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Julian: A Novel Paperback – August 12, 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037572706X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727061
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
In keeping with my belief that one should clearly label one's biases, let it be known that I am not only a pagan myself but that Julian Augustus is my personal folk hero.
_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.
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I consider Julian to be a romantic novel more than a historic document. The book serves two purposes for Vidal; one, depict the Apostate Julian as a tragic hero in true Hellenistic style, and two, provide a modern criticism of Christianity. The period of Constantine (Julian's Uncle) through Julian's death marks the foundation and development of Christianity, and it is no coincidence that Vidal chooses a hero from this era to create his epic novel. The main narrator of the story is Julian himself, through his personal memoirs. However, two rival philosophers, Libanius and Priscus, regularly intercede with their personal notes. The perspective of three chroniclers broadens the capacity of the novel so that Julian can give his personal views, but events can also be editorialized from alternative angles.

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.
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Format: Paperback
The fourth century AD is a period I have never known much about. The first I ever heard about the emperor Julian the Apostate was actually the unflattering caricature by St Gregory Nazianzen, quoted here again in the novel. There is a plus-side and there is a minus-side to reading a historical novel from ignorance of the background, the plus-side being obviously that one is not distracted from appreciating it for what it is - creative writing. I feel sure the downside outweighs that, all the same. There is obviously considerable erudition behind this book, and if I ever improve my grasp of the background I would expect to find real historical insights, whatever the author may have adapted, removed or added. What is clear to me is that Vidal at least thinks as a genuine historian - his narrative is about the right things that should go into a historical analysis.

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.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the finest works of historical fiction that I have ever read. I find myself wondering why I waited so long to finally get to it. If Gore Vidal had written nothing else in his life, this volume would have been enough.
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.
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