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Julian: A Novel Paperback – August 12, 2003
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“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
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
_Julian_ covers the time leading up to, as well as including, the reign of Julian the Apostate. Several dynamics were present: his precarious youth as a potential threat to the Roman throne of Constantius, his strong philosophical leanings toward Hellenism, and his personal courage, among others. Vidal incorporates all of these factors, which shaped Julian's character, to weave a portrait of this emperor.
One of the more entertaining aspects of the book is that much of it is a letter exchange between Libanius (Julian's prinicpal contemporary biographer) and Priscus (a philosopher of sorts and adherent of Julian) after Julian's untimely death in Persia. We thus are treated to humourously scathing margin notes by Libanius, generally expressing disdain for Priscus, who seems to be covering his posterior and his pocketbook. A lot of the book is Julian's memoirs themselves. It's an interesting and creative way to write a book, and a tribute to Vidal that it flows smoothly.
The book would be incomplete without speculation on the real reason for Julian's death. This part is something to look forward to. I cannot easily refute the claim that is made when they get to it.
If you like the late Roman Empire, are interested in Julian himself, or simply enjoy a good historical novel, _Julian_ is a bargain.
Julian is a character of contrasts. Although raised by Christian monks, he becomes a champion of paganism. An affinity for philosophy, he becomes famous for his military prowess. He claims to be an intellectual, but his obsession with superstition drives all his decisions. Like a classic Hellenistic hero, Julian has an Achilles heel: his predisposition for craving for the vague and incomprehensible mysteries. Hence, he falls victim to Maximus, a character analogous to Rasputin in the Russian tragedy of Nicholas and Alexandra. During Julian's ascent to power and subsequent reign, Maximus is a ubiquitous presence to assist Julian in interpreting omens in a manner that benefits Maximus. Generally, Maximus seems to have two influences over Julian. First, he reinforces any omen that tells Julian to resuscitate the ancient pagan gods, and, second, to be the next Alexander by conquering Asia, starting with Persia.Read more ›
The novel is partly concerned with rehabilitating Julian, but it is about more than that, indeed about more than his life-story altogether. It is about early Christianity and the mind-sets that went with that. Julian was appalled by Christianity, and so, quite evidently, is Vidal. For him, early Christianity was a noxious perversion of human thought-processes. Christianity of this period tried to enforce beliefs, and would stop at nothing in the process. This should make us pause to ask - how can any belief be obligatory? Only our actions can be subject to our own will, let alone anyone else's, and holding a belief is not an action. There is a restricted sense in which it could be described as that, namely the sense in which `holding' means `propounding', as in a book or a lecture.Read more ›
It was the religious aspect of the novel that most interested me. This book addresses issues that are still quite controversial about the early days of the Christian Church in the Roman world. It's "triumph" over Hellenism was far more complicated and messier than most people realize. Indeed, Julian, as the last great champion of the old Gods (or rather the one ultimate God of Plato with His many aspects) comes across as the most spiritually sincere character in the book. It is refreshing to follow the thoughts of a sincerely good man whose only motivation for most of his life was to lead a good life in pursuit of Truth. Even when the titles of "Caesar" and then "Augustus", are forced upon him by men who realize his goodness, his first thought is always the welfare of those he now rules and never his own glory and power. Here, is one of the very few times the ideal of the Philosopher King was ever realized in the flesh.
One comes to realize, through the words of the Emperor and his biographers, the true nature and value of both classical philosophy (love of wisdom) in it's many aspects, as well as the equal importance of mysticism, magic, and the Mysteries in the Roman world.
You also see how the myth of the good Emperor who once saved the West, and who will one day return, far predates the time of Charlemagne, or even Arthur.
Vidal has captured the transitional, turbulent world of the 4th century C.E. better than any other writer. You feel the corruption, greed, and decay that would ultimately spell the end of the empire in the next century.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Wow. Most captivating history of the Roman Emperor Julian I've ever read.Published 1 month ago by Daniel Teal
Always enjoyed Vidal's books back in the day. This was one of the few I had never gotten to. Bought it used (horrible condition advertised as "Good") and tried to read it. Read morePublished 5 months ago by lydonkey
If you liked Robert Graves books on Roman history, you will love this one. I recently discovered it and glad to have found it. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Taxguy
The fascinating and amazing life of the 4th century Roman emperor, Julian, the last surviving relative of the emperor Constantius' purge of his own family, lives in exile under... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Roger Walton
Amazing book. Vidal really knows how to take you back in time and live through Julian's eyes and his campaings through England, Germany, Turkey and the rest of the Middle... Read morePublished 10 months ago by elgrancid