Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Julian's Anger at (and towards) Antioch

Our sneaking admiration for the much maligned Julian has probably been evident, but this last great lover/hater of Antioch did not generate much except dislike from the Antiochenes during his lengthy sojourn in the city.

In a piece, AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS AND THE ANGER OF JULIAN that we recently stumbled upon , Barbara Sidwell, discusses this issue. We have excerpted the part specifically dedicated to Julian's stay in Antioch.

"Antioch was for Julian a place in which he was confident that his Hellenism would be readily accepted, for this cosmopolitan city epitomised for him a centre of culture and learning on the scale of Alexandria. This city still retained its pagan shrines, and was home to Libanius, whose lectures on the old traditions had certainly made an impact on the young Julian at Nicomedia. However, it was also here in Antioch that Julian’s reforms were put to the greatest test, and were
not received in the manner that the new Augustus had optimistically anticipated.
It was Julian’s sincere hope and strong belief that the Antiochenes would actively embrace paganism along with the reinstitution of sacrifices and worship of the old gods. However, according to Ammianus at 22.13.2, certain incidents made it clear to Julian that Christianity was a prevalent and growing force in Antioch. For example in 363 the temple of Apollo, situated in Daphne, a suburb of Antioch, was burnt down. The inference that Julian drew was that the Christians deliberately burnt down the temple in retribution for the expense Julian was paying towards pagan shrines,34 as opposed to supporting Christian places of worship. As a consequence for the Christians, the greater church (maiorem ecclesiam) at Antioch was ordered to be closed. Through the expression of hostile anger (ira), Julian ordered ‘stricter investigations than usual’ to be made.
Though the emperor may have sensed his response as being righteously angry (as he probably did on all occasions of his anger), it is possible that his anger was not justified, for Ammianus does reveal that it was conceivable, though based on rumore leuissimo, that some tapers were left alight accidentally by the elderly philosopher Asclepiades, which might consequently have sparked the woodwork and thus burnt down the entire building (22.13.3). Nevertheless, his perceptions of the Christians and their behaviour towards pagans meant that Julian had clearly judged them capable of such a deed. Consequently, and with a great deal of anger (ira), Julian himself wrote bitterly to the Antiochenes of the indifference of the Senate and stated that the god had left the shrine before the fire had occurred, for their neglect had made them unworthy of the god’s care (Mis. 361B-C; 363A-C). After Julian’s death Libanius (17.30; 2.218F) wrote, ‘This then was the meaning of the destruction by fire of Apollo’s temple; the god left earth, which was about to be defiled. Christian writers responded to this by stating that the fire was divine retribution for Julian’s desire to revive worship of the god Apollo.38 However, Ammianus writes nothing further on this matter, so the outcome is not apparent. It is sufficient to show that when a group that already held reservations towards him for his renewal of the ancient traditional forms of worship pushed Julian, then he could submit them to reprisals. In the manner of his description of this incident, Ammianus nowhere suggests the cruelty and terror that characterised Constantius’ conduct when he was investigating anti-Christian behaviour. This was not the last time that Julian would vent his rage against the ungrateful citizens of Antioch.

In 363, during a corn-crisis, Ammianus reports that Julian raged (saeuiens) against the Senate at Antioch when it was pointed out that he could not lower the price of commodities at that time (22.14.2). As a supporter of the upper classes in Antioch who controlled the food supply into the city, Ammianus at this point removes himself from actively supporting the policy of Julian, as it seemed negatively to affect the social class he most identified with. Indeed, the measures that Julian was trying to introduce were understood to be a direct attack on the elite. Not surprisingly, Ammianus portrays Julian’s policy as superfluous for he saw that it was a measure designed to increase his popularity (popularitatis amore, 22.14.1). Thus it seems that the historian saw the emperor’s anger as not justified; for he never once mentions Julian’s own economic accounts of the food supply, which Julian included in his Misopogon, though surely the historian would have read it. Ammianus also does not acknowledge the failure of the rains leading to a bad harvest,which would have contributed significantly to this crisis, and to which Julian’s Misopogon (359A) also refers. That these measures would have created financial hardship, if not for Ammianus, then at least for people he knew, especially within the curial class, must have influenced his decision in showing that this manoeuvre was purely to gain popularity for the emperor and to distract from his Persian campaign, which undoubtedly would have diverted much of the food resources in preparations for the military activity.

As a consequence of his anger towards his dissenters because of these and other reasons, Julian chose the rather extraordinary response of dressing down the Antiochenes through the writing of his Misopogon or Beard-Hater, composed during the celebration of the Kalends in late January or early February 363. In order to visually express his displeasure with the Antiochenes, this satire was put on display outside the imperial palace for the public to read. The Misopogon was a lengthy treatise that has been described as ‘an expression of the bitterest disappointment and rage’, and ‘a work which might have been witty, but the bitterness of its angry and sensitive author overwhelmed his efforts at humour’. It is the end of the Misopogon which is dominated by undisguised anger. After writing this document, Julian underestimated the reaction of the populace, for Ammianus writes (22.14.2):

quocirca in eos deinceps saeuiens ut obtrectatores et contumaces uolumen conposuit inuectiuum, quod Antiochense uel Misopogonem appellauit, probra ciuitatis infensa mente dinumerans addensque ueritati conplura. post quae multa in se facete dicta conperiens coactus dissimulare pro tempore ira sufflabatur interna.

Although, as we discussed in the introduction, anger control in the fourth century was no longer prominent in political texts, Ammianus does make much of Julian concealing his wrath, for although the populace caricatured Julian, comparing him to a dwarf and a goat (due to his characteristic beard), and openly objected to the number of sacrifices he made to the gods, the emperor ‘held his peace, kept his temper under control, and went on with his solemnities’ (A.M. 22.14.3). Individuals react differently when placed in the public eye and when emotions get the better of them. Some behave like Tiberius who, unable to cope with the constant pressure from the Senate in particular, took to self-imposed exile. Others, such as Nero, took public life to the extreme and deliberately presented themselves to the populace, relishing all the attention, oblivious to any outside criticism. For Julian, neither was a suitable option, and his anger led him to react as only a man of his scholarly nature could, which was through the writing of a piece of literature meant to explain his position, and point out how much of a disappointment the citizens were to him.

For Julian, as someone who was in such an esteemed position, to be made the object of ridicule was an enormous insult. However, Ammianus does justify some of the Antiochenes’ jibes, and held the belief that the Misopogon’s objections were more punitive than he thought warranted:

probra ciuitatis infensa mente dinumerans, addensque ueritati complura (22.14.2).

The historian does not criticise Julian for the dissertation, which suggests that he perhaps believed that the Antiochenes were being unduly harsh towards the emperor. Ammianus does, however, point out Julian’s unwarranted behaviour on other occasions in Antioch, which the historian disapproved of: for example when Julian excitedly ran out of the Senate to greet Maximus (22.7.3), and when Julian carried the sacred standards, rather than letting the priests, for whom it was their sacred duty (22.14.3). Interestingly, Sozomen, the fifth century Christian historian, was in support of the dissertation, and wrote of Julian (Hist. Eccl. 5.19), ‘he suppressed his feelings of indignation and repaid their ridicule by words alone; he composed and sent to them a most excellent and elegant work under the title of Beard Hater’. Zosimus, the pagan historian who lived a short time after Julian, called it a ‘most polished composition’ (3.11.5). The second century Roman rhetorician Fronto (Ep. ad Marc. Ant. 2.7) was also in support of such devices, for he believed that emperors ought to ‘repress by their edicts the faults of provincials, give praise to good actions, quell the seditious and terrify the fierce ones. All these are assuredly things to be achieved by words and letters’. Libanius, in his Epistles, never once mentions the Misopogon definitively, although he does, in his sixteenth oration, attempt to argue against the dissertation in stages. The language and rhetorical devices of the piece would also have not failed to impress Ammianus.

Twice Ammianus gives us comments on Julian’s anger which foreshadow his death; the manner of his language and hindsight are given over to this paradox. The first instance occurs at the time the emperor stormed out of Antioch on 5 March, 363 (23.2.4), furious (ira) at the citizens and their jibes against him, and promising never to return. He swore to the delegates who escorted him from the city that he would spend the winter at Tarsus. Ammianus tells us that he did, but as a corpse rather than in the way Julian intended. The second occurs, ominously, not long before Julian’s death, when a bitter sign was described by Ammianus (24.6.17). This incident occurred on his Persian expedition, when Julian made a successful engagement outside Ctesiphon. In light of this success, Julian wanted to make an ample sacrifice to Mars Ultor. But of the ten bulls that were brought there nine fell dead before arriving at the altar; and the tenth broke its bonds and took much effort to control. When it had finally been sacrificed, the omens it gave were unfavourable. At this sight Julian was seized by an attack of anger (exclamauit indignatus), and took Jupiter to witness that he would not sacrifice to Mars any more; this oath was not retracted because his death occurred very shortly thereafter. Being deeply superstitious Julian clearly reacted out of fear and angst. For example, Ammianus (25.4.17) characterises the emperor as superstitiosus magis quam sacrorum legitimus obseruator. The knowledge that a bitter end might occur for him would have begun to play on his mind (cf. A.M. 25.2.4.). In his language, Ammianus (22.5.2, 22.12.6) does not show support for Julian’s behaviour, partly because, being a ‘more conservative pagan’, he was censorious of the emperor’s exorbitant sacrifices. One may point out though that Marcus Aurelius, whom Julian sought to emulate, also made excessive sacrifices, which were also criticised by the populus (A.M. 25.4.17).

As we have seen then, anger was very much apparent in Julian as a result of the behaviour of the citizens of the city of Antioch, who had verbally attacked and insulted him for a variety of reasons, not least his physical appearance and his reinstitution of overly indulgent pagan rituals. If Ammianus had sought to write a panegyric on Julian, who combined the elements of miles and graecus to construct his own selfhood, much as Ammianus did through his closing statement, then surely it ended here. For in Antioch all of the emperor’s great ideas, such as his desire to restore pagan institutions, to decide in legal matters and to make reforms in the Senate, were mocked and chastised by the very people whom he believed would actively support him. The city of Antioch was, for Julian, a place in which he was confident that his perception of fourth century Hellenism would be readily accepted. For this cosmopolitan city epitomised for him a centre of culture and learning on the scale of Alexandria. Julian’s restoration of all things Greek, including culture, worship of the old gods and identification with the city of Antioch, all support this. In reality, Antioch did still retain many of its pagan shrines, and was home to the rhetorician Libanius,
whose lectures on the old traditions had certainly made an impact on the young Julian at Nicomedia.

Unfortunately, Antioch also became the city where, as Ammianus shows us, the emperor who had so far held himself together remarkably well against all the odds, suddenly came undone under pressure from the Senate and populace. For Julian was aggrieved when the citizens as well as the Senate did not accept his reforms wholeheartedly (cf. Lib. Or. 15.55; 16.13-14), and even mocked him at the New Year celebrations, something that his ego could not tolerate. As a consequence of this treatment by the Antiochenes, at the outset of his Persian expedition,67 the young emperor left Antioch in a fury. According to Ammianus, the people of Antioch responded by begging for his glorious return and praying that his anger would by then be abated. Instead, Julian manifested his anger through a verbal outburst, claiming that he had no intention of visiting the Antiochenes again (23.2.4). The consequence for the people of Antioch was that Julian replaced himself with a cruel governor, one Alexander of Heliopolis, who, he allegedly believed, would keep the greedy and rebellious people of the city in check. As stated above, his words upon his departure seemed eerily to seal his own fate, and Julian died on his Persian expedition before he had a chance to renounce them".

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