considered that I was justified in chastising them.”
When Alexander in his turn had made his speech in martial fashion, Poseidon’s attendant carried the water-clock to Octavian, but gave him a smaller allowance of water, partly because time was precious, but still more because he bore him a grudge for the disrespect he had shown to the god. Octavian with his usual sagacity understood this, so without stopping to say anything that did not concern himself, he began: “For my part, Zeus and ye other gods, I shall not stay to disparage and belittle the actions of others, but shall speak only of what concerns myself. Like the noble Alexander here I was but a youth when I was called to govern my country. Like Caesar yonder, my father, I conducted successful campaigns against the Germans. When I became involved in civil dissensions I conquered Egypt in a sea-fight off Actium; I defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi: the defeat of Sextus, Pompey’s son, was a mere incident in my campaign. I showed myself so gentle to the guidance of philosophy that I even put up with the plain speaking of Athenodorus, and instead of resenting it I was delighted with it and revered the man as my preceptor, or rather as though he were my own father. Areius I counted my friend and close companion, and in short I was never guilty of any offence against philosophy. But since I saw that more than once Rome had been brought to the verge of ruin by internal quarrels, I so administered her affairs as to make her strong as adamant for all time, unless indeed, O ye gods, you will otherwise. For I did not give way to boundless ambition and aim at enlarging her empire at all costs, but assigned for it two boundaries defined as it were by nature herself, the Danube and the Euphrates. Then after conquering the Scythians and Thracians I did not employ the long reign that you gods vouchsafed me in making projects for war after war, but devoted my leisure to legislation and to reforming the evils that war had caused. For in this I though that I was no less well advised than my predecessors, or rather, if I may make bold to say so, I was better advised than any who have ever administered so great an empire. For some of these, when they might have remained quiet and not taken the field, kept making one war an excuse for the next, like quarrelsome people and their lawsuits; and so they perished in their campaigns. Others when they had a war on their hands gave themselves up to indulgence, and preferred such base indulgence not only to future glory but even to their personal safety. When I reflect on all this I do not think myself entitled to the lowest place. But whatever shall seem good to you, O ye gods, it surely becomes me to accept with a good grace.”
Trajan was allowed to speak next. Though he had some talent for oratory he was so lazy that he had been in the habit of letting Sura write most of his speeches for him; so he shouted rather than spoke, and meanwhile, displayed to the gods his Getic and Parthian trophies, while he accused his old age of not having allowed him to extend his Parthian conquests. “You cannot take us in,” said Silenus; “you reigned twenty years and Alexander here only twelve. Why then do you not put it down to your own love of ease, instead of complaining of your short allowance of time?” Stung by the taunt, since he was not deficient in eloquence, though intemperance often made him seem more stupid than he was, Trajan began again. “O Zeus and ye other gods, when I took over the empire it was in a sort of lethargy and much disordered by the tyranny that had long prevailed at home, and by the insolent conduct of the Getae. I alone ventured to attack the tribes beyond the Danube, and I subdued the Getae, the most warlike race that ever existed, which is due partly to their physical courage, partly to the doctrines that they have adopted from their admired Zamolxis. For they believe that they do not die but only change their place of abode, and they meet death more readily than other men undertake a journey. Yet I accomplished that task in a matter of five years or so. That of all the Emperors who came before me I was regarded as the mildest in the treatment of my subjects, is I imagine, obvious, and neither Caesar here nor any other will dispute it with me. Against the Parthians I thought I ought not to employ force until they had put themselves in the wrong, but when they did so I marched against them, undeterred by my age, though the laws would have allowed me to quit the service. Since then the facts are as I have said, do I not deserve to be honoured before all the rest, first because I was so mild to my subjects, secondly because more than others I inspired terror in my country’s foes, thirdly because I revered your daughter divine Philosophy?”
When Trajan had finished this speech the gods decided that he excelled all the rest in clemency; and evidently this was a virtue peculiarly pleasing to them.
When Marcus Aurelius began to speak, Silenus whispered to Dionysus, “Let us hear which one of his paradoxes and wonderful doctrines this Stoic will produce.” But Marcus turned to Zeus and the other gods and said, “It seems to me, O Zeus and ye other gods, that I have no need to make a speech or compete. If you did not know all that concerns me it would indeed be fitting for me to inform you. But since you know it and nothing at all is hidden from you, do you of your own accord assign me such honour as I deserve. Thus Marcus showed that admirable as he was in other respects he was wise also beyond the rest, because he knew “When it is time to speak and when to be silent.”
Constantine was allowed to speak next. On first entering the lists he was confident enough. But when he reflected on the exploits of the others he saw that his own were wholly trivial. He had defeated two tyrants, but, to tell the truth, one of them was untrained in war and effeminate, the other a poor creature and enfeebled by old age, while both were alike odious to gods and men. Moreover his campaigns against the barbarians covered him with ridicule. For he paid them tribute, so to speak, while he gave all his attention to Pleasure, who stood at a distance from the gods near the entrance to the moon. Of her indeed he was so enamoured that he had no eyes for anything else, and cared not at all for victory. However, as it was his turn and had to say something, he began:
“In the following respects I am superior to these others; to the Macedonian in having fought against Romans, Germans and Scythians, instead of Asiatic barbarians; to Caesar and Octavian in that I did not, like them, lead a revolution against brave and good citizens, but attacked only the most cruel and wicked tyrants. As for Trajan, I should naturally rank higher on account of those same glorious exploits against the tyrants, while it would be only fair to regard me as his equal on the score of that territory which he added to the empire, and I recovered; if indeed it be not more glorious to regain than to gain. As for Marcus here, by saying nothing for himself he yields precedency to all of us.” “But Constantine,” said Silenus, “are you not offering us mere gardens of Adonis as exploits?” “What do you mean,” he asked, “by gardens of Adonis”? “I mean”, said Silenus, “those that women plant in pots, in honour of the lover of Aphrodite, by scraping together a little earth for a garden bed. They bloom for a little space and fade forthwith.” At this Constantine blushed, for he realised that this was exactly his own performance.