The History, 16.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5In the first place (and this is a most difficult task for every one), he imposed on himself a rigid temperance, and maintained it as if he had been living under the obligation of the sumptuary laws. These were originally brought to Rome from the edicts of Lycurgus and the tables of laws compiled by Solon, and were for a long time strictly observed. When they had become somewhat obsolete, they were re-established by Sylla, who, guided by the apophthegms of Democritus, agreed with him that it is Fortune which spreads an ambitious table, but that Virtue is content with a sparing one.

2And likewise Cato of Tusculum, who from his pure and temperate way of life obtained the surname of the Censor, said with profound wisdom on the same subject, “When there is great care about food, there is very little care about virtue.”

3Lastly, though he was continually reading the little treatise which Constantius, when sending him as his step-son to prosecute his studies, had written for him with his own hand, in which he made extravagant provision for the dinner-expenses of the Cæsar, Julian now forbade pheasants, or sausages, or even sow’s udder to be served up to him, contenting himself with the cheap and ordinary food of the common soldiers.

4Hereupon arose his custom of dividing his nights into three portions, one of which he allotted to rest, one to the affairs of the state, and one to the study of literature; and we read that Alexander the Great had been accustomed to do the same, though he practised the rule with less self-reliance. For Alexander, having placed a brazen shell on the ground beneath him, used to hold a silver ball in his hand, which he kept stretched outside his bed, so that when sleep pervading his whole body had relaxed the rigour of his muscles, the rattling of the ball falling might banish slumber from his eyes.

5But Julian, without any instrument, awoke whenever he pleased; and always rising when the night was but half spent, and that not from a bed of feathers, or silken coverlets shining with varied brilliancy, but from a rough blanket or rug, would secretly offer his supplications to Mercury, who, as the theological lessons which he had received had taught him, was the swift intelligence of the world, exciting the different emotions of the mind. And thus removed from all external circumstances calculated to distract his attention, he gave his whole attention to the affairs of the republic.

6Then, after having ended this arduous and important business, he turned and applied himself to the cultivation of his intellect. And it was marvellous with what excessive ardour he investigated and attained to the sublime knowledge of the loftiest matters, and how, seeking as it were some food for his mind which might give it strength to climb up to the sublimest truths, he ran through every branch of philosophy in profound and subtle discussions.

7Nevertheless, while engaged in amassing knowledge of this kind in all its fullness and power, he did not despise the humbler accomplishments. He was tolerably fond of poetry and rhetoric, as is shown by the invariable and pure elegance, mingled with dignity, of all his speeches and letters. And he likewise studied the varied history of our own state and of foreign countries. To all these accomplishments was added a very tolerable degree of eloquence in the Latin language.

8Therefore, if it be true, as many writers affirm, that Cyrus the king, and Simonides the lyric poet, and Hippias of Elis, the most acute of the Sophists, excelled as they did in memory because they had obtained that faculty through drinking a particular medicine, we must also believe that Julian in his early manhood had drunk the whole cask of memory, if such a thing could ever be found. And these are the nocturnal signs of his chastity and virtue.

9But as for the manner in which he passed his days, whether in conversing with eloquence and wit, or in making preparations for war, or in actual conflict of battle, or in his administration of affairs of the state, correcting all defects with magnanimity and liberality, these things shall all be set forth in their proper place.

10When he was compelled, as being a prince, to apply himself to the study of military discipline, having been previously confined to lessons of philosophy, and when he was learning the art of marching in time while the pipes were playing the Pyrrhic air, he often, calling upon the name of Plato, ironically quoted that old proverb, “A pack-saddle is placed on an ox; this is clearly a burden which does not belong to me.”

11On one occasion, when some secretaries were introduced into the council-chamber, with solemn ceremony, to receive some gold, one of their company did not, as is the usual custom, open his robe to receive it, but took it in the hollow of both his hands joined together; on which Julian said, secretaries only know how to seize things, not how to accept them.

12Having been approached by the parents of a virgin who had been ravished, seeking for justice, he gave sentence that the ravisher, on conviction, should be banished; and when the parents complained of this sentence as unequal to the crime, because the criminal had not been condemned to death, he replied, “Let the laws blame my clemency; but it is fitting that an emperor of a most merciful disposition should be superior to all other laws.”

13Once when he was about to set forth on an expedition, he was interrupted by several people complaining of injuries which they had received, whom he referred for a hearing to the governors of their respective provinces. And after he had returned, he inquired what had been done in each case, and with genuine clemency mitigated the punishments which had been assigned to the offences.

14Last of all, without here making any mention of the victories in which he repeatedly defeated the barbarians, and the vigilance with which he protected his army from all harm, the benefits which he conferred on the Galli, previously exhausted by extreme want, are most especially evident from this fact, that when he first entered the country he found that four-and-twenty pieces of gold were exacted, under the name of tribute, in the way of poll-tax, from each individual. But when he quitted the country seven pieces only were required, which made up all the payments due from them to the state. On which account they rejoiced with festivals and dances, looking upon him as a serene sun which had shone upon them after melancholy darkness.

15Moreover we know that up to the very end of his reign and of his life, he carefully and with great benefit observed this rule, not to remit the arrears of tribute by edicts which they call indulgences. For he knew that by such conduct he should be giving something to the rich, whilst it is notorious everywhere that, the moment that taxes are imposed, the poor are compelled to pay them all at once without any relief.

16But while he was thus regulating and governing the country in a manner deserving the imitation of all virtuous princes, the rage of the barbarians again broke out more violently than ever.

17And as wild beasts, which, owing to the carelessness of the shepherds, have been wont to plunder their flocks, even when these careless keepers are exchanged for more watchful ones, still cling to their habit, and being furious with hunger, will, without any regard for their own safety, again attack the flocks and herds; so also the barbarians, having consumed all their plunder, continued, under the pressure of hunger, repeatedly to make inroads for the sake of booty, though sometimes they died of want before they could obtain any.

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