View Poll Results: Gore Vidal

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Thread: Gore Vidal

  1. #1
    Expat's Avatar
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    Default Gore Vidal

    Opinions, also from VI?

    I have some ideas but I'm not sure.

    , LIE, ENTj logical subtype, 8w9 sx/sp
    Quote Originally Posted by implied
    gah you're like the shittiest ENTj ever!

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    Let's fly now Gilly's Avatar
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    I want to think SLE/LSI.
    But, for a certainty, back then,
    We loved so many, yet hated so much,
    We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

    Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
    Whilst our laughter echoed,
    Under cerulean skies...

  3. #3
    Let's fly now Gilly's Avatar
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    Se is obvious. I somehow wouldn't have trouble considering ESI:

    But, for a certainty, back then,
    We loved so many, yet hated so much,
    We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

    Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
    Whilst our laughter echoed,
    Under cerulean skies...

  4. #4
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    I was thinking ILI actually.
    , LIE, ENTj logical subtype, 8w9 sx/sp
    Quote Originally Posted by implied
    gah you're like the shittiest ENTj ever!

  5. #5
    Let's fly now Gilly's Avatar
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    Interesting. I see introversion pretty clearly, but he seems quite sensory to me, at least by the pictures. I did, however, feel like he's more irrational, but obviously not ExFx, which was what led me to suggest SLE.

    I can see an argument for ILI, but he appears sensory to me. S(L)I, perhaps? To be honest, I know nothing about the guy so tell me if I'm saying something that's blatantly not true.
    But, for a certainty, back then,
    We loved so many, yet hated so much,
    We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

    Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
    Whilst our laughter echoed,
    Under cerulean skies...

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    Interesting. I see introversion pretty clearly, but he seems quite sensory to me, at least by the pictures. I did, however, feel like he's more irrational, but obviously not ExFx, which was what led me to suggest SLE.
    Yes, that's what I feel, too, from VI.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    I can see an argument for ILI, but he appears sensory to me. S(L)I, perhaps? To be honest, I know nothing about the guy so tell me if I'm saying something that's blatantly not true.
    I've read lots of his books, and his memoirs, and interviews, and yet I am baffled - - descriptions of his behavior suggest weak Fe, even as a PoLR, but conceivably also as dual-seeking. His books are more Ni than Ne -- that is, either historical novels, or semi-autobiographical, while even his "crazier" novels are more liner deviations from reality than the construction of a brand new one. He almost ruined his career as an author when he published The City and the Pillar, which was a surprise to him, which suggestes weak Fe. He's more into deep, very long-term relationships with select individuals than into a broad group. Seen by everyone as a loner. Unable to simply enjoy life in retirement, despite fame, wealth, and ill-health. Very persuaded of the superiority of his own knowledge and his own ideas.
    , LIE, ENTj logical subtype, 8w9 sx/sp
    Quote Originally Posted by implied
    gah you're like the shittiest ENTj ever!

  7. #7
    Let's fly now Gilly's Avatar
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    IxTx is obvious, from all of this IMO. VI suggests an introvert, and, especially in the younger pic, irrationality. Weak/unvalued is evident. The only dispute at this point, from my perspective, would be S/N. I think an ISTp would probably use more than overall, so unless usage indicating a preference is clear, I don't think we can really tell. I think VI suggests a sensory type: the intense, focused stare is what initially had me thinking .

    Also, just as a side not, the younger pic of him has a very facially "smooth" look that I often associate with SLIs (emphasized in Sensory variants, usually).

    Plus, most ILIs usually look as though a good stiff breeze would send them head over heels And I don't think he gives that impression.

    Does he look more extroverted to you in the older pictures? He certainly does to me.

    Especially this one:
    But, for a certainty, back then,
    We loved so many, yet hated so much,
    We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

    Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
    Whilst our laughter echoed,
    Under cerulean skies...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    IxTx is obvious, from all of this IMO. VI suggests an introvert, and, especially in the younger pic, irrationality. Weak/unvalued is evident.
    Yes, I agree with all of that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    The only dispute at this point, from my perspective, would be S/N. I think an ISTp would probably use more than overall, so unless usage indicating a preference is clear, I don't think we can really tell. I think VI suggests a sensory type: the intense, focused stare is what initially had me thinking .
    I'm not sure about ISTps using more than . However, if he is IXTp, it would be strong logical subtype, of the obstinate-construct-creating sort, and then the distinctio between INTp and ISTp becomes thin.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    Plus, most ILIs usually look as though a good stiff breeze would send them head over heels And I don't think he gives that impression.
    That is not my experience, but anyway, look at this other photo (he's the guy on the right):

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    Does he look more extroverted to you in the older pictures? He certainly does to me.
    Yes, I agree with that.
    , LIE, ENTj logical subtype, 8w9 sx/sp
    Quote Originally Posted by implied
    gah you're like the shittiest ENTj ever!

  9. #9
    Let's fly now Gilly's Avatar
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    I know that I certainly make more active use of than : the role is conscious, as well as potentially stronger than dual-seeking, and while it's unvalued, it's seen as an area of defficiency, so people tend to "try" at it more than other functions, IME, whereas the dual-seeking isn't really "used" so much as it's expected or asked for.

    There's a difference between thin and weak-looking :wink: Trust me, I know; I walk the line whenever I don't work out
    But, for a certainty, back then,
    We loved so many, yet hated so much,
    We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

    Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
    Whilst our laughter echoed,
    Under cerulean skies...

  10. #10
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    Well, many people say that with regard to the role and dual-seeking functions, but I don't agree with it -- my use of may be more visible since it's extroverted and it's more necessary daily in social and professional life, but I have no doubts about being stronger.

    As for INTps and looking weak, well, I don't think that's the case.
    , LIE, ENTj logical subtype, 8w9 sx/sp
    Quote Originally Posted by implied
    gah you're like the shittiest ENTj ever!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    I can see an argument for ILI, but he appears sensory to me. S(L)I, perhaps?

    i admit, i thought SLI first. but i could be convinced of ILI quite easily.
    6w5 sx
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Expat's more necessary daily in social and professional life
    But see, an Fe Dual-seeking type wouldn't even take that into account, because they just prefer to not think about these kinds of things, period. Your DS may appear strong to you because you value it so highly, but to others, it probably doesn't seem to be a major concern of yours. Your Role, on the other hand, is something that you're actively aware of to the point that it may, for example, seem like an area of insecurity to an observant outsider.

    Think about it, for you, personally: if you were writing a book about your greatest interest, would you be more likely to talk about the social implications of your interest, or the ways in which it has affected your relationships with others?
    But, for a certainty, back then,
    We loved so many, yet hated so much,
    We hurt others and were hurt ourselves...

    Yet even then, we ran like the wind,
    Whilst our laughter echoed,
    Under cerulean skies...

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    But see, an Fe Dual-seeking type wouldn't even take that into account, because they just prefer to not think about these kinds of things, period. Your DS may appear strong to you because you value it so highly, but to others, it probably doesn't seem to be a major concern of yours. Your Role, on the other hand, is something that you're actively aware of to the point that it may, for example, seem like an area of insecurity to an observant outsider.
    My role function certainly appears to outsiders more as an area of insecurity than my dual-seeking, but this is consistent with what I was thinking all along. Perhaps we should discuss this further.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gilligan
    Think about it, for you, personally: if you were writing a book about your greatest interest, would you be more likely to talk about the social implications of your interest, or the ways in which it has affected your relationships with others?
    I would probably talk about the impact of ideas as whole, but also with base on their ethical implications -- I'm not sure this is the correct image.

    I'm interested in the implications of the dual-seeking/role preferences, though.
    , LIE, ENTj logical subtype, 8w9 sx/sp
    Quote Originally Posted by implied
    gah you're like the shittiest ENTj ever!

  14. #14
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    Default Gore Vidal

    IEI (Fe-INFp)

    Here are the pictures:

    Here are the quotes:

    -from Myra Breckinridge & Myron by Gore Vidal; pp. 56-57 [MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (Chapter 16)]: After class, Rusty came to my office and sat on the straight chair beside the desk, listing to one side, legs wide apart. He was not in the least nervous. In fact, he was downright defiant, even contemptuous of me, so secure did he think himself in his masculine superiority.
    As usual, he wore a sport shirt with two missing buttons. Today, however, a T-shirt hid the chest from view. Faded blue jeans and desert boots completed the costume, and—as I have already noted—it is costumes that the young men now wear as they act out their simple-minded roles, constructing a fantasy world in order to avoid confronting the fact that to be a man in a society of machines is to be an expendable, soft auxiliary to what is useful and hard. Today there is nothing left for the old-fashioned male to do, no ritual testing of his manhood through initiation or personal contest, no physical struggle to survive or mate. Nothing is left him but to put on clothes reminiscent of a different time; only in travesty can he act out the classic hero who was a law unto himself, moving at ease through a landscape filled with admiring women. Mercifully, that age is finished. Marlon Brando was the last of the traditional heroes and, significantly, even he was invariably beaten up in the last reel, victim of a society that has no place for the ancient ideal of manhood. Since Brando, there has been nothing except the epicene O’Toole, the distracted Mastroianni, and the cheerfully incompetent Belmondo. The roof has fallen in on the male and we now live at the dawn of the age of Woman Triumphant, of Myra Breckinridge!

    - from Myron by Gore Vidal; pp. 241-243 [(Chapter) 32]: Well, I am nearly at the end of this ledger. Everything has turned out all right for yours truly and after the latest series of hormone injections I don't think we'll ever be hearing from Myra again.
    I am also happy and relieved that nothing serious was dislocated by all the crazy things she was allegedly up to back in 1948 on the Strip. It's the same old country that it was when I got into the picture with a lot of problems, true, but also with the know-how how to solve those problems in the good old American way like John Wayne tells us on the new disk he has just cut.
    One peculiar thing just cropped up that did make me a little uneasy. Last night when I was calling up different people to invite them to today's barbecue, I called Sam Westcott who is a very able attorney in Van Nuys and active in Republican politics. "Sam," I said, "you old galoot, why don't you and Becky come on over for some barbecue like around sundown tomorrow?"
    "Sure would feature it, Myron." We talk Western together, our joke, you might say.
    "And bring the young genius."
    "The young what?"
    "Bring Sam Junior if he's around so as we can congratulate him on getting that Nobel Prize."
    There was this silence on the other end of the line. Then Sam said, "Myron, are you plumb loco? There ain't no Sam Junior. You know I been a stud mule since before I married Becky and used to hang around all them starlets when I was doing extra work in the movies and had one of the first spontaneous vasectomies ever recorded by medical science."
    "Hell, Sam, I was just joshing you," I said and quickly told him the latest joke about these two Mexicans. Sam likes Mexican jokes.
    But it is real strange that Sam Junior doesn't exist now when I know for a fact that he was the fair-haired boy of the whole country before I got into Siren of Babylon with his population-control efforts which were all the rage with whole countries asking him to come on down and help them out.
    Well, maybe I imagined all that about Sam having had a son, just like I allowed the out-of-towners to convince me that Siren of Babylon had been a flop in its day when of course it was a smash hit and Maria Montez was awarded the Academy Award for her performance.
    Thank God, Myra was not able to change anything at all except maybe keeping Sam Junior from being born, and despite her meddling, this country is just like it was which is just about perfect no matter what the Com-symp senator from Massachusetts John F. Kennedy says as he starts his race for the President by unfairly and maliciously taking advantage of Mr. Nixon's current misfortunes.
    Luckily, there's not a chance on earth of John Q. Citizen buying Mr. Kennedy's radical line since his only claim to fame is being the brother-in-law of Marilyn Monroe which is hardly suffucient qualification for being the President of these United States, as our good governor and next Republican President Stefanie Dude, the fun-loving Amazon, said last night on the television during an interview from the governor's mansion at Sacramento.
    Since there are only a few blank lines left to this page, I will sign off by saying that the highly articulately silent majority to which I am darned proud to belong are happy with things as they are and that we are not going to let anybody, repeat anybody, change things from what they are.
    - p. 244 [(Chapter) 33]: ! sevil aryM

    - from Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir--1964 To 2006 by Gore Vidal; pp. 75-76 [(Chapter) FIFTEEN]: Barbara Epstein tells me that Joan Didion has just written a good book on grief, apropos the recent death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. I saw her shortly afterward in Los Angeles at a friend's house. We compared notes on the subject. The worst, we agreed, was having no one to talk to as well as the blankness of familiar rooms, lacking their usual occupant. Certainly at one's age there are no substitutes, no replacements, recently attested to by Nancy Reagan: we both attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington at the same time during the thirties but we never knew each other then or, indeed, until quite recently when we joined the ever-increasing company of widows and widowers cluttering Los Angeles. "Don't you hate it," she said, "when they tell you how time is the great healer?" I agreed that I hated it, because, "after all, time is the great constant reminder of things lost and gone for good."
    At the grave site the three young women opened a metal box and removed a triangular plastic bag containing brown ashes, which they placed in a hole that had been dug in the yellowy earth next to the marble rectangle. Someone had brought roses and we placed them, one by one, in the underworld at our feet. By then my new knee was growing unsteady and I hobbled back to the car while the Prettymans went to look at Jimmie Trimble's nearby grave. It wasn't until later we learned that this day had been the sixtieth anniversary of the battle for Iwo Jima where, at eighteen, he had been killed.
    I've just read in the newspaper how all those marines had been slaughtered to gain possession of an island that proved, in the end, to be of no strategic use to our military. Worse, it was practically impregnable because, unknown (as usual) to our "best" intelligence, the Japanese had dug a series of underground tunnels where twenty thousand troops lay in deadly wait for the invaders. Jimmie's last letters home show how aware he was that they were all being thrown away for no purpose other than the enrichment of war contractors. He also added, bitterly, that "no one will remember what we've done, only how much they made out of it." Since his mother had been secretary to a powerful congressman this sunny apolitical athlete had always had a good idea of just how things actually worked in a country such as ours, nor was he alone: during the three years I spent in the army I never heard a single patriotic remark from a fellow soldier, only grief for friends lost and, almost as often, a fierce grievance felt for those back home who were decimating our adolescent generation.

    - from Creation by Gore Vidal; pp. 3-5 [Book One - Herodotus Gives a Reading at the Odeon in Athens]: I smiled the poignant smile of the blind, as some unobservant poet characterized the expression of those of us who cannot see. Not that I ever paid much attention to blind men when I could see. On the other hand, I never expected to live long enough to be old, much less go blind, as I did three years ago when the white clouds that had been settling upon the retinas of my eyes became, suddenly, opaque.
    The last thing that I ever saw was my own blurred face in a polished-silver mirror. This was at Susa, in the Great King's palace. At first I thought that the room was filling up with smoke. But it was summertime, and there was no fire. For an instant I saw myself in the mirror; then saw myself no longer; saw nothing else, ever again.
    In Egypt the doctors perform an operation that is supposed to send the clouds scurrying. But I am too old to go to Egypt. Besides, I have seen quite enough. Have I not looked upon the holy fire, which is the face of Ahura Mazdah, the Wise Lord? I have also seen Persia and India and farthest Cathay. No other man alive has traveled in as many lands as I.
    I am digressing. This is a habit of old men. My grandfather in his seventy-fifth year used to talk for hours without ever linking one subject to another. He was absolutely incoherent. But then, he was Zoroaster, the prophet of Truth; and just as the One God that he served is obliged to entertain, simultaneously, every aspect of all creation, so did His prophet Zoroaster. The result was inspiring if you could ever make sense of what he was saying.
    Democritus wants me to record what happened as we were leaving the Odeon. Very well. It is your fingers that will grow tired. My voice never deserts me, nor does my memory . . . Thus far.
    There was deafening applause when Herodotus of Halicarnassus finished his description of the Persian "defeat" at Salamis thirty-four years ago. By the way, the acoustics of the Odeon are dreadful. Apparently, I am not alone in finding the new music hall inadequate. Even the tone-deaf Athenians know that something is wrong with their precious Odeon, recently thrown together in record time by order of Pericles, who paid for it with money that had been collected from all the Greek cities for their common defense. The building itself is a copy in stone of the tent of the Great King Xerxes which somehow fell into Greek hands during the confusions of Persia's last campaign in Greece. They affect to despise us; then they imitate us.
    As Democritus led me to the vestibule of the music hall, I heard on every side the phrase "The Persian ambassador!" The throaty syllables struck my ears like those potsherds on which Athenians periodically write the names of anyone who has happened to offend or bore them. The man who gets the most votes in this election -- or rejection -- is exiled from the city for a period of ten years. He is lucky.

    - from Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal; p. 78 [(Chapter) 18]: ...Dr. Montag still believes that each sex is intended to be half of a unit, like those monsters mentioned in Plato's Symposium. This is the Doctor's Mosaic side overwhelming common sense, not to mention the evidence of his senses. Admittedly some are best served when the struggle for power narrows to but one other person and this duel endures for a lifetime as mate attempts to destroy mate in that long wrangling for supremacy which is called marriage. Most human beings, however, prefer the short duet, lasting anywhere from five minutes with a stranger to five months with a lover. Certainly the supreme moments occur only in those brief exchanges when each party, absorbed by private fantasy, believes he is achieving mastery over the other...
    - p. 84 [(Chapter) 19]: ...Suddenly I feel terribly alone and afraid. My mood was hardly improved when I learned a few moments ago from a distraught Mary-Ann that Rusty has left town. When I pressed her as to why, she burst into tears and could not or would not say. I have never liked the month of February--even when the sun shines, as it does now, and it is warm.
    - pp. 95-96 [(Chapter) 21]: I am sitting beside Mary-Ann at the CBS television studio on Fairfax Avenue. Though it is only a caricature of a film studio, the ultimate effect is impressive. So impressive in fact that I am more than ever certain that the movies are now a mere subsidiary to this electronic device for projecting images around the world at, literally, the speed of light. What it will mean, I have not yet worked out. But it is now plain that the classic age of films has ended and will not return any more than verse drama, despite the wonder of the Jacobeans, has a chance of revival.

    - from Point to Point Navigation: A MEMOIR 1964 TO 2006 by Gore Vidal; p. 123 [(Chapter) TWENTY-THREE]: Only the slowest among us -- and I am one -- are able to process yards of absolute boredom and feel revivified.
    - p. 124: Years ago the critic Dwight Macdonald noted that any letter to the Times of London (and Brits are addicted to substantive letter-writing) is sure to be better written than any editorial in The New York Times.
    - p. 88 [(Chapter) SIXTEEN]: ...the fava bean itself resembles a miniature fetus and the Pythagorean cult believed that each bean contains the soul of someone dead, ready to be reborn.
    - p. 148-149 [(Chapter) TWENTY-EIGHT]: It is my impression that the so-called "best and brightest" were routinely killed off which might explain the notoriously low level of those now in political life and to be fair, in the arts as well.

    - from Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal; p. 36 (Chapter 10): ...Yet, emotionally, I would be only too happy to become world dictator, if only to fulfill my mission: the destruction of the last vestigial traces of traditional manhood in the race in order to realign the sexes, thus reducing population while increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for its next stage.
    No doubt this tension in me constitutes my uniqueness, and genius. Certainly everyone senses it.
    - p. 29 [Chapter 9]: ...The street is beautifully kept up as the shrine it is, a last memorial to all that was touching and--yes--good in the American past, an era whose end was marked by two mushroom shapes set like terminal punctuation marks against the Asian sky.

    - from Palimpsest by Gore Vidal; p. 33: My grades must improve "because," she said, "he is living in the lap of luxury now, but he's never going to inherit anything! And he doesn't understand the value of money [a favorite refrain]." Mr. True said that my grades would probably improve if I could be persuaded to do more homework. She confessed defeat: "He locks himself in his room," she said sadly, "and writes."

    - from Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal; pp. 67-68: ...It is curious how often the male (and sometimes the female) needs to think of those not present in the act. Even with Myron, I was always imagining someone else, a boy glimpsed at Jones Beach or a man observed briefly at the wheel of a truck or sometimes (yes, I may as well confess it) a slender blonde girl that used to live in the brownstone next door when we lived at the corner of 11th Street and Ninth Avenue.

    - from Julian by Gore Vidal; pp. 4-5 [I - Libanius to Priscus - Antioch, March (A.D.) 380]: ...I forget. You were not there, and you were much missed! My memory plays me odd tricks these days. Even worse, I tend to mislay the notes I jot down as reminders, or (terrible confession!) when I do find them, I am often unable to decipher my own handwriting. Age spares us nothing, old friend. Like ancient trees, we die from the top.
    Except for occasional lectures, I seldom go into town, for the people, though my own, distress me with their loud voices and continual quarreling, their gambling and sensuality. They are hopelessly frivolous. Nights are made day with artificial light, while nearly all the men now use depilatories, which makes it difficult to tell them from women . . . to think how I once eulogized this city! But I suppose one must be tolerant, recalling that the Antiochenes are the victims of a demoralizingly sultry climate, the proximity of Asia and of course that pernicious Christian doctrine which asserts that a sprinkling of water (and a small donation) will wash away sin, again and again and again.
    Now, my old friend, as I sit here in my study surrounded by our proscribed friends (I mean those books of Greece which made the mind of man), let me tell you what thoughts I had last night -- a sleepless night not only because of the edict but because two cats saw fit to enliven my despair with the noise of lust (only an Egyptian would worship a cat). I am weary today but determined. We must fight back. What happens to us personally is not important, but what happens to civilization is a matter of desperate concern. During my sleepless night, I thought of various appeals that might be made to our new Emperor. I have a copy of the edict before me as I write. It is composed in bad bureaucratic Greek, the official style of the bishops, whose crudity of language is equaled only by the confusion of their thought. Not unlike those celebrated minutes of the council at--where was it? Chalcedon?--which we used to read aloud to one another with such delight! Carefree days, never to come again. Unless we act now.
    Priscus, I am sixty-six years old and you are, as I recall, a dozen years older than I. We have reached an age when death is a common place not to be feared, especially by us, for is not all philosophy but preparation for a serene dying? And are we not true philosophers who have nothing to lose but that which in the natural course we shall surrender in any case, more soon than late? I have already had several seizures in recent years which left me unconscious and weakened, and of course my chronic cough, aggravated by an unseasonable wet winter, threatens to choke me to death at any time. I am also losing my sight; and I suffer from a most painful form of gout. Therefore let us, fearing nothing, join forces and strike back at the Christians before they entirely destroy the world we love.

    - from Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship by Gore Vidal; pp. 120-122 [The City and the Pillar After Twenty Years]: The world has changed a good deal since 1948. Sexual candor is now not only common but obligatory. Outright pornography is published openly and I doubt if it does much harm. After all, Americans like how-to-do books. But, most significant, the young people today are in many ways more relaxed about sexual matters than we were in the 1940's. They have discovered that choice of sexual partner is a matter of taste, not of divine or even "natural" law. Also, I suspect that the psychological basis to most sex is not so much physical satisfaction as it is a will to power. This strikes me as implicit in The City and the Pillar, though I was perfectly unaware of it at the time. When a young man rejects the advances of another young man his motive, as often as not, is a fear of losing autonomy, of being used as a thing by the other, conquered instead of conquering.
    Recently I reread The City and the Pillar for the first time since it was published, and I was startled to find that the book I had written was not at all the one I remembered. Midway through what I meant to be a commonsense redefinition of the homosexual-ist in American life, the narrative turned melodramatic. Nor was the actual theme of the book entirely clear. I intended Jim Willard to demonstrate the romantic fallacy. From too much looking back, he was destroyed, a naive Humbert Humbert trying to re-create an idyll that never truly existed except in his own imagination. Despite the title, this was never plain in the narrative. And of course the coda was unsatisfactory. At the time it was generally believed that the publishers forced me to tack on a cautionary ending in much the same way the Motion Picture Code insists that wickedness be punished. This was not true. I had always meant the end of the book to be black, but not as black as it turned out. I have now altered the last chapter considerably. In fact, I have rewritten the entire book (my desire to imitate the style of Farrell was perhaps too successful), though I have not changed the point of view nor the essential relationships.

    Here are the videos:

    Kristen Pfaff and Kurt Donald Cobain didn't like the scene anyhow

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    Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir by Gore Vidal; pp. 54-56: So—what made [Johnny] Carson himself laugh? Words, not surprisingly. He used them carefully and listened carefully to the way others used them. The moment we realized that we were, somehow, on each other’s wavelength was when I was doing my deep hollow-voiced radio-announcer Nixonian voice. I quoted from Nixon’s book Six Crises: “President Eisenhower was a far more sly and devious man than people suspected and I mean those words in their very best sense.” On air, I got a look of genuine astonishment from John. Then he nearly slid out of his chair. Over the years, when one or the other of us would characterize someone as “sly” and “devious,” the other would add in an oily voice, “I assume you mean those words in their very best sense.”
    Last winter I ran into Janet De Cordova, now a widow. She had tried to get John to come to a memorial service for Freddie and he’d said, “I’ll think about it.” He did. He rang her back and said, “No, I can’t do it.” When reminded of their long friendship and so on, he was to the point: “I can’t do it because everyone thinks I’m still Johnny Carson but I’m not anymore. I wouldn’t even know how to fake it. So, I won’t be there but I know what a lousy businessman Freddie was and I’ll bet his affairs are in a mess so I’m sending you something useful.” He sent her a large check and she was pleased. But how odd it must be not to be the self you have spent a lifetime perfecting. To vanish like Prospero into thin air, leaving behind pale understudies but no replacement.
    As I was writing these last thoughts on Carson, a friend sent me an old clipping which John would have enjoyed. I start to imagine we are back on his show. I remark how the administration is praising the recent election in Iraq where, perhaps, 72 percent voted. I sit in the swivel chair to his right, an old bit of newspaper clipping in one hand.
    “I hear, Gore, you’ve got the latest news from the election in Iraq. It was certainly a real triumph for freedom and democracy, wouldn’t you say?” To myself I mutter, “In the very best sense of those words.” Aloud I say, “Well, actually, it’s from The New York Times of September 3, 1967.”
    “A dicey year for freedom, wasn’t it?”
    I read the headline: “U.S. encouraged by Vietnam vote: Officials cite 83 percent turnout despite Vietcong terror . . . A successful election has long been seen as the keystone to President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam.” Suddenly, we are sitting on the balcony in Ravello.

    What’s that phrase you use all the time for the country?

    The United States of Amnesia.

    I’ll open with that, then you read off the “latest” Iraq election news with the quote from 1967.

    But where do we do this?

    Oh, we’ll find a show.

    There isn’t one. Remember? You’re dead.

    CARSON (evasively)
    No, no. I’m just living down at the beach, I think it’s called in seclusion.

    The screen is now crowded with Leno et al. telling jokes until mortar fire drowns them out, and we have faded to black. Anyway, a few of us once heard the chimes at midnight and were the better for it.

    pp. 46-47: No sooner do I vow to put death, at least temporarily, on that proverbial back burner than I learn that my coeval, television’s Johnny Carson, has died at seventy-nine of emphysema. I was a few weeks older than he. He had rung me last month to say that he had been living pretty much in seclusion at the beach and had only just heard that Howard was dead. We reminisced about his visit to us in Rome and Ravello, a first (and I suspect last) visit to Italy for him. He was not one for foreign climes other than Wimbledon and tennis. In Italy he was a dutiful sightseer but as we climbed Palatine Hill, “Everything here is steps,” he sighed, “and broken marble. This place is going to sink under their weight one of these days.”
    What would Montaigne have thought of him? Had he been a mere entertainer-interviewer, nothing at all. But since Montaigne was deeply interested in politics, Carson would have interested him very much. John was the only political satirist regularly allowed for thirty years on that television time which is known to be prime and so he was able to influence the way the people at large thought about many things that were often unexamined in the media until he put his satiric spin to them. Montaigne wrote to influence the kings of France and Navarre and so was heeded in a way that the performer Carson was also able to influence, in a much smaller way, American politicians. He once told me that he could predict the winner of any approaching presidential election by the reactions to certain jokes he’d tell to the live audiences at his Burbank studio. He’d make amiable fun—at least it seemed amiable—of the entire field but all the time that sharp ear was listening carefully to the laughter and, even more attentively, to the silences. He read this microcosm of the American people like a barometer.
    What was he really like? Well, he was better looking than he looked. Clowning distorts regular features and his were most regular. The eyes were sharp but the most powerful of his senses was that of hearing, detecting false notes and the lessening of an audience’s attention during a joke. The monologue that opened each evening’s Tonight Show was carefully written out on long rolls of paper that were unfurled as the monologue got read, and the roll of abandoned script would then float from the stage down into the audience where, like Chinese paper dragons, one could read what he had often abruptly cut on air. The face in repose was as composed as that of Buster Keaton if not as comically frozen. One night in Ravello, after his wife Joanna had gone up to bed, we sat on the balcony overlooking the Gulf of Salerno and talked politics and comedy and got quietly drunk.
    “You know,” he said, “people keep thinking I am this kindly little old Irishman when I’m not little, not kindly, and not Irish but English.” Finally it was that ear, sharp to nuance, which directed his performance. We all have multiple responses to what people say particularly if one is on air and must respond quickly. And so, the appearance of amiability is the wisest defense if what you say might break the spell you are spinning.

    p. 91: . . . Early on I had problems with one speech: a letter to the mother of a young man who dies in the war: [Dalton] Trumbo had been in the Pacific theater with him. He writes the mother a letter which, invariably, brought me to tears whenever I read it. Since the first law of acting is let the audience not the actor do the weeping, what to do? I finally got a pin so that whenever my voice quavered during the reading of the letter, I would stick it in my thigh and thus, distracted, betrayed nothing until the night when the audience to my right, always so reliably attentive, was silent: Had I lost them? A large woman on the front row started up the aisle. Were they leaving? Mild panic. Afterward, I asked the stage manager, “What went wrong?” He told me that the lady who had gone up the aisle was one of the producers who had seen half a dozen actors play Trumbo and she was sobbing. So was much of the right-hand side of the audience.

    ‘Vidal was an aristocratic populist. It was as if Henry Adams had fallen for William Jennings Bryan.
    “As always, the unconsulted people are cowardly isolationists,” mused Gore as yet another of our endless wars began.’

    ‘He rather liked the current laser-pointing schoolmarm, Hillary Clinton. When she visited him in Italy, he found her “unexpectedly droll and (expectedly) quick.” Curiously, the late Carl Oglesby, who headed SDS when it was healthily rebellious—before the Weathermen blew it apart—also insisted to me that Hillary, who had admired Carl in her Goldwater-girl-goes-left phase, was sharp. In public, at least, she hides her little light well.
    Another name from the ’90s, Newt Gingrich, has praised Vidal’s Lincoln, and Vidal had a soft spot for Newt, too. In early 1995 he predicted that “Newt will self-destruct but he’s the blueprint for the 1st (post-Lincoln) dictator—New Age, spacey, Fun.” Beats Dick Cheney.
    Gore’s last line in his last letter to me, after predicting that “the approaching economic collapse” will “stop the wars,” was “I’m always an optimist!”
    Maybe not, but he was always a patriot. With slashing wit and Adamsian erudition, Gore Vidal, in his essays and historical novels, lit roads not taken, the America we might have had. Not a bloated bullying arrogant superpower but a modest republic whose citizens—not subjects—cultivate their own gardens.
    That’s what Gore Vidal wanted. That’s why the empire-lovers hated him. Yet a century hence, Americans will still read, with pleasure and profit, for laughs and for edification, Burr and Lincoln and Screening History and those magisterial essays.’

    Gore Vidal: A Biography by Fred Kaplan: Quietly, to avoid being heard by the butler, they rubbed their stomachs and genitals against one another into what Vidal remembered as an explosion of perfectly blissful orgasm. Neither of them felt they had broken any taboo. Neither felt any guilt, though they both tacitly understood that this was a private affair. It was something they would talk about neither to others nor even, for that matter, between themselves.

    Palimpsest: A Memoir by Gore Vidal; pp. 29-31: Boarders in the Lower School were divided between the aristocrats, who had pubic hair, and the plebes, who did not. I was part of the aristocracy. When Jimmie arrived, at midterm, he was much discussed. Did he or didn’t he have pubic hair? He went for a shower, and I joined him: aristocratic, with bright gold curls. As I looked at him, he gave me a big grin and so it began, likeness drawn to likeness, soon to be made whole by desire minus the obligatory pursuit.
    When I came to read the Symposium, I was amazed at how precisely Plato had anticipated two boys twenty-three hundred years later. The classical scholar M. I. Finley once told me that it was not he but one of his students who first noticed that Plato never speaks in his own voice at that famous dinner party; rather, he gives to others viewpoints that he may or may not have shared. So it is Aristophanes—not Plato—who explains to his dinner companions the nature of sexual desire.
    To begin with, there were three sexes, each shaped like a globe – male, female, hermaphrodite. The three globes behaved offensively to the king of the gods, who chose to discipline them by slicing each in half. “Just as you or I might chop up sour apples for pickling,” remarks Aristophanes, “or slice an egg with a hair.” Apollo was then called into tidy up the six creatures that had once been three. “Now when the work of bisection was complete it left each half with a desperate yearning for the other, and they ran together and flung their arms around each other’s necks, and asked for nothing better than to be rolled into one.”
    This explains, according to Aristophanes, how the male half of the hermaphrodite is attracted to his female half, while the half of the woman sphere is drawn to woman and man to man. “And so when this boy-lover—or any lover, for that matter—is fortunate enough to meet his other half, they are both so intoxicated with affection, with friendship, and with love that they cannot bear to let each other out of sight for a single instant . . . although they may be hard put to say what they really want with one another, and indeed the purely sexual pleasure of their friendship could hardly account for the huge delight they take in one another’s company. The fact is that both their souls are longing for something else – a something to which they can neither of them put a name…. And so all this to-do is a relic of that original state of ours, when we were whole . . .”
    Parenthetically, I have just been reading Kenneth Dover’s wonderfully self-confident memoirs. The author of Greek Homosexuality asks, “Why did Plato make Aristophanes the mouthpiece of the ‘other half’ doctrine? My own answer was (and is) that Plato recognized it as a vulgar, uneducated idea, and therefore appropriate to a writer of comedies which are undeniably vulgar and populist.” Dover then celebrates “those of us who are happily married . . .” One is pleased, of course, for the Dovers; even so, there are other equally successful unions. But I am hardly disinterested as I, too, have written vulgar and populist comedies.
    I cannot think just how or why my coming together with Jimmie happened to take place on the white tile floor of the bathroom at Merrywood. I suppose that the butler was on the prowl at the time. But there we were, belly to belly, in the act of becoming one. As it turned out, Jimmie had been involved with another boy, while I, despite wet dreams, had never even masturbated. As it was, mutual masturbation was impossible with Jimmie – too painful for me because his large callused hands gripped a cock like a baseball bat. So we simply came together, reconstituting the original male that Zeus had split in two. Yet “sexual pleasure could hardly account for the huge delight we took in one another’s company.” There was no guilt, no sense of taboo. But then we were in Arcadia, not diabolic Eden.

    pp. 34-35: We went downstairs to the men's room with its tall marble urinals and large cubicles. I wondered, what, if anything, he felt. After all, men are not boys. Fortunately, our bodies still fitted perfectly together, as we promptly discovered inside one of the cubicles, standing up, belly to belly, talking of girls and marriage and coming simultaneously.
    Thus, we were whole for what proved to be the last time for the two of us--and for me, if not for him, for good. I not only never again encountered the other half, but by the time I was twenty-five, I had given up all pursuit, settling for a thousand brief anonymous adhesions, as Walt Whitman would put it, where wholeness seems, for an instant, to be achieved. Quite enough, I think, if the real thing has happened. At least, in Platonic terms, I had completed myself once.

    “Gore is a man without an unconscious,” his friend the Italian writer Italo Calvino once said. Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

    ‘Written in a pared-down, Hemingway-like style, “Williwaw” (the title is a meteorological term for a sudden wind out of the mountains) won some admiring reviews but gave little clue to the kind of writer Mr. Vidal would become.’

    "Tennessee Williams: Someone to Laugh at the Squares With" by Gore Vidal: ...there is no such thing as a homosexual or heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices, and what anyone does with a willing partner is of no social or cosmic significance. ...So why all the fuss? In order for a ruling class to rule, there must be arbitrary prohibitions. Of all prohibitions, sexual taboo is the most useful because sex involves everyone. To be able to lock up someone or deprive him of employment because of his sex life is a very great power indeed, and seldom used in civilized societies.... That is why we have allowed our [leaders] to divide the population into two teams. One is good, godly, straight; the other is evil, sick, vicious.

    Point to Point Navigation; p. 124: Years ago the critic Dwight Macdonald noted that any letter to the Times of London (and Brits are addicted to substantive letter-writing) is sure to be better written than any editorial in The New York Times. At first hand, I can also attest that our own congressional voices fifty years ago were light-years superior to those today or to the halting subliterate style of our governing junta. Also, not only were the three recent British party heads (Blair, Howard, and Kennedy) more knowledgeable than their American counterparts, they were also quite able to deal with a live BBC audience whose average age seemed thirty or so while the twenty-somethings on hand were formidable, too. Blair got it not only from his rivals for the premiership but from a young man who wanted some action by government against bullying in schools. This is a real subject that Americans are taught to think of as character building for serial killers and inspirational for heavily armed children eager to thin their own ranks.
    A young woman wondered why, under national health (utopian compared to our insurance/pharmaceutical anti-health services), it took forty-eight hours for a G.P. to grant her an appointment. Blair’s unfamiliarity with this flaw in the health system got him booed by others with the same complaint. To compare their audience of informed average citizens—quaintly called subjects, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of the phantom crown—was jarring to anyone foolish enough to believe that the U.S. is at all democratic in anything except the furious imprisoning of the innocent, the joyous electing of the guilty.

    p. 6: I saw and heard my first movie in 1929. My father and mother were still unhappily married and so we went, a nuclear family melting down, to the movies in St. Louis, where my father was general manager of TAT, the first transcontinental airline, later to merge with what became TWA.
    I am told that as I marched down the aisle, an actress on the screen asked another character a question, and I answered her, in a very loud voice. So, as the movies began to talk, I began to answer questions posed by two-dimensional fictional characters thirty times my size.
    My life has paralleled, when not intersected, the entire history of the talking picture. Although I was a compulsive reader from the age of six, I was so besotted by movies that one Saturday in Washington, D.C., where I grew up, I saw five movies in a day. It took time and effort and money to see five movies in a day; now, with television and videocassettes and DVDs, the screen has come to the viewer and we are all home communicants.
    I don’t think anyone has ever found startling the notion that it is not what things are that matters so much as how they are perceived. We perceive sex, say, not as it demonstrably is but as we think it ought to be as carefully distorted for us by the churches and the schools, and by—triumphantly—the movies, which are, finally, the only validation to which that dull anterior world, reality, must submit.

    The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (Edited by Jay Parini); pp. 353-355 [Pink Triangle and Yellow Star (1981) by Gore Vidal]: Tricks is the story of an author – Renaud Camus himself – who has twenty-five sexual encounters in the course of six months. Each of these encounters involves a pick-up. Extrapolating from Camus’s sexual vigor at the age of 35, I would suspect that he has already passed the 500 mark and so is completely obliterated as a human being. If he is, he still writes very well indeed. He seems to be having a good time, and he shows no sign of wanting to kill himself, but then that may be a front he’s keeping up. I am sure that Decter will be able to tell just how close he is to OD’ing.
    From his photograph, Camus appears to have a lot of hair on his chest. I don’t know about the shoulders, as they are covered, modestly, with a shirt. Perhaps he is Jewish. Roland Barthes wrote an introduction to Tricks. For a time, Barthes was much admired in American academe. But then, a few years ago, Barthes began to write about his same-sexual activities; he is now mentioned a bit less than he was in the days before he came out, as they say.
    Barthes notes that Camus’s book is a “text that belongs to literature.” It is not pornographic. It is also not a Homosexual Novel in that there are no deep, anguished chats about homosexuality. In fact, the subject is never mentioned; it just is. Barthes remarks, “Homosexuality shocks less [well, he is—or was—French], but continues to be interesting; it is still at that stage of excitation where it provokes what might be called feats of discourse [see “The Boys on the Beach,” no mean feat!]. Speaking of homosexuality permits those who aren’t to show how open, liberal, and modern they are; and those who are to bear witness, to assume responsibility, to militate. Everyone gets busy, in different ways, whipping it up.” You can say that again! And Barthes does. But with a nice variation. He makes the point that you are never allowed not to be categorized. But then, “say ‘I am’ and you will be socially saved.” Hence the passion for the either/or.
    Camus does not set out to give a panoramic view of homosexuality. He comments, in his preface, on the variety of homosexual expressions. Although there is no stigma attached to homosexuality in the French intellectual world where, presumably, there is no equivalent of the new class, the feeling among the lower classes is still intense, a memento of the now exhausted (in France) Roman Catholic Church’s old dirty work (“I don’t understand the French Catholics,” said John Paul II). As a result, many “refuse to grant their tastes because they live in such circumstances, in such circles, that their desires are not only for themselves inadmissible but inconceivable, unspeakable.”
    It is hard to describe a book that is itself a description, and that is what Tricks is – a flat, matter-of-fact description of how the narrator meets the tricks, what each says to the other, where they go, how the rooms are furnished, and what the men do. One of the tricks is nuts; a number are very hairy—the narrator has a Decterian passion for the furry; there is a lot of anal and banal sex as well as oral and floral sex. Frottage flows. Most of the encounters take place in France, but there is one in Washington, D.C., with a black man. There is a good deal of comedy, in the Raymond Roussel manner.
    Tricks will give ammunition to those new-class persons and redneck divines who find promiscuity every bit as abominable as same-sex relations. But that is the way men are when they are given freedom to go about their business unmolested. One current Arab ruler boasts of having ten sexual encounters a day, usually with different women. A diplomat who knows him says that he exaggerates, but not much. Of course, he is a Muslim.
    The family, as we know it, is an economic, not a biological, unit. I realize that this is startling news in this culture and at a time when the economies of both East and West require that the nuclear family be, simply, God. But our ancestors did not live as we do. They lived in packs for hundreds of millennia before “history” began, a mere 5,000 years ago. Whatever social arrangements human society may come up with in the future, it will have to be acknowledged that those children who are needed should be rather more thoughtfully brought up than they are today and that those adults who do not care to be fathers or mothers should be let off the hook. This is beginning, slowly, to dawn. Hence, the rising hysteria in the land. Hence, the concerted effort to deny the human ordinariness of same-sexualists. A recent attempt to portray such a person sympathetically on television was abandoned when the Christers rose up in arms.

    Point to Point Navigation; pp.143-144: . . . The Deal stars David Morrissey as the real-life British labor politician Gordon Brown, currently chancellor of the exchequer. The deal is the one allegedly made between him and Tony Blair—two ambitious young politicians—before the election of 1997 that would make one of them prime minister with the understanding that after one or two terms he would step aside and let the other take his place. Though British journalists discuss “the deal” as though they themselves had been witnesses to it, the film looks to be accurate, unlike most American attempts at political dramas of this sort. In the matter of the deal itself, the film shows the studied ambivalence of Tony Blair as he sets forth from Glamis, armed only with a toothy rictus smile and bright vulpine stare; in a telling scene with Brown, he does not quite admit that there ever was such an agreement other than he had felt that Brown was their party’s natural leader: unfortunately, too many others preferred Blair’s easy managerial style to Brown’s old-fashioned seriousness, so he had no choice . . . At the time of the late election which won Labour a third term, a unique event in that party’s history, Brown was not only the party’s favorite but was also admired for the contribution his chancellorship had made to the United Kingdom’s economic prosperity; while the prime minister, thanks to his passion for the Bushite illegal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, had appalled many Britons who thought Blair should have stepped aside for the less tarnished Brown; also, Blair was generally believed to have lied to the nation when he maintained that his own attorney general had assured him that his decision to join Bush in the preemptive war on Iraq was legally sound when it was plainly not, according to the attorney general’s actual memo as finally revealed.

    pp. 222-223: Early 1978 while I was having dinner in Washington with my half sister our mother died in New York, of cancer. I’d not seen her in years but I did read her attack on me in Time magazine printed under the headline “A Mother’s Love.” But I had other things than “love” on my mind.
    April 5, 1978, I spoke at Arlington Street Church in Boston on behalf of the Boston-Boise Committee. A witch hunt of Salemesque intensity was under way in Boston. Twenty-four men had been arrested at Revere Beach for consorting with local youths (of whom not one was a child): apparently some of the youths rented their favors. During that summer the local police were “cracking down on same-sexualists” at the beach, in the libraries, though not yet in the Irish Catholic Church. Civil libertarians, in order to ensure fair trials for those who had been cracked down upon, formed a group called the National Jury Project to determine whether or not fair trials were possible in so heated an atmosphere to which additional heat would presently be added by the arrival in town of that scourge of Sodom, singer Anita Bryant. Out of the blue, the Boston-Boise group asked me to speak at the church in order to raise money not so much for the defense of the Revere Beachers as to draw attention to the local all-out war on those deemed “homosexual.” Only now, reading old correspondence, am I beginning to grasp why 1,500 people crowded the church to hear me. Unfortunately, I was confronted with every speaker’s nightmare: I had no written text; worse, no close knowledge of the events leading up to my appearance. I was dull. After the speech I was introduced to some members of the Boston-Boise Committee. Boise, Idaho, had recently endured a similar witch hunt where most of the male civic leaders of that city were charged with engaging in sexual acts with willing ephebes. John Gerassi, author of The Boys of Boise, a book that shocked the nation largely because, as was noted at the time, “the guilty parties were all married men with children and grandchildren,” just like the Revere Beachers who were mostly married blue-collar men. At the back of the church an amiable scholarly figure asked me to autograph his copy of Burr. I duly wrote his name, “Robert M. Bonin,” little suspecting how soon our names would be juxtaposed in the Boston press. When I signed that book for Mr. Bonin I had no idea that he was the chief justice of Massachusetts. A week later he was being vilified in the Boston press for having come to hear me speak at a fund-raiser for twenty-four sex criminals, (sic) et cetera . . .
    I promptly wrote Judge Bonin to say how sorry I was to have been used as a pretext to destroy a much-admired jurist. Bonin responded graciously: “I had made other misjudgments but none so rash as underestimating the extensive and intensive aspects of homophobia and anti-Semitism. Massachusetts has its own home-grown and flourishing Generals Brown and Anita Bryants.” Judge Bonin, as a Jew, did not suit the prejudices of the Roman Catholic-WASP judiciary of his state. Bonin’s subsequent letter of resignation to Governor Michael S. Dukakis is balanced and dignified. “The Legislature has spoken. The approval of the Address was unjust and is a bad precedent. Address, without required reasons and trial is a dreadful procedure lacking in due process. I hope it will not be a prologue to future actions against other judges. I cannot conceive of Address for the impropriety of ‘neglectful’ attendance at a lecture.” (“Neglectful” is a weird word to use for hearing a speech in a church.) He also remarks that he had been pre-tried in the media. He quotes Solzhenitsyn: “The press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary . . . hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else is this disease reflected in the press.” And so he went, most cheerfully, on his way. It is a wonder that he could have endured such an establishment for as long as he did. Meanwhile, I started to write more and more about contemporary politics.

    p. 74: . . . I looked at the end of the semicircular bench where Howard and I were photographed the day we bought the nearby plot. Howard looks—for him—rather severe. Premonition of now? The gossipy biographer who took our picture asked him what he thought, as a Jew, of ending up in so Christian a cemetery: “Amused,” he said, and no more. Elsewhere, the writer goes on and on about my fear of death which strikes him, without evidence of any kind, as neurotic. I did point out that no one afraid of death would cheerfully show such a gossip his future grave. I suspect I had probably quoted Montaigne on the subject and this was scrambled in the writing as was so much else that he was told.

    pp. 68-69: Obituary Time. Arthur Miller is dead and I have broadcast five times today to the BBC, to Italy, to everywhere except our native land where he has always been underrated. I praised The Crucible as well as his political courage in the McCarthy years. I have been wondering what to call this memoir. Should it be Between Obituaries? Those of us whose careers began in the twentieth century are now rapidly fleeing the twenty-first, with good reason.
    I first met Miller at Tennessee’s flat in New York shortly before Death of a Salesman was about to open.

    pp. 11-13: It is possible that even when working from memory, I saw the world in movie terms, as who did not or, indeed, who does not? So let us examine the way in which one’s perceptions of history were—and are—dominated by illustrated fictions of great power, particularly those screened in childhood.
    Although most of the movie palaces of my Washington youth no longer exist, I can still see and smell them in memory. There was Keith’s, across from the Treasury, a former vaudeville house where Woodrow Wilson used to go. Architecturally, Keith’s was a bit too classically spacious for my taste. Also, the movies shown tended to be more stately than the ones to be seen around the corner in Fourteenth Street. Of course, no movie was ever truly dull, even the foreign ones shown at the Belasco in Lafayette Park, located, I believe, in the house of a fictional character of mine, known to history as William Seward, the purchaser of Alaska.
    It was at the Belasco that I first saw myself screened in a Pathe newsreel. At the age of ten I took off and landed a plane. As Roosevelt’s director of air commerce, my father was eager to popularize a cheap, private plane that was, if not foolproof, childproof. Yet, thinking back, though he had grasped the silliness of cellophane, he seriously believed that since almost everyone could now afford a car, so almost everyone should be able to afford a plane. He dedicated years of his life to putting a cheap plane in every garage. Thanks to his dream, I, too, was famous for a summer. In a recent biography, I noted with amusement that one of the numerous lies that Truman Capote had told his childhood friend Harper Lee was that at the age of ten he had flown a plane.
    Today anyone’s life can be filmed from birth to death thanks to the video camera. But for my generation there was no such immortality unless one were a movie star or a personage in the newsreels. Briefly, I was a newsreel personage. But what I really wanted to be was a movie star: specifically, I wanted to be Mickey Rooney, and to play Puck, as he had done in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
    Parenthetically, life is always more ironic than art. While I was acting several lectures at Harvard (and revealing for the first time my envy of Mickey Rooney), Rooney was at the bookstore of the Harvard Coop, autographing copies of his latest book.
    Recently I watched my famous flight for the first time since 1936. I am now old enough to be my father’s father. He looks like the movie star. I don’t. I am small, blond, with a retrousse nose as yet unfurled in all its Roman glory. I am to fly the plane, and a newsreel crew is on hand to record the event. My father was a master salesman: “This is your big chance to be a movie star,” he had said. “All you have to do is remember to take off into the wind.” As I had flown the plane before, I am unafraid. I swagger down the runway, crawl into the plane, and pretend to listen to my father’s instructions. But my eyes are not on him but on the cobra-camera’s magic lens. Then I take the plane off; fly it; land with a bump; open the door; and face my interviewer.
    “What fools these mortals be,” Mickey’s speech, as Puck, is sounding in my ears as I start to speak but cannot speak. I stare dumbly at the camera. My father fills in; then he cues me. What was it like, flying the plane? I remember the answer that he wants me to make: “It was as easy as riding a bicycle.” But I had argued, doggedly, that it was a lot more complicated than riding a bicycle. Anyway, I am trapped in the wrong script. I say the line. Then I make a face to show my disapproval and, for an instant, I resemble not Mickey Rooney but Peter Lorre in M. My screen test had failed.
    In 1935 I had seen Max Reinhardt’s film, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bewitched, I read the play, guessing at half the words; then, addicted to this strange new language, I managed to read most of Shakespeare before I was sixteen. (Yes, Cymbeline, too.) I am sure that my response was not unique. Certainly, other children must have gone to Shakespeare’s text if only in search of Mickey and that Athenian forest where, after sunset, Oberon and Titania ride, attended by all sorts of mythical creatures; and those mortals who stray amongst them and, hence, are subject to change. Metamorphosis, not entropy, is sovereign in these woods, and to this day I can still, in reverie, transport myself to A Wood Near Athens on that midsummer night before the Athenian Duke’s marriage to the Amazon Queen.

    pp. 192-193: . . . my mother did not die until 1978, but as I had not seen her in the twenty years previous to her death, at the end it was as if we had never known each other. She had attacked Howard who had genuinely liked her, which was more than I had ever done, and so I had told her that I never wanted to see her again and never did. I was startled at how many ladies of my acquaintance were horrified when they read this account in the first volume of these memoirs. Obviously, a new epoch of mother worship had been ushered in by . . . Freud? Fannie Farmer? I’ve yet to read any criticism of George Washington for his bad relations with his mother or even Ernest Hemingway. But a sea change occurred in the twentieth century and mothers are automatically exempted from all blame if my lady friends are to be believed.

    pp. 148-149: Former Exeter classmates thought I was plainly doomed (I had no trust fund). I would “live by writing,” I said. And so I did to their amazement—even chagrin since many of them had literary ambitions but some of the most talented had lost their nerve in the war. Though “nerve” is hardly the word. “Will” is possibly better. A friend at school, Bob Bingham, was energetically ambitious prewar, but when the war ended and he tried his hand at novel-writing somehow he was out of focus. He had had a bad time of it in the infantry in France where Lewis Sibley, another classmate, was killed: Sibley was already a distinguished poet at seventeen. A year ago I read some of his poems over WBAI radio in New York. The response was as wonderful as it was sad. The infamous “Battle of the Bulge” in France during winter must have been a particular horror for barely trained eighteen-year-old soldiers. Later, I was shown some of Sibley’s letters. The army with its unerring gift for placing people where they would be least useful and most vulnerable had made the nearly blind Sibley a scout. His reported adventures began when his only pair of glasses was broken and the army’s difficulty in supplying him with a new pair reduced his utility as a scout in freezing weather. That he should not, near-blind as he was, have been placed in the infantry was a sign of the general madness of that Good War as it lurched toward a victorious conclusion thanks to Soviet ground troops. Eisenhower, for political reasons, had held back General Patton’s army so that the British Montgomery could at least look competent and the Russians could get to Berlin first, all of which did nothing much for American morale. Anyway, Sibley, wearing new glasses, was duly massacred just as another schoolmate—from St. Albans, not Exeter—was being embraced in a foxhole on Iwo Jima by a Japanese with grenades on his belt that democratically blew out both their stomachs. It is my impression that the so-called “best and brightest” were routinely killed off which might explain the notoriously low level of those now in political life and, to be fair, in the arts as well. Recently, I looked through the 1943 yearbook of our graduating class. As I looked at the pictures, trying to figure out who was who, I was struck by how old we all looked. For the most part, our graduating class averaged seventeen years old; yet there was a photo of three seniors standing side by side; they look as if they are in their early forties. Of course within months of graduation we would all be in the war and so it is possible that kindly fate was telescoping for us the selves that we might have become. Since a number of us would soon be dead, we were being allowed by a jocular nature—or by a magic Kodak—to see ourselves not only grown up but middle aged as well.

    pp. 206-207: Recently a new mystery was revealed. There is some TV footage of Jack [Kennedy], Jackie, and me making our entrance at a Washington horse show where I end up sitting to Jack’s left; then there is Jackie to my left and an unknown lady behind us. Just visible, back of us, was the memorable hat of Alice Roosevelt Longworth who had been at dinner in what had once been her bedroom. A lady has currently written a book about life at the Kennedy court. I showed her the TV footage. She had questioned my story of the placement at the horse show. Apparently she had “proof” that Alice sat beside the president. I agreed that she should have but she didn’t. The journalist then sent me an archival photograph of the event in which I have been neatly cropped out and replaced by Alice and her hat. Nowadays when we are more used to creative history and fictional presences this seems par for that particular course. But in Palimpsest there is a picture of Jack talking into my right ear at the horse show. This could not have happened unless I were sitting on poor Alice’s lap, a most indecorous thing for me to have done.

    p. 215: On July 7, 1977, I wrote to The New York Times:

    In what looks to be a review of my new collection of essays [Matters of Fact and of Fiction], your dispenser of book-chat tells us that my attack on nearly two hundred years of American imperialism as symbolized by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (where my father was an instructor when I was born) is the result of an “unresolved hostility toward his father, further evidence of which, some would argue, is Mr. Vidal’s cheerfully admitted homosexuality.”
    This is quintessential New York Times reporting. First, it is ill-written, hence ill-edited. Second, it is inaccurate. Third, it is unintelligent in the vulgar Freudian way. There is no evidence of an “unresolved hostility” toward my father in the pages under review or elsewhere in my work. Quite the contrary. I quote from Two Sisters, a Novel in the form of a Memoir: “my father was the only man I ever entirely liked. . . .” Nowhere in my writing have I “admitted” (“cheerfully” or dolefully) to homosexuality, or to heterosexuality. Even the dullest of mental therapists no longer accepts the proposition that cold-father-plus-clinging-mother-equals-fag-offspring.
    These demurs to one side, I am grateful to your employee for so beautifully demonstrating in a single sentence so many of the reasons why The New York Times is a perennially bad newspaper and bound to champion the disreputable likes of Judith Miller [name added later, obviously].

    pp. 245-246: Fiedler, a friend during the fifties when we were both living in Athens, is seldom acute in his efforts at criticism convinced as he was, at least back then, that American WASP males were all homosexually inclined particularly in the direction of the likes of Mark Twain’s escaped slave Jim. My use of the list was sardonic and was so perceived at the time. The “two Jews” that I adverted to was to emphasize the point that the American literary establishment had long been centered on the absolute primacy of WASPs and so Jews were marginalized as writers and often proscribed as teachers by college English Departments, to which the late Alfred Kazin so often furiously testified; while African Americans were encouraged to go live in Paris as did Richard Wright and, in the end, Jimmy Baldwin. His first book was turned down by E. P. Dutton where I was then an associate editor and had tried for a year to get Cry Holy, first title for Go Tell It on the Mountain, accepted by Dutton; but the owner, Elliott Macrae, told me: “I can’t publish Baldwin, I’m from Virginia.” Altman thinks that I have largely ignored black literature. Politically minded African Americans are better informed. As recently as a month ago Representative Cynthia McKinney invited me to address the Black Caucus of the House of Representatives. I am also chided for not doing enough about AIDS; but my virological skills are few.

    pp. 159-161: A Michigan congressman, John Conyers, minority—that is, Democrat—leader of the House Judiciary Committee, went to Ohio with several other members of Congress and a number of staffers to determine whether or not in the late presidential election of 2004 the overexuberant local Republican Party had stolen the election for George W. Bush. The result was a report by Conyers which a Chicago firm published with a preface by me. Yes, Virginia, the election was well and truly stolen and the Conyers team spells it all out in considerable detail. Since the Republican Congress will not allow hearings on what went wrong, Conyers had no recourse other than a book describing in detail how the theft was effected with collusion among high officials and shadowy executives of electronic voting machine companies. Since my name as writer of the preface is on the cover, radio stations with call-in facilities have been ringing me from Arizona to Ohio to Illinois to Texas to—in a few hours from now—New York City. Most of the callers proved to be already suspicious of the election’s validity but as they have been given no information by our monolithic media, the Conyers report is the first hard news from the front. Thus far, the report has not been mentioned in the print media. The New York Times maintains a sibylline silence as it tends to do when proofs of electoral wrongdoing are nailed, as it were, to the church door. The general liberal (what a meaningless word in the American context!) line has been: no one likes sour grapes. So let’s just move on quietly as Gore did in 2000. So what happened next? A blizzard of official lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Of collusion between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, two well-known enemies. The wrecking by Rumsfeld of Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries that had not and could not have done us the slightest harm. Simultaneously as their cities were being knocked down at enormous expense to us, the taxpayers, contracts were being given to the vice president’s company, Halliburton, to rebuild those same cities that his colleague at the Defense Department had knocked down. This is a win-win situation for the higher corruption that governs us. Now we are creating air bases in Central Asia to seize Iranian oil reserves? Or, more dangerously, to take on China en route to North Korea or vice versa? Since these so-called neoconservative contingency plans for world conquest will end more soon than late in our destruction one wonders why our media, bought and obedient as they are, cannot see that they are on the wrong side of human history, now more than ever fragile and out of control as we nuclearize space itself and attack nation after nation while silencing those few of our citizens who see what is up ahead of us. Recently one radio caller asked me if it was true that I was the last republican—with a small r. I said I’d better not be since perpetual war for perpetual peace, which is replacing the Republic, will only end in the death of us all. Meanwhile, the glaciers are melting and the seas rise.
    Our old original Republic does seem to be well and truly gone. A day or two ago I witnessed the Republican majority of the House Judiciary Committee trash the Democratic minority (which, ironically, actually represents many more millions of Americans than do the “majority” congressional members who represent what Secretary of State William Seward liked to call “the mosquito republics” whose departure in 1860 he quite welcomed, unlike Lincoln, the mystical Unitarian, who chose civil war to keep them attached).

    p. 170: That fliers are—or once were—temperamentally unlike other people is not unnatural. They operated above the earth in every sense. But while the first pilots were uncommonly brave and, often, uncommonly disdainful of us earthbound ants, as flight became more and more universal the differences were less sharp except now in the military where they are beginning to show up in odd ways. Even our slow-witted media is reporting recent problems at the Air Force Academy where Christian evangelicals are now raising hell in Heaven’s name by attacking non-Christians with unseemly fervor. Since all of us pay for that academy, and most of us are not Christian zealots, I keep thinking of those generals long ago speaking of the need to send Roosevelt home in order to fight Godless Communism. There now appears to be something potentially dangerous afoot in our military; troops that could very well heed a call to arms of a revolutionary sort.
    Between air cadets who are being indoctrinated as Christian soldiers proceeding ever onward and disgusted army reservists vanishing without leave from Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the resignations of high-ranking senior officers, our military has been demoralized by the oil-and-gas junta that has seized the government provoking—what? During the Second War Curtis LeMay, commanding general of the B-29s that finished off Japan, was also a voice demanding that we must always be quick to bomb disobedient peoples back into the Stone Age, yet, to his credit, he was one of the senior commanders who begged President Truman not to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (On the ground that his 20th Air Force had already leveled Japan and he did not want his triumphant devastation obscured by last-minute novelties?)

    pp. 235, 237: The brilliant Jacob, if nothing else, must have seen the primacy of his festival at Cannes assured for at least another decade. But not for nothing had I been Tammany Hall’s choice as delegate for the 1960 Democratic convention, instructed to vote for Kennedy. I made a Bushesque speech in favor of total democracy which meant that best picture and director be voted for jointly to prevent overlapping prizes. The lady from Moscow gave me a weary look: she had met my sort before in the Soviet paradise. Meanwhile I had a word with Omar who was now as one with the party line. A Swedish lady spluttered but by then I was busy awarding best actress to her choice while the auteur of Sirup got best screenplay award. The ladies were reasonably pleased. I waited until the end for best film award. In a voice of sweet reason I said, “We are supposed to award these prizes to the best in each category. Since a number of ladies are angry that we have celebrated yet again gratuitous masculine violence, which we all deplore, by giving Scorsese the best director award which he deserves for at least half a dozen other films I think that we should break with tradition and give the Gold Lion to what, after all, is the best film in competition: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.” A pair of journalists on the jury had been leaking our proceedings to the world press and they promptly sent up black-and-white smoke signals. But we now had a Pope—Stoppard—teeth all around me were grinding. I was told that Olivier’s Hamlet had been booed by the Italian press. They also disliked Shakespeare. Later, when I went out onstage to announce the winners, I was loudly booed but not before I murmured, “At least, for once, the best film got the best prize.” Later I read that the producers who had released the film had once released one of mine and that I’d been paid off. Italy! Thus, on a high note, I ended my jury duty. For good.

    Julian by Gore Vidal; pp. 4-5: ...I forget. You were not there, and you were much missed! My memory plays me odd tricks these days. Even worse, I tend to mislay the notes I jot down as reminders, or (terrible confession!) when I do find them, I am often unable to decipher my own handwriting. Age spares us nothing, old friend. Like ancient trees, we die from the top.
    Except for occasional lectures, I seldom go into town, for the people, though my own, distress me with their loud voices and continual quarreling, their gambling and sensuality. They are hopelessly frivolous. Nights are made day with artificial light, while nearly all the men now use depilatories, which makes it difficult to tell them from women . . . to think how I once eulogized this city! But I suppose one must be tolerant, recalling that the Antiochenes are the victims of a demoralizingly sultry climate, the proximity of Asia and of course that pernicious Christian doctrine which asserts that a sprinkling of water (and a small donation) will wash away sin, again and again and again.
    Now, my old friend, as I sit here in my study surrounded by our proscribed friends (I mean those books of Greece which made the mind of man), let me tell you what thoughts I had last night -- a sleepless night not only because of the edict but because two cats saw fit to enliven my despair with the noise of lust (only an Egyptian would worship a cat). I am weary today but determined. We must fight back. What happens to us personally is not important, but what happens to civilization is a matter of desperate concern. During my sleepless night, I thought of various appeals that might be made to our new Emperor. I have a copy of the edict before me as I write. It is composed in bad bureaucratic Greek, the official style of the bishops, whose crudity of language is equaled only by the confusion of their thought. Not unlike those celebrated minutes of the council at--where was it? Chalcedon?--which we used to read aloud to one another with such delight! Carefree days, never to come again. Unless we act now.
    Priscus, I am sixty-six years old and you are, as I recall, a dozen years older than I. We have reached an age when death is a common place not to be feared, especially by us, for is not all philosophy but preparation for a serene dying? And are we not true philosophers who have nothing to lose but that which in the natural course we shall surrender in any case, more soon than late? I have already had several seizures in recent years which left me unconscious and weakened, and of course my chronic cough, aggravated by an unseasonable wet winter, threatens to choke me to death at any time. I am also losing my sight; and I suffer from a most painful form of gout. Therefore let us, fearing nothing, join forces and strike back at the Christians before they entirely destroy the world we love.

    The City And The Pillar by Gore Vidal, pg, 29: Bob laughed and suddenly grabbed him. They clung to one another. Jim was overwhelmingly conscious of Bob's body. For a moment they pretended to wrestle. Then both stopped. Yet each continued to cling to the other as though waiting for a signal to break or to begin again. For a long time neither moved. Smooth chests touching, sweat mingling, breathing fast in unison.
    Abruptly, Bob pulled away. For a bold moment their eyes met. Then, deliberately, gravely, Bob shut his eyes and Jim touched him, as he had so many times in dreams, without words, without thought, without fear. When the eyes are shut, the true world begins.
    As faces touched, Bob gave a shuddering sigh and gripped Jim tightly in his arms. Now they were complete, each became the other, as their bodies collided with a primal violence, like to like, metal to magnet, half to half and the whole restored.
    So they met. Eyes tight shut against an irrelevant world. A wind warm and sudden shook all the trees, scattered the fire's ashes, threw shadows to the ground.
    But then the wind stopped. The fire went to coals. The trees were silent. No comets marked the dark lovely sky, and the moment was gone. In the fast beat of a double heart, it died.
    The eyes opened again. Two bodies faced one another where only an instant before a universe had lived; the star burst and dwindled, spiraling them both down to the meager, to the separate, to the night and the trees and the firelight; all so much less than what had been.

    ‘By any standard, the postwar years were amazingly productive for Vidal, who published eight novels between 1946 and 1954, including The City and the Pillar (1948), an explicitly gay novel that challenged the homophobia he believed was ingrained in American culture. It was a bestseller, but the consequences were severe, and Vidal's literary career nearly ground to a premature halt. His next five novels were largely dismissed by the mainstream press and one can feel the hostility in the reviews. The reaction of John W Aldridge was typical: "His writing after Williwaw is one long record of stylistic breakdown and spiritual exhaustion. It is confused and fragmentary, pulled in every direction by the shifting winds of impressionism. It is always reacting, always feeling and seeing; but it never signifies because it never believes."’

    Myron by Gore Vidal; pp. 334-338: Just back of the station there is a pleasant bosky dell with tall trees and thick bushes and birds twittering—and on the greensward I stumbled upon these two guys making it. Their shirts were off; their blue jeans were down to their ankles and they were lying one on top of the other rubbing back and forth like a pair of nine-year-olds.
    “Well, this is a pretty how-de-do!” I thundered, handbag at the ready.
    “Get lost,” said the dark-haired one on the top. But the fair-haired one on the bottom knew the voice of authority when he heard it and pushed the other one off him and then they quickly pulled up their pants, allowing me a pleasant glimpse of turgid, nay, tumescent, nay, nothing powers: a pair of standard American rosebuds, but then, to be fair to the American rosebud, like a Christmas present, it is not the actual tiny gift but the thought behind the erection that counts.
    “We were just taking it easy,” said the dark one, giving me a look of hate.
    “You won’t tell nobody, will you, lady?” The blond was nervous. “I mean we’re really straight.”
    “Save that for the Blue Parrot.” This was a shot in the dark but it connected. Myron—the original Myron—used to know a group of slightly older queens in Manhattan who all swore that right after the war the bars of New York were filled with beauty, particularly along “the bird circuit” as it was then known; and of these legendary aviaries, the Blue Parrot on the East Side was always the most brilliantly stocked with our feathered friends.
    “Are you from New York too, lady?” The blond one wanted to be friendly, fearing an indictment for an act against nature as nature is defined in the unnatural state of California.
    The two young men are from New York. The dark one, Mel, is going to Columbia where he plays football, he says, and the other is his buddy Gene, a carhop, and they are traveling about the country while school is out. “We dig the road, lady,” said Gene, the con man of the pair.
    “You dig each other.”
    “Hell,” said Mel, “I’m just a kind of come on’er, that’s all.”
    “Come on him is closer to the mark, buddy.”
    I don’t know why I thought at first that they were out-of-towners but they proved to be locals. It was exciting, I confess: two genuine sweaty 1948 youths, smelling of sex, as they talked of bop music, of hipsters, of smoking tea . . . tea! That dear old pre-mainline word! They were, they said, beat. Yes, that word was born in the bosky dell of Metro’s back lot or at least revealed for the first time to me as though for my blessing, which I gave.
    Mel said, “I guess you might say that I am—that we’re both—sort of beat with life, with everything.”
    “Not Hollywood surely.”
    “L.A. is shit,” said Gene. “We been holed up on South Main where the police bust you every two minutes and the women is all whores.”
    “Not all of us.” I was, I fear, revoltingly saccharine but something about those two studs touched me. After all, I was witnessing the dawn of Beat.
    Mel was conciliating. “You’re a right beautiful woman, ma’am,” he said respectfully. But what we’re after is this pure thing that’s beyond sex. You dig Celine?”
    “I do not read novels.” I was suddenly hard. “The only words that I care for are dialogue. Get it? High-priced Metro dialogue is all I need words-wise, so you can take your Celine and shove his collected works all the way up that long journey to the end of the night in your asshole.”
    Well, that had the effect of inspiring terror and awe. They both started trembling and, though swathed in denim, their rosebuds were plainly contracting to acorn proportions. As is my policy, after the whammy, the softening up. “I confess that in my day I have studied the enemy, contemplated the strategies of fiction if only in order to find new ways to destroy the art form whose only distinction is that it prepared the way for the movies, much as John the B. prepared the way for the big J. C. And of course I will never deny the importance of any novel which has been used to inspire a work of celluloid. We are all permanently indebted to James Hilton, Daphne du Maurier and W. Somerset Maugham, whose names head the golden list. Yet at best their works are no more than so much grit beneath the studio’s shell: mere occasions for masterpieces, for cinema pearls.”
    I could see that I had completely overwhelmed them; and was pleased. Unfortunately (for him), Mel still had a little starch left in him. “But I don’t think that’s true, ma’am. I mean words, wowee, that’s all we got, my buddies and me with these long talks we have about perception and really seeing just what it is this cosmos-thing sees and all the beatness of it, the beatitude, yeah, that’s the word for all the words we say, for all this yakking we do.”
    “Stop!” I commanded. I had had a sudden vision—like Jennifer when she saw Linda in The Song of Bernadette—of the post-Myra world which I now realize that I must devise a precise blueprint for. To date, I confess, I have been creating the future in an inexcusably haphazard fashion, but in my defense I must note the extenuating circumstance that I lack not only a well-trained staff but mobility. “Mel, you must write all this shit down.”
    “Shit?” whined Mel, but Gene stopped him, muttering, “Don’t get the lady mad. Watch out for that handbag. There’s lead in it.”
    “Like in your pistol, Gene?” I was jocose. Buddy buddy. I needed them. “Yes, write it down. Make a book of it. Call it a novel, if you like.”
    “But I thought you said I was to take all the novels and shove them . . .”
    “Please, Mel. That is an offensive image to use in the presence of a lady. I mean that I can predict absolute success for your work at this time. But you must beat—that word again!—Kerouac to the punch.”
    “If you do as I say, Mel, your name will be up there on the screen, and his will be unknown. Can’t you see it, Mel? Based on a novel by Mel American Rosebud . . .”
    “But that’s not my name.”
    “Because—this year—I promise that Metro, my studio”—I indicated the Thalberg Building, which I cannot see but they could—“will begin a series of films about hipsters, hot-rodders, lovers of boogie-woogie, not to mention belly-rubbing . . .”
    “Belly-rubbing?” This blew Gene’s mind.
    “What do you think you two pro-crypto fags were doing just now?”
    “But we dig the broads,” squeaked Gene, jumping to avoid the handbag with which I had intended to reduce to an ounce of attar his tiny rosebud.
    “Of course you do! You’re part of my vision for this studio. And—now get this—if we can have your story on the screen by 1950, as a vehicle for Van Johnson and Peter Lawford, camera work by James Wong Howe and directed by any one of our staff directors, though I might bring in Irving Rapper from Warner’s, I will be able to start a cycle of profitable pix that will knock the quiz shows out of the box and off the tube and fill the movie houses of the world with a new sort of film, more wondrous than anything as yet dreamed of even by Herbert Yates. A beat generation is what I will give the movie audience first. But a beat generation that is well groomed, exquisitely lit, and acted by major stars in perfect frames. Here is my card.” I had—as always—written my name on the back of a cocktail napkin and stuffed it in my purse just in case.
    I gave it to the stunned Mel.
    “Now mop the come off your jeans, boys. Mel, you dictate into the nearest recorder that tome which, I promise you, Irving Lazar will see is bought by my studio for a sum in the high six figures. Gene, you will be inked, too, as tech. adviser.”
    They fled me, grateful for the vision I had given them of a new world. We shall hear from Mel, I am sure of that.
    So, Mr. Williams, I have begun to alter this year of grace, my grace, and if I can film a photoplay with a title that has Beat in it—On Beat, Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar, The Beat Years of Our Lives, The Beat Man, Beat Your Meat—I will anticipate and torpedo an entire “literary” movement of the pre-Myra fifties when the so-called Beat writers, howling their words at random, helped distract attention from our Industry’s product and made it possible for Charles Van Doren to dominate through television the entire culture, answering questions whose answers he had been given in advance—a twenty-one-inch corruption that was directly responsible, first, for the death of Marilyn Monroe at the hands of the two Kennedys and, second, for R. M. Nixon’s current subversion of the government. Fortunately I—and I alone—can turn America around. It is a great responsibility and one to which I intend to rise, humbly of course but inexorably.

    Duluth by Gore Vidal; p. 13: Just off ethnic Kennedy Avenue the barrios begin. Mile after mile of paper and plywood shacks give shelter—if that’s the word—to almost one million illegal and legal Mexican aliens. Every night the barrios are alive with mariachi music and joyous laughter because illegal aliens are essentially life-enhancing, since their deepest feelings are all on the surface while their shallowest feelings are hidden deep down—unlike the cold Anglos of Garfield Heights who cannot relate to one another without using as an intermediary a wise psychiatrist who will break the ice for them so that Dad can finally kiss Junior. Should there ever be really real people, really warm loving people anywhere on earth, it is those one million or so Chicanos who live in the barrios off ethnic Kennedy Avenue in East Duluth.
    But there is also a lot of rage in the barrios, much of it directed specifically against Lieutenant Darlene Ecks. In fact, at this very moment of time, ten of her victims are meeting at the back of a shanty where, in the front room, peasant women with age-old Aztec faces are ironing tacos, folding enchiladas, stitching tortillas by the light of a single kerosene lamp. Sometimes one of the women will break into song—a high eerie birdlike song first sung aeons ago by the ancient Sumacs.
    In the back room, the male victims squat in a circle, broad-brimmed sombreros over their eyes. They are all young, vital, sleepy. They are planning their revenge.

    pp. 15-16: Like most absolute laws, the fictive law of absolute uniqueness is relative. Although each character in any fiction—as in any life or nonfiction—is absolutely unique (even if you cannot tell one character from another), the actual truth of the matter is more complex.
    When a fictive character dies or drops out of a narrative, he will then—promptly—reappear in a new narrative, as there are just so many characters—and plots—available at any given time. Corollary to the relative fictive law of absolute uniqueness is the simultaneity effect, which is to fiction what Miriam Heisenberg’s law is to physics. It means that any character can appear, simultaneously, in as many fictions as the random may require. This corollary is unsettling and need not concern us other than to note, in passing, that each reader, like each writer, is, from different angles and at different times, in a finite number of different narratives where he is always the same yet always different. We call this après post-structuralism. The many studies that are currently being made of the simultaneity effect vividly demonstrate, as if demonstration is necessary! that although the English language may decline and dwindle, English studies are more than ever complex and rewarding.
    The law of absolute uniqueness requires—except in those cases where it does not—the total loss of memory on the part of the character who has died or made only a brief appearance in a fictive narrative. Naturally, when the writing of the book is finished all the characters who are alive at the end are available to other writers for reentries, as it were. Sometimes this is called plagiarism but that is a harsh word when one considers how very little there is in the way of character and plot to go around. Ultimately, plagiarism is simply—in the words of Rosemary Klein Kantor herself—creation by other means.
    The characters that are in any given book—though abandoned by their author when he writes finis to his opus—will still continue to go through their paces for anyone who happens to read the book. Hence, the proof—or a proof—of the simultaneity effect. Once this particular true fiction or fictive truth is concluded by the present author (one able to give, as it were, the worm’s-eye view of this Duluth—thus, the reader is warned), the Bellamy Craig IIs, Darlene Ecks, Captain Eddie, the whole vivid living (for now) crew will drift off to new assignments, unknown to them or him. They will forget him. He will not recognize them—except in those cases of Outright Plagiarism when civil law will scrutinize the truth of a fictive text with a thoroughness unknown even at busy Yale.

    The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal; pp. 341-344: Today, American evangelical Christians are busy trying to impose on the population at large their superstitions about sex and the sexes and the creation of the world. Given enough turbulence in the land, these natural fascists can be counted on to assist some sort of authoritarian—but never, never totalitarian—political movement. Divines from Santa Clara to Falls Church are particularly fearful of what they describe as the gay liberation movement’s attempt to gain “special rights and privileges” when all that the same-sexers want is to be included, which they are not by law and custom, within the framework of the Fourteenth Amendment. The divine in Santa Clara believes that same-sexers should be killed. The divine in Falls Church believes that they should be denied equal rights under the law. Meanwhile, the redneck divines have been joined by a group of New York Jewish publicists who belong to what they proudly call “the new class” (ne arrivistes), and these lively hucksters have now managed to raise fag-baiting to a level undreamed of in Falls Church—or even in Moscow.
    In a letter to a friend, George Orwell wrote, “It is impossible to mention Jews in print, either favorably or unfavorably, without getting into trouble.” But there are times when trouble had better be got into before mere trouble turns into catastrophe. Jews, blacks, and homosexualists are despised by the Christian and Communist majorities of East and West. Also, as a result of the invention of Israel, Jews can now count on the hatred of the Islamic world. Since our own Christian majority looks to be getting ready for great adventures at home and abroad, I would suggest that the three despised minorities join forces in order not to be destroyed. This seems an obvious thing to do. Unfortunately, most Jews refuse to see any similarity between their special situation and that of the same-sexers. At one level, the Jews are perfectly correct. A racial or religious or tribal identity is a kind of fact. Although sexual preference is an even more powerful fact, it is not one that creates any particular social or cultural or religious bond between those so-minded. Although Jews would doubtless be Jews if there was no anti-Semitism, same-sexers would think little or nothing at all about their preference if society ignored it. So there is a difference between the two estates. But there is no difference in the degree of hatred felt by the Christian majority for Christ-killers and Sodomites. In the German concentration camps, Jews wore yellow stars while homosexualists wore pink triangles. I was present when Christopher Isherwood tried to make this point to a young Jewish movie producer. “After all,” said Isherwood, “****** killed six hundred thousand homosexuals.” The young man was not impressed. “But ****** killed six million Jews,” he said sternly. “What are you?” asked Isherwood. “In real estate?”
    Like it or not, Jews and homosexualists are in the same fragile boat, and one would have to be pretty obtuse not to see the common danger. But obtuseness is the name of the game among New York’s new class. Elsewhere, I have described the shrill fag-baiting of Joseph Epstein, Norman Podhoretz, Alfred Kazin, and the Hilton Kramer Hotel. Harper’s magazine and Commentary usually publish these pieces, though other periodicals are not above printing the odd expose of the latest homosexual conspiracy to turn the United States over to the Soviet Union or to structuralism or to Christian Dior. Although the new class’s thoughts are never much in themselves, and they themselves are no more than spear carriers in the political and cultural life of the West, their prejudices and superstitions do register in a subliminal way, making mephitic the air of Manhattan if not of the Republic.
    A case in point is that of Mrs. Norman Podhoretz, also known as Midge Decter (like Martha Ivers, whisper her name). In September of last year [1980?], Decter published a piece called “The Boys on the Beach” in her husband’s magazine, Commentary. It is well worth examining in some detail because she has managed not only to come up with every known prejudice and superstition about same-sexers but also to make up some brand-new ones. For sheer vim and vigor, “The Boys on the Beach” outdoes its implicit model, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
    Decter notes that when the “homosexual rights movement first burst upon the scene,” she was “more than a little astonished.” Like so many new-class persons, she writes a stilted sort of genteel-gentile prose not unlike—but not very like, either—The New Yorker house style of the 1940s and ‘50s. She also writes with the authority and easy confidence of someone who knows that she is very well known indeed to those few who know her.
    Decter tells us that twenty years ago, she got to know a lot of pansies at a resort called Fire Island Pines, where she and a number of other new-class persons used to make it during the summer. She estimates that 40 percent of the summer people were heterosexual; the rest were not. Yet the “denizens, homosexual and heterosexual alike, were predominantly professionals and people in soft marginal business—lawyers, advertising executives, psychotherapists, actors, editors, writers, publishers, etc.” Keep this in mind. Our authoress does not.
    Decter goes on to tell us that she is now amazed at the recent changes in the boys on the beach. Why have they become so politically militant—and so ill groomed? “What indeed has happened to the homosexual community I used to know—they who only a few short years ago [as opposed to those manly 370-day years] were characterized by nothing so much as a sweet, vain, pouting, girlish attention to the youth and beauty of their bodies?” Decter wrestles with this problem. She tells us how, in the old days, she did her very best to come to terms with her own normal dislike for these half-men—and half-women, too: “There were also homosexual women at the Pines, but they were, or seemed to be, far fewer in number. Nor, except for a marked tendency to hang out in the company of large and ferocious dogs, were they instantly recognizable as the men were.” Well, if I were a dyke and a pair of Podhoretzes came waddling toward me on the beach, copies of Leviticus and Freud in hand, I’d get in touch with the nearest Alsatian dealer pronto.
    Decter was disturbed by “the slender, seamless, elegant and utterly chic” clothes of the fairies. She also found it “a constant source of wonder” that when the fairies took off their clothes, “the largest number of homosexuals had hairless bodies. Chests, backs, arms, even legs were smooth and silky. . . . We were never able to determine just why there should be so definite a connection between what is nowadays called their sexual preference [previously known to right-thinking Jews as an abomination against Jehovah] and their smooth feminine skin. Was it a matter of hormones?” Here Decter betrays her essential modesty and lack of experience. In the no doubt privileged environment of her Midwestern youth, she could not have seen very many gentile males without their clothes on. If she had, she would have discovered that gentile men tend to be less hairy than Jews except, of course, when they are not. Because the Jews killed our Lord, they are forever marked with hair on their shoulders—something that no gentile man has on his shoulders except for John Travolta and a handful of other Italian-Americans from the Englewood, New Jersey, area.
    It is startling that Decter has not yet learned that there is no hormonal difference between men who like sex with other men and those who like sex with women. She notes, “There is also such a thing as characteristic homosexual speech . . . it is something of an accent redolent of small towns in the Midwest whence so many homosexuals seemed to have migrated to the big city.” Here one detects the disdain of the self-made New Yorker for the rural or small-town American. “Midwest” is often a code word for the flyovers, for the millions who do not really matter. But she is right in the sense that when a group chooses to live and work together, they do tend to sound and look alike. No matter how crowded and noisy a room, one can always detect the new-class person’s nasal whine.
    Every now and then, Decter does wonder if, perhaps, she is generalizing and whether this will “no doubt in itself seem to many of the uninitiated a bigoted formulation.” Well, Midge, it does. But the spirit is upon her, and she cannot stop because “one cannot even begin to get at the truth about homosexuals without this kind of generalization. They are a group so readily distinguishable.” Except of course, when they are not. It is one thing for a group of queens, in “soft, marginal” jobs, to “cavort,” as she puts it, in a summer place and be “easily distinguishable” to her cold eye just as Jewish members of the new class are equally noticeable to the cold gentile eye. But it is quite another thing for those men and women who prefer same-sex sex to other-sex sex yet do not choose to be identified—and so are not. To begin to get at the truth about homosexuals, one must realize that the majority of those millions of Americans who prefer same-sex sex to other-sex sex are obliged, sometimes willingly and happily but often not, to marry and have children and to conform to the guidelines set down by the heterosexual dictatorship.

    Point to Point Navigation; pp. 247-248: Once these fits of political correctness have passed, Altman has panned a nugget or two of purest gold in the great swamp that is Norman Podhoretz land. “The prominent neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, former editor of Commentary, has claimed that Vidal is clearly anti-Semitic: he identified a piece written by Vidal for the Nation in 1986 as ‘the most blatantly and egregiously anti-Semitic outburst to have appeared in a respectable American periodical since World War II.’ In the piece Podhoretz claims Vidal declared that ‘the Jews were impoverishing the United States and bringing the world closer and closer to a nuclear war,’ and warning that ‘the Jews (never mind if they were born here or were naturalized citizens) had better watch out if they wished to stay on among us.’
    “This would be damning,” Altman concedes,

    if indeed Vidal had written it. Checking the original article, to which Podhoretz himself referred me, I cannot find these alleged quotes. What Vidal does say is: “He and Midge [his wife] stay on among us, in order to make propaganda and raise money for Israel—a country they don’t seem eager to live in . . . Although there is nothing wrong with being a lobbyist for a foreign power, one is supposed to register with the Justice Department . . .”

    Altman continues,

    No mention of the warning to Jews. What is missed in those attacks on Vidal for anti-Semitism is any recognition of his sense of betrayal when some New York Jewish intellectuals, with whom he had mixed as a young writer, enthusiastically denounced the new gay movement. Midge Decter . . . at Harper’s Magazine . . . published an article by Joseph Epstein in which he wrote: “If I had the power to do so I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth.” It was Vidal, not the Jewish Decter, who saw the striking parallel in this language to that used by ******.

    Although the Bush administration has got us used to the telling of lies about such important matters as war and peace, the thriving cottage industry of ascribing to public figures words that they never said is less well known. But severe laws are in place with very severe penalties for those who, like Norman Podhoretz, simply invent inflammatory statements which he then ascribes to his numerous enemies as their actual words, a practice that should he persist in, he will be, under current law, prison-bound.

    pp. 172-173: I took longhand notes. Since Goldwater at his desk was backlit, I described his eyes as dark when fans later wrote me they were blue. He came across as a straightforward unpolished man who held many cranky views which the voters sometimes guiltily identified with but would probably not vote for. Now, as I write, the Cheney-Bush junta is reenacting the Goldwater agendum. I wrote in Life how “Goldwater, reluctantly, realizes that Social Security is here to stay—it is too late to take it away—but he thinks the program should be voluntary and certainly not enlarged to include medical care for the aged or anything else. He favors breaking off diplomatic relations with the Russians; he wants to present them wherever possible with a take-it-or-leave-it, peace or war attitude. He noted sadly that when conservative true believers in the Republican Party come to nominate a candidate for president they invariably choose a liberal or moderate candidate.” So I proposed: “Why not start a third party?” He was brisk. “If I thought it would work, I might. But I don’t know. Third parties never get off the ground in this country . . . For one thing conservatism is pretty divided . . . No. A political party can only start around a strong individual.” He looked past me at the bust of Lincoln on the mantelpiece; his jaw set. “Like Lincoln.” Jack Kennedy very much enjoyed my piece. “For me he’s the dream Republican candidate, while Nelson Rockefeller could be trouble.”
    I ended my piece with Cicero’s warning to a fellow political adventurer, in a falling year of the Roman republic: “I am sure you understand the political situation into which you have . . . no, not stumbled but stepped; for it was by deliberate choice and by no accident that you flung your tribunate into the very crisis of things; and I doubt not that you reflect how potent in politics is opportunity, how shifting the phases, how incalculable the issue of events, how easily swayed are men’s predilections, what pitfalls there are and what insincerity in life.”

    p. 169: . . . Many of these generals were startlingly young even to my youthful eye. Like so many of the early fliers they were a race apart. They also tended to political conservatism—but then so did I, not to mention Jack Kennedy who was very much his father’s son.

    pp. 133-134: Once, I mildly complained that he had borrowed from my novel The Judgment of Paris the character of a hermaphrodite who is the center of a religious cult. No, he’d not, of course, read the book but Eugene Walter, an American writer in Rome, had and a version of my character appears in Satyricon which Walter worked on. Fred [Fellini] denied any need to borrow such a character. “Why should I? When I . . . I am a hermaphrodite! Is well known, Gorino.” Then he gave me a short treatment of the scenes he wanted for Casanova. “I know you will hurry,” he said. I hurried. The script was accepted by Paramount. He got his million, a start date, and a star, Donald Sutherland, an intelligent actor. But a newspaper photo of Sutherland arriving in Rome to play Casanova suggested that there might be a difference of opinion between star and director. As if by magic, Fred appeared in Largo Argentina. He looked worried. He asked me if I knew Sutherland. “Yes, he’d acted in a play of mine for the BBC.”
    “I am thinking about getting Mastroianni.”
    “What’s wrong with Sutherland?”
    “He doesn’t look right.” This was fatal. When Fred was casting he’d have a couple of dozen photographs of possible characters and he’d stare at them by the hour until he found the one he wanted. Appearance was all.
    I couldn’t figure out why Sutherland, whose appearance Fred knew in advance from films, had not measured up.
    “You know Casanova. You write Casanova,” he began to shift blame. “Is very stupid man. No?”
    “Actors can usually play stupidity . . .” I was reassuring.
    “Must look stupid. See? I have made silhouette of him.” Fred was a fine caricaturist. He showed me a drawing in black ink of Sutherland. “See? He looks just like prick.”
    I said I recognized the likeness. Fred looked again at his drawing, already feeling better. “I want to make empty place between two front teeth. Looks more stupid, no?”
    I had now grasped, as it were, the point to Fred’s image of the world’s most famous lover as nothing but a blind soulless erection. I thought of the newspaper photo of Sutherland in a broad-brimmed hat and a flowing cloak, the spirit of romance: they were at odds. “You think he has caps on front teeth?”
    “How would I know? Many actors do.” I tried to imagine Fred with his drill hacking away at poor Sutherland’s teeth. Although Fred was hardly a hermaphrodite he was certainly a phallophobe in a culture rooted in phallophilia. He had even done a book of caricatures of phalluses, with such labels as “the happy cock,” “the snobbish cock,” “the angry cock.” He entertained ladies with these drawings.
    Fred vanished. The film was eventually made not in direct sound but dubbed. Fred was entering his final phase which produced only one fine film, Amarcord, reminiscent of his great phase in which I had once worked for him as an actor.

    pp. 152-153: My very first publisher, E. P. Dutton, was run by a White Russian called Nick Wreden. When I was still in uniform, he had taken Williwaw, my novel about an army ship in the Aleutian Islands during the war. An ursine figure of jovial disposition, during the days of my blackout by The New York Times Wreden loyally kept on publishing me . . . . I’ve already noted how hard it is to get out of politics; perhaps I should have added how hard it is to get politics out of oneself; almost as difficult as to get prose out of one’s system if one is primarily a novelist reconstructed as a dramatist, something quite other. Each has its satisfactions but the autonomy of the novelist, when not impeded by interested parties, can result in the making of worlds whose anterior form is like that of the primal biblical myth, chaos. For the absolute dramatist like Tennessee the written play is a sort of Eden, lacking only living actors to reenact Adam and Eve and the idea of Lilith as well as the entrance of the snake to start the drama going, rather as God did. The Glorious Bird—the name that I called Tennessee—had caught on with many of his friends and, finally, with him, too. But to acknowledge me as a namer of Beasts diminished him as Supreme author. So, who was I then? He found the phrase in a letter to me where I am addressed as “Fruit of Eden,” a many-layered image, of course, at whose core there is what the first couple was forbidden ever to sample, knowledge. Thanks to the serpent’s crafty malice Eve fell upon knowledge if not wisdom and thus paradise was lost.

    p. 86: . . . I had convinced myself that Howard was going to survive indefinitely due to the magic of radiation. But then “Denial,” as Bill Clinton once so neatly put it, “is not just another river in Egypt.”

    pp. 62-65: Politics. What was the 1960 race about? Overall, the election of 1960 was largely about appearances—literally. In the television debate between Kennedy and Nixon, Kennedy did not look too young as his handlers feared while, sweating on camera and looking ill-shaven, Nixon did not appeal to many viewers. The only substantive issue of their joint appearance were two islands off China`s shore, Quemoy and Matsu, and were these barren lumps a significant part of the free world to be defended to the death by the United States or simply ignored as they had been throughout history and so hardly worth a third world war. Since Kennedy looked handsome on camera, he won the debates. But tricky Dick Nixon did get one up on Jack. After they shook hands before the debate, Nixon suddenly scowled and pointed his finger accusingly at Jack, making for a stern winning picture of what Adlai Stevenson liked to refer to as Richard the Black Hearted.
    Quemoy and Matsu were promptly forgotten and Jack squeaked through to victory, thanks to Chicago`s Mayor Daley’s sly way with election returns. The country was also being told that we were—all of us—looking for a new generation of young vigorous leaders born in the twentieth century. Dutifully, we pretended that we were. Certainly President Eisenhower did not inspire those of us allegedly eager for new frontiers to cross. In retrospect, Eisenhower managed to keep the peace with a world where Communism was said to be, thanks to the media’s shrill warnings, triumphantly on the march everywhere. Although Eisenhower, the general, did not believe that the Soviets were a threat to the United States, he did see them as posing a danger to that commercial free world that we held so dear and so, secretly, he instructed the CIA to overthrow the freely elected Iranian government of Mossadegh who had wanted to tax “our” British oil supply; then the CIA was ordered to overthrow the democratic government of Guatemala because United Fruit did not want to pay any tax at all on “our” bananas that they harvested and sold elsewhere. I’d written a novel about this, Dark Green, Bright Red, but in the general blackout of my work it vanished until Castro appeared on the scene and the book was hailed as “prophetic.” During the campaign for Congress I reluctantly gave an interview to The New York Times, knowing I was being set up because the Times did not cover mid-Hudson elections. The interviewer could not stop giggling as he kept repeating, “I know nothing about politics.” With the help of Mrs. Roosevelt I had come up with an alternative to military conscription: voluntary service at home or abroad in such places where help was needed. I got such a good response from the district that I passed the proposition on to Jack who adopted it. Once president, it became the Peace Corps headed by his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver.

    pp. 257-260: Irony has never had an easy time of it in our American version of English. We tend to bald bold literal statements whether it be during a sales pitch to someone who may be persuaded to buy a used car that once belonged to a blind octogenarian widow whose car had never accrued so much as a fraction of vulgar mileage. Lately I’ve noted that the notion of irony, if not irony itself, is suddenly abroad. Particularly on television. All sorts of young and not-so-young people when they say something that has a slightly tinny sound will, simultaneously, hold up both hands with forefingers extended on either side of the head to mean, I think, that the statement is in quotation marks because . . . well, what? That the statement for some reason is suspect? Untrue? Moot? Whatever the gesture means, I suspect that, at times, irony may be intended but the very concept of irony is unusual in our language featuring as it does enthusiastic declarative sentences sometimes true but if, in quotes, perhaps, false: so caveat auditor.
    Since much of what I say and write tends to the ironic (without, however, the cute bracketing fingers) I should like to end this memoir with, first, a definition of irony and, second, a demonstration of irony in action that ended in catastrophic murder.
    The best of dictionaries of English words and their usage is the Oxford English Dictionary. Here is their listing for “irony”:

    1) A figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used; usually taking the form of sarcasm or ridicule in which laudatory expressions are used to imply condemnation or contempt.
    2) A condition of affairs or events of a character opposite to what was, or might naturally be, expected; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the promise and fitness of things.

    Let’s keep this last definition in mind as I now tell a tale for midnight.
    In 1961 a new president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was inaugurated at the age of forty-three. With him a new generation had taken the crown from the older generation as represented by General Eisenhower. There was triumphant talk of a new frontier presumably to be crossed by all of us into a new bright land where the only shadow that marred the prospect was that of the hideous, murderous specter of international Communism centered upon the Soviet Union against whom JFK had sworn to bear any burden to ensure the ultimate victory of freedom, liberty, and so on. But early on, starting in 1959, under the general direction of the then vice president Richard M. Nixon, who had many interesting Cuban Mob connections (yes, Bebe Rebozo his mysterious friend was also linked not only to mobsters but to the Cuban dictator Batista who had been overthrown by Fidel Castro to the annoyance of the Mob, an annoyance that turned to fury when Castro shut down, if only briefly, the Mafia-run Havana casinos). Elements of the CIA were soon attempting to murder Castro who, like all Nixon enemies, was if not yet a Communist, worse, a Communist dupe. The presidential election of 1960 was a close one fought by Nixon and John F. Kennedy, an attractive Massachusetts senator whose father had, ironically, dealings with many mobsters during the pre-World War Two period, as well as at the time of the prohibition of alcohol. The late film producer Ray Stark told me how, during the short presidency of JFK, Joe Kennedy and Frank Costello (the retired N.Y. Mob overlord) would often have dinner at Kennedy’s Central Park South apartment and rehash old crimes, often in the company of a retired Teamster who gave great massages. Joe’s Mob connections were useful to Jack in the 1960 election and could easily have saved JFK’s life in 1963 had Bobby Kennedy, in the interest of building himself up in the public’s eyes, not started arresting important mobsters particularly in the so-called Apalachin Mob Conference bust where they had all come together to confer about the succession to the leadership of the New York Mob. I’ve long since forgotten how I first heard of the plot to kill JFK, while I had no idea at all of the Kennedy brothers’ plot to kill Castro on December 1, 1963, until I read a recent book by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann called Ultimate Sacrifice. It was assumed that the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had sufficiently alarmed JFK and Castro’s mentor, Khrushchev, so that they jointly backed down, putting an end, so everyone thought, to such dangerous adventures. JFK had pledged not to invade Cuba if Castro would allow inspections of any remaining missiles on the island. Since Castro did not cooperate, JFK then regarded his pledge as inoperative. “In the spring of 1963,” according to Ultimate Sacrifice (more a literal than an ironic title), “John and Robert Kennedy started laying the groundwork for a coup against Fidel Castro that would eventually be set for what they called C-Day: December, 1 1963.” Bobby, like Nixon before him, was in charge of what would be the most secretive operation of its sort in our history. Since the CIA had, in the eyes of the Kennedys, botched the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the Department of Defense was to be in charge of this adventure which would first engage Mob hit men to assassinate Castro and then replace him with a provisional government that would implore the United States to come to its aid and restore order. Ours is a society riddled with plots of every kind from, let’s say, one to bribe certain members of Congress to cheat the Indians of their casino money to the financing, often secretly, of numerous presidential elections while, simultaneously, great companies like Enron cheat customers, stockholders, employees; yet anyone who draws attention to all of this corruption is quickly denounced as a conspiracy theorist who means to undo the great fiction that anything truly wicked, at least in the murder line, must be the work of a sole solitary “nut” who is simply Evil; hence, the setting up of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone crazed killer of JFK despite his own brief but presumably accurate statement after his Dallas arrest: “I’m the patsy”; then, as planned, his being gunned down by Jack Ruby, a fellow CIA “asset” (I use dumb quotes denoting that neither, strictly speaking, was a real asset in the literal sense but each had a role to play); Oswald as lone killer for no reason at all and addled Ruby, a onetime Chicago mobster, who claimed to be deeply worried about the stress that all this must be causing the widow Kennedy.

    The Golden Age by Gore Vidal; p. 8: The voice-over narrative would be done by the notorious young radio actor Orson Welles, who had terrified the nation the previous year with his “reportage” of a Martian invasion of New Jersey. “I picked what I thought would be a perfectly incredible target for conquest. You see how wrong I was. Everyone believed that Martians lust for dominion over Passaic, New Jersey.” Then Welles agreed to narrate Timothy’s film. “We must call our film ‘War or Peace?’”
    “Why not ‘Peace or War?’” Timothy suggested.
    Welles grinned. “Less on the nose, I agree. I’m against ******, you know.”
    “I’ll tell him, when I interview him.”
    Welles’s eyes were suddenly very round and protuberant, like a vast Pekinese confronting dinner. “You’ve got H****r? To interview?”
    “Why not?” Timothy lied. He had been in the movie business almost thirty years, longer than the youthful Welles had been alive.

    Creation by Gore Vidal; p. 9: Our notions of modesty greatly amuse the Greeks, who are never so happy as when they are watching naked youths play games. Blindness spares me the sight not only of Athens’ romping youths but of those lecherous men who watch them. Yet the Athenians are modest when it comes to their women. Women here are swathed from head to toe like Persian ladies—but without color, ornament, style.
    Last edited by HERO; 02-04-2014 at 02:24 AM.

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    Julian by Gore Vidal; pp. 84-87: “I believe there does exist a first maker, an absolute power . . .”

    “Was it the same god who spoke to Moses ‘mouth to mouth’?”

    “So I have been taught.”

    “Yet that god was not absolute. He made the earth and heaven, men and beasts. But according to Moses, he did not make darkness or even matter, since the earth was already there before him, invisible and without form. He was merely the shaper of what already existed. Does one not prefer Plato’s god, who caused this universe to come ‘into being as a living creature, possessing soul and intelligence in very truth, both by the providence of god’?”

    “From the Timaeus,” I said automatically.

    “And then there is the confusion between the book of the Jews and the book of the Nazarene. The god of the first is supposed to be the god of the second. Yet in the second he is father of the Nazarene . . .”

    “By grace. They are of similar substance, but not the same.”

    Maximus laughed. “Well learned, my young Arian.”

    “I am Arian because I find it impossible to believe that God was briefly a man executed for treason. Jesus was a prophet – a son of God in some mysterious way – yes, but not the One God.”

    “Nor even his deputy, despite the efforts of the extraordinary Paul of Tarsus, who tried to prove that the tribal god of the Jews was the universal One God, even though every word Paul says is contradicted by the Jewish holy book. In letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, Paul declared that the god of Moses is the god not only of Jews but also of Gentiles. Yet the Jewish book denies this in a hundred places. As their god said to Moses: ‘Israel is my son, my first-born.’ Now if this god of the Jews were indeed, as Paul claimed, the One God, why then did he reserve for a single unimportant race the anointing, the prophets and the law? Why did he allow the rest of mankind to exist thousands of years in darkness, worshipping falsely? Of course the Jews admit that he is a ‘jealous god.’ But what an extraordinary thing for the absolute to be! Jealous of what? And cruel, too, for he avenged the sins of the fathers on guiltless children. Is not the creator described by Homer and Plato more likely? that there is one being who encompasses all life – is all life – and from this essential source emanates gods, demons, men? Or to quote the famous Orphic oracle which the Galileans are beginning to appropriate for their own use, ‘Zeus, Hades, Helios, three gods in one Godhead.’”

    “From the One many . . .” I began, but with Maximus one never needs to finish sentences. He anticipates the trend of one’s thought.

    “How can the many be denied? Are all emotions alike? or does each have characteristics peculiarly its own? And if each race has its own qualities, are not those god-given? And, if not god-given, would not these characteristics then be properly symbolized by a specific national god? In the case of the Jews a jealous bad-tempered patriarch. In the case of the effeminate, clever Syrians, a god like Apollo. Or take the Germans and the Celts – who are warlike and fierce – is it accident that they worship Ares, the war god? Or is it inevitable? The early Romans were absorbed by lawmaking and governing – their god? the king of gods, Zeus. And each god has many aspects and many names, for there is as much variety in heaven as there is among men. Some have asked: did we create these gods or did they create us? That is an old debate. Are we a dream in the mind of deity, or is each of us a separate dreamer, evoking his own reality? Though one may not know for certain, all our senses tell us that a single creation does exist and we are contained by it forever. Now the Christians would impose one final rigid myth on what we know to be various and strange. No, not even myth, for the Nazarene existed as flesh while the gods we worship were never men; rather they are qualities and powers become poetry for our instruction. With the worship of the dead Jew, the poetry ceased. The Christians wish to replace our beautiful legends with the police record of a reforming Jewish rabbi. Out of this unlikely material they hope to make a final synthesis of all the religions ever known. They now appropriate our feast days. They transform local deities into saints. They borrow from our mystery rites, particularly those of Mithras. The priests of Mithras are called ‘fathers.’ So the Christians call their priests ‘fathers.’ They even imitate the tonsure, hoping to impress new converts with the familiar trappings of an older cult. Now they have started to call the Nazarene ‘savior’ and ‘healer.’ Why? Because one of the most beloved of our gods is Asklepios, whom we call ‘savior’ and ‘healer.’”

    “But there is nothing in Mithras to equal the Christian mystery.” I argued for the devil. “What of the Eucharist, the taking of the bread and wine, when Christ said, ‘He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood shall have eternal life.’”

    Maximus smiled. “I betray no secret of Mithras when I tell you that we, too, partake of a symbolic meal, recalling the words of the Persian prophet Zarathustra, who said to those who worshipped the One God – and Mithras, ‘He who eats of my body and drinks of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall know salvation.’ That was spoken six centuries before the birth of the Nazarene.”

    I was stunned. “Zarathustra was a man . . . ?”

    “A prophet. He was struck down in a temple by enemies. As he lay dying, he said, ‘May God forgive you even as I do.’ No, there is nothing sacred to us that the Galileans have not stolen. The main task of their innumerable councils is to try to make sense of all their borrowings. I don’t envy them.”

    “I have read Porphyry . . .” I began.

    “Then you are aware of how the Galileans contradict themselves.”

    “But what of the contradictions in Hellenism?”

    “Old legends are bound to conflict. But then, we never think of them as literally true. They are merely cryptic messages from the gods, who in turn are aspects of the One. We know that we must interpret them. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail. But the Christians hold to the literal truth of the book which was written about the Nazarene long after his death. Yet even that book so embarrasses them that they must continually alter its meaning. For instance, nowhere does it say that Jesus was God . . .”

    “Except in John.” I quoted: “ ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.’” I had not been five years a church reader for nothing.

    “That is open to interpretation. What precisely was meant by ‘Word’? Is it really, as they now pretend, the holy spirit who is also God who is also Jesus? – which brings us again to that triple impiety they call ‘truth,’ which in turn reminds us that the most noble Julian also wishes to know the truth.”

    “It is what I wish.” I felt strange. The smoke from the torches was thick in the room. All things now appeared indistinct and unreal. Had the walls opened suddenly and the sun blazed down upon us, I should not have been surprised. But Maximus practiced no magic that day. He was matter-of-fact.

    “No one can tell another man what is true. Truth is all around us. But each must find it in his own way. Plato is part of the truth. So is Homer. So is the story of the Jewish god if one ignores its arrogant claims. Truth is wherever man has glimpsed divinity. Theurgy can achieve this awakening. Poetry can. Or the gods themselves of their own volition can suddenly open our eyes.”

    pp. 329-333: We all believe – even the Galileans, despite their confused doctrine of trinity – that there is a single Godhead from which all life, divine and mortal, descends and to which all life must return. We may not know this creator, though his outward symbol is the sun. But through intermediaries, human and divine, he speaks to us, shows us aspects of himself, prepares us for the next stage of the journey. “To find the father and maker of all is hard,” as Socrates said. “And having found him it is impossible to utter him.” Yet as Aeschylus wrote with equal wisdom, “men search out god and searching find him.” The search is the whole point to philosophy and to the religious experience. It is a part of the Galilean impiety to proclaim that the search ended three hundred years ago when a young rabbi was executed for treason. But according to Paul of Tarsus, Jesus was no ordinary rabbi nor even messiah; he was the One God himself who rose from the dead in order to judge the world immediately. In fact, Jesus is quoted as having assured his followers that some of them would still be alive when the day of judging arrived. But one by one the disciples died in the natural course and we are still waiting for that promised day. Meanwhile, the bishops amass property, persecute one another, and otherwise revel in this life, while the state is weakened and on our borders the barbarians gather like winter wolves, waiting for us to stagger in our weakness, and to fall. I see this as plainly as I see my hand as it crosses the page (for this part I do not entrust to any secretary). To stop the chariot as it careens into the sun, that is what I was born to do.

    I explained my plans to Praetextatus. Some I have already put into effect. Others must wait until I return from Persia.

    The failure of Hellenism has been, largely, a matter of organization. Rome never tried to impose any sort of worship upon the countries it conquered and civilized; in fact, quite the contrary. Rome was eclectic. All religions were given an equal opportunity and even Isis—after some resistance—was worshipped at Rome. As a result we have a hundred important gods and a dozen mysteries. Certain rites are – or were – supported by the state because they involved the genius of Rome. But no attempt was ever made to coordinate the worship of Zeus on the Capitol with, let us say, the Vestals who kept the sacred fire in the old forum. As time passed our rites became, and one must admit it bluntly, merely form, a reassuring reminder of the great age of the city, a token gesture to the old gods who were thought to have founded and guided Rome from a village by the Tiber to world empire. Yet from the beginning, there were always those who mocked. A senator of the old Republic once asked an augur how he was able to get through a ceremony of divination without laughing. I am not so light-minded, though I concede that many of our rites have lost their meaning over the centuries; witness those temples at Rome where certain verses learned by rote are chanted year in and year out, yet no one, including the priests, knows what they mean, for they are in the early language of the Etruscans, long since forgotten.

    As the religious forms of the state became more and more rigid and perfunctory, the people were drawn to the mystery cults, many of them Asiatic in origin. At Eleusis or in the various caves of Mithras, they were able to get a vision of what this life can be, as well as a foretaste of the one that follows. There are, then, three sorts of religious experiences. The ancient rites, which are essentially propitiatory. The mysteries, which purge the soul and allow us to glimpse eternity. And philosophy, which attempts to define not only the material world but to suggest practical ways to the good life, as well as attempting to synthesize (as Iamblichos does so beautifully) all true religion in a single comprehensive system.

    Now into this most satisfactory – at least potentially – of worlds, came the Galileans. They base their religion on the idea of a single god, as though that were a novelty: from Homer to Julian, Hellenes have been monotheist. Now this single god, according to the largest of the Galilean sects, sent his son (conceived of a virgin, like so many other Asiatic gods) to preach to the world, to suffer, to rise from the dead, to judge mankind on a day which was supposed to have dawned more than three hundred years ago. Now I have studied as carefully as any bishop the writings of those who knew the Galilean, or said they did. They are composed in bad Greek, which I should have thought would have been enough to put off any educated man, while the story they tell is confused, to say the least (following Porphyry I have discovered some sixty-four palpable contradictions and absurdities).

    The actual life story of the Galilean has vanished. But I have had an interesting time trying to piece it together. Until thirty years ago, the archives at Rome contained a number of contemporary reports on his life. They have since disappeared, destroyed by order of Constantine. It is of course an old and bitter joke that the Nazarene himself was not a Christian. He was something quite else. I have talked to antiquarians who knew about the file in the archives; several had either read it or knew people who had. Jesus was, simply, a reforming Jewish priest, exclusive as the Jews are, with no interest in proselytizing outside the small world of the Jews. His troubles with Rome were not religious (when did Rome ever persecute anyone for religious belief?) but political. This Jesus thought he was the messiah. Now the messiah is a sort of Jewish hero who, according to legend, will one day establish a Jewish empire prior to the end of the world. He is certainly not a god, much less the One God’s son. The messiah has been the subject of many Jewish prophecies, and Jesus carefully acted out each prophetic requirement in order to make himself resemble this hero (the messiah would enter Jerusalem on an ass; so did he, et cetera). But the thing went wrong. The people did not support him. His god forsook him. He turned to violence. With a large band of rebels, he seized the temple, announcing that he had come with a sword. What his god would not do for him he must do for himself. So at the end he was neither a god nor even the Jewish messiah but a rebel who tried to make himself king of the Jews . . .

    We must never forget that in his own words, Jesus was a Jew who believed in the Law of Moses. This means he could not be the son of God (the purest sort of blasphemy), much less God himself, temporarily earthbound. There is nothing in the book of the Jews which prepares us for a messiah’s kinship with Jehovah. Only by continual reinterpretation and convenient “revelations” have the Galileans been able to change this reformer-rabbi’s career into a parody of one of our own gods, creating a passion of death and rebirth quite inconceivable to one who kept the Law of Moses . . . not to mention disgusting to us who have worshipped not men who were executed in time but symbolic figures like Mithras and Osiris and Adonis whose literal existence does not matter but whose mysterious legend and revelation are everything.

    The moral preachings of the Galilean, though often incoherently recorded, are beyond criticism. He preaches honesty, sobriety, goodness, and a kind of asceticism. In other words, he was a quite ordinary Jewish rabbi, with Pharisee tendencies. In a crude way he resembles Marcus Aurelius. Compared to Plato or Aristotle, he is a child.

    It is the wonder of our age how this simple-minded provincial priest was so extraordinarily transformed into a god by Paul of Tarsus who outdid all quacks and cheats that ever existed anywhere. As Porphyry wrote so sharply in the last century, “The gods have declared Christ to have been most pious; he has become immortal and by them his memory is cherished. Whereas, the Christians are a polluted set, contaminated and enmeshed in error.” It is even worse now. By the time Constantine, Constantius and the horde of bishops got through with Jesus, little of his original message was left. Every time they hold a synod they move further away from the man’s original teaching. The conception of the triple god is their latest masterpiece.

    One reason why the Galileans grow ever more powerful and dangerous to us is their continual assimilation of our rites and holy days. Since they rightly regard Mithraism as their chief rival, they have for some years now been taking over various aspects of the Mithraic rite and incorporating them into their own ceremonies. Some critics believe that the gradual absorption of our forms and prayers is fairly recent. But I date it from the very beginning. In at least one of the biographies of the Galileans there is a strange anecdote which his followers are never able to explain (and they are usually nothing if not ingenious at making sense of nonsense). The Galilean goes to a fig tree to pick its fruit. But as it is not the season for bearing, the tree was barren. In a fit of temper, the Galilean blasts the tree with magic, killing it. Now the fig tree is sacred to Mithras: as a youth, it was his home, his source of food and clothing. I suggest that the apologist who wrote that passage in the first century did so deliberately, inventing it or recording it, no matter which, as a sign that the Galilean would destroy the worship of Mithras as easily as he had destroyed the sacred tree.

    pp. 22-23: I must have been staring too obviously at the ceiling, for the Bishop suddenly asked me, “What is the most important of our Lord’s teachings?”

    Without thinking, I said, “Thou shalt not kill.” I then rapidly quoted every relevant text from the new testament (much of which I knew by heart) and all that I could remember from the old. The Bishop had not expected this response. But he nodded appreciatively. “You have quoted well. But why do you think this commandment the most important?”

    “Because had it been obeyed my father would be alive.” I startled myself with the quickness of my own retort.

    The Bishop’s pale face was even ashier than usual. “Why do you say this?”

    “Because it’s true. The Emperor killed my father. Everybody knows that. And I suppose he shall kill Gallus and me, too, when he gets around to it.” Boldness, once begun, is hard to check.

    “The Emperor is a holy man,” said the Bishop severely. “All the world admires his piety, his war against heresy, his support of the true faith.”

    This made me even more reckless. “Then if he is such a good Christian how could he kill so many members of his own family? After all, isn’t it written in Matthew and again in Luke that . . .”

    “You little fool!” The Bishop was furious. “Who has been telling you these things? Mardonius?”

    I had sense enough to protect my tutor. “No, Bishop. But people talk about everything in front of us. I suppose they think we don’t understand. Anyway it’s all true, isn’t it?”

    The Bishop had regained his composure. His answer was slow and grim. “All that you need to know is that your cousin, the Emperor, is a devout and good man, and never forget that you are at his mercy.” The Bishop then made me recite for four hours, as punishment for impudence. But the lesson I learned was not the one intended. All that I understood was that Constantius was a devout Christian. Yet he had killed his own flesh and blood. Therefore, if he could be both a good Christian and a murderer, then there was something wrong with his religion. Needless to say, I no longer blame Constantius’s faith for his misdeeds, any more than Hellenism should be held responsible for my shortcomings! Yet for a child this sort of harsh contradiction is disturbing, and not easily forgotten.

    pp. 146-149: Prohaeresius was suspicious of me from the beginning. And for all his geniality he seemed by his questions to be trying to get me to confess to some obscure reason for visiting Athens. He spoke of the splendors of Milan and Rome, the vitality of Constantinople, the elegant viciousness of Antioch, the high intellectual tone of Pergamon and Nicomedia; he even praised Caesarea—“the Metropolis of Letters,” as Gregory always refers to it, and not humorously. Any one of these cities, Prohaeresius declared, ought to attract me more than Athens. I told him bluntly that I had come to see him.

    “And the beautiful city?” Macrina suddenly interrupted.

    “And the beautiful city,” I repeated dutifully.

    Prohaeresius rose suddenly. “Let us take a walk by the river,” he said. “Just the two of us.”

    At the Ilissos we stopped opposite the Kallirrhoe Fountain, a sort of stone island so hollowed and shaped by nature that it does indeed resemble a fountain; from it is drawn sacred water. We sat on the bank, among long grass brown from August heat. Plane trees sheltered us from the setting sun. The day was golden; the air still. All around us students read or slept. Across the river, above a row of dusty trees, rose Hymettos. I was euphoric.

    “My dear boy,” Prohaeresius addressed me now without ceremony as father to son. “You are close to the fire.”

    It was a most unexpected beginning. I lay full length on the thick brown turf while he sat cross-legged beside me, very erect, his back to the bole of a plane tree. I looked up at him, noting how rounded and youthful the neck was, how firm the jaw line for one so old.

    “Fire? The sun’s? The earth’s?”

    Prohaeresius smiled. “Neither. Nor hell’s fire, as the Christians say.”

    “As you believe?” I was not certain to what extent he was a Galilean; even now, I don’t know. He has always been evasive. I cannot believe such a fine teacher and Hellenist could be one of them, but anything is possible, as the gods daily demonstrate.

    “We are not ready for that dialogue just yet,” he said. He gestured toward the swift shrunken river at our feet. “There, by the way, is where Plato’s Phaidros is set. They had good talk that day, and on this same bank.”

    “Shall we equal it?”

    “Someday, perhaps.” He paused. I waited, as though for an omen. “You will be emperor one day.” The old man said this evenly, as though stating fact.

    “I don’t want to be. I doubt if I shall be. Remember that of all our family, only Constantius and I are left. As the others went, so I shall go. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to see Athens first.”

    “Perhaps you mean that. But I . . . well, I confess to a weakness for oracles.” He paused significantly. That was enough. One word more and he would have committed treason. It is forbidden by law to consult an oracle concerning the emperor – an excellent law, by the way, for who would ever obey a ruler the date of whose death was known and whose successor had been identified? I must say that I was shocked at the old man’s candor. But also pleased that he felt he could trust me.

    “Is it predicted?” I was as bold as he. I incriminated myself, hoping to prove to him my own good faith.

    He nodded. “Not the day, not the year, merely the fact. But it will be tragedy.”

    “For me? Or for the state?”

    “No one knows. The oracle was not explicit.” He smiled. “They seldom are. I wonder why we put such faith in them.”

    “Because the gods do speak to us in dreams and reveries. That is a fact. Both Homer and Plato . . .”

    “Perhaps they do. Anyway, the habit of believing is an old one . . . I knew all your family.” Idly he plucked at the brown grass with thick-veined old hands. “Constans was weak. But he had good qualities. He was not the equal of Constantius, of course. You are.”

    “Don’t say that.”

    “I merely observe.” He turned to me suddenly. “Now it is my guess, Julian, that you mean to restore the worship of the old gods.”

    My breath stopped. “You presume too much.” My voice shook despite a hardness of tone which would have done justice to Constantius himself. Sooner or later one learns the Caesarian trick: that abrupt shift in tone which is harsh reminder of the rod and axe we wield over all men.

    “I hope that I do,” said the old man, serenely.

    “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken like that. You are the master.”

    He shook his head. “No, you are the master, or will be soon. I want only to be useful. To warn you that despite what your teacher Maximus may say, the Christians have won.”

    “I don’t believe it!” Fiercely and tactlessly I reminded him that only a small part of the Roman population was actually Galilean.

    “Why do you call them Galileans?” he asked, interrupting my harangue.

    “Because Galilee was where he came from!”

    Prohaeresius saw through me. “You fear the word ‘Christian,’” he said, “for it suggests that those who call themselves that are indeed followers of a king, a great lord.”

    “A mere name cannot affect what they are,” I evaded him. But he is right. The name is a danger to us.

    I resumed my argument: most of the civilized world is neither Hellenist nor Galilean, but suspended in between. With good reason, a majority of the people hate the Galileans. Too many innocents have been slaughtered in their mindless doctrinal quarrels. I need only mention the murder of Bishop George at Alexandria to recall vividly to those who read this the savagery of that religion not only toward its enemies (whom they term “impious”) but also toward its own followers.

    Prohaeresius tried to argue with me, but though he is the world’s most eloquent man, I would not listen to him. Also, he was uncharacteristically artless in his defense of the Galileans, which made me suspect he was not one of them. Like so many, he is in a limbo between Hellenism and the new death cult. Nor do I think he is merely playing it safe. He is truly puzzled. The old gods do seem to have failed us, and I have always accepted the possibility that they have withdrawn from human affairs, terrible as that is to contemplate. But mind has not failed us. Philosophy has not failed us. From Homer to Plato to Iamblichos the true gods continue to be defined in their many aspects and powers: multiplicity contained by the One, all emanating from truth. Or as Plotinus wrote: “Of its nature the soul loves God and longs to be at one with him.” As long as the soul of man exists, there is God. It is all so clear.

    I realized that I was making a speech to a master of eloquence, but I could not stop myself. Dozing students sat up and looked at me curiously, convinced I was mad, for I was waving my arms in great arcs as I am prone to do when passionate. Prohaeresius took it all in good part.

    “Believe what you must,” he said at last.

    “But you believe, too! You believe in what I believe. You must or you could not teach as you do.”

    “I see it differently. That is all. But try to be practical. The thing has taken hold. The Christians govern the world through Constantius. They have had almost thirty years of wealth and power. They will not surrender easily. You come too late, Julian. Of course if you were Constantine and this were forty years ago and we were pondering these same problems, then I might say to you: ‘Strike! Outlaw them! Rebuild the temples!’ But now is not then. You are not Constantine. They have the world. The best one can hope to do is civilize them. That is why I teach. That is why I can never help you.”

    I respected him that day. I respect him now. If he is still alive when this campaign is ended, I shall want to talk to him again. How we all long to make conversions!

    pp. 336-340: At the beginning of April, for my own amusement, I summoned the bishops to the palace. After all, I am Pontifex Maximus and all religion is my province, though I would not have the temerity to say to any priests what Constantius said to the bishops at the synod of Milan in 355: “My will shall be your guiding line!”

    I received the Galileans in the Daphne Palace. I wore the diadem and I held the orb. (Galileans are always impressed by the ritual show of power.) It was a remarkable occasion. Nearly a thousand bishops were present, including those whom I had recalled from exile. As a result, there are often two bishops for one see. This makes for much bitter wrangling. They are not gentle, these priests of the Nazarene.

    At first the bishops were afraid of me, but I put them at their ease. I told them that I was not a persecutor, though others before me had been, not all of them emperors. This was directed at several militant bishops who had, by violence, destroyed their enemies.

    “No one,” I said, “shall ever be hurt by me because of his faith.” There was a general easing of tension. But they were still wary. “Of course I should like to convince you that I am right. But since what is true is as plain as the sun, if you will not see it, you will not see it. But I cannot allow you to hurt others, as you have done for so many years. I will not list the crimes you have committed, or permitted. The murders, the thieving, the viciousness more usual to the beasts of the field than to priests, even of the wrong god.”

    I held up a thick sheaf of documents. “Here are your latest crimes. Murders requested, and property requested . . . oh, how you love the riches of this world! Yet your religion preaches that you should not resist injury or go to law or even hold property, much less steal it! You have been taught to consider nothing your own, except your place in the other and better world. Yet you wear jewels, rich robes, build huge basilicas, all in this world, not the next. You were taught to despise money, yet you amass it. When done an injury, real or imagined, you were told not to retaliate, that it was wrong to return evil for evil. Yet you battle with one another in lawless mobs, torturing and killing those you disapprove of. You have endangered not only the true religion but the security of the state whose chief magistrate I am, by heaven’s will. You are not worthy even of the Nazarene. If you cannot live by those precepts which you are willing to defend with the knife and with poison” (a reference to the poisoning of Arius by Athanasius), “what are you then but hypocrites?”

    All through this there had been mumbling. Now there was a fine Galilean eruption. They began to shout and rant, shaking their fists not only at me—which is treason—but at one another—which is folly, for they ought to be united against the common enemy. I tried to speak but I could not be heard, and my voice can be heard by an entire army out-of-doors! The tribune of the Scholarians looked alarmed, but I motioned to him to do nothing.

    Finally, like the bull of Mithras, I bellowed, “The Franks and Germans listened when I spoke!” This had a quieting effect. They remembered where they were.

    I was then all mildness. I apologized for having spoken harshly. It was only because I had such respect for the words of the Nazarene, as well as for the strict law of the Jews which he—as a Jew—sought only to extol. This caused a slight but brief murmur. I then said that I was willing to give the Nazarene a place among the gods between Isis and Dionysos, but that no man who had the slightest reverence for the unique creator of the universe could possibly conceive that this provincial wonder-worker could have been the creator himself. Before they could start their monkey-chatter, I spoke quickly and loudly. “Yet I am willing to believe he is a manifestation of the One, a healer, much like Asklepios, and as such, I am willing to honor him.”

    I then repeated what I had written in the Edict of 4 February. There was to be universal toleration. The Galileans could do as they pleased among their own kind though they were not to persecute each other, much less Hellenists. I suggested that they be less greedy in the acquiring of property. I admitted that I was causing them hardship when I asked for the return of temple lands, but I pointed out that they had done us considerable hardship when they had stolen them. I suggested that if they were less contemptuous of our ancient myths – Kronos swallowing his children – we might be less rude about their triple god and his virgin-birth.

    “After all, as educated men, we should realize that myths always stand for other things. They are toys for children teething. The man knows that the toy horse is not a true horse but merely suggests the idea of a horse to a baby’s mind. When we pray before the statue of Zeus, though the statue contains him as everything must, the statue is not the god himself but only a suggestion of him. Surely, as fellow priests, we can be frank with one another about these grown-up matters.

    “Now I must ask you to keep the peace in the cities. If you do not, as chief magistrate I shall discipline you. But you have nothing to fear from me as Pontifex Maximus, if you behave with propriety and obey the civil laws and conduct your disputes without resorting, as you have in the past, to fire and the knife. Preach only the Nazarene’s words and we shall be able to live with one another. But of course you are not content with those few words. You add new things daily. You nibble at Hellenism, you appropriate our holy days, our ceremonies, all in the name of a Jew who knew them not. You rob us, and reject us, while quoting the arrogant Cyprian who said that outside your faith there can be no salvation! Is one to believe that a thousand generations of men, among them Plato and Homer, are lost because they did not worship a Jew who was supposed to be god? a man not born when the world began? You invite us to believe that the One God is not only ‘jealous,’ as the Jews say, but evil? I am afraid it takes extraordinary self-delusion to believe such things. But I am not here to criticize you, only to ask you to keep the peace and never to forget that the greatness of our world was the gift of other gods and a different, more subtle philosophy, reflecting the variety in nature.”

    An ancient bishop got to his feet. He wore the simple robes of a holy man rather than those of a prince. “There is but One God. Only one from the beginning of time.”

    “I agree. And he may take as many forms as he chooses for he is all powerful.”

    “Only one form has the One God.” The old voice though thin was firm.

    “Was this One God revealed in the holy book of the Jews?”

    “He was, Augustus. And he remains.”

    “Did not Moses say in the book called Deuteronomy that ‘You shall not add to the word I have given you, nor take away from it.’ And did he not curse anyone who does not abide by the Law God gave him?”

    There was a pause. The bishops were subtle men and they were perfectly aware that I had set some sort of trap for them, but they were forced to proceed according to their holy book, for nothing in this part of it is remotely ambiguous.

    “All that you say Moses said is not only true but eternal.”

    “Then,” I let the trap snap shut, “why do you alter the Law to suit yourselves? In a thousand ways you have perverted not only Moses but the Nazarene and you have done it ever since the day the blasphemous Paul of Tarsus said ‘Christ is the end of the Law!’ You are neither Hebrew nor Galilean but opportunists.”

    The storm broke. The bishops were on their feet shouting sacred texts, insults, threats. For a moment I thought they were going to attack me on the throne, but even in their fury they kept within bounds.

    I rose and crossed to the door at the back, ignored by the bishops who were now abusing one another as well as me. As I was about to leave the room, the ancient bishop who had challenged me suddenly barred my way. He was Maris of Chalcedon. I have never seen such malevolence in a human face.

    “You are cursed!” He nearly spat in my face. The Scholarian tribune drew his sword but I motioned for him to stand back.

    “By you perhaps, but not by God.” I was mild, even Galilean.

    “Apostate!” He hurled the word at me.

    I smiled. “Not I. You. I worship as men have worshipped since time began. It is you who have abandoned not only philosophy but God himself.”

    “You will burn in hell!”

    “Beware, old man, you are the one in danger. All of you. Don’t think that the several generations which have passed since the Nazarene died count for more than an instant in eternity. The past does not cease because you ignore it. What you worship is evil. You have chosen division, cruelty, superstition. Well, I mean to stop the illness, to cut out the cancer, to strengthen the state . . . Now step aside, my good fellow, and let me pass.”

    He stepped not aside but directly in my path. The tribune of the Scholarians said suddenly, “He is blind, Augustus.”

    The old man nodded. “And glad that I cannot see you, Apostate.”

    “You must ask the Nazarene to restore your sight. If he loves you, it is a simple matter.” With this, I stepped around him. As I did, he made a hissing noise, the sort old women make when they fear the presence of an evil demon. He also made the sign of the cross on his forehead. I responded to this gracious gesture by making the sign which wards off the evil eye, but it was lost on him.

    pp. 365-367: Though emperors tend to be more merciful than local magistrates, a few lawyers inevitably press their luck too hard and at one time or another we all make some angry judgment we later wish we hadn’t. Aware of this tendency in myself, I instructed the city prefect to stop me whenever he thought I was becoming too emotional or irrelevant. After he overcame his first shyness, he was very useful to me, and kept my prow to the course, as the saying goes.

    As a matter of private curiosity, I did ask each litigant what his religion was, and I believe most of them answered honestly. Quite a few admitted to being Galilean when it would have helped their case (so it was believed) to lie to me. But since it was soon known that I never allowed my own religious preferences to affect my judgment, many of those who appeared before me declared themselves Galileans in the most passionate way, demanding I persecute those not of their persuasion.

    In Antioch the Galileans are divided between blind followers of Arius and semi-blind followers; they quarrel incessantly. There are of course good Hellenists in the city, but they are ineffective. Potentially there are many who agree with us, but we make no headway, for the Antiochenes cannot be bothered with serious religion. They like the Nazarene because he “forgives” their sins and crimes with a splash of water . . . even though there is no record of this water having cured even a wart! One interesting paradox I mentioned to Bishop Meletius. We met only twice; once cautiously, once angrily. On the first and cautious occasion, Meletius told me that the city was devoutly Galilean not only because Paul of Tarsus himself had converted so many of the people but also because it was at Antioch that the presumptuous word “Christian” was first used to describe the Galileans.

    “Then why, Bishop, if your people are so devoted to the Nazarene, does the entire city celebrate the death of Adonis? one of our gods?”

    Meletius shrugged. “Old customs are hard to break.”

    “So is an ancient faith.”

    “They regard it merely as a festival.”

    “Yet they break the law the Nazarene preaches: Thou shalt have no other god but me.”

    “Augustus, we do not condone what they do.”

    “I cannot believe it is possible for a Galilean to worship both Adonis and the dead man you call god.”

    “One day we hope to persuade them to forsake all impious festivals.”

    “Unless of course I have succeeded in persuading them to worship the One God.”

    “The many gods of paganism?”

    “Each is an aspect of the One.”

    “Ours is the One.”

    “But isn’t it written in the book of the Jews—which you believe to be holy because the Nazarene thought it holy . . .”

    “It is holy, Augustus.”

    “. . . written that the most high god of the Jews was a jealous god . . .”

    “It is written and so he is.”

    “But was he not also by his own definition the god only of the Jews?”

    “He is all embracing . . .”

    “No, Bishop. He was the particular god of the Jews, as Athena was the goddess of Athens. He did not claim to be the One God, only a particular and jealous god, limited to one unimportant tribe. Well, if he is limited then he cannot, by definition, be the One God, who, you will agree with me, can have no limitation, since he is in everything and all things comprise him.”

    I was particularly vehement at this period, for I was doing research for my book Against the Galileans, in which, following Porphyry, I make a considerable case against the atheists. The bishops of course tend to dismiss the many contradictions in their holy books as signs of a divine mystery rather than plain proof that theirs is a man-made religion, suitable for slaves and uneducated women.

    pp. 383-385 (Libanius): The only fault I find with Julian is that he was in too great a hurry. He wanted everything restored at once. We were to return to the age of Augustus in a matter of months. Given years, I am sure he could have re-established the old religions. The people hunger for them. The Christians do not offer enough, though I must say they are outrageously bold in the way they adapt our most sacred rituals and festivals to their own ends. A clear sign that their religion is a false one, improvised by man in time, rather than born naturally of eternity.

    From the beginning, the Christians tried to allay man’s fear of death. Yet they have still not found a way to release that element in each of us which demands communion with the One. Our mysteries accomplish this, which is why they are the envy of the Christians and the enduring object of their spite. Now I am perfectly willing to grant that the Christian way is one way to knowing. But it is not the only way, as they declare. If it were, why would they be so eager to borrow from us? What most disturbs me is their curious hopelessness about this life, and the undue emphasis they put on the next. Of course eternity is larger than the brief span of a man’s life, but to live entirely within the idea of eternity is limiting to the spirit and makes man wretched in his day-to-day existence, since his eye must always be fixed not on this lovely world but on that dark door through which he must one day pass. The Christians are almost as death-minded as the original Egyptians, and I have yet to meet one, even my old pupil and beloved friend Basil, who has ever got from his faith that sense of joy and release, of oneness with creation and delight in what has been created, that a man receives when he has gone through those days and nights at Eleusis. It is the meagerness of Christian feeling that disconcerts me, their rejection of this world in favor of a next which is—to be tactful—not entirely certain. Finally, one must oppose them because of their intellectual arrogance, which seems to me often like madness. We are told that there is only one way, one revelation: theirs. Nowhere in their tirades and warnings can one find the modesty or wisdom of a Plato, or that pristine world of flesh and spirit Homer sang of. From the beginning, curses and complaints have been the Christian style, inherited from the Jews, whose human and intellectual discipline is as admirable as their continuing bitterness is limiting and blighting.

    I see nothing good ever coming of this religious system no matter how much it absorbs our ancient customs and puts to use for its own ends Hellenic wit and logic. Yet I have no doubt now that the Christians will prevail. Julian was our last hope, and he went too soon. Something large and harmful has now come into the life of this old world. One recalls, stoically, the injunction of Sophocles: “And ever shall this law hold good, nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse.”

    It is also significant that this death cult should take hold just as the barbarians are gathering on our borders. It is fitting that if our world is to fall – and I am certain that it will – the heirs of those who had originally created this beautiful civilization and made great art should at the end be art-less and worship a dead man and disdain this life for an unknown eternity behind the dark door.

    pp. 3-4 (Libanius to Priscus): Yesterday morning as I was about to enter the lecture hall, I was stopped by a Christian student who asked me in a voice eager with malice, “Have you heard about the Emperor Theodosius?”

    I cleared my throat ready to investigate the nature of this question, but he was too quick for me. “He has been baptized a Christian.”

    I was noncommittal. Nowadays, one never knows who is a secret agent. Also, I was not particularly surprised at the news. When Theodosius fell ill last winter and the bishops arrived like vultures to pray over him, I knew that should he recover they would take full credit for having saved him. He survived. Now we have a Christian emperor in the East, to match Gratian, our Christian emperor in the West. It was inevitable.

    I turned to go inside but the young man was hardly finished with his pleasant task. “Theodosius has also issued an edict. It was just read in front of the senate house. I heard it. Did you?”

    “No. But I always enjoy imperial prose,” I said politely.

    “You may not enjoy this. The Emperor has declared heretic all those who do not follow the Nicene Creed.”

    “I’m afraid Christian theology is not really my subject. The edict hardly applies to those of us who are still faithful to philosophy.”

    “It applies to everyone in the East.” He said this slowly, watching me all the while. “The Emperor has even appointed an Inquisitor to determine one’s faith. The days of toleration are over.”

    I was speechless; the sun flared in my eyes; all things grew confused and I wondered if I was about to faint, or even die. But the voices of two colleagues recalled me. I could tell by the way they greeted me that they, too, had heard about the edict and were curious to know my reaction. I gave them no pleasure.

    “Of course I expected it,” I said. “The Empress Postuma wrote me only this week to say that . . .” I invented freely. I have not of course heard from the Empress in some months, but I thought that the enemy should be reminded to what extent I enjoy the favor of Gratian and Postuma. It is humiliating to be forced to protect oneself in this way, but these are dangerous times.

    p. 218 [Julian]: While we were talking amiably, I heard far off the uneasy neighing of horses but thought nothing of if. Then Oribasius mentioned those Hebrew books which the Galileans refer to as the old testament. This was a favorite subject with me. So much so that I forgot Helena was in the room. “I admire the Jews because of their devotion to a single god. I also admire them because of their self-discipline. But I deplore the way they interpret their god. He is supposed to be universal, but he is interested only in them . . .”

    “Christ,” said my wife suddenly, “was sent by God to all of us.”

    There was an embarrassed silence.

    “The issue,” I said finally, with great gentleness, “is just that: would the One God intervene in such a way?”

    “We believe that he did.”

    The room was now completely still save for the far-off sound of horses. My companions were on edge.

    “Yet is it not written in the so-called gospel of John, that ‘out of Galilee arises no prophet’?”

    “God is God, not a prophet,” said Helena.

    “But the idea of the Nazarene’s mission, in his own words, is taken from the old testament, which is Jewish, which says that a prophet – a messiah – will one day come to the Jews, but not God himself.”

    “That is a difficulty,” she admitted.

    “In fact,” and I was stupidly blunt, “there is almost no connection between what the Galileans believe and what the Nazarene preached. More to the point, I see nothing in the Jewish text that would allow for such a monstrosity as the triple god. The Jews were monotheists. The Galileans are atheists.”

    pp. 418-421: While we were still at the tomb, Nevitta got me to one side. He was troubled because, “The men believe this is the first time Romans have ever invaded Persia. They believe that . . .” he gestured to include all the south . . . “this country has a spell on it.”

    We were standing in the shadow of the tomb. I reached out my hand and touched the rough-hewn tufa. “Here is the proof that we have been in Persia before.”

    “Exactly, Emperor. They say that this old emperor was killed by Persian demons because he dared to cross the Abora River. They say lightning struck him dead. They say Persia is forbidden to us.”

    I was astonished. Nevitta, who fears no man, is frightened of demons. I spoke to him as teacher to child. “Nevitta, Gordian defeated the Great King in a battle one hundred and twenty years ago. Then he was killed by his own men. The Persians had nothing to do with his death. They are not demons. They are men. Men can be defeated, especially Persians. We have defeated Persians many times before.”

    Nevitta almost asked “when?” but then he thought better of it. After all, as a Roman consul he is expected to know something of Roman history. Yet as far as I know, he has never read a book of any kind, though in preparation for this campaign he told me, quite seriously, that he was studying Alexander. When I asked which biography he was reading, he said, Alexander and the Wicked Magician, a popular novel!

    I reassured Nevitta. I told him about the victories of Lucullus, Pompey and Ventidius, Trajan, Verus and Severus. Apparently, these names had a somewhat familiar ring and he looked relieved. I did not of course mention our defeats. “So tell the soldiers that their fear of the Persians is the result of Constantius’s fear of war.”

    “You tell them, Emperor.” Nevitta is the only man who addresses me by that military title. “They don’t know these things. And there’s a lot of talk about how bad things are going to be.”

    “The Galileans?”

    Nevitta shrugged. “I don’t know who starts it. But there’s talk. You’d better give them one of your history lectures.” That is the closest Nevitta ever comes to humor. I laughed to show that I appreciated his attempt.

    “I’ll speak to them when we get to Dura.” Nevitta saluted and started to go. I stopped him.

    “It might be useful . . .” I began. But then—I don’t know why—I chose not to finish. “Tomorrow, Nevitta.”

    He left me alone in the shadow of the tomb. I had meant to ask him to find out who was spreading rumors. But I thought better of it. Nothing destroys the spirit of an army more quickly than the use of secret agents and midnight interrogations. Even so, I have been warned. I must be on guard.

    We set out for Dura. We were only a few miles south of Zaitha when two horsemen appeared from the east, carrying something in a sling between them. At first I thought it was a man, but when they came close I saw that it was a dead lion of great size. Maximus whispered excitedly in my ear, “A king will die in Persia!” But I had already got the point to the omen quite on my own. I also refrained from making the obvious retort: “Which king?” But as this Persian lion was killed by Roman spears it seems likely that the Persian King Sapor will be killed by Roman arms.

    This lion, incidentally, was the first I’d ever seen close-to; even in death, he was terrifying, with teeth long as my thumb and yellow eyes still glaring with life’s hot rage. I ordered the lion skinned. I shall use its pelt for my bed.

    As we continued toward Dura, the sun vanished, the sky turned gray, lightning flashed. A violent thunder storm broke. We were all soaked and chilled by the rain, but we continued our march.

    Shortly before evening, Victor rode up to me. “Augustus, a soldier has been killed by lightning.” Though Victor is a Galilean he has the usual military man’s interest in omens. “The soldier was watering two horses at the river when the storm broke. He was just about to lead them back to his cohort when he was struck by lightning. He was killed instantly.”

    “What was his name?”

    “Jovian, Augustus.” I pretended to take this merely as an added detail. “Bury him,” I said, and rode on. Maximus was the first to speak. “The sign is ambiguous. The fact he is named after the king of the gods, the thunderer Jove himself, does not necessarily mean that a king is involved.” But I did not listen. This was a matter for the Etruscans . . .

    That night Maximus, Priscus and I dined on fresh venison in my tent. Afterward we were joined by the Etruscan priests. Their chief is an elderly man named Mastara. He is held in high regard at Rome, where he used to be consultant to the senate. I record here, privately, that Mastara has been against this campaign from the beginning. He even interpreted the killing of the lion as unfavorable to me.

    In general, the Etruscan religion is well known; in particular, it is obscure. From the beginning of time, the genius of the Etruscan religion has been its peculiar harmony with the natural forces of creation. The first revelation is known to all. Tages, a divine child, appeared in the field of a peasant named Tarchon, and dictated to him a holy book which is the basis of their religion. Later Vegoia, a young goddess, appeared during a ceremony to the thunder god and gave the priests a second book which contained instructions on how to interpret heavenly signs, particularly lightning. According to this book, the sky is divided into sixteen parts, each sacred to a particular god (though the same god may at times influence a section not his own). One can discover which god has manifested himself by the direction from which the lightning comes, the angle at which it strikes, and of course the place where it strikes.

    Mastara wasted no time. He had already analyzed the death of the soldier Jovian. “Highest Priest, the lightning came from the ninth house.” I knew what this meant even before he interpreted it. “The house of Ares. The house of war. At the eleventh hour Ares struck down the soldier Jovian beside the river to our west. That means a soldier from the west, a king, will be killed late in a war . . .”

    pp. 455-457: The Persian envoys have just left. Ormisda is with them. I sit alone in my tent. Outside, Callistus is singing a mournful song. It is very hot. I am waiting for Maximus. If I withdraw from Persia, the Great King has promised to cede me all of Mesopotamia north of Anatha; also, at his own expense, he will rebuild our city of Amida, and pay in gold or kind whatever we ask to defray the cost of this war. Persia is defeated.

    The ambassadors came to me secretly. They wanted it that way. So did I. They were brought to me as though they were officers taken captive in a Saracen raid. No one except Ormisda and myself knows that this was an embassy. The chief ambassador is a brother of the Grand Vizier. He maintained a perfect dignity while proposing a treaty which, if I accept it, will mean that I have gained more of the East for Rome than any general since Pompey. Realizing this, the ambassador felt impelled to indulge himself in Persian rhetoric. “Never forget, Augustus, that our army is more numerous than the desert’s sand. One word from the Great King and you and all your host are lost. But Sapor is merciful.”

    “Sapor is frightened,” said Ormisda, to my irritation. I prefer to seem indifferent while envoys talk, to give them no clue as to what I intend to do. But Ormisda has been unusually tense the last few days. Despite his age, he fought like a youth at Ctesiphon. Now he sees the crown of Persia almost in his hands. He is terrified it will slip away. I am sympathetic. Yet my policy is not necessarily his policy.

    Ormisda taunted the ambassadors. “I know what happens in the palace at Ctesiphon. I know what is whispered in the long halls, behind the ivory doors. Nothing that happens among you is kept from me.”

    This was not entirely bluff. Ormisda’s spies are indeed well placed at the Persian court and he learns astonishing things. Also, as we conquer more and more of Persia, there is a tendency among the nervous courtiers to shift from the old king to what may be the new. But the ambassador was not one of those whom Ormisda could win.

    “There are traitors in every palace, Prefect.” He used Ormisda’s Roman title. Then he turned to me. “And in every army, Augustus.” I did not acknowledge this dangerous truth. “But the Great King is merciful. He loves peace . . .”

    Ormisda laughed theatrically. “Sapor wears rags, taken from a beggar. His beard and hair are full of ashes. He dines off the floor like an animal. He weeps, knowing his day is ended.” Ormisda was not exaggerating. During the last few hours we have had several harrowing descriptions of Sapor’s grief at my victory. He has every reason to be in mourning. Few monarchs have been so thoroughly humiliated.

    The ambassador read me the draft of the treaty. I thanked him. Then I told Ormisda to take the embassy to Anatolius’s tent, which is next to mine. They will wait there until I have prepared an answer. Ormisda wanted to stay behind and talk to me but I made him go. He is not Great King yet.

    I now sit on the bed. The treaty is before me: two scrolls, one in Greek, one in Persian. I have placed them side by side on the lion skin. What to do? If I accept Sapor’s terms, it will be a triumph for me. If I stay, I am not entirely certain that a siege of Ctesiphon would be successful. It will certainly take a long time; perhaps a year, and I cannot be away from Constantinople that long. Today the Persian army is no threat, but who knows what sort of army Sapor might put in the field next week, next month?

    Everything depends, finally, on Procopius. He is in the north, at Bezabde in Corduene. Or so I hear. There has been no direct word from him.

    Maximus was brilliant just now. As always, he went straight to the heart of things.

    “This treaty is a triumph: a province gained, peace assured for at least . . .”

    “. . . a decade.”

    “Perhaps longer. Amida rebuilt. A fortune in gold. Few emperors have accomplished so much. But then . . .” He looked at me thoughtfully. “Was it just for this we have come so far, to gain half a province? or to conquer half a world?”

    He paused. I waited. Like a true philosopher, he then turned the matter round, first to one side, then to another. “There is no denying this is an excellent treaty, better than anyone would have dreamed . . . except us, who know what no one else knows. Cybele herself promised you victory. You are Alexander, born again, set on earth to conquer Asia. You have no choice.”

    Maximus is right. The gods have not brought me this far simply to have me turn back as though I were some Saracen chief raiding the border. I shall reject Sapor’s treaty and begin the siege of Ctesiphon. Once Procopius arrives, I shall be free to order a march straight into the morning sun. Yes, to the house of Helios himself, the father from whom I came and to whom I must return, in glory.

    Priscus: Have you ever read such nonsense? If only I had known! But none of us knew what Maximus was up to, even though he was forever dropping hints about “our plans.” But since those plans were never revealed, we were all equally in the dark.

    pp. 73-76 (YOUTH): When the dinner was over, Sosipatra presented her sons to us. They were about my age. Two of them grew up to be speculators in grain, and most unsavory. The third, Anatolius, I heard news of only recently. Some years ago he attached himself to the temple of Serapis at Alexandria. After Bishop George destroyed the temple, Anatolius climbed onto a broken column and now stares continually at the sun. How I envy the purity of such a life! But that night at dinner, the future holy man seemed a very ordinary youth, with a slight stammer.

    When the sons had withdrawn, Sosipatra sent for a tripod and incense. “And now you will want to know what the gods advise you to do. Where to go. With whom to study.” She gave me a dazzling smile.

    I blurted out, “I want to study here, with you.” But she shook her head, to Ecebolius’s relief. “I know my own future and a prince is no part of it. I wish it were otherwise,” she added softly, and I fell in love with her on the spot, as so many students had done before.

    Sosipatra lit the incense. She shut her eyes. She whispered a prayer. Then in a low voice she implored the Great Goddess to speak to us. Smoke filled the room. All things grew vague and indistinct. My head began to ache. Suddenly in a loud voice not her own, Sosipatra said, “Julian!”

    I looked at her closely. Her eyes were half open but only the whites showed: she slept while the spirit possessed her. “You are loved by us beyond any man alive.” That was puzzling. “Us” must mean the gods. But why should they love a Galilean who doubted their existence? Of course I had also begun to question the divinity of the Nazarene, which made me neither Hellenist nor Galilean, neither believer nor atheist. I was suspended somewhere between, waiting for a sign. Could this be it?

    “You will rebuild our temples. You will cause the smoke of a thousand sacrifices to rise from a thousand altars. You shall be our servant and all men shall be your servants, as token of our love.”

    Ecebolius stirred nervously. “We must not listen to this,” he murmured.

    The voice continued serenely. “The way is dangerous. But we shall protect you, as we have protected you from the hour of your birth. Earthly glory shall be yours. And death when it comes in far Phrygia, by enemy steel, will be a hero’s death, without painful lingering. Then you shall be with us forever, close to the One from whom all light flows, to whom all light returns. Oh, Julian, dear to us . . . Evil!” The voice changed entirely. It became harsh. “Foul and profane! We bring you defeat. Despair. The Phrygian death is yours. But the tormented soul is ours forever, far from light!”

    Sosipatra screamed. She began to writhe in her chair; her hands clutched at her throat as though to loosen some invisible bond. Words tumbled disjointedly from her mouth. She was a battleground between warring spirits. But at last the good prevailed, and she became tranquil.

    “Ephesus,” she said, and her voice was again soft and caressing. “At Ephesus you will find the door to light. Ecebolius, when you were a child you hid three coins in the garden of your uncle’s house at Sirmium. One was a coin of the reign of Septimus Severus. A gardener dug up the coins and spent them. That coin of Severus is now in Pergamon, in a tavern. Oribasius, your father insists you sell the property but hopes you will not make the same mistake you made last year when you leased the lower meadow to your Syrian neighbor, and he would not pay. Julian, beware the fate of Gallus. Remember . . . Hilarius!” She stopped. She became herself again. “My head aches,” she said in a tired voice.

    We were all quite shaken. I most of all for she had practically said that I would become emperor, which was treason, for no one may consult an oracle about the imperial succession, nor even speculate in private on such matters. Ecebolius had been rightly alarmed.

    Sosipatra had no memory of what was said. She listened carefully as we told her what the goddess – and the other – had said. She was intrigued. “Obviously a great future for the most noble Julian.”

    “Of course,” said Ecebolius nervously. “As a loyal prince of the imperial house . . .”

    “Of course!” Sosipatra laughed. “We must say no more.” Then she frowned. “I have no idea who the dark spirit was. But it is plain that the goddess was Cybele, and she wants you to honor her since she is the mother of all, and your protectress.”

    “It also seems indicated that Julian should avoid Phrygia,” said Oribasius mischievously.

    But Sosipatra took this quite seriously. “Yes. Julian will die in Phrygia, gloriously, in battle.” She turned to me. “I don’t understand the reference to your brother. Do you?”

    I nodded, unable to speak, my head whirling with dangerous thoughts.

    “The rest of it seems plain enough. You are to restore the worship of the true gods.”

    “It seems rather late in the day for that.” Ecebolius had found his tongue at last. “And even if it were possible, Julian is a Christian. The imperial house is Christian. This makes him a most unlikely candidate for restoring the old ways.”

    “Are you unlikely?” Sosipatra fixed me with her great dark eyes.

    I shook my head helplessly. “I don’t know. I must wait for a sign.”

    “Perhaps this was the sign. Cybele herself spoke to you.”

    “So did something else,” said Ecebolius.

    “There is always the Other,” said Sosipatra. “But light transcends all things. As Macrobius wrote, “The sun is the mind of the universe.’ And nowhere, not even in the darkest pit of hell, is mind entirely absent.”

    pp. 436-437 [Julian AUGUSTUS]: The Persians I examined were cavalrymen. They are small, wiry, leaden-complexioned. Ormisda acted as interpreter. Though they expected immediate death, they seemed without fear. One spoke for all of them, a flood of words. When he was finally out of breath, I asked Ormisda what he had said.

    Ormisda shrugged, “Typically Persian.” Ormisda was in his Greek mood. “He hopes we choke in our pride and that the moon will fall on our army and crush it and that the tribes of the desert will rise up from as far away as India and China to butcher us. The Persian style of address is always a bit exaggerated, particularly the metaphors.”

    I laughed. I have always been more amused than not by Persian rhetoric. It is characteristic of eastern peoples to talk always with a mad extravagance. Even their diplomatic letters are often unintelligible because of Pindar-like excesses.

    Ormisda replied in kind. The Persians listened contemptuously. They are handsome men with pointed smooth beards and eyebrows which tend to grow together. Their eyes are particularly expressive, black and deep. They are quite slender because of their austere diet. They eat only when they are hungry, and then very little. They seldom drink wine. Their only excess (aside from their conversation!) is women. Each man has as many concubines as he can afford. They do not like boys. They are most modest about their persons and it is considered shameful for a man to be seen by another relieving himself in a natural way. I rather wish our army would imitate their physical modesty. Yet for all their virtues, they are not a likable people. They are arrogant and boastful and revel in cruelty. The nobles terrorize the lower classes as well as the slaves, torturing or killing them as they please, and there is no law to protect the helpless, nor any idea of charity. Their laws are savage. For instance, if a man is guilty of a capital crime, not only is he executed but all of his family as well.

    pp. 469-470: Tonight Maximus was with me. We were alone together because Priscus is sick with dysentery and Anatolius nurses him. While I was having supper, Maximus tried to cheer me up. He achieved the opposite.

    “But it’s so simple. Give the order to march south. They must obey. You are the Emperor.”

    “I shall have been the Emperor. They’ll kill me first.”

    “But Cybele herself has told us that you must complete your work. After all, you are Alexander.”

    I erupted at this. “No, I am not Alexander, who is dead. I am Julian, about to die in this forsaken place . . .”

    “No. No! The gods . . .”

    “. . . mislead us! The gods laugh at us! They raise us up for sport, and throw us down again. There is no more gratitude in heaven than there is on earth.”

    “Julian . . .”

    “You say I was born to do great things. Well, I have done them. I conquered the Persians. I conquered the Germans. I saved Gaul. For what? To delay this world’s end for a year or two? Certainly no longer.”

    “You were born to restore the worship of the true gods.”

    “Then why do they let me fail?”

    “You are Emperor still!”

    I seized a handful of charred earth from the tent’s floor. “That is all that’s left to me. Ashes.”

    “You will live . . .”

    “I shall be as dead as Alexander soon enough, but when I go I take Rome with me. For nothing good will come after. The Goths and the Galileans will inherit the state, and like vultures and maggots they’ll make clean bones of what is dead, until there is not even so much as the shadow of a god anywhere on earth.”

    Maximus hid his face in his hands while I raged on. But after a time I stopped, ashamed of having made a fool of myself. “It’s no use,” I said finally, “I am in Helios’s hands, and we are both at the end of the day. So good-night, Maximus, and pray for me that it will indeed be a good night.”

    pp. 480-481 (Priscus): Now this is what happened to Julian. Halfway to the rear, he was stopped by a second courier, who told him that the vanguard was also under attack. Julian started back. He had gone perhaps a mile when the Persians attacked our center. Elephants, cavalrymen, archers swept down from the hills so suddenly that the left flank momentarily gave way. Julian rushed into this action, his only armor a shield. He rallied the troops. They struck back at the Persians . . . .

    The Persians retreated. Julian rode after them, waving to the household troops to follow him. Suddenly he and Callistus were caught up in a confused melee of a retreating Persians. For some minutes both men were lost to view. Finally the last of the Persians fled and Julian was again visible. He rejoined the household troops, who cheered him, relieved that he was safe. Not until he had come quite close did they notice the spear that had penetrated his side.

    “It is not much,” said Julian. But when he tried to draw the spear, he gave a cry, for the shaft was razor-sharp and cut his fingers. I am told that he sat a long moment staring straight ahead. Then suddenly he hurled his own blood straight at the sun. “It is not much,” he said again, and pitched headlong to the ground.

    Julian was carried in a litter to his tent. At his own insistence, he was completely covered by a cavalryman’s cloak so that no one might know the Emperor had fallen.

    When I saw the litter approaching the tent, I thought stupidly: Someone has killed a deer and they’re bringing it for our supper. When I realized that it was Julian in the litter, I felt as if I had been struck very hard in the chest. I looked at Maximus. He too was stunned. Together we followed the litter into the tent. Julian was now conscious.

    “There is a lesson in this,” he murmured, while Maximus leaned over him, as though to hear the words of an oracle.

    “Yes, Julian.” Maximus whispered prayerfully.

    “Always, in war – no matter what – wear armor.” Julian smiled weakly at us. Then he turned to the frightened Callistus. “Are the straps fixed yet?”

    “Yes, Lord. Yes.” Callistus began to sob.

    pp. 487-488: I remember that foolish sliver of metal stuck in his side, and I remember thinking: such a small thing to end a man’s life and change the history of the world.

    At last Julian opened his eyes. “Water,” he whispered. Callistus held up his head while he drank. This time the surgeons allowed him to swallow. When he had drained the cup, he turned to Maximus and me, as though he had just thought of something particularly interesting to tell us.

    “Yes, Julian?” Maximus leaned forward eagerly. “Yes?”

    But Julian seemed to have a second thought. He shook his head. He closed his eyes. He cleared his throat quite naturally. He died. Callistus, feeling the body in his arms go limp, leapt back from the bed with a cry. The corpse fell heavily on its back. One limp brown arm dangled over the edge of the bed. The lion-skin covering was now drenched with blood. No one can ever use it again, I thought numbly as the surgeon said, “The Augustus is dead.”

    Callistus wept. The deaf-mute moaned like an animal by the bed. Maximus shut his eyes as if in pain. He did not need to exert his gift for seeing into the future to know that the days of his own greatness were over.

    I sent Callistus to fetch Salutius. While we waited, the surgeons drew the spear from Julian’s body. I asked to see it. I was examining it when Salutius arrived. He glanced briefly at the body; then he turned to Callistus, “Tell the staff to assemble immediately.”

    Maximus, suddenly, gave a loud but melodious cry and hurried from the tent. Later he told me that he had seen the spirits of Alexander and Julian embracing in the air several feet above the earthen floor of the tent. The sight had ravished him.

    After covering the body with a cloak, the surgeons departed, as did the deaf-
    mute, who was never seen again. Salutius and I were alone in the tent.

    I showed him the lance that I was still holding. “This is what killed him,” I said.

    “Yes. I know.”

    “It is a Roman spear,” I said.

    “I know that, too.” We looked at one another.

    “Who killed him?” I asked. But Salutius did not answer. He pulled back the tent flap. Outside the generals were gathering by the light of a dozen torches guttering in the hot night wind. Resinous smoke stung my eyes. As Salutius was about to join them, I said, “Did Julian know it was a Roman spear?”

    Salutius shrugged. “How could he not have known?” He let the tent flap fall after him.

    I looked at the figure on the bed. The body was shrouded in purple, except for one brown foot. I adjusted the cloak and inadvertently touched flesh: it was still warm. I shied like a horse who sees a shadow in the road. Then I opened the box from which Julian had taken his deathbed speech. As I had suspected, the memoir and the journal were there. I stole them.

    pp. 489-490: . . . I sometimes feel that the history of the Roman is an interminable pageant of sameness. They are so much alike, these energetic men; only Julian was different.

    Toward the end of your justly admired funeral oration at Antioch, you suggested that Julian was killed by one of his own men, if only because no Persian ever came forward to collect the reward the Great King had offered the slayer of Julian. Now I was one of the few people who knew for certain that Julian had been killed by a Roman spear, but I said nothing. I had no intention of involving myself in politics. As it was, I had quite enough trouble that year when Maximus and I were arrested for practicing magic. I a magician!

    Fortunately, I was acquitted. Maximus was not. Even so, the old charlatan did manage to have the last word. During his trial, he swore that he had never used his powers maliciously. He also prophesied that whoever took his life unjustly would himself die so terribly that all trace of him would vanish from the earth. Maximus was then put to death by the Emperor Valens, who was promptly killed at the Battle of Adrianople by Goths who hacked the imperial corpse into so many small pieces that no part of him was ever identified.

    pp. 490-495: About ten years ago Julian’s servant Callistus wrote a particularly lachrymose ode on the Emperor’s death. We were all sent copies. I’m afraid I never wrote to thank the author for his kind gift. In fact, Callistus had completely dropped from my memory until I reread the diary and realized that if anyone had known how Julian died, it would be the servant who was with him when he was wounded.

    Callistus of course had sworn that he did not see who struck the blow. But at the time there was good reason for him to lie: the Christians would very quickly have put him to death had he implicated any of them. Like so many of us, Callistus chose silence. But might he not be candid now, with all the principals dead?

    It took me several weeks to discover that Callistus lives at Philippopolis. I wrote him. He answered. Last month I went to see him. I shall now give you a full report of what he said. Before you use any of this, I suggest that you yourself write to Callistus for permission. His story is an appalling one, and there is some danger in even knowing it, much less writing about it. I must also insist that under no circumstances are you to involve me in your account.

    After a tedious trip to Philippopolis in the company of tax collectors and church deacons, I went straight to the house of an old pupil who kindly offered to put me up, a great saving since the local innkeepers are notorious thieves. The only advantage to having been a teacher for what seems now to have been the better part of a thousand years is that no matter where I go, I find former students who let me stay with them. This makes travel possible.

    I asked my host about Callistus (I myself could remember nothing about him except the sound of his sobbing at Julian’s death-bed). “One never sees your Callistus.” My old student is a snob. “They say he’s quite rich, and there are those who go to his house. I am not one of them.”

    “Where did his money come from?”

    “Trade concessions. Imperial grants. He is supposed to be quite clever. He was born here, you know. The son of a slave in the house of a cousin of mine. He returned only a few years ago, shortly after the Emperor Valentinian died. They say he has important friends at court. But I wouldn’t know.”

    Callistus is indeed rich, his house far larger and more lavish than that of my former pupil. A Syrian steward of breathtaking elegance led me through two large courtyards to a small shady atrium where Callistus was waiting for me. Here I was greeted most affably by a perfect stranger. I don’t recall how Callistus used to look, but today he is a handsome middle-aged man who looks years younger than he is. It is obvious that he devotes a good deal of time to his appearance: hair thick and skillfully dyed; body slender; manners a trifle too good, if you know what I mean.

    “How pleasant to see you again, my dear Priscus!” He spoke as though we had been the most intimate of friends, even equals! I returned his greeting with that careful diffidence poverty owes wealth. He took my homage naturally. He asked me to sit down while he poured the wine himself, reverting to at least one of his old functions.

    For a time we spoke of who was dead and who was living. To people our age, the former category is largest. Nevitta, Salutius, Sallust, Jovian, Valentinian, Valens are dead. But Victor is still on active duty in Gaul and Dagalaif serves in Austria; Arintheus, recently retired to a suburb of Constantinople, has taken to drink. Then we spoke of Persia and the days of our youth (or in my case the halcyon days of my middle age!). We mourned the dead. Then I got the subject round to Julian’s death. I told Callistus of your plans. He was noncommittal. I told him that you were in possession of the memoir. He said that he had known at the time that the Emperor was writing such a work and he had often wondered what had become of it. I told him. He smiled. Then I said, “And of course there was the private journal.”

    “A journal?” Callistus looked startled.

    “Yes. A secret diary which the Emperor kept in the same box with the memoir.”

    “I didn’t know.”

    “It’s a most revealing work.”

    “I am sure it is.” Callistus frowned.

    “The Emperor knew about the plot against his life. He even knew who the conspirators were.” Something in Callistus’s manner prompted me to add this lie.

    “There were no conspirators.” Callistus was bland. “The Augustus was killed by a Persian cavalryman.”

    “Who never collected the reward?”

    “Callistus shrugged. “Perhaps he himself was killed.”

    “But why was this Persian cavalryman armed with a Roman spear?”

    “That sometimes happens. In a battle one often takes whatever weapon is at hand. Anyway, I should know. I was with the Augustus, and I saw the Persian who struck him.”

    This was unexpected. With some surprise, I asked, “But why, when Julian asked if you had seen his attacker, did you say you saw nothing?”

    Callistus was not in the least rattled. “But I did see the Persian.” He sounded perfectly reasonable. “And I told the Augustus that I saw him.”

    “In front of Maximus and me, you said that you did not see who struck the blow.”

    Callistus shook his head tolerantly. “It has been a long time, Priscus. Our memories are not what they were.”

    “Implying that my memory is at fault?”

    He gestured delicately. “Neither of us is exactly young.”

    I tried another tack: “You have doubtless heard the rumor that a Christian soldier killed the Emperor?”

    “Of course. But I was . . .”

    “. . . there. Yes. And you know who killed him.”

    Callistus’s face was a perfect blank. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking. One can see why he has been such a success in business. Then: “How much did the Emperor know?” he asked, the voice flat and abrupt, very different from the easy, rather indolent tone he had been assuming.

    “He knew about Victor.”

    Callistus nodded. “I was almost certain he knew. So was Victor.”

    “Then you knew about the conspiracy?”

    “Oh, yes.”

    “Were you involved in it?”

    “Very much so. You see, Priscus,” he gave me a most winning smile, “it was I who killed the Emperor Julian.”

    There it is. The end of the mystery. Callistus told me everything. He regards himself as one of the world’s unique heroes, the unsung savior of Christianity. As he talked, he paced up and down. He could not tell me enough. After all, for nearly twenty years he has had to keep silent. I was his first auditor.

    A cabal had been formed at Antioch. Victor was the ringleader. Arintheus, Jovian, Valentinian and perhaps twenty other Christian officers were involved. They vowed that Julian must not return from Persia alive. But because of his popularity with the European troops, his death must appear to be from natural causes.

    Victor assigned Callistus to Julian as a bodyguard and servant. At first he was instructed to poison the Emperor. But that was not easily accomplished. Julian was in excellent health; he was known to eat sparingly; a sudden illness would be suspicious. Finally, an ambush was arranged with the Persians. Julian has described how that failed. Then it was decided that Julian must die in battle. But he was an excellent soldier, highly conspicuous, always guarded. The conspirators were in despair until Callistus hit on a plan.

    “After the Battle of Maranga, I broke the straps of his breastplate.” Callistus’s eyes sparkled with delighted memory. “Luckily for us, the Persians attacked the next day and the Emperor was forced to go into battle without armor. He and I got caught up in the Persian retreat. He started to turn back but I shouted to him, ‘Lord, this way!’ And I led him into the worst of the fighting. For a moment I thought the Persians would kill him. But they were too terrified. When they recognized him, they fled. It was then that I knew that God had chosen me to be the instrument of his vengeance.” The voice lowered; the jaw set. “We were hemmed in. The Emperor was using his shield to try and clear a path for himself through the tangle of horses and riders. Suddenly he twisted to his left and stood in his stirrups, trying to see over the heads of the Persians. This was my chance. I prayed for Christ to give me strength. Then I plunged my spear into his side.” Callistus stopped, obviously expecting some outcry at this. But I merely gave him that look of alert interest with which I reward those exceptional students who succeed in holding my attention.

    “Go on,” I said politely.

    Somewhat deflated, Callistus shrugged. “You know the rest. The Augustus didn’t realize he was wounded until after the Persians fled.” He smiled. “The Augustus even thanked me for having stayed so close to him.”

    “It was a good thing for you that he suspected nothing.” But even as I said this I wondered whether or not Julian had known the truth. That remains the final mystery.

    “But what is death?” asked Callistus, promptly losing all the respect I had come to have for him as a villain. He is an ass. He talked for another hour. He told me that Victor wanted to be emperor, but when he saw that this was impossible, he raised Jovian to the purple. Then the notoriously strong-willed Valentinian took Jovian’s place and that was the end of Victor. Meanwhile, Callistus was paid off handsomely by everyone. He has invested his money wisely and today he is a rich man. But he will not be a happy man until the world knows his secret. He suffers from what he feels to be an undeserved anonymity.

    “By all means tell Libanius the truth. One did what one was born to do.” He looked pious. “I am proud of the part I have played in the history of Rome.” He turned his face to me left-three-quarters, in imitation of the famous bust of the second Brutus. Then he came off it. “But we’ll have to get permission from the palace before Libanius can publish, and I have no idea what the policy is now. Under Valentinian, I was sworn to secrecy.”

    “Did Valentinian know about you?”

    “Oh, yes. He even gave me the salt concession for Thrace. But he ordered me to keep silent. And I have. Until today. Naturally, I hope that we can make the whole matter public, in the interest of history.”

    Callistus offered me dinner but I chose to take nothing more from him. I said I must go. He accompanied me to the vestibule. He was all grace and tact, even when he chided me for never having acknowledged the “Ode to Julian” he had sent me.

    I apologized for my negligence. But then I said, “How could you write such an affectionate work about the man you murdered?”

    Callistus was perfect in his astonishment. “But I admired him tremendously! He was always kind to me. Every word I wrote about him was from the heart. After all, I am a good Christian, or try to be. Every day I pray for his soul!”

    pp. 497-502: Eutropius, Master of the Offices, to Libanius, Quaestor of Antioch
    Constantinople, June 381

    The Augustus has read your letter with the interest anything you write deserved. He has commanded me to tell you that it is not possible at this time to publish a life of the late Augustus Julian.

    You refer to Bishop Meletius. He is dead. He was stricken last week during a session of the Ecumenical Council. His remains have already been sent to Antioch for burial. I am, however, at liberty to tell you that before the Bishop died, he asked the Augustus to recognize as legitimate your natural son Cimon. The Augustus is pleased to comply with this holy man’s request. The documents are now being prepared by my office and will be forwarded in due course to the Count of the East, who will in turn deliver them to the governor of Syria, at which time you will be officially notified.

    It would not be remiss, Quaestor, were you to send the Augustus a complete edition of your works. He would value them.

    Libanius to himself

    I have just come from the funeral of Bishop Meletius, which was held in the Golden House on the island. I don’t think I would have been able to cope with the mob in the square if I had not been with Cimon. It seems that all Antioch was on hand to say farewell to their bishop.

    The crowd recognized me, as they always do, and they made way for my litter. There was a certain amount of good-humored comment about “pagans” (a new word of contempt for us Hellenists) attending Christian services, but I pretended not to hear. Just inside the arcade Cimon lifted me out of the litter. I have been suffering lately from gout not only in my right foot, as usual, but also in my left. Though I use both a crutch and a staff, I can barely hobble without assistance. Fortunately, Cimon, good son that he is, got me safely inside the church. He was also able to provide me with one of the chairs which had been reserved for the governor’s party (the Christians stand during their services and only great visitors may sit).

    Of course I saw nothing. I can distinguish light and dark, but little else. I do have some sight out of the corner of my left eye, and if I hold my head at a certain cocked angle I can see well enough to read for a short while, but the effort is so great that I prefer to spend my days in the cloudy subaqueous world of the blind. My impression of the church interior was one of pale circles (faces) and dark columns (cloaks of mourning). The air was thick with incense and the inevitable heavy odor of people massed together on a summer day.

    Prayers were said and eulogies delivered, but I am afraid that I wool-gathered during the service. I could think of nothing but that curt letter from the Sacred Palace. I am not to publish. Not even the legitimizing of Cimon can compensate for that cruel blow.

    As I sat in the hot octagonal church, the altar to my left and the tall marble pulpit to my right, I was suddenly conscious of the voice of the priest officiating. Like most blind or near-blind people, I am acutely sensitive to voices. Some delight me; others (even those of friends) distress me. This particular voice, I noted with some pleasure, was deep and resonant, with that curious urgency which I always find appealing. The speaker was delivering a eulogy of Meletius. I listened attentively. The words were gracefully chosen; the periods artful; the content conventional. When the priest had finished, I turned to Cimon and whispered, “Who is that?”

    “John Chrysostom, the new deacon, appointed last month by Meletius. You know him.”

    “Do I?”

    But the service had continued and we kept silent while the new bishop blessed the congregation. Who was this John “Golden-Mouth”? Where did I know him from? Had he been a pupil? And if he had, would I be able to recall him? My memory is not what it was; also, I have taught literally thousands of men and no one could remember them all. Finally, when the ceremonies ended, Cimon got me to my feet just as the governor of Syria passed us. I recognized him by the color of his robe. The governor paused when he saw me.

    “Ah, Quaestor, how good to see you in such blooming health.”

    The governor is an ass, who means well. “The old tree survives,” I said. “But it does not bloom.”

    However, he had turned to my son. “It is not premature, I hope, to congratulate you on the Emperor’s favor.”

    Cimon was delighted; he craves honor, the way some men crave truth.

    “No, Governor, not premature at all. Many thanks. My father and I were both delighted at the Emperor’s kindness.”

    “You must give me some advice, Cimon.” And the governor took my son by the arm and led him away, leaving me stranded in the church, blind as Homer and lame as Hephaestos. I confess to a moment of anger. Cimon should have remained with me. He could have made an appointment to see the governor at another time. But Cimon is a lawyer, and one must be tolerant. Even so, I found it difficult to forgive him when I realized that I was now alone in the Golden House, unable to see and hardly able to walk. Leaning heavily on my stick, like some night-creature dazzled by day, I crept toward what I hoped would be the door. I had taken no more than a step when a firm hand took me by the arm.

    “Thank you,” I said to the vague shape beside me. “I seem to be deserted, and I do need help. I cannot see.”

    “Any help I give you is nothing compared to the help you have given me.” I recognized the voice of the deacon John Chrysostom.

    I pretended to remember him. “Oh, yes, John . . .”

    “They call me Chrysostom. But you remember me as the son of Anthusa and . . .”

    I did remember him. I knew exactly who he was. “My best student!” I exclaimed. “Stolen from me by Christians!”

    He laughed. “Not stolen, found.”

    “So my John is the famous Chrysostom the people listen to.”

    “They listen. But do they understand? After all, I am strange to them. For ten years I have been in the desert, alone . . .”

    “And now you’ve come back to the world to be a bishop?”

    “I have come back to the world to preach, to tell the truth, the way my old teacher does.”

    “We hold a different view of what is true,” I said more sharply than I intended.

    “Perhaps not so different.” We had paused near the door. With an effort, I could just make out the lean face of my old pupil. John has begun to grow bald, and he wears a short beard. But I confess that even were my sight better I should not have recognized him; it has been nearly twenty years since he studied with me.

    “Before he left Antioch, Bishop Meletius told me of your plan to write about the Emperor Julian.” I wondered if John could see into my mind. Why else would he mention the one thing which most concerned me yet could hardly interest him?

    “Unfortunately, it is no longer a plan. The Emperor has forbidden me to publish.”

    “I’m sorry. I know what Julian meant to you. I saw him once. I must have been about fifteen. It was just before I came to you, to study. I saw him the day he left the city for Persia. I was in the crowd, in the forum, standing on the rim of the Nymphaeum when he rode by. I remember the people were shouting something rude . . .”

    “Felix Julian Augustus,” I murmured, hearing again the chanting of that malicious crowd.

    “Yes. I was so close to him I could have touched his horse. And though my mother had told me I should hate him, I thought he was the most splendid man I ever saw, and when he looked my way, his eye suddenly caught mine, and he smiled as though we were friends, and I thought to myself: this man is a saint, why do they hate him? Later of course I realized why they hated him, but I have never understood why he hated us.”

    I burst into tears. I have never been so humiliated, or felt so ridiculous. The most famous philosopher of his time, if I may say so, was weeping like a child in front of a former pupil. But John was tactful. He said not a word until the storm had passed, and then he made no reference to my senile outburst. He took my arm and led me to the door. Then he turned round and indicated a high place on the opposite wall. “New work,” he said. “I think it quite beautiful.” I twisted my head so that I could see—just barely—what appeared to be the giant figure of a man with arms outstretched.

    “Can you see him clearly?”

    “Oh, yes,” I lied. The gold mosaic glowed like the sun itself in the afternoon light.

    “It is Christ Pantocrator, come to redeem us. The face is particularly fine.”

    “Yes, I see the face,” I said flatly. And I did: the dark cruel face of an executioner.

    “But you don’t like what you see?”

    “How can I, when what I see is death.”

    “But death is not the end.”

    “It is the end of life.”

    “This life . . .”

    “Life!” I turned on him fiercely. “You have chosen death, all of you . . .”

    “No, not death. We have chosen life eternal, the resurrection of the . . .”

    “That is a story to tell children. The truth is that for thousands of years we looked to what was living. Now you look to what is dead, you worship a dead man and tell one another that this world is not for us, while the next is all that matters. Only there is no next world.”

    “We believe . . .”

    “This is all we have, John Chrysostom. There is nothing else. Turn your back on this world, and you face the pit!”

    There was a silence. Then John said, “Do you see no significance in our victory? For we have won. You must admit that.”

    I shrugged. “The golden age ended. So will the age of iron, so will all things, including man. But with your new god, the hope of human happiness has ended.”

    “Forever?” He taunted me gently.

    “Nothing man invents can last forever, including Christ, his most mischievous invention.”

    John did not answer. We were now outside the church. The day was pleasantly warm. People I could not see greeted me. Then my son hurried up and I said good-bye to John and got into my litter. All the way home to Daphne, Cimon babbled about his interview with the governor. He has hope of “governmental preferment.”

    I am alone in my study. I have already put away Julian’s papers. The thing is finished. The world Julian wanted to preserve and restore is gone . . . but I shall not write “forever,” for who can know the future? Meanwhile, the barbarians are at the gate. Yet when they breach the wall, they will find nothing of value to seize, only empty relics. The spirit of what we were has fled. So be it.

    I have been reading Plotinus all evening. He has the power to soothe me; and I find his sadness curiously comforting. Even when he writes: “Life here with the things of earth is a sinking, a defeat, a failing of the wing.” The wing has indeed failed. One sinks. Defeat is certain. Even as I write these lines, the lamp wick sputters to an end, and the pool of light in which I sit contracts. Soon the room will be dark. One has always feared that death would be like this. But what else is there? With Julian, the light went, and now nothing remains but to let the darkness come, and hope for a new sun and another day, born of time’s mystery and man’s love of light.

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    Last edited by HERO; 10-04-2015 at 01:05 AM.

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