Posted by: ken98 | January 22, 2010

Beard Haters Great and Small, and Love/Hate Relationships with French Intellectuals

Day 133 – Ken here (F)(1-22-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.22, pp.850-860)

It is raining cats and dogs outside in a major monsoon of a storm. And although we need the rain here in SoCal (Southern California), my fence is falling down in the wind (another major expense I can’t afford), and the (mostly inadequate) drainage around my house is filling with largish, temporary pondlets of rainwater. Lucky thing basements are a thing unknown in SoCal. A good day to be at home with Julian.

Time after time I despair of trying to to re-create in a brief summary the musical, historical instruction that is the experience of a reader of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. Gibbon recounts in summary and detail the works of numerous historians for our leisurely perusal – but with a prose that just falls short of poetry. He is witty, sharp and honest with his criticisms, generous with his praise, and (most importantly, in my book) transparent with his prejudices (which are many, and are typically British, 18th century, and continental – although he DOES surprise you at times with his open-mindedness).

The next 10 pages are an example of that – all I can say is read for yourself chapter 22, the last 10 or 15 pages or so regarding the character and acts of Julian as emperor. This is an old trick of Gibbon, to take out a page or two and wax eloquent on the character of the emperor currently being discussed – but with Julian he writes as if describing the political life of (perhaps) his son – he does so with so much affection and warmth. Of course, if you read Julian in the original you can’t help but love him also. See below for references to both Gibbon’s writing about Julian’s character, and an original, unusual letter of Julian written in unusual circumstances.

The Story
Julian’s Character

  • Multi-tasker – like the emperor Marcus Aurelius
  • Celibate and Chaste – he only slept with his wife – he “almost always” (Julian, The Misopogon) sleeps alone – he exemplifies again the philospher-king – a stoic striving to live the beyond passions of the body – secure in the eternal safeties of ideas, virtue, reason, and justice. All very good things to have in the emperor over all the Western World
  • He writes vociferously and well. In his short reign he produces a huge amount of literary/epistolary/legal work – The Misopogon (Beard Hater) (see below), huge collection of his letters (Epsistles…), his Essays, the Caesars, the essay against the Christians, etc etc
  • He is avid about Justice and the Law. In his short reign he produces a huge amount of literary/epistolary/legal work – The Misopogon (Beard Hater) (see below), of the laws he enacted in 16 months, 54 became permanent entries in the Codex Theodosius – compilation in 400’s of all Roman Law and basis for European Roman law today
  • He reforsm the palace – dismissing the thousands of servants the Constantine/Constantius palace maintained and greatly cutting back on governmental expenditures for useless positions, etc – this did not make him greatly loved in bureaucratic circles – budgets were slashed, and taxes cut extravagantly
  • Of course, Gibbon describes the execution of the (Gibbon-hated) eunuch Eusebius, and the monstrous official respect eunuchs had by the general public before Julian dismissed them all from the royal palace (file this under the Gibbon-Eunuch War Department again)
  • He thoroughly cleans out Rome of Constantius’ supporters who were terrorising the Roman populace (remember, Constantius was an Arian, Rome was adamantly Tritheist) – among those: Paul and Apodemius
  • He reforms Egypt, but Egypt is too much to handle – he dismisses many Egyptian officials – the Egyptians are NOTORIOUSLY LITIGIOUS (like modern-day Americans) and bring endless suits against him claiming damages for loss of revenue (read: bribe money). Julian UNWISELY says he’ll see each and every one if they approach him personally in Antioch. A veritable ARMADA of Egyptians sets sail for Antioch. Julian (realizing he will spend the rest of his natural life as a judge hearing cases from litigants with very strong Egyptian accents) makes a law that Egyptians cannot land their ships in Antioch for the time being (Julian is AFTER ALL at WAR with Persia for goodness sake). The Egyptians patiently and indignantly wait around for months, run out of money, and sail home, sadder, but wiser.
  • He makes a special effort to respect the forms of the old republic by honoring the Senates and honoring the Consuls for the each year
  • He makes Constantinople’s Senate an equal in every way of the Roman Senate (360’s). Gibbon notes this is the beginning of the myth that 1/2 the Roman Senate made its way to Constantinople, justifying even further the eventual neglect and loss of the whole of the Western Empire – after all the empire really just migrated to the East.. Thus in small acts, great revolutions of history begin
  • He reconstructs the smaller Provincial Senates, giving them their power back – reconstructs the cities of Greece, esp Athens (of course). Unwittingly, he is (would have, had he lived) been breathing new life into the rapidly fossilizing Late Roman Economy by re-energizing the basic engine of Antique Economics: the Local City State.
  • Its a pity he didnt live another 30 years – the Dark Ages might never have happened – perhaps Persia would have been Roman – who knows?
  • Julian - a coin of Julian showing the famous hated beard

    Julian - a coin of Julian showing the famous hated beard. The engravers of the coin thoughtfully did not faithfully represent the head lice gamboling about in the aforementioned beard

    Antioch - Ruins of Cassas Beroea Gate - from an engraving from the 1760's by the Frenchman Louis Francois Cassas a few years before the gates demolition - the spring in the foreground was supposedly named for Alexander the Greats mother Olympias

    Antioch - Ruins of Cassas Beroea Gate - from an engraving from the 1760's by a Frenchman a few years before the gates demolition

    Julian on Beards and Lice

    It is a delight to read Julian. His Misopogon (or the Beard-Hater, the title alone makes you love him, want to read him, and wish you could get the chance to talk one on one with him and get to know him better) (the complete Loeb 1913 text translation here with introduction).

    As Julian (in the future) moves to confront Persia and finish the campaigns Constantius had begun, he had to quarter himself in the one of the 4 greatest cities in the empire – the frivolous, proud, extremely rich and extremely Christian city of Antioch. The Antiochenes were forced by Julian to re-open famous pagan temples long since gone into decay (well maybe 60-80 years). They did it pathetically, and ended up tearing down some temples, hating Julian, mocking him in satire, mocking the gods and generally ridiculing Julian’s bid to restructure/revitalize paganism along the organized lines of the militantly bureaucratic Christian church. They also hated his beard.

    Julian, unlike later emperors who dealt with city-wide criticisms by slaughtering a good part of the populace of a city, responded to the satires of Antiochenes with elegant, self-deprecating satires on himself. After a long day of governmental work, Julian would spend his evenings writing treatises, histories, letters, and philosophy long into the night – some of them produced this – his Beard-Hater..
    Julian tells the Antiochenes Why he Writes – “I Sing for the Muses and Myself”

    You gotta love this guy!

    Anacreon the poet composed many delightful songs; for a luxurious life was allotted to him by the Fates. But Alcaeus and Archilochus of Paros the god did not permit to devote their muse to mirth and pleasure. For constrained as they were to endure toil, now of one sort, now of another, they used their poetry to relieve their toil, and by abusing those who wronged them they lightened the burdens imposed on them by Heaven. But as for me, the law forbids me to accuse by name those who, though I have done them no wrong, try to show their hostility to me; and on the other hand the fashion of education that now prevails among the well-born deprives me of the use of the music that consists in song. For in these days men think it more degrading to study music than once in the past they thought it to be rich by dishonest means. Nevertheless I will not on that account renounce the aid that it is in my power to win from the Muses. Indeed I have observed that even the barbarians across the Rhine sing savage songs composed in language not unlike the croaking of harsh-voiced birds, and that they delight in such songs. [338] For I think it is always the case that inferior musicians, though they annoy their audiences, give very great pleasure to themselves. And with this in mind I often say to myself, like Ismenias – for though my talents are not equal to his, I have as I persuade myself a similar independence of soul – “I sing for the Muses and myself.”

    (source here – Julian. The Beard Hater (Misopogon)., Loeb Editions, 1913. W.C.Wright translator.)
    Julian admits to lice and other problems with the Hated Beard

    I’m not sure why “lice” means love to Gibbon – (it sounds like he thinks Julian is referring to genital lice or crabs), but it is just possible that this 1913 translation has been bowdlerized (ie “offensive” material deleted from content), but I looked at the Greek and it seems to be all there. I am assuming Gibbon assumes that the only way to get head lice is by having sex, or kissing.

    This introduction from Gibbon:

    In the Misopogon (p. 338, 339) he draws a very singular picture of himself, and the following words are strangely characteristic…(here Gibbon inserts the offending passage – IN GREEK of course). The friends of the Abbe de la Bleterie adjured hims in the name of the French nation, not to translate this passage, so offensive to their delicacy (Hist. de Jovien, tom. ii. p. 94). Like him, I have contented myself with a transient allusion; but the little animal which Julian names, is a beast familiar to man, and signifies love.

    (DEF, v.2, ch.22, p.855, fn.58)
    and now the original, translated into English in 1913:

    Now as for praising myself, though I should be very glad to do so, I have no reason for that; but for criticising myself I have countless reasons, and first I will begin with my face. For though nature did not make this any too handsome or well-favoured or give it the bloom of youth, I myself out of sheer perversity and ill-temper have added to it this long beard of mine, to punish it, as it would seem, for this very crime of not being handsome by nature. For the same reason I put up with the lice that scamper about in it as though it were a thicket for wild beasts.

    (source here – Julian. The Beard Hater (Misopogon)., Loeb Editions, 1913. W.C.Wright translator.)


    Montesquieu (1689-1755) - painting from 1728 - very famous French philosophe, political theorist, darling of the political hacks of the American Revolution (incl James Madison), and frank admirer of all things British whom Gibbon is not afraid to take on and fight (typical Gibbon - feisty and in this case - correct)

    Montesquieu (1689-1755) - painting from 1728 - very famous French philosophe, political theorist, darling of the political hacks of the American Revolution (incl James Madison), and frank admirer of all things British whom Gibbon is not afraid to take on and fight (typical Gibbon - feisty and in this case - correct)

    Quoteable Gibbon: Gibbon Corrects Montesquieu
    Gibbon seems not to be able to refrain from lambasting his famous French philosophe contemporaries (and possibly in this shows himself to be more aggressively, belligerently French than English – he was writing his Decline and Fall as an ex-expatriate in French-speaking Switzerland after all). Here he takes on Montesquieu, actually a generation or so before Gibbon, but a (French) champion/admirer of the British political system and a favorite political theorist of the pre-revolutionary U.S. (and esp. of James Madison).

    Gibbon is commenting on an incident in the reign of Julian showing Julian’s sense of justice (and his extreme avoidance of paranoid treason-hunting). It had been the empire’s practice to absolutely prohibit the wearing of imperial purple (as a sign of treason – wanting to be imperial – the emperor – although the fact that there was a law seems to show it was a common practice at times). A favorite trick of informers desiring financial gain was to “turn in” rich men/women who ordered garments of purple, and take a cut of the confiscation of all their worldly goods as payment for their information.

    Gibbon corrects the Brit-ophile Montesquieu when Montesquieu expresses surprise that anyone would care about a purple garment – and gives as an example the “fact” that it is illegal in Britain to drink to the health of the King. Gibbon is scandalized by this utter, obvious, ignorant foolishness (enough to warrant a footnote). It kind of throws a damper on your enthusiasm for Montesquieu and his political reasoning (and esp. his admiration for British institutions) if he’s not even getting the details right (which is what I think Gibbon is getting at in his sharp aside in the footnote). The implication is that Montesquieu is an armchair philosophe (or is that a redundancy?) – did he ever actually visit Britain to see firsthand?

    This (the incident) per Gibbon:

    The numerous army of spies, of agents, and informers, enlisted by Constantius to secure the repose of one man, and to interrupt that of millions, was immediately disbanded by his generous successor. Julian was slow in his suspicions, and gentle in his punishments, and his contempt of treason was the result of judgment, of vanity, and of courage. Conscious of superior merit, he was persuaded that few among his subjects would dare to meet him in the field, to attempt his life, or even to seat themselves on his vacant throne. The philosopher could excuse the hasty sallies of discontent, and the hero could despise the ambitious projects which surpassed the fortune or the abilities of the rash conspirators. A citizen of Ancyra had prepared for his own use a purple garment, and this indiscreet action, which, under the reign of Constantius, would have been considered as a capital offence, (68) was reported to Julian by the officious importunity of a private enemy. The monarch, after making some inquiry into the rank and character of his rival, despatched the informer with a present of a pair of purple slippers, to complete the magnificence of his Imperial habit.

    (DEF, v.2, ch.22, p.858)

    And the acerbic footnote:

    The president Montesquieu (Considerations sur la Grandeur, etc., des Romains, c. xiv. in his works, tom. iii. p. 448,449) excuses this minute and absurd tyranny, by supposing that actions the most indifferent in our eyes might excite, in a Roman mind, the idea of guilt and danger. This strange apology is supported by a strange misapprehension of the English laws, “chez une nation . . . ou il est defendu de boire a la sante d’une certaine personne.” (there is the example of a nation…where it is illegal to drink to the health of a certain person)

    (DEF, v.2, ch.22, p.858, fn.68)


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