One of Gore Vidal's best novels. A must-read.
This is a very well-written historical novel about a little-known Roman emperor during the last days of the Roman Empire. Julian is the younger nephew of Constantine. By this time the Roman Empire is divided into East and West. The rise of Christianity against the "old gods" (aka Hellenism), border security, and war with Persia are the major issues of the day. Gore Vidal wittily tells his tale through a discussion between two philosopher friends of Julian (Libanius and Priscus) as well as Julian himself via his memoirs. This is an ingenious way to write a historical tale while adding fictional commentary at the same time. Through these characters, the reader is given a believable glimpse of the 4th century Roman empire.Julian is an appealing character. His life progresses from a wary youth who yearns to become a philosopher and academic to a successful soldier-emperor. This change parallels his change in religious beliefs. From a Christian upbringing, he returns to Hellenism after a vision from the god Helios. He sees this "true religion" as one with the One god whose many facets are manifested in the various deities, e.g. Ares, Aphrodite. (Interestingly, this echoes beliefs of some eastern religions such as Buddhism.) Arguments are made regarding the hypocrisy of Christianity, its assimilation of practices from several other religious as evidence of its man-made origins. In his introduction, Vidal states that although a novel, much of it is based on facts from historical manuscripts. If some of the religious arguments made are based on data from that period, this book raises some interesting points for religious discussion even in today's time.I only wish there had been a list of the characters. I often found myself flipping back to see who certain characters were or how they came into Julian's life, e.g. Salatius, Maximus.Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable read. This was my first experience with Gore Vidal and I look forward to reading some of this other works.
Quite a good book, yet I don't know how historically acurate it is. I wish I did, yet from what I can tell, it sure has a lot of true history in it. I don't think 502 pages was really too much writing for this book, yet it does take a while to read. The time reading was well enjoyed however.
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