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Julian: A Novel Paperback – August 12, 2003
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“High entertainment.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A subtle, provoking, enthralling book. . . . Vidal’s ability to invoke a world is amazing.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Simply great. . . . A truly monumental novel.” —Associated Press
“Historical fiction in the true, honorable sense. . . . Full of vivid, richly wrought fictional detail.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Impressive. . . . To the formidable task which Vidal sets himself, he brings an easy and fluent gift for narrative; a theatrical sense of scene and dramatic occasion; and a revealing eye and ear for character delineation–to say nothing of wide reading.” –Newsweek
“A real hero. . . . An excellent book.” –Chicago Daily News
“Gore Vidal has the sharpest sense of what political power consists of, how it is achieved and what it does to a man. And at the same time he is funny, roaringly funny. . . . Julian is a brilliant beacon of light in the dim grey landscape of the historical novel.” –Louis Auchincloss
“A brilliant study of Julian’s era. . . . That rare historical novel which enjoys all the virtues of good history and good fiction.” –Washington Star
“No odder figure ever guided the destinies of the Roman Empire than the Emperor Julian Augustus. Here was a recluse and a scholar who became a great military leader, an ascetic who preached the life of the senses, a fatalist who believed he would remake the world. . . . He is endlessly fascinating.” –Time
From the Inside Flap
The remarkable bestseller about the fourth-century Roman emperor who famously tried to halt the spread of Christianity, Julian" is widely regarded as one of Gore Vidal's finest historical novels.
Julian the Apostate, nephew of Constantine the Great, was one of the brightest yet briefest lights in the history of the Roman Empire. A military genius on the level of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, a graceful and persuasive essayist, and a philosopher devoted to worshipping the gods of Hellenism, he became embroiled in a fierce intellectual war with Christianity that provoked his murder at the age of thirty-two, only four years into his brilliantly humane and compassionate reign. A marvelously imaginative and insightful novel of classical antiquity, Julian" captures the religious and political ferment of a desperate age and restores with blazing wit and vigor the legacy of an impassioned ruler.
Top customer reviews
I won't comment on the historical accuracy of the book. Suffice to say that you learn a lot of history of this fascinating Emperor. There are so many insights on the transformation of Julian as a young philosopher who's afraid for his own life to the Emperor that enjoys power and war. "On the throne of the World, any delusion can become fact" and "Only historians can ever be certain of one's motive!" are just two examples of the great sentences to expect.
Julian was the last Emperor who tried to revert the ascent of Christianity in the Roman Empire. His main motivation is straightforward: Christians, he says, do not tolerate any other religion. In contrast, all the spiritual and religious world of the Romans was constructed mixing and tolerating several local and imported religious practices and Gods. He believed the Sun God Mithra protected him, and in the Persian Campaign he even deluded himself believing he was the re-incarnation of Alexander the Great. Julian comes across as a very complex character. Through his transformation process, we learn that everyone will, depending on the circumstances, radically change if absolute power is inherited. Even Marcus Aurelius, who claims never to enjoy warfare, would be in this category.
Well, I'm really not so sure of that, humanity having its little ways, but I choose to say so out of pure provocation, which was also Gore Vidal's prime motive for writing this fiction. The key here, dear reader, will be whether you know enough history to be provoked, If you have little or no idea who Julian was in real life, or what he attempted, you will not be properly provoked by my statement. You will also NOT enjoy this book; you need to understand what was, and is, at stake. Besides, the allusive humor of Vidal's writing will escape you. This is not sound history; it's merely a snarky, playful diversion for the educated elite.
And it's an imitation, at best, of Robert Graves's "I Claudius." It suffers from that comparison. The real Julian was in many ways a more impressive and interesting figure than the absurd Claudius, although the latter had greater success in the end than the former. But Vidal seems to have been unable to decide whether to treat his "hero" with full-snark mockery or with grudging admiration. The whole book teeters between Vidal's urge to land squarely in Julian's camp, treating his ideals with high seriousness, and his contrary urge to take nothing seriously, to spatter his scorn generously on each and all. Vidal patently sees himself in the lineage of Oscar Wilde and Robert Graves, as a supercilious, merciless social critic. He comes close enough to be amusing. I've given this book four stars as a cautionary rating for a general readership. If you're the sort of reader who appreciates snide wit and relentless skepticism, you'll surely want to rate it higher.