Didaskaleion 1 (1912) pp. 48-53

JULIAN AND TERTULLIAN.     [Original text]

The page of the Misopogon to which I would like to draw attention is one of the better known; but, though it has been often quoted, it does not seem to to me that every point of interest in it has been discussed. This interest will perhaps be clearer, if we wonder from where the rather particular idea comes, that Julian develops in it.

In this semi- sermon, which he addresses to the inhabitants of Antioch, Julian firstly undoubtedly imitates the tone of stoico-cynical preaching, and he uses especially some methods familiar to us from several speeches of Dion, for example. Thus he puts himself in the story; he gives a portrait of  himself, and he contrasts  it with the one he gives also of the inhabitants of Antioch. But if his very personal work derives primarily in its general character from certain standard  traditions, Julian had too much curiosity, he had devotedly read too widely for it to be surprising, if it were the case, to see him still drawing on other sources, and even seeking inspiration in a famous writing in Christian literature.

When he reproaches the inhabitants of Antioch with their frantic taste for the public games, for which they were always noted, he starts as usual by offering himself as an example, and he praises himself for visiting the theatre as little as possible, only on the occasions when his duty compelled him to do so. He tells us that he owes this severity of manners to the education which he received from the pedagogue to whom he always gave major recognition, the eunuch Mardonios. When he was still just a very young child, Mardonios repeated to him: "Do not let yourself be lead by your comrades to attend the theatre and to pick up a taste |49 for the spectacles. Do you want to see horse-races? they are in Homer, which he marvelously described. Take the book, and read. Are dances and mimes proclaimed? Do not spend time on it: the dances of the Pheacians young people are more virile, you have Phemios as cithar-player and for singer Demodocos. Homer speaks to us about plants more beautiful as those which we have before our eyes"; -- there follows a quotation of vv. 162-3 of the VIth book of the Odyssey, where Nausicaa is compared with the palm tree of Delos: -- "he shows us the wooded island of Calypso, and the cave of Circe, and the orchard of Alcinous; appreciate the good, for you will not find anything more charming 1 ".

Le thème est celui-là même que Tertullian a développé plus longuement et avec d'autres exemples, en quelques unes des pages les plus truculentes qu'il ait écrites, à la fin de son traité des Spectacles, quand.il incite les chrétiens à satisfaire innocemment une passion dont ils ne peuvent se délivrer, par une sorte de spectacle dans un fauteuil, par la contemplation imaginaire des grandes scènes que leur foi ou la lecture des Ecritures peut leur suggérer: Lutte des vertus et des vices dans l'âme humaine -- Passion du Christ -- Jugement dernier. Qu'un rapprochement s'impose, personne ne le niera. Mais je ne crois pas qu'il faille se borner à mettre en parallèle les deux textes, et je n' ai guère de doute -- quoique je m'attende à ce que beaucoup puissent le trouver plus contestable -- que l'un ne soit le modèle direct de l'autre.

The topic is one that Tertullian developed at greater length and with different examples, in some of the most truculent pages that he wrote, at the end of his treatise On the Spectacles, when he incites the Christians to innocently satisfy a passion which they cannot indulge, by a kind of armchair spectacle, by the imaginary contemplation of the great scenes that their faith or the reading of the Scriptures can suggest to them: the battle of the virtues and vices in the human heart -- the Passion of Christ -- the Last Judgement. None will deny that there is a similarity. But I believe that we can compare the two texts, and I hardly doubt -- though I expect that many will find it more doubtful -- that one is the direct model of the other.

Undoubtedly preaching against the theatre is no more strange to profane philosophy than to Christianity; one of the best works of a writer by whom Julian was often inspired, the Discourse to the Alexandrians, of Dion of Prusa, is enough to prove this. Undoubtedly also, the appeal to the authority of Homer is frequent in the pagan moralists or sophists. It is precisely by parodying a long tirade of the Iliad that Dion 2 casts shame on his listeners for their |50 bad behaviour at the hippodrome. But I am not informed that any Greek or Latin author ever expressed this precise idea, that by reading the Odyssey one can successfully divert the imagination which gave rise to the dramatic art 3 . It seems that the epoch in which it could come most naturally to mind from pagan sources is indeed that in which Homer had become, through the needs of anti-Christian polemic, truly a Hellenic 'Bible'. Therefore there is nothing improbable in supposing that it was suggested to Julian by the memory of De Spectaculis. Julian is suggested, and not to Mardonios; because I believe that, in spite of the origin that he allots to it, our page of the Misopogon belongs definitely to Julian; that is obvious if not only the subject but also the form is considered. I want by no means to question that the eunuch gave advice to his pupil similar to those attributed to him. But when, after 25 years, Julian composed the Misopogon, he could no longer reproduce verbatim the words which he had heard from his Master when he was still only a child, e1ti paida&rion, other than the influence that they had exerted on him. When the two pieces in parallel are read, one cannot resist the impression that the development of Julian represents a very clever transposition -- and somewhat condensed -- of the two final pages of De Spectaculis. The resemblance is striking, especially in the manner of introduction: i9ppodromi/aj e0piqumeij; -- Vispugilatus et luctatus? -- and this method gives the pace to the two pieces. There are then some differences, although, by an inevitable effect of the adaptation, the apocalyptic color which characterizes that of Tertullian, in the description of the last Judgement disappears, and the tone |51  became more serene in Julian, since it is the Homeric tone, and it seems indeed that these pages of masterly virtuosity sang with their rhythm, in the memory of Julian.

If this assumption is not too bold, it would thus be of first-class interest; it would show us, in the field of literary imitation, a curious result of Julian's tendency to take his model from the Christians, with the intention to fight them. I take care not to allot only to Christianity the merit of an austerity which was natural to the last of the pagan emperors, and he could just as well learn this at the Stoic or Cynic school as at that of the Christians; but it is not doubtful that, if he were shown so definitely hostile to the spectacles of any kind, it was, at least partly, because, as when he endeavoured to constitute a pagan clergy, he pretended to make clear to all that paganism did not agree to yield to the rival religion any moral superiority, any more than religious superiority. If such indeed was his claim, need we be  surprised at finding, in his Misopogon, beside so many echoes of traditional philosophy, at least once, a Christian echo?

But how did Julian come to know Tertullian? This is an objection which would not be without force, if an answer were not found, and an answer which will give, I believe, to the text in question a further species of interest. It is certain that the literary culture of Julian was very Greek. Without assuming that he was unaware of the traditional Latin literature, he was undoubtedly not very familiar with it, and Virgil never appears in his works alongside Homer. If he knew the Roman literature itself poorly, how can one believe that he knew the Christian Latin literature? -- Perhaps; but we have reason to believe on the contrary that he knew the Greek Christian literature rather well. All his first education, during his childhood, |52 in Nicomedia and Constantinople, and a little later, in Cappadocia, in the loneliness of Macellum, had been as much Christian as traditional. His books against the Christians clearly show that he had read closely the Old and the New Testament. One of his letters, the ninth in the Hertlein edition, tells us that George, the future bishop of Alexandria, had lent him many Christian writings. Gregory  Nazianzen 4 and Sozomen 5 confirm that his Christian instruction was went very far. The treaty On the Spectacles is, among the works of Tertullian, one of those which the author himself had written in two forms, in Greek and Latin 6. It is easy to imagine that in the Greek version the sentence that I quoted a few moments ago as typical appeared something like this: pa&lhj kai\ pugmh_j e0piqomeij; which would make the resemblance more striking still. However we have little testimony on the circulation in the 3rd and 4th centuries of the Greek writings of Tertullian. If, in Occident, the influence of the great African never ceased being very wide and very deep, the East appears to have felt it only slightly. Eusebius alone makes, it is known, a rather frequent use of the Greek version of the Apologeticum; but the scholarship of Eusebius is exceptional. Some tirades on the theatre, in the homilies of St. John Chrysostome 7  are not without analogy to the piece of Julian, but it would be very imprudent to affirm that they derive -- unless perhaps indirectly -- from that of Tertullian. If Julian |53 read the treatise On the Spectacles, -- and although my conjecture cannot be certain, I believe that it has a very high degree of probability -- it is surely the Greek version which he had read, rather than the Latin text. The imitation that he made of it likewise allows us to note, by a new and curious example, the obsession exerted on his spirit by the wish to compete with  Christianity, and as it helps to reveal how far his knowledge of ancient Christian literature extended 8, we may then say that the work of Tertullian was not perhaps as generally ignored in the Greek world as we are tempted to believe, and that some of his writings -- those that he took the precaution to write in the Greek language -- found at least two readers in the East, in the 4th century.


[Footnotes have been moved to the end and renumbered]

1. (1) Misopogon, p. 351-352. 

2.  (2) Oratio XXXII, 81.

3. (1) I do not know of an example, but I do not deny that Tertullian and Julian could have a common source. If somebody finds it, I will be very grateful to him. In this case even, my thesis would not be condemned by it ipso facto; it would remain possible that Julian had known Tertullian, and, in my opinion, that would remain probable.

4. (1) Oratio IV, 23.

5. (2) H. E. v, 2. -- Other probable Christian echos have been detected by various people in the works of Julian. Thus Oratio vii, p. 233 A, nh~fe kai\ grhgo&rei (cfr. 1a Pétri, 5, 8; I Thessal, 5, 6). The parallels were found by Brambs, Studien zu den Werken Julians, 1ster Theil. Programme du gymnase d'Eichstaedt, 1897). -- Norden (Kunstprosa, p. 846) who has also found, in certain fragments of the discourses on the King-Helios and on the Mother of the Gods, the trace of Christian influence.

6. (3) On the Greek writings of Tertullian, cfr. HARNACK, Geschichte der altchristlichen.Litteratur., I2, p. 667 et 699.

7. (4) For example the peroration of the homiliy in Matth, 37.

8. (1) On the abundance of his readings, cfr. Misopogon, p. 317: kai\ tau~ta tw~n h(likiwtw~n tw~n e0mw~n, w(j e0mauto_n pei/qw, bibli/a a)neli/caj oudeno_j a)riqmo_n e0la&ttw.

Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press
SPIonic font, free from here.

This page has been accessed by ****** people since 20th December 2002.

Home Original language About these pages