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Two Orations of the Emperor Julian
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Pages (PDF): 68
Publication Date: 1793
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This is a rare translation of two works on pagan theology with a Platonic theme by the Roman Emperor Julian. The short-lived Emperor Julian suceeded Constantius in 361 CE. He shocked the empire by renouncing Christianity, which earned him the title 'the Apostate' by Church historians. He issued an edict of religious freedom, rebuilt the Pagan temples, ended banishment of religious exiles, and eliminated special privileges for Christian officials. He also founded the Neo-platonic school of philosophy.
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IT appears to me that the present oration very properly belongs to all
--who breathe or creep on earth,
who participate of being, of a rational soul, and of intellect; but I consider it as particularly belonging to myself; for I am an attendant of the sovereign Sun: and of the truth of this, indeed, I possess most accurate assurances, one of which it may be lawful for me, without envy, to relate. A vehement love for the splendors of this god took possession of me from my youth; in consequence of which, while I was a boy, my rational part was ravished with astonishment as often as I surveyed his etherial light; nor was I alone desirous of stedfastly beholding his diurnal splendors, but likewise at night, when the heavens were clear and serene, I was accustomed to walk abroad, and, neglecting every other concern, to gaze on the beauty of the celestial regions with rapturous delight: indeed I was so lost in attentive vision, that I was equally unconscious of another's discourse, and of my own conduct on such occasions. Hence I appeared to be too studious of their contemplation, and too curious in such employments; and, in consequence of this, though I was yet short of the perfection of manhood, I was suspected by some to be skilled in astronomical divination; but, indeed, no book of this kind was as yet in my possession, and I was entirely ignorant of its meaning and use. But why do I relate such trifling particulars, when I have things of far greater moment to declare, if I should tell my conceptions of the gods at that period of life. However, let the darkness of childhood be consigned to the shades of oblivion. But that the celestial light, with which I was every way environed, so excited and exalted me to its contemplation, that I observed by myself the contrary course of the moon to that of the universe, before I met with any who philosophized on these subjects, may easily be credited from the indications which I have previously related. Indeed I admire the felicity of the man on whom divinity bestows a body united from sacred and prophetic seed, that he may disclose the treasuries of wisdom; but, at the same time, I will not despise the condition allotted me by the benefit of this deity; I mean, that I rank among those to whom the dominion and empire of the earth at the present period belong.
It is, indeed, my opinion, that the sun (if we may credit the wise) is the common father of all mankind; for as it is very properly said, man and the sun generate man . But this deity disseminates souls into the earth not from himself alone, but from other divinities; and these evince by their lives the end of their propagation. And his destiny will indeed be most illustrious, who, prior to his third progeny, and from a long series of ancestors, has been addicted to the service of this deity: nor is this to be despised, if some one, knowing himself to be naturally a servant of this god, alone among all, or with a few of mankind, delivers himself to the cultivation of his lord.
Let us then, to the best of our ability, celebrate his festival, which the royal city renders illustrious by its annual sacrifices and solemn rites. But I am well aware how difficult it is to conceive the nature of the unapparent sun, if we may conjecture from the excellence of the apparent god; and to declare this to others, can perhaps be accomplished by no one without derrogating from the dignity of the subject; for I am fully convinced that no one can attain to, the dignity of his nature: however, to possess a mediocrity in celebrating his majesty, appears to be the summit of human attainments. But may Mercury, the ruling deity of discourse, together with the Muses, and their leader, Apollo, be present in this undertaking; for this oration pertains to Apollo; and may they enable me so to speak of the immortal gods, that the credibility of my narration may be grateful and acceptable to their divinities. What mode of celebration then shall we adopt? Shall we, if we speak of his nature and origin, of his power and energies, as well manifest as occult, and besides this, of the communication of good which he largely distributes to every world, shall we, I say, by this means, frame an encomium, not perfectly abhorrent from the god? Let us therefore begin our oration from hence.
That divine and all-beautiful world, then, which, from the supreme arch of the heavens, to the extremity of the earth, is contained by the immutable providence of the deity, existed from eternity without any generation, and will be eternal through all the following periods of time; nor is it guarded by any other substance, than by the proximate investiture of the fifth body , the summit of which is the solar ray, situated, as it were, in the second degree from the intelligible world: but it is more antiently comprehended by the king and moderator of all things, about whom the universe subsists. This cause therefore, whether it is lawful to call him that which is superior to intellect; or the idea of the things which are, (but whom I should call the intelligible whole;) or the one , since the one appears to be the most antient of all things; or that which Plato is accustomed to denominate the good; this uniform cause, then, of the universe, who is to all beings the. administrator of beauty, perfection, union, and immeasurable power, according to a primary nature abiding in himself, produced from himself as a medium between the middle intellectual and demiurgic causes, that mighty divinity the sun perfectly similar to himself. And this was the opinion of the divine Plato, when he says : "This is what I called the son of the good, which the good generated analogous to itself: that as this in the intelligible place is to intellect and the objects of intelligence, so is that in the visible place to sight and the objects of sight." Hence it appears to me, that light has the same proportion to that which is visible, as truth to that which is intelligible, But this intelligible universe, as it, is the progeny of the idea of the first and greatest good, eternally abiding about his stable essence, obtains the supremacy among the intellectual gods; and is the, source of the same perfection to these, as the good to the intelligible gods.
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