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Julian - Gore Vidal

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The Czar
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Joined: May 2011
Location: Nashville TN

Julian - Gore Vidal

Post by The Czar » Sun April 8th, 2012, 5:09 am

This book is a look at the life of Julian the Apostate, emperor of the Byzantine Empire. It is written through the lens of two philosophers, who had been friends of the late emperor, going through his journal and memoirs and trading letters back and forth with their additions and disagreements.

I found this book very interesting on a number of levels. On the one hand, this is a riveting historical fiction in the vein of Robert Graves' I, Claudius. The early portion of the book focuses on the young Julian and his brother, who grow up living in fear of murder from the emperor, their paranoid relative, who has already murdered most of the male members of their family. Julian becomes a lover of letters, and begins a lifelong affair with philosophy.

Later, Julian is named Caeser (heir) and is sent to guard the Gaulish/German frontier. He fears that this is an attempt on the emperor's part to do away with him. He has no military experience, but quickly finds that he has an affinity for military matters, and is quite successful. He ends up becoming extremely popular, and is forced to rise against the emperor, ultimately taking the throne.

The novel then proceeds to describe Julian's reign, which only lasted four years. He clashed with the Christians, and then led a somewhat successful invasion of Persia, ultimately being betrayed and murdered.

The other aspect of the book is the clash between hellenism and Christianity. Julian is forced at an early age into a life of religious study, with an aim of forcing him into the priesthood, thus neutralizing him as a threat to the emperor. Julian rejects Christianity utterly, and one of the main goals of his reign is to reverse the Christianization of the Roman Empire, and restore worship of the "true" gods.

Much like in Creation, Gore Vidal skillfully weaves discussion of spirituality and history into a compelling narrative. I highly recommend it.

If you are a devout Christian that does not take well to criticism of your faith, you probably want to avoid this one.
Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

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Post by fljustice » Sun April 8th, 2012, 3:30 pm

Loved this book...especially the back and forth between the philosophers commenting on the other's comments. It rang so true from an academic POV. And yes, Vidal does pretty much eviscerate the early Christian tenets. For folks who normally avoid "literary" fiction this is a great read.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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