By Gore Vidal
Why this book?
Two philosophers who were once close to the emperor Julian write each other long epistolary recollections of and reflections on the emperor’s failed attempt to overthrow Christianity and restore paganism as the official religion of the Roman empire. The book sounds boring when described that way, but one of the philosopher’s wants to write a biography of Julian while the other possesses and it reluctant to part with Julian’s own narrative of his life and thought. Julian’s rise and fall is full of action and heartbreak, and the jockeying between the men who distrust each other while each claiming the legacy of the long-dead emperor is amusing. The post-modern refractions of the three views of Julian (the two philosophers and Julian’s himself) make a rich story that is also a mediation on how history is lived, shaped, written, and received. For yet another perspective, it’s entertaining to watch Vidal put into play his own anti-Christian biases and his longing for a tolerant paganism that probably never existed. For other takes on other Roman emperors it’s hard to beat Margaret Yourcenar’s meditative Memoirs of Hadrian, John Williams’ Augustus, and Robert Graves’ towering I, Claudius.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.