The Wild Beast by August Strindberg
Before the temple of Jupiter Latiaris in Rome, two men of the middle
classes met each other. They both remained standing in order to
contemplate the new temple, which was different from all others, and
looked as if it had felt the effects of an earthquake. The basement had
the shape of a roof; the columns stood reversed with their capitals
below, and the roof was constructed like a basement with
“So we meet here again, Hebrew,” said one of the two, who resembled
a Roman merchant. “Was it not in Joppa that we last met?”
“Yes,” answered the Hebrew. “One meets the Roman everywhere; he is
at home everywhere; one also meets the Hebrew everywhere, but he is at
home nowhere. But tell me, whose temple is this?”
“This is the Temple of the Wild Beast, the Emperor Caligula, the
madman, the murderer, the incestuous. He has erected it to himself; his
image stands within; and the madman comes every day to worship
So saying, the Roman made a sign on his forehead, moving the
forefinger of his right hand first from above, below, and then from
left to right.
The Hebrew looked at him in astonishment.
“Are you not a Roman?”
“Yes, I am a Roman Christian.”
“Where do you live?” “Here under Rome, in the catacombs.”
He pointed to a hole in the ground, which resembled those that led
down to the cloacae.
“Do you live here under the ground?”
“Yes, that is where we Christians live; there we lie like seed in
the earth, and germinate.”
“Those are grave-vaults down there.”
“Yes, we are buried with Christ, and await the resurrection.”
“Have you a temple down there?”
“We have our religious service there, and to-day we celebrate the
birth of Christ.”
“Someone is coming down the street,” said the Hebrew. The Roman
opened the trap-door in the ground in order to descend. From below the
sounds of a choral hymn were heard. “The City hath no need of the moon,
neither of the sun, for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb
is the light thereof.”
“Who is the Lamb?” asked the Hebrew.
“Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the World.”
“Do you think the world is redeemed, while this mad Caligula....”
“The world will be redeemed, if we continue to hope.”
“You have, then, taken the promise away from Israel?”
“No, we have inherited the promise, for Christ was of the stock of
“Someone is coming.”
“Then farewell. We shall always meet, for the earth is ours.”
In the temple, which people called “the world turned upside down,” a
man slunk along the walls in a state of panic, as though he were afraid
to display his back. He had the face of a youth without any hair round
it. His upper lip was drawn upwards on the left side, and showed a long
canine tooth, while at the same time his right eye shot a sharp glance
like a poisonous arrow.
He glided along the wall to the apse, where an image was erected. It
was a likeness of the timid man himself, representing him exactly even
to his clothes.
“Is the priest there?” the mad Emperor whispered, for it was he.
No answer followed.
“Priest, dear priest, I am so frightened. Are you not coming?”
A sacrificial priest came forward, fell on his knee before the
Emperor, and worshipped him.
“Jupiter, Optimus, Maximus, Latiaris, frighten away thy foes.”
“Have I foes, then? Yes, and that is what frightens me. Do you
believe that I am God?”
“Let us then have thunder, to frighten my foes.”
The priest beat upon a kettledrum, and the echoes rolled through the
The Emperor laughed, so that all his teeth were visible.
“Priest!” he cried as he seated himself on his throne, “now you
shall sacrifice to me.”
The priest kindled a fire on the little altar before the madman.
The Emperor said, “The scent is good. Now I am the mightiest in
heaven and on earth. I rule over living and dead; I cast into Tartarus
and lift into Elysium. How mighty I am! I tame the waves of the sea,
and command the storm to cease: I hold sway over the planets in their
courses; I myself have created chaos, and the human race lie at my
feet, from the primeval forests of Britain to the sources of the Nile,
which I alone have discovered. I have made my favourite horse consul,
and the people have acknowledged his consulship. Priest! Worship me! Or
do you forget who I am? No, I am I, and I shall always worship myself
in my own image. Caius Caesar Caligula, I honour thee, Lord of the
world, how I honour myself! Jupiter Latiaris Caligula!”
He fell before the image on his knee.
“Some one is coming,” said the priest warningly.
“It is the tribune, Cassius Chaeraea!”
“Frighten him away.”
“Chaeraea does not let himself be frightened.”
The tribune came in fearlessly and without ceremony.
“Caius Caesar, your wife is dead.”
“All the better,” answered the Emperor.
“They have dashed your only child against a wall.”
“Ah, how pleasant!” laughed the madman.
“And now you are to die.”
“No, I cannot. I am immortal.”
“I wait for you outside. It shall not take place here.”
“Creep away, ant! My foot is too great to reach thy littleness.”
Then a sound of singing rose from the basement of the temple, or
from the earth; they were children's voices.
The Emperor was again alarmed, and crept under his chair.
Chaeraea, who had waited at the door, lost patience.
“Dog! are you coming? Or shall I strike you dead here?”
“Chaeraea,” whimpered the Emperor, “do not kill me! I will kiss your
“Then kiss it now when I trample you to death.”
The gigantic tribune threw the chair to one side, leapt on the
madman and crushed his windpipe beneath his heel; the tongue, protruded
from his jaws, seemed to be spitting abuse even in death.
* * * * *
The Wild Beast had three heads; the name of the second was Claudius.
He played dice with his friend Caius Silius, who was famous for his
wealth and his beauty.
“Follow the game,” hissed Caesar.
“I am following it,” answered his friend.
“No, you are absent-minded. Where were you last night?” “I was in
“You should not go to the Suburra; you should stay with me.”
“Follow the game.”
“I am following it; but what are the stakes we are playing for?”
“You are playing for your life.”
“And you, Caesar?”
“I am also playing for your life.”
“And if you lose?” asked Silius.
“Then you will lose your life.”
The Emperor knocked with the dice-box on the table. His secretary
Narcissus came in.
“Give me writing materials, Narcissus. The antidote for snake-bites
is yew-tree resin....”
“And the antidote to hemlock?”
“Against that there is no antidote.”
“Follow the game, or I shall be angry.”
“No, you cannot be angry!” answered Silius.
“Yes, that is true,—I cannot! I only said so!”
Messalina, the Emperor's wife, had entered.
“Why is Silius sitting here and playing,” she asked, “when he should
accompany me to the theatre?”
“He is compelled,” answered the Emperor.
“Wretch! what rights have you over him?”
“He is my slave; all are slaves of the Lord of the world. Therefore
Rome is the most democratic of all States, for all its citizens are
equal—equal before Men and God.”
“He is your slave, but he is my husband,” said Messalina.
“Your husband! Why, you are married to me.”
“What does that matter?”
“Do you go and marry without asking my permission?”
“Yes, why not?”
“You are certainly droll, Messalina! And I pardon you. Go, my
children, and amuse yourselves. Narcissus will play with me.”
When the Emperor was left alone with Narcissus, his expression
“Follow them, Narcissus!” he hissed. “Take Locusta with you, and
give them the poison. Then I shall marry Agrippina.”
But when Silius and the Empress had gone without, Silius asked
innocently: “Have you yourself prepared the mushrooms which he will eat
“I have not done it myself, but Locusta has, and she understands her
* * * * *
The name of the third head of the Wild Beast was Nero. He was
Agrippina's worthy son, had poisoned his half-brother Britannicus,
murdered his mother, kicked his wife to death, and committed unnatural
crime. He falsified the coinage and plundered the temples. He made an
artistic tour to Greece, where he first appeared as a public singer and
brought eight hundred wreaths home, then as a charioteer, in which
capacity he upset everything, but received the prize because nobody
dared to refuse it to him.
To such a depth had Rome and Greece sunk. Claudius was an angel
compared to this monster; but he also received apotheosis.
To-day the Emperor had returned home from his artistic tour, and
found his capital in flames. Since, in his fits of intoxication, he had
so often raged against his old-fashioned Rome, with its narrow streets,
and had on various occasions expressed the wish that fire might break
out at all its corners, he came under the suspicion of having set it in
He sat in his palace on the Esquiline in a great columned hall, and
feasted his eyes on the magnificent conflagration. It was a marble hall
with only a few articles of furniture, because the Emperor feared they
might afford lurking-places for murderers. But in the background of the
hall was a strong gilded iron grating, behind which could be caught a
glimpse of two yellow-brown lions from Libya. These the Emperor called
At the door of the grating stood two slaves, Pallas and Alexander,
and watched every change in the Emperor's face.
“He smiles,” whispered Pallas; “then it is all over with us.
Brother, we shall meet again. Pray for me and give me the kiss of
“The Lord shall deliver thee from all evil, and preserve thee for
His heavenly kingdom. This mortal must put on immortality, and this
The red face of the Emperor, red with wine and the light of the
conflagration, began to assume a look of attention, and it could be
seen from his eyes and ears that he was listening. Did he hear perhaps
how the masses of people whispered their suspicions of the
“Pallas!” he roared, “Rome is burning!”
The slave remained speechless from fright.
“Pallas! Are you deaf?”
“Pallas! Are you dumb? They say down there that I have fired the
town, but I have not. Run out in the streets and spread about the
report that the Christians have done it.”
“No, I will not!” answered the slave.
Nero believed that his ears had deceived him.
“Do you not know,” he said, “that the Christians are magicians, and
live like rats in the catacombs, and that all Rome is undermined by
them? I have thought of making the Tiber flow in to drown them, or of
opening the walls of the cloacas and submerging the catacombs in filth.
Their Sibylline books have prophesied the fall of Rome, though they use
the name 'Babylon.' See, now the Capitol takes fire. Pallas, run out,
and say the Christians have done it.”
“That I will not do,” answered Pallas loud and clearly, “because it
is not true.”
“This time my ears have not deceived me,” roared the Emperor rising.
“You will not go into the town; then go in through the grating-door and
play with my lions.”
He opened the door, and pushed Pallas into the fore-court of the
“Alexander!” said Pallas, “I have prayed you to be firm and
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the latter day He shall
raise me from the earth.”
“What is that you are saying?” said the Emperor, and pulled a cord,
which opened the second door to the lions.
“Alexander, go out into the town, and spread the report that the
Christians have set Rome on fire.”
“No,” answered Alexander, “for I am a Christian.”
“What is a Christian?”
“God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that
whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting
“Will you not perish? Have I not the power to destroy you?”
“You have no power over me, except it be given from above.”
“He does not fear death. Lentulus! bring fire here; I will set fire
to your clothes, that we may see if you can burn, I will set your hair,
your beard, your nails on fire; but we will first soak you in oil and
naphtha, in pitch and sulphur. Then we will see whether you have an
everlasting life. Lentulus!”
Lentulus rushed in: “Emperor! The city is in an uproar! Fly!”
“Must I fly? First bring fire!”
“Spain has revolted, and chosen Galba as Emperor.”
“Galba! Eheu! fugaces, Postume ... Galba! Well, then, let us fly,
“Through the catacombs, sire.”
“No! the Christians live there, and they will kill me.”
“They kill no one,” said Alexander.
“Not even their enemies?”
“They pray for their enemies.”
“Then they are mad! All the better!”
* * * * *
The Christians were assembled in one of the crypts of the catacombs.
“The Capitol is burning; that is the heathen's Zion,” said Alexander.
“The Lord of Hosts avenges his destroyed Jerusalem.”
“Say not 'avenges,' say 'punishes.'“
“Someone is coming down the passage.”
“Is it a brother?”
“No, he makes no obeisance before the cross.”
“Then it is an executioner.”
The Emperor appeared in rags, dirty, with a handkerchief tied round
his forehead. As he approached the Christians, whom in their white
cloaks he took for Greeks, he became quiet and resolved to bargain with
“Are you Greeks?”
“Here is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free,
but all are brothers in Christ! Welcome, brother!”
“It is the Wild Beast,” said Alexander.
The Emperor now recognised his escaped slave, and in his terror fell
on his knees.
“Kill me not! I am a poor stone-cutter, who has lost his way. Show
me the way out, whether right or left.”
“Do you know me?” asked Alexander.
“Alexander!” answered the Emperor.
“He whom you wished to burn. It is I!”
“Mercy! Kill me not!”
“Stand up, Caesar! Thy life is in God's hand.”
“Do I find mercy?”
“You shall have a guide.”
“Say whether right or left; then I can help myself.”
“Keep to the left.”
“And if you lie.”
“I cannot lie! Do you see, that is the difference.”
“Why do you not lie? I should have done so.”
“Keep to the left.”
The Emperor believed him, and went. But after going some steps, he
stood still and turned round.
“Out upon you, slaves! Now I shall help myself.”
It was a terribly stormy night, when Nero, accompanied by the boy
Sporus, and a few slaves, reached the estate of his freedman Phaon.
Phaon did not dare to receive him, but advised him to hide in a
clay-pit. But the Emperor did not wish to creep into the earth, but
sprang into a pond, when he heard the pursuers approaching, and
remained standing in the water. From this place he heard those who were
going by seeking him, say that he was condemned to be flogged to death.
Then, after some hesitation, he thrust a dagger into his breast.
His nurse Acte, who had also been his paramour, buried him in a
garden on Monte Pincio. The Romans loved him after his death, and
brought flowers to his grave. But the Christians saw in him the Wild
Beast and the Antichrist of the Apocalypse.
At a date rather more than three hundred years after the Birth of
Christ, the stage of the world's history had shifted from the
Mediterranean to the East. Greece was sunk in everlasting sleep, Rome
lay in ruins and had become a tributary state. Jerusalem was destroyed,
Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile in a state of decay. The world's
metropolis lay on the Black Sea, and was a half-oriental colony called
Byzantium, or, after Constantine the Great, Constantinople. The heathen
world was a waste, and Christianity had become the State religion. But
the spirit of Christianity had not penetrated the empire. Doctrine
indeed there was—plenty of doctrine—but those at court lived worse
lives than the heathen, and the way to the throne in Byzantium was
generally through a murder.
But while the centre of gravity in Europe had shifted to the East,
new conquests had been made in the West and in the North. The Romans
had founded fifty cities on the Rhine, and, since Julius Caesar's time,
all Gaul lay under Roman ploughs and worshipped Roman gods in Roman
But now that Christianity was to be introduced into Gaul, it
encountered great difficulties. The original religion of the country,
Druidism, had been proscribed by the Emperor Claudius, and the Roman
cult of the gods substituted. And now that a second alteration of their
religion was proposed, the Gauls strongly resented it. Accordingly Gaul
was in a state of disorganisation, which was likely to result in some
But under the rule of Constantius, new danger from another side
threatened the newly-formed provinces of Gaul. The German races, the
Franks and the Alemanni, were attracted by the charm of the fertile
land, where the mountains seemed to drop with wine, and the plains were
covered with yellow corn. In order to protect the best of his
provinces, and perhaps for other reasons, the Emperor sent his cousin
and brother-in-law, Julian, to subdue the Germans. Although Julian had
been educated in a convent and at a university, he seems to have
understood the art of war, for he defeated the invaders and then
retired to Lutetia Parisiorum.
The legions had marched up the Mons Martis or Martyrorum, as it was
called by turns. At their head went the insignificant-looking man with
his beard trimmed like a philosopher's—Julian, surnamed Caesar, but
not therefore Emperor. High on the summit of the hill stood a temple of
Mars, but it was closed. When the army had encamped, Julian went alone
to the edge of the hill, in order to view the town Lutetia, which he
had never seen.
On the island between the two arms of the Seine lay the main part of
the town with the temple of Jupiter; but the Imperial Palace and the
Amphitheatre stood on the slope of Mount Parnassus, on the left bank of
the river. For three hundred years from the time of Julius Caesar, the
Emperors had stayed here at intervals. The two last occupants had been
Constantine the Great and Constantius.
After thoughtfully contemplating for a while the valley with the
river flowing through it, Julian exclaimed, “Urbs! Why, it is Rome! A
river, a valley, and hills, seven or more, just as at Rome. Don't you
see, we stand on the Capitoline? On the opposite side we have Janiculum
represented by Mount Parnassus, and in the north Mons Valerian forms
our Vatican. And the city on the island! The island resembles a ship,
just like the island in the Tiber, on which they have erected an
obelisk as a mast, so striking was the similarity. Caesar indeed was
too original to have wished to copy. They call Byzantium New Rome, but
Rome is like a worm; when cut in two, a living creature is formed from
each piece. What do you say, Maximus?”
“Rome was the city of the seven hills and the seven kings; how many
there will be here, none can say.”
“It had never occurred to me,” answered Julian, “that Rome had had
just as many kings as hills—a curious coincidence!”
Maximus the Mystic, who, together with the Sophist Priscus, always
accompanied the Emperor, in order to give him opportunities for
philosophising, immediately objected: “There are no 'coincidences,'
Caesar, everything is reckoned and numbered; everything is created with
a conscious purpose, and in harmonious correspondence—the firmament of
heaven and the circle of the earth.”
“You have learnt that in Egypt,” Priscus interrupted, “for the
Egyptians see the river Nile in the constellation Eridanus. I should
like to know under which constellation this Lutetia lies!”
“It lies under Andromeda, like Rome,” answered Maximus, “but Perseus
hangs over the Holy Land, so that Algol stands over Jerusalem.”
“Why do you call that cursed land 'holy'?” broke in Julian, who
could not control his generally quiet temper as soon as any subject was
mentioned connected with Christianity, which he hated.
“I call the land 'holy' because the Redeemer of the world was born
there. And you know that He was born without a father, like Perseus;
you know also that Perseus delivered Andromeda, as Jesus Christ will
deliver Rome and Lutetia.”
Julian was silent, for, as a Neo-platonist, he liked analogies
between the heavenly and the temporal, and a poetic figure was more for
him than a rhetorical ornament.
Educated in a convent by Christian priests, he had early gained an
insight into the new teaching of Christianity; but he believed that his
philosophic culture had shown him that the seed of Christianity had
already germinated in Socrates and Plato. After he had made the
acquaintance of the Neo-Platonists, he found nothing to object to in
the recently-promulgated dogmas of Christianity. But he felt a
boundless hate against these Galilaeans who wished to appropriate all
the wisdom of the past ages and give it their own name. He regarded
them as thieves. The doctrine of Christ's Divine Sonship seemed to him
quite natural, for as a Pantheist he believed that the souls of all men
are born of God and have part in Him. He himself acknowledged the dogma
recently promulgated at Nicaea, that the Son is of the same essence as
the Father, although he interpreted, it in his own way. As to miracles,
they happened every day, and could be imitated by magicians. He
acknowledged the truth of the Fall of Man, for Plato also had declared
that the soul is imprisoned in matter —in sinful matter, with which we
must do battle. And this had been confirmed by St. Paul's saying in the
Epistle to the Romans, “The good which I would, that I do not, but the
evil, which I would not, that I do,” and again, “I delight in the law
of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, which
warreth against the law of my mind.... O wretched man that I am! who
shall deliver me from the body of this death?” That was the lament of
the thinking sensitive man regarding the soul's imprisonment in matter;
the disgust of human nature at itself.
Julian, as a sensitive and struggling spirit, had felt this
pressure, and had honestly and successfully combated the lusts of the
flesh. Grown up though he was, among murderers and sybarites, in the
extravagant luxury of the Byzantine Court, where, for example, he had
at first possessed a thousand barbers and a thousand cooks, he had
abandoned luxury, lived like a Christian ascetic, acted justly, and was
high-minded. He had a perfect comprehension of the soul's imprisonment
in the flesh or of “sin,” but understood nothing of the Redemption
through Christ. Three hundred years had passed since the birth of
Christ, and the world had become continually more wretched. The
Christians he had seen, especially his uncle Constantine the Great,
lived worse than the heathen. As a young man he had tested the new
teaching in his own internal struggles; he had prayed to Christ as to
God, but had not been heard. When he had lamented his plight to the
devout Eusebius, the latter had answered, “Be patient in hope! Continue
constant in prayer.”
But the youth answered, “I cannot be patient.”
Then Eusebius said, “The deliverance comes, but not in our time. A
thousand years are as a day before the Lord God! Wait five days, then
you will see.”
“I will not wait,” exclaimed the youth angrily.
“So say the damned souls also. But look you, impatience is one of
the torments of hell, and you make a hell for yourself with your
Julian became a hater of Christ, without exactly knowing why. The
philosophers did not teach it him, for they adapted Christianity to
their philosophy. Celsus' feeble attack on Christianity had not misled
Julian's ripe and cultured intelligence. Eusebius explained his pupil's
hatred of Christ in the following way: “He has heathen blood in him,
for he comes of Illyrian stock; he does not belong to this sheepfold.
Or is his pride so boundless, his envy so great, that he cannot
tolerate any Autocrat in the realm of the spirit? He lives himself like
a Christian, and teaches the same as Christ, but at the same time is a
* * * * *
Meanwhile Julian, in order to hide his anger, had approached the
little Temple of Mars on the hill. The building was in ruins, the doors
had been carried away, and the columns were broken. As he entered it,
he saw the statue of Mars, modelled after a good Greek one of Ares,
standing in the apse, but the nose was broken off, the fingers were
lacking, and the whole statue was streaked with dirt.
“This is the work of the Galilaeans,” said Julian, “but they shall
pay for it.”
“They have already paid with their lives,” answered Maximus.
“Dionysius [Footnote: St. Denis] was beheaded on the hill, and his
chapel stands there on the slope.”
“Are you also a Galilaean?”
“No; but I love justice.”
“Justice and its guardian-goddess Astrasa left the earth when the
Iron Age began; now she is a star in heaven.”
“In the Zodiac,” interrupted Priscus; “I believe also, we all live
in Zodiacs, and there justice has no place.”
A sudden murmur of voices was heard from the camp. Julian mounted a
heap of stones to see what was the matter. The whole of the north-east
side of Mars' Hill was covered with soldiers, and below in the valley
were to be seen tents and camp-fires. These thousands belonged to all
the nations of the world. They comprised Romans, Greeks, Egyptians,
Negroes, Hebrews, Persians, Afghans, Scythians, Germans, Britons, and
Gauls. But now they were in movement and swarming, as gnats do when
“What is the excitement about?” asked Julian.
A little bell from the chapel of St. Denis sounded the Angelus, and
the Christians fell on their knees, while the heathen remained standing
or continued their occupations. The Christians considered themselves
disturbed, and so did the heathen.
“This religion,” said Julian, “which should unite all, only divides
them. If the Church Councils, instead of formulating new creeds, had
done away with all forms, and proclaimed free worship with praise and
adoration of the Highest, all peoples would have bent the knee before
the Nameless, but look at the Christians! Since the law is on their
side, they have the upper hand, and therefore compel the heathen to
adore their Galilaean! But I will not help them. I can hold nations
together, but not professors of creeds. Let us go into the town. I will
not mix in the matter.”
Some Christian tribunes approached Julian, with the evident purpose
of complaining, but he waved them off.
* * * * *
Julian had entered Lutetia on foot, accompanied by his philosophers.
He had not allowed himself to be escorted by generals or other
officers, because he did not trust them.
He found the new town to be a miniature of the Rome of the Caesars.
It is true that huts with straw roofs formed the nucleus of it, but
there were also several temples and chapels, a prefecture, a forum, and
an amphitheatre. The forum or market-place was surrounded by
colonnades, in which tradesmen and money-changers' had opened their
shops. One side—the shortest—of it was occupied by the prefecture, in
which the Aedile and Quaestor lived.
Unnoticed and unrecognised by the people, Julian went into the
prefecture. In the hall he saw Christian symbols—the cross, the fish,
the good shepherd, etc. Christianity was certainly the State religion,
but Julian's hatred against everything Christian was so great that he
could not look at these figures. Accordingly he went out again, called
the Prefect down, and bade him show the way to the Imperial palace and
the left side of the river. There he took up his abode in a simple room
resembling a monk's cell. As he had been obliged to make many detours
since he had left Byzantium, and the punitive expedition against the
Franks and Alemanni had consumed much time, he found letters waiting
his arrival. Among them was one from the Emperor which seriously
The attitude of the Emperor towards his cousin had always been
somewhat dubious, almost hostile, and now, after the latter's
victories, envy and fear had taken possession of the mind of the
Byzantine despot. The letter contained a command for Julian to send
back the legions at once, as the war was at an end. Julian saw the
danger if he stripped the newly recovered land bare of defence, but his
sense of duty and conscientiousness bade him obey, and without
hesitation he sent the Emperor's edict to the camp. This was on the
evening of the first day of his arrival.
The next morning Julian had gone out for an excursion with his
learned staff. They slowly climbed Mount Parnassus, and wandered
through the oak wood on the north side, avoiding the beaten paths. He
and his companions philosophised and disputed eagerly, and, forgetting
their surroundings, wandered ever deeper into the forest. Finally they
reached an open space where grazing deer had taken refuge, and set
themselves down to rest on strangely-shaped stones which lay in a
circle. In the oaks over their heads were large green clumps of a
different colour from the oak-leaves, and these they thought were
“I have never seen so many crows' nests together,” said Julian.
“They are not crows' nests, your Majesty,” answered the scribe
Eleazar, who acted as Julian's secretary. “That is the sacred
mistletoe, which grows on the oak, and through the operation of cosmic
forces takes this globular form, which is also said to be that of the
earth and the other heavenly bodies.”
“Yes, and we seem to have entered a sacred sacrificial grove, in
which the primeval deities of the land are still worshipped by the
Druids, although their worship is forbidden.”
“Forbidden in spite of the Emperor's edict regarding religious
freedom,” broke in the Sophist Priscus.
Julian did not like to be reminded of this edict, through which
Christianity had won freedom to suppress other creeds. He rose with his
companions in order to continue their excursion. After a while they
reached Suresnes and its vineyards, where figtrees and peach-trees
lined the walls. When they had ascended a height, they saw the whole
Seine Valley lying before them, with its fields, gardens, and villas.
“Why, that is like the sacred land of Canaan!” exclaimed Julian,
enchanted by the lovely landscape.
On the other side of the river rose the Hill of Mars, with its
temples and chapels, and where the soil had been laid bare the white
chalk gleamed in patches, as though a countless number of tents had
been erected on the slopes.
The philosophers stood for a long time there, and contemplated the
view, when a sound was heard like that of an approaching tempest. But
no cloud was visible, and they remained listening and wondering. The
noise increased till cries, shouts, and the clash of arms were heard.
Now the Hill of Mars seemed to be in movement; there were swarms of men
on its summit, and here and there steel could be seen flashing. Like a
river, the mass began to roll down the hill to the town.
Then the spectators understood. “It is a revolt of the legions,”
“The edict has taken effect.”
“They seek their own Emperor.”
“Then the only thing for us to do is to turn round and go home.”
They turned into the path which ran along the river, and followed it up
the stream, in order to be able to see what the legions were doing. The
dark mass, interspersed with flashes From swords and helmets, poured on
in an ever stronger tide.
Quickening their steps, Julian and his companions reached the
palace, in which there was great excitement. Julian was naturally a
courageous man, but as a philosopher he was retiring, and wished to
avoid public scenes. He therefore went through the bath-house and
sought his lonely chamber, in order to await what would happen. He
paced restlessly up and down the room, feeling that the destiny of his
whole future life was just now being decided. So there came what he
half expected. Cries were audible from the courtyard of the
palace,—“Ave Caesar Julianus Imperator! We choose Julian as Emperor!
The crown for Julian! Death to Constantius the murderer and weakling!”
There was no longer any room for doubt. The legions had chosen
Julian Emperor because they would not leave this fertile land, which
they had conquered at the cost of their blood. Julian, who had not
striven for power because he feared responsibility, wished to decline;
but messengers from the army warned him, “If you do not accept, you
will be slain.” He who does not dare to rule will be enslaved. Thus
Julian became Emperor of the great realm which stretched from the Black
Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
* * * * *
The night which followed this day was spent by the Emperor in
reflection; and when in the morning, after a bath, he appeared to his
friends, he was hardly recognisable as the same man. He had literally
thrown off the mask, and showed a new face, with a new expression,
almost new features. In spite of his upright character, Julian, like
Constantine, had been compelled to live in a perpetual state of
hypocrisy, by being obliged to favour and practise the Christian
teaching in which he did not believe. He had even been forced to
acknowledge the Trinity and Deity of Christ as promulgated by the
Council of Nicaea, to attend services and observe fasts. The first
thing he did after obtaining power, was to use his freedom and be what
he was. His first act was to separate the sheep from the goats, i.e. to
pick out the “Galilaeans,” and form them into legions by themselves,
under the pretext that they could thus better carry out their religious
practices. But at the same time he surrounded his person exclusively
with heathen of the old type,—Hebrews, Syrians, Persians, and
Scythians. Simultaneously he assumed the gorgeous purple and glittering
diadem of the emperors, trimmed and gilded his beard, and showed
himself abroad only on horseback and with a great train. This done, he
made preparations for publicly receiving the homage of the people, and
determined to use the theatre for that purpose, and to put on the stage
Prometheus, the trilogy of Aeschylus, which at that time existed in
its entirety. The Emperor had brought actors with him, and the theatre
stood ready. The news of this had spread in the town, and was joyfully
hailed by the heathen, while the Christians were vexed. The lower
classes had, it is true, expected a gladiatorial show and wild beast
fights, but a “comedy,” as they called it, was always welcome.
The day arrived, and the town was in gala attire. The play was to
last from morning to evening without pauses for meals; and as the
spring weather was cold and uncertain, the spectators were advised to
bring the garment known as “cucullus,” a short white Roman mantle with
a hood, which was all the more necessary as the theatre stood under the
Julian, now called Augustus, came to the theatre at the appointed
time, accompanied by his philosopher friends, who had to take their
seats at a little distance, for the Emperor sat in the imperial box,
whither he had summoned the Prefect, Aedile and Quaestor to be in
attendance on him. He was somewhat astonished not to find these city
authorities there, and as the Aedile was president of the theatre, they
could not begin before he came.
The people had risen as Julian entered, and many tribunes had
shouted “Long live the Emperor!” but thereupon there followed an
embarrassing silence, during which the Emperor was regarded with cold
curiosity. When at last the latter was weary of waiting, he called his
secretary, the Hebrew Eleazar, and commanded him to go to the
prefecture in order to find out the reason of the defaulters' absence,
and at the same time he gave the signal for the play to commence.
The actors entered, and at the altar commenced to offer the ancient
kind of sacrifice which used to serve as an introduction to tragedies.
Since animal sacrifices had ceased in all religions, even in the Jewish
after the destruction of the Temple, under Titus in A.D. 70, this
unusual proceeding aroused great curiosity. The legionaries were inured
to the sight of blood, but the citizens and their wives turned away
when the goat was sacrificed to Dionysus. People sought to find the
reason for Julian's wish to reintroduce this custom in his laudable
attempt to mingle all religions together, and to discover a deeper
meaning in the ceremonies of all. The offering indeed was a gift, a
sacrifice, and an expression of gratitude, but Maximus the mystic had
also persuaded the Emperor that there were hidden powers in the blood
itself, the source of life, which attracted spiritual forces of a lower
order. Man shed his mother's blood at his birth and the sacred
institution of circumcision was intended to be a reminder of the bloody
and painful operation of birth. Slaves were slaughtered on the graves
of chieftains, and in the time of Julius Caesar the Romans had on one
extraordinary occasion sacrificed three hundred prisoners. Captivated
by this and by similar philosophical arguments, Julian was enticed into
a course which was destined to lead to his destruction. After the
sacrifice, at which the soldiers had laughed and the women had wept,
the drama commenced in the poet's original language. Greek was indeed
spoken by all people of cultivation from Palestine to Gaul, but the
uneducated did not know it, and therefore the citizens sat there
As the chorus entered for the second time, Eleazar returned with
news. “This is what has happened,” he said. “The Bishop of Sens, the
Primate of the Church of Gaul, has entered the town, and is performing
mass in the church. The high officials are present there, and they
accordingly beg to be excused attending on the Emperor. They thought
that he was aware that Christians never go to the theatre, and they
rely upon the edict granting religious liberty.”
Julian turned white with rage. “Good! They shall pay for that! Now,
my Jewish friend, Eleazar, you shall sit near and talk with me. The
actors are wretched, and I cannot endure their pronunciation of Greek.”
Eleazar demurred, but the Emperor overruled his objections. The
morning passed, and when the first part of the trilogy was at an end,
part of the public seemed to wish to steal away; but the exits were
closed, in order to avoid the fiasco of actors playing to an empty
house, and the disrespect which would thereby be shown to the Emperor.
But the discontent of the audience continually increased, for they were
tired and hungry. They were also unpleasantly surprised by the presence
of a Jew in the Emperor's box. It was not, however, because he was a
Jew, for hatred of the Jews arose much later, after the Crusades.
During the first centuries after Christ, Jews were confused with
Christians because people believed that the new religion came from
Palestine and was a continuation of Mosaism. The hostile glances which
were cast at Eleazar were therefore more on account of his mean
appearance and position than of his religion. The favour shown him by
the Emperor was especially a challenge to the Christians, in whose eyes
he was an alien and a heathen.
When, in the second part of the trilogy, Prometheus was nailed to
the rock, the spectators must have thought of the Crucified as the
antitype, for the actor playing that part took that posture, extended
his arms, and let his head sink on his breast. The common people became
more attentive, and as they neither had learnt Greek nor were
acquainted with mythology, they thought that the sufferings of Christ
were being represented on the stage. Since this had never been done
before, they were displeased, and half-audible conversations began. The
Emperor was angry, but did not move a muscle. He was generally quiet,
but when he was enraged his intelligence forsook him. He sat there in
silence, revolving plans against these barbarians, who had forgotten
the wisdom of the ancients. It was now past noon, and the impatience of
the audience increased. Then the sky began to be covered with clouds
and some flakes of snow fell slowly like white feathers. Those who had
mantles drew them over their heads. The actors looked towards the
Emperor's box, but he did not move, although it had no roof. He was a
soldier, and would not be afraid of anything so trivial as bad weather.
Now Prometheus began to prophesy to Io of the Deliverer who would be
born to overthrow Zeus and deliver the fire-bringer. The educated
Christians and the heathen looked at each other questioningly, when Io
said, “What dost thou say? Shall my son be thy deliverer?” And when
Prometheus answered, “He will be the third scion after ten
generations,” a murmur broke out in the theatre. “Ten generations,”
that was in round numbers 700 years—a period nearly extending to the
birth of Christ, since the Christians reckoned dates from 763 A.D., the
end of the mythological era, to which the drama belonged.
Julian perceived that he had “carried wood to the fire,” and helped
the Christians without intending to do so. Aeschylus had prophesied
Christ's birth almost to the very year, and intimated that he would
overthrow Zeus. The orthodox followers of Athanasius wished for no
better weapon with which to crush the Arians, who denied the Deity of
The snow fell ever more thickly, till at last it was a snowstorm.
Julian was as white as though he wore a shroud, but he did not move,
for he was beside himself with rage against himself, against the demons
who had enticed him to choose this play, and against the heavenly
powers who mocked him.
The whole audience was covered with snow, and discussed theology;
the rabble laughed and quarrelled. The only ones who were protected
against the inclemency of the weather were the actors under the canopy.
But the damp snow was heavy, and the linen awning presently bent and
Then the whole audience rose and burst into laughter; the actors
crept out from under the masses of snow, the doors opened, and all fled
except Julian and his philosophers.
* * * * *
As soon as Julian had been elected Emperor, he had sent an
ambassador to the Emperor at Byzantium, and now awaited his reply. It
was about the time of the winter solstice and the turn of the year. The
Christians had, at this period, just begun to celebrate the birth of
Christ, and had adopted certain Roman customs from the Saturnalia, the
feast in honour of Saturn. Julian, irritated by the challenge of the
Nazarenes, began to arm himself for resistance and attack. Now he
determined to use his power to give back to heathendom what belonged to
it, and to show the Christians whence they had derived their knowledge
of the highest things. At the same time he wished to lend heathenism a
Christian colouring, so that, at its return, it might be able to
conquer everything. The old Temple of Jupiter, on the island in the
river, was opened one night, and lights were seen in it. There was also
a noise of hammers and saws, mattocks and trowels. This lasted for some
time, and people talked about it in the town.
One night in midwinter, Julian sat with Maximus, Priscus, and
Eleazar in the Opisthodomos or priests' room, behind the altar in the
Temple of Jupiter. The whole temple was lit up, and the purpose of the
improvements which had taken place could be seen. By the colonnade on
the left hand was an ambo or pulpit, and under it a confessional; there
were also a seven-branched candlestick, a baptismal font, a table with
shewbread, and an incense-altar. These represented Julian's attempt to
attach the new doctrine to the old, and to amalgamate heathenism,
Christianity, and Judaism. Heliogabalus had indeed attempted the same
in his own rough fashion, by introducing Syrian sun-worship into Rome,
but he retained all the heathen gods, even the Egyptian ones. Neither
Christians, however, nor Jews would have anything to do with it.
Julian did not love the Jews, but his hatred of Christianity was so
great that he preferred to help the stiff-necked race in Palestine, in
order to rouse them against Christ. For that purpose he had given
orders that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt, and this was the
matter which he wished to discuss with his philosophers and Eleazar.
“What is your opinion, then?” he asked, after finishing a long speech
on the subject. “Let Maximus speak first.”
“Caesar Augustus,” answered Maximus the mystic, “Jerusalem has been
destroyed from the face of the earth, as the prophets foretold, and the
Temple cannot be rebuilt.”
“Cannot? It shall be.”
“It cannot! Constantine's mother, indeed, built a church over the
grave of Christ, but the Temple cannot be rebuilt. Since Solomon's time
the history of this city has been a history of successive destructions.
Sheshach, the Philistines, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, and Chaldaeans,
destroyed it in early times. Then came Alexander Ptolemaus, and finally
Antiochus Epiphanes, who pulled down the walls and set up an image of
Jupiter in the Temple. But now, mark! —sixty-three years before
Christ, Jerusalem was conquered by Pompey. What happened in the same
year after Christ in the Roman Empire? Pompeii, the town by Naples,
named after the conqueror, was destroyed in A.D. 63 by an earthquake.
That was the answer, and the Lord of Hosts conquered Jupiter,—Zeus.”
“Listen!” broke in Julian, “I don't agree with your Pythagorean
speculations about numbers. If both events had happened in the year 63
before Christ, then I would be nearly convinced.”
“Wait, then, Caesar, and you will be. After Pompey had conquered
Jerusalem, and Cassius had plundered it, Herod rebuilt the city and the
Temple. But soon afterwards—i.e. in A.D. 70, Jerusalem was
completely destroyed by Titus. Only nine years later Monte Somma began
to throw up fire as it had never done before, and by it Pompeii and
Herculaneum were both destroyed. Pompeii and Herculaneum were Sodom and
Gomorrah, and a temple in Pompeii contained an image of Vespasian, who
had laid waste part of Jerusalem before Titus. It disappeared
altogether. Do you think perhaps that the Christians set Vesuvius on
fire, as Nero believed they had fired Rome in A.D. 64?”
Julian reflected: “There were nine years between,” he said, “but it
“Yes,” answered Maximus, “but precisely in the same year 70, in
which Titus destroyed the Temple, the Capitol was burnt.”
“Then it is the gods who are warring, and we are only soldiers,”
Priscus the Sophist, who liked word-encounters, determined to stir
up the embers, as they seemed to be expiring: “But Christ has said that
one stone shall not remain upon another, and that the Temple shall
never be built again.”
“Has Christ said that?” answered Julian. “Very well; then he shall
show whether he was a god, for I will build again the Temple of
And turning to Eleazar, he continued, “Do you believe in prodigies?”
“As surely as the Lord lives, as surely as Abraham's God has brought
us out of Egyptian bondage and given us Canaan, so surely will He
fulfil the promise, and restore to us land, city, and Temple!”
“May it be with you according to your belief. The Temple shall be
built up, even though it be not in three days as the Galilaean
* * * * *
The winter solstice had come, and the Feast of the Saturnalia
commenced in Lutetia. The heathen had always kept the feast in
recollection of the legendary Golden Age, which was said to have been
under the reign of the good Saturn. Then there was peace upon earth;
the lion played with the lamb, the fields brought forth harvests
without husbandry, weapons were not forged, for men were good and
righteous. This beautiful festival, which had been discontinued by the
Romans, had been revived by the Christians, who at Christ's coming
expected a new Golden Age or the Millennium. But now Julian wished to
restore to the heathen their privilege, and at the same time to show
the Nazarenes whence they had derived their religious usages.
The heathen began to keep the festival in the old way. The shops
were closed, and the city decorated, when on the morrow a procession
was seen issuing from the Basilica to the market-place. At the head
went King Saturn, with his horn of plenty, corn-sheaves, and doves; he
was followed by the Virtues, Fortune, Wealth, Peace, Righteousness.
Then followed an actor dressed like the Emperor, and by the hand he led
a captive, who, in honour of the day, had been freed from his chains.
He was followed by citizens who took their slaves by the arm; and these
in their turn by women and children, who scattered corn from the
sheaves for the sparrows in the street. The procession passed through
the streets, and at first pleased the beholders.
Then they entered the temple, where there was a seated image of
Jupiter in the apse. It had been cunningly modelled to resemble God the
Father, or Moses, as he began to be represented about that time. Near
and a little beneath this image stood Orpheus in the character of the
Good Shepherd, with a lamb on his shoulders, and carved in relief on
the pedestal was to be seen his descent to Hades, from which he
returned bringing Dike (Justice),—a play on the name Eurydice. This
was a direct hit at the Christians. Before the divine images stood the
Jewish shewbread table, with the bread and the wine—a reminder of the
source from which the Christians had taken the Eucharist or the Mass.
As though by chance, a new-born heathen child was brought and baptized
in the font. To the question of one, who had studied his part, whether
heathen were baptized, it was answered by one, who also had his role
assigned him, that the ancients had always washed their new-born
The whole affair was a comedy staged by Julian.
Then Maximus mounted the pulpit, and, in a Neo-platonic discourse,
expounded all religious images, symbols, and customs. He also showed
that the heathen only worshipped one God, whose many attributes found
expression in various personifications. Then he ostensibly defended
Christ's Deity, the Virgin birth, and miracles. “We are,” he said, “all
of divine origin, since God has created us, and we are His children.
There is nothing remarkable in Christ being born without a father,
since the philosopher Plato was also born of a virgin without a
father.” In the middle of his discourse he exclaimed: “Miracles! Why
should we not believe in miracles, since we believe in Almighty God?
His omnipotence signifies that He can suspend the laws of nature which
he has established. He who believes not in miracles is therefore an
ass.” The discourse was listened to by heathen and Christians. The
latter thought that they had never heard anything which so clearly
explained mysterious dogmas, and the heathen found that they were one
with the Christians. “What, then, stands between us?” exclaimed
Maximus, carried away by the sight of the harmony and mutual
understanding which prevailed among his audience. “Have we not all one
Father? Has not one God created us? Why, then, strive one against the
other? Have we not here to day celebrated the recollection of the
better times which have been, and which will surely return, as the
light returns with the renewal of the sun—times of reconciliation and
peace on earth, when no one will be master and no one slave? Here is
neither Jew nor Greek nor Barbarian, but we are all brothers and
sisters in one faith. Therefore love one another; reconcile yourselves
with God and each other; give each other the kiss of peace; rejoice,
perfect yourselves, be of one mind, and the God of love and peace shall
be with you.”
The audience was delighted, and with streaming eyes fell in each
other's arms, pressed each other's hands, and kissed each other's
Then suddenly a row of lights was kindled on the altar; that was
part of the ceremonial of the Saturnalia, and signified the return of
the sun. This custom was adopted by the Christians in celebrating the
Birth of Christ or Christmas.
After this beggars were brought forward, and those of the upper
classes washed their feet. Then twelve slaves took their seats at a
covered table, while their masters served them. Julian, who, hidden in
the Opisthodom, had watched the whole ceremony, secretly rejoiced,
because by means of these ancient heathen rites he had entirely
defeated the Christians. In them, as he had intended, there was a
wordless expression of philanthropy and charity, and both had existed
from time immemorial.
Finally, the children were brought forward, and received as presents
dolls modelled of wax and clay. The illusion was complete, and the
Christians felt as though under an enchanter's spell. “The heathen are
Christians after all!” they exclaimed. “Why, then, strive and quarrel,
when we are one?”
There was an overflow of emotion, and the success of the experiment
was complete. That was the victory of the first day. When, on the
following day, the Christians wished to celebrate their Christmas
festival, it necessarily appeared a mere copy of that of the heathen.
* * * * *
The Saturnalia lasted seven days, and Julian, intoxicated with his
success, resolved to introduce the whole of the ancient ceremonies in
all their terrible splendour. His philosophers warned him, but he did
not listen to them any more; he must have his hecatombs; a hundred oxen
adorned with garlands were to be slaughtered in the open space before
the Temple of Jupiter, as a sacrifice to the ancient gods.
“He is mad!” lamented Eleazar.
“Whom the gods would destroy, they strike with blindness. Now he
pulls down, what he had built up.”
It is difficult to explain how the highly cultivated, clever, and
aesthetic Julian could conceive the wild idea of reintroducing animal
sacrifices. It was really butchery or execution, and neither butchers
nor executioners enjoyed much respect in society. It looked as though
his hatred of Christ had clouded his understanding, when, arrayed in
the garb of a sacrificial priest, he led forth the first ox, with its
horns gilded and wearing a white fillet.
After he had kindled incense on the altar, he poured the bowl of
wine over the head of the ox, thrust his knife in its throat and turned
it round. A shudder ran through the crowd, who remained riveted to
But as the blood spirted around, and the Emperor opened the
quivering body of the animal in order to take an augury from its
entrails, a cry rose which ended in an uproar, and all fled. The word
“Apostate!” for the first time struck his ear. That was the signal of
his defeat, and, as the animals were released by those who held them,
they fled away through the streets of the town.
The Emperor, in his white robe sprinkled with blood, had to return
alone to his palace, while Christians and heathen alike shouted their
“See the butcher!” they cried; “Apostate! Renegade! Madman!”
When Julian came to his palace, he looked as though petrified; but,
without changing his clothes, he sat down to the table and wrote an
edict against the Christians, in which they were forbidden to study,
and to fill offices of State. That was his first step.
In the evening of the same day Julian received a letter: it was from
the Emperor Constantius in Byzantium, who did not acknowledge his
election to the imperial throne, and threatened to bring an army
against him in Gaul. This was quite unexpected, and Julian left Lutetia
in order to march against his cousin. As he went towards the East, he
felt as though he were going to his death. But the first throw of the
dice of destiny was a lucky one for him. Constantius died on the march,
and Julian was left sole Emperor. This he took for a sign that the gods
were on his side, and he proceeded on his campaign feeling that he was
supported by the higher powers. But it was only the last jest of his
It is related that before his last march against the Persians, he
wished to ascertain his destiny, and had a woman's body cut open in
order to take an augury from the entrails. But that may be untrue, as
is also the case with the conflicting reports of his death, which
happened soon after. One thing, however, is certain; the “Galilaean"
conquered Zeus, who rose no more.
It is also a fact, confirmed by Christian, Jewish, and heathen
writers, that the Temple of Jerusalem was never built again, for as the
foundation was about to be laid, fire broke out of the ground
accompanied by an earthquake. The same earthquake also destroyed
Delphi, “the centre of the earth,” and the focus of the religious and
political life of Greece.